WolfDisc: Secrets of Starting a Business at Age 19 (and enjoying the good life.)
Read time: 7 or 8 min Speed Read: 1.5 min
I’ve been dreading writing this post for months now. Not because I don’t enjoy the topic- I do. But because there’s SO much to say.
What’s the one thing that allows all of this to be possible?
In a word- Prioritization. Your time must be allocated tightly. Have a routine and stick to it. College comes first for me, so right when I’ve got something assigned, I do it. Period. I work in a 2 hour weightlifting session and 40 minutes of cardio every day, and between it all, I’m hanging with friends, planning a crazy trip, or catching a movie. Sundays from 11-5pm, I work on my company. That’s it. Every week. After a couple of months you’ll have something really promising.
But you’ve got to pay attention.
ACTION is the secret sauce.
This is meant to be a blueprint, an inspiration, and very possibly a reality check. My hope is that after reading this, you’re ready to stop talking, and start doing.
In the following post, my intention is not to unload so much knowledge on you in such a short period of time that your head swells to watermelon-esque proportions.
That said- I hope you like watermelon.
“Describe your company/product in 1 sentence.“
A premium high performance ultimate disc designed to excel in sub-par conditions.
“Why does your product exist and how does it work?“
At WolfDisc we believe in leading the pack. We believe that at the end of the game, if you can say you left it all on the field, then you deserve a disc that performs at the highest level. WolfDisc is the Ultimate Ultimate Disc. If you’re the type of person who shows up no matter what- after a long day of work, if it’s windy, cold, raining, whatever… do we have a disc for you.
- Control– WolfDisc has the FIRST gripped lip on a disc… ever. This textured grip, designed to give you control in wet and windy conditions, delivers powerful results with your flick.
- Glow– WolfDisc also uses top notch plastic glow pellets that give you two or three more points after the cranky old man controlling the field lights decides he’s ready to check out.
Enter Team Awesome
“How did your founding members meet?/Where should I look for a team?“
We met at a program called Let the Gator Lead that brought together ambitious students to read and discuss a book by John Spence on leadership. Matt Hintze, the upbeat host of this program (CEO and founder of the ridiculously successful learning institution TutoringZone) would also later go on to play an integral role for us in creating a company.
During Let the Gator Lead, the subject of entrepreneurship grew out of our discussions about leadership organically. The topic of starting a company went around the room and the people who expressed interest decided to meet up every Sunday with that idea in mind. WolfDisc’s founding members in no particular order:
- Kevin: Graphic Designer Extraordinaire
- Nick: Computer Engineer+Tinkerer
- Ian: Wildcard- Researcher/Accounting/Legal
- Kedar: Backend Computer Engineer+Internal Systems Manager
- Myself: Logisitics, Sales, and International Correspondence
Finding Prime Realestate
There was only one problem. We had no place reasonably large enough to accommodate our group meetings.
Have you ever met someone who was so negative that they just sucked the life out of you (You know, the type that hates or contradicts every opinion, idea or statement when you open your mouth)?
Matt Hintze is the exact OPPOSITE of that guy.
He’s about 11 feet tall and has freaky jedi mind powers. Really. It defies reality.
The moment he walks into a room, if you were planning on being angry or frustrated that day…run. The guy exudes an illegal level of highly contagious happiness.
When we approached Matt begging and pleading for a room in his company’s building to use every Sunday from 11-5, and promising we “wouldn’t be loud”, he surprised us with his response.
“Definitely! But only with one condition- if you’re not SUPER loud by the time you leave… I’m going to be PISSED. You guys HAVE TO get excited and be as loud as you want!”
Thus Start Up Sunday was born. Not only do all of the founders of WolfDisc get together, but we have many other CEO’s and founders of successful companies in the area dropping by and sharing wisdom these days as well. In our last meeting, we had a turn out of about 20 people with 7 or 8 companies represented.
“Where can/should we work out of?“
The best way to find a good meeting spot is to ask around. Family, friends, or the local business leaders you have connected with through events (you are going to local entrepreneurial based events, aren’t you?)will be able to help you out. It just has to be big, have lots of desk/table space and lots of plugs for computers; somewhere that you’d be comfortable having a good long conversation. A whiteboard is a big plus for reasons below.
Discovering an Idea- The Whiteboard Way.
Once we finally nailed down a meeting place that had a giant wallsized whiteboard, we declared that we would have our idea narrowed down to 3 choices by the end of the first Sunday. We researched every idea for hours and made a list.We all sat and brain-stormed about problems in our lives. Things that frustrated us. Things we wanted to fix. Things that could be made better. Things that could piggy back off the success of other products. Tech things. E-commerce things. Tons and tons of crazy things.
At the end of the day we wanted simple. Starting a company doesn’t have to be about changing the world with your product and coming up with some crazy invention. That’s great if you do, but we’ve set out to prove that if a product is promoted right, has a good customer service team behind it, and improves on something in the market, then it will achieve a level success.
Many of the ideas stuck out as amazing but the idea we decided on was a modernized version of the classic frisbee disc. It just made sense. We all played Ultimate Frisbee. There were only one or two major companies in the market, and the purist ultimate disc hadn’t been significantly updated in 30 years. Not only that, but when doing our research we found out that there were more frisbees sold in the US every year than soccer balls, footballs, and baseballs combined. As broke college students, we didn’t have the money to manufacturer any complex features, so that was a major factor in our decision as well.
One of the ideas was a way to handle the social media profiles of the deceased. As you can imagine that was quickly tossed out. A money maker? Possibly. But you should choose something you don’t mind working on over a long period of time that lifts up your life. You’re going to be spending a lot of time around it. Work with what you know/love/enjoy.
We often get questions about our process for setting up a cool, marketable website.
To get ideas, we looked at webpages such as
The key feature in each of these websites is that they are all driven more by photographs and colors than by text. Text is used sparingly, yet when it is used, it is incredibly telling of what it describes. The text is information dense. This is a good strategy to go off of when choosing the design and layout of your site. If you’ve never set up a website before, you’ll have to buy a domain name (try Godaddy) and hosting.
Our workflow for site updates often works like this: We collectively come up with cool text and ideas and I send in pictures to Kevin to work with. Kevin lays out the site on photoshop, before sending the layout to Nick/Kedar to code and put online. From there on out we mercilessly hammer away more edits then do it all again with the next site update.
Science/facts/data on your product are always great to have and go a long way in getting more sales, along with video testimonials and credibility indicators like credit card icons. Be transparent and don’t be afraid to mention all the work that goes into what the customer gets.
Once you’ve got your idea and your website up (you don’t even need your product before creating your site, by the way), it’s time to build your prototype.
- Use Alibaba to search for a manufacturer that you’ll more than likely use for product creation. (You can use Elance if you don’t have computer engineers and you’re working on a tech-based product such as an app or something more complex) Using the instant messaging feature on Alibaba is also great for any general questions you might have. Make sure to look for a low minimum order (around 100-500 units) of a given product to make sure your product sells and you don’t end up with 1000’s of units going to waste. For us, we used the manufacturer that makes the Chinese National Tournament Discs and got one ordered to process it further with the grip here in Florida.
- If all goes well with that then it’s time to negotiate. Read my article on how to negotiate here, or check out Ramit Sethi’s book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Or just ask and Indian friend. You’d be surprised.
- After working them down to a price within your budget, make sure THEY handle shipping. It involves a bunch of paperwork you don’t want to do or deal with and they probably have better deals worked out with the shipping companies anyway because of economies of scale. Just find out what the best price they can give you is, see if its reasonable by checking DHL or other FED EX websites, and accept. Viola. Your product is on the way.
Into the Unknown- Things We Didn’t Expect
We did not expect our manufacturer to give us the wrong name for the international wire, and we certainly did not expect our bank to fumble for over a month trying to amend the wire after I’d driven back and forth over 10 times and sent 50 emails trying to correct this one small error.
Case in point: expect for things like this to happen and try to do your best to articulate and communicate to all sides anything that happens with the other so that everyone is on the same page.
We expected to sell discs rather easily at first but people, as it turns out, are strange. Like a dog deciding if it wants to play with a new toy, when people are presented with a new product and object in their environment their first reaction is often to react with skepticism and/or hostility. They nudge it. They kick it. They bite it. But after a while, they get comfortable with it. It takes time for people to warm up to your product. But if you withstand the test of time, and keep showing up, and keep pushing something you know is better than anything out there (or just as good at the very least) , people will eventually see the value in it, and will want to use it.
The Future and Things That Still Confuse the Hell Out of Us (Me).
The great part about starting a company is that you’re always learning. From your team, from Google, and from professionals and other business owners. Right now, I’m learning a lot about accounting and the legal side of things as far as generating quarterly reports. It can be often boring, but fun too. Keep that childlike curiosity and stay hungry to learn new things.
“How do I choose what price it should be?“
The question I will immediately ask you is, what are your unit costs? Here’s a formula:
Total costs (advertising, materials, website, etc) /# units available
After you’ve got that, if you’re not a premium product, its standard to mark up your product 2-3x to cover employees time and profit. Premium products (think Chanel purses) are often marked up 8-10x.
For instance: WolfDisc’s costs are $30 per disc. That means, to break even we have to sell all of our discs for at least $30, and that’s not covering anyone’s time or profit. WolfDisc IS a premium product, however at our understanding of the market, we can reasonably charge $50.
Many say “$50 for a disc!?”, and that’s exactly the reaction that we want. Not only is our product and the time that went into it worth that much, but we also want to give people who own a WolfDisc a feeling of exclusivity. We want it to be a status symbol for ultimate players. To pay for a $50 disc, you’re serious. This is your sport- and you want the best of the best. You understand the difference it makes, and you’ve achieved a level of success as a player, and we want this disc to represent you as a leader of the field and subtly convey to others “this is who I am.”
“How do I get a business license?“
In FL we use Sunbiz, but you can find a state website to get your company incorporated by searching Google . We’re an LLC, which is good because we don’t plan on passing this company along after we die, and we have protection as individuals.
“How do you market your product?“
This is another question we get a lot. The best answer is: We’re still experimenting. Our biggest success has come from word of mouth and tournament sales at the moment. After an upcoming website update (which includes science, vids, testimonials, product pictures, credibility indicators), we plan on focusing a lot more on organic e-commerce sales and experimenting with Facebook, Google, and StumbleUpon advertising, along with a few crazy grassroots approaches sprinkled in just for fun.
“Where did the name come from?“
The name came from the improvements we wanted to make. We wanted a name that encapsulated the elements of the product we made as well as the sport it was made for. Wolves hunt in packs like Ultimate players “hunt” the disc in “packs.” Since the disc had the ability to glow at night, and wolves also hunt under the moonlight… it fit.
Tools of the trade:
Other amazing blog posts on the subject that we’ve found helpful:
So much was written, but I feel as though I’ve left so much out as well. Please, if you own a business and would like to add to this, or if you have any advice (all ears!) for a budding e-commerce startup, please take some time to write a comment. Also, if you’d like to start a company, please don’t be afraid to ask questions, here or anywhere else. You never know who might be wandering through to answer.
News and Updates and answered Questions:
I’m in between semesters right now and working over the summer (WolfDisc money gets immediately reinvested at this stage) as a bellman. If you want to outsmart the average college student and make between $12-25 an hour over the summer so the semester is cake, keep checking in every now and then for that blog.
I’m also currently going through Kris Gethin’s 12 Week Fitness Program so sometime in August/September I’ll be posting my results, hints and questions for you all.
Some of you have been asking me if I still have a 4.0 now that I’m a junior and the answer is that I dropped out. Just kidding.
As always, thanks for reading, I write for you guys.
Posted on June 11th, 2012