As far back as I can remember I’ve been creating things. Looking for ways to improve the things around me, and over the years I’ve has filled notebook after notebook with ideas and inventions. I also love to draw and paint. It’s a way for me to escape from everyday life. My freshman year of college I started selling my paintings on eBay. When I started making a decent amount of money I had a revelation. I didn’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer to be successful. I could build upon the things I love to do and turn them into a successful business that I would be happy with.
The idea for Poolside Pong came during my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I was wandering around a store looking for inflatable chairs for my dorm room, when I noticed the cups of an Inflatable pool chair. It was a weekend so as you can imagine, the previous nights activities included a few rounds of Beer Pong. At that point it just clicked and Poolside Pong was born!
At a University where no party was without a homemade beer pong table, I knew the idea could be a success. But to that point, I didn’t know the first thing about business. I went to my local book store and bought Launch it! How to turn good ideas into great products that sell. I read it cover to cover in one night and eagerly studied its contents. The information gave me the basic blue print of what to do. The next day I used Google to find a company that could turn my design into a working CAD file. Luckily we are in an age where information is always at your finger tips so I found a perfect match very easily. After a few meetings, a non-disclosure agreement and a personal investment, I had a CAD file and was ready to take the next step.
I knew I needed a prototype and I knew that it wouldn’t be cheap. The United States generally produces high-quality products but the labor alone will set you back. As a college student, I didn’t have the cash or the connections for that. The next best bet is China. They produce great products and the labor costs are much more reasonable. Shipping can be a hassle but I wasn’t overly concerned about that at this time. I emailed over 60 different sources in China and only two or three got back to me. I don’t exactly remember what my e-mail said but I can imagine most companies weren’t taking me seriously. I used what I could and started communication with the 3 factories. Surprisingly, the process wasn’t as hard as I imagined. I found myself staying up until 4 o’clock in the morning talking to project managers during business hours in China. I would receive a quote from company A then relay the price to company B and C and went with the lowest quote who guaranteed the best quality.
Over the next 6 months, I worked with them designing, testing, re-designing, and retesting every aspect of the raft. I didn’t know anything about product development but I’ve always been a quick learner and I gained valuable knowledge as I went.
My junior year, I transferred to Northeastern University to utilize the entrepreneurial resources of the University and the city of Boston itself. It was probably the best decision I made in regards to starting Poolside Pong. The professors have helped me a lot with questions and concerns I’ve had along the way. But, the most valuable aspect was introducing the idea to my friend Drew, who I grew up with. He is a student at Wentworth University, and shares the entrepreneurial spirit. We ended up getting an apartment together and in our spare time we tried building the foundation for Poolside Pong and our company.
Drew helped bring the focus of Poolside Pong down from just a simple idea to a realistic approach for a viable company. We spent hours and hours researching our demographic and trying to make sure we knew everything we could about our customer base. We read books, articles, case studies, just anything and everything we could get our hands on. At the end of it all, we had a 20-page business plan, an amazing power point presentation, and a working prototype of Poolside Pong.
Our next goal was to find an investor and luckily Drew knew someone who was had a very successful career in entrepreneurship. We got a meeting with him and pitched our idea. He loved it right away and over the next few weeks we worked with him and his lawyers to finalize paper work and form a company. Lawyers are a must and a great resource for getting your company started. They knew the procedures we had to go through in order to become a legitimate company, and help you protect yourself.
Once we had the investment we needed to introduce the product to the world. Neither of us were really good with computers. My twin brother James knows a lot about SEO and Web Design, so we talked to him about the idea and brought him aboard. Over the next few months we worked together to create the www.poolsidepong.com website. He has been designing websites as long as I can remember so the final result was exactly what we were all looking for. Together, Drew and James set up the internal operations and finances so that we could start selling Poolside Pong online.
Once the operations were in place, we needed to advertise and get the word out. Being 22 years old, and conveniently in the demographic of our product, it was easy to figure out what media we would target. Websites and magazines that are frequented by students our age: ebaumsworld.com, Maxim & Blender magazine, ESPN Radio. We also spent time contacting blogs asking if they would be interested in featuring our product.
The blogs have been the cheapest form of advertising so they have proven to be the most beneficial tool in our marketing arsenal. We brought our product to Cancun, Mexico for Spring Break and got it in the faces of students. We passed out key chains, lip-gloss, and other promotional products that we knew students would use, which would further expand our exposure.
To date, we’ve sold over 2,500 units nationwide. Now that summer is winding down, were really focusing on expanding our catalog for next summer. We’ve got three new products coming to market next month. And now that we have a proven sales record, were also looking to get our product into retail stores nationwide so everyone can be exposed to this awesome product. Poolside Pong isn’t just a summer-time product. It’s a product for all seasons and all locations. During the winter, students can use it as the perfect beer pong table for their dorms and apartments. It’s portable, inflates and deflates quickly for easy storage (or when you need to hide it from an RA) and it’s a great conversational piece. I’ve actually slept on a poolside pong once or twice before.
In starting my company (Redefyne Industries, LLC) I’ve learned a great deal about business and myself; Much more then I thought I ever could learn. You can prepare yourself all you want by reading books and going over all the possible scenarios that exist, but at the end of the day, just having confidence in your ability to make decisions and overcome hurdles that can (and will) come your way, is the best tool you can have. I can speak for Drew and myself when I say that the bulk of what I know about business came from learning as I went. When someone asked an important question, and our lack of experience left us speechless, we were never afraid to say, "I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll research it and get back to you.”
I’m sure a lot of people have great ideas. I think what’s stopping them from bringing those ideas to life is fear of the unknown. Fear that they don’t have the knowledge to start a company or don’t have the resources to do so. If you have a product or service that’s truly worthwhile, and you’re passionate about it, those resources will find you. If your product is good enough, and you stand behind it 100%, finding an investor who will back you and believe in you is the least of your problems. Also, you should never be afraid to ask for help, or use the connections and people around you to guide you through the process. There are a lot more people in this world that are willing to help then not. Most importantly, you should never give up on what you believe in. Starting a company is like a roller coaster, and how you manage yourself during the dips and turns is the ultimate key to success.