Entrepreneurial

Is t-shirt advertising a sustainable business?

Jason Sadler in Times Square

Jason Sadler in Times Square

Jason Sadler makes a surprisingly good living wearing other peoples’ t-shirts – $84,000 since launching his one-man ad service last January – but our experts are doubtful he can grow it into a larger, more sustainable model.

A year ago the 27-year-old Jacksonville, Florida entrepreneur launched a website – Iwearyourshirt.com – where he charged people to wear whatever shirt they sent him (read original story here). New Year’s Day was $1 and each successive day Sadler’s fee went up a buck, so this New Year’s Eve he will charge $365. Sadler made $66,795 for advertising on his back alone and another $18,000 in monthly sponsorships, where he charges $1,500 for an ad spot on his online monthly calendar.

“I’ve got companies that need more exposure than I can give in hours I can work in a day,” said Sadler, whose very first advertiser on January 1 was live video streaming website Ustream.tv, the same platform Sadler uses to broadcast his own live one-hour webcast to chat with viewers about the companies and the products displayed on his extra-large sized chest. So far his clients range from obscure bloggers and rock bands, to startups and established companies like Zappos, Prudential and Intuit. Comedian Bill Cosby even used him to try to get more people to sign up to his Facebook page.

“Every day I really try to give as much push and as much value without sales-pitching people,” said Sadler, who initially got the idea after seeing how many promotional t-shirts are discarded and thought he could offer the companies making them more value by actually wearing them around. “The value of doing all this content for $300, even if it only gets a couple hundred views on everything, is still pretty tremendous when you think about the grand scheme of things.”

THE PITCH

For 2010, Sadler is doubling his daily prices -  so it will cost advertisers $2 this January 1 and $730 on December 31. Monthly sponsorships will jump to $2,500. Sadler also hired a friend in Los Angeles to help tag-team on promotions, so now companies that buy spots will get two guys wearing their shirts and spreading the word virally online.

Small Talk: Elephants and entrepreneurs

Mark Suster’s blog – “Both Sides of the Table” – has become a hotspot for people seeking an insider’s glimpse into the world of venture capital investing.

This week Suster wrote about the things in entrepreneur pitches that give VCs pause when considering whether or not to invest. Suster likens it to the elephant-in-the-room adage, more specifically: “those things that the VC would automatically be thinking about when you’re speaking but he/she may not immediately ask you about either for legal reasons or out of courtesy.”

Suster’s blog goes on to list some real-life examples of pitches he’s heard with Elephant-sized problems, such as the founder is no longer with the company or having Google as a prime competitor. Suster advises entrepreneurs to deal with their issues before they seek funding, as they will inevitably be addressed in their meetings with VCs. Suster says it’s better to be pre-emptive in this regard.

Some entrepreneurial advice from U2

Mark Solon, the managing partner and co-founder of Boise, Idaho-based Highway 12 Ventures, wrote a blog post – “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” – offering some entrepreneurial advice he gleaned from one of U2′s more underrated tunes. Now we highly doubt Bono had entrepreneurs or venture capitalists in mind when he penned the lyrics to “Acrobat,” but let’s roll with it.

Solon thought of the song after he recently rejected a funding request by a young entrepreneur, who he said “took it fairly hard” and Solon spent the next 20 minutes attempting to explain himself. When he sensed it wasn’t helping to soften the rejection, Solon piped up “Who the hell do you think I am to tell you that your business won’t be successful?” Solon then recounted his own ordeal in moving from Boston to Boise to start his VC firm and the ensuing 18-month span where he was rejected over and over, before launching Highway 12.

Nearly a decade later, Solon said he still remembers “almost everyone who said ‘no’ to me and proving them wrong still motivates me to this very day.”

Supply-chain software startup eyes breakthrough

For many large companies, outsourcing is the norm as they seek cost savings at almost every level of production. Jason Tham, a former Kellogg’s employee, saw an opportunity to help reduce the risk of something going wrong at each outsourced step. His solution: to create software that would streamline the supply-chain process and reduce costs even further.

Using research compiled by his father, an engineering professor, and $40,000 in personal capital, Tham built the software and launched Toronto-based Nulogy Corp. in 2002. Tham’s signature PackManager product is an all-inclusive Web-based software that helps the middlemen in the supply chain — called contract packagers — improve their operating efficiency by tracking their inventory, production and labor information in real time. Contract packagers provide the creative packaging and displays that help make a product more attractive to consumers.

THE PITCH

Tham’s research shows the Consumer Packaged Goods sector, which includes big brands such as Kellogg’s, Proctor & Gamble and General Mills, outsources close to $20 billion annually to contract packagers. He predicts that number to triple over the next several years.

Mobile gaming firm MegaPhone seeks funding in a recession

MegaPhoneImagine being in the middle of Times Square in downtown New York and using your cell phone to play a video game on a giant screen against the throng gathered there. MegaPhone, a digital advertising company launched in 2006, does just that, providing its clients a unique way of interacting with consumers.

“I think all of us who work in the advertising industry have to ultimately admit to ourselves that people don’t like most advertising,” said co-founder Dan Albritton. “What we’re trying to do is to bring a genuinely fun experience and then you’re getting a little advertising wrapped inside of it.”

Albritton and partner Jury Hahn have created a software platform that allows anyone with a cell phone to call a number and play a video game against thousands of complete strangers on giant digital screens at concerts venues, sporting events, or in urban centers like Times Square.

Wanted: investors for online job board

elena-bajicIvy Exec, a job posting and recruiting website, targets high-profile professionals by offering exclusivity: job-seekers must first be approved as a member to access the site’s job listings.

“They don’t like to be part of the masses,” explained Ivy Exec founder Elena Bajic (read her entrepreneur journal) about the site’s 25,000 members. “They’re looking for a way to differentiate themselves, an exclusive club and a network of peers. So the fact that they have to get approved to be members of Ivy Exec is very important to them.”

THE PITCH

Initially free to join, Ivy Exec recently started charging a monthly fee that ranges from $22-$42 depending on the package. On the corporate side, Bajic charges an average of $8,000 for her selective recruitment services, which include pre-screening all job applicants to find a better match. In this way Ivy Exec operates more like a dating site for job seekers.

Experts weigh in on Twitter-based shopping site

IMshopping's Twitter pageYesterday we presented entrepreneur Prashant Nedungadi (read his entrepreneur journal) and his startup website IMshopping.com, which offers a platform whereby consumers can ask specific retail-related questions, through the website directly or via Twitter, and have them answered by an online community of retail experts. (click here to read Nedungadi’s pitch)

Nedungadi launched his website last April and has already received $4.7 million in venture capital investment from SK Telecom, but now needs to find retailers willing to pay to utilize his virtual sales force instead of going the traditional route and hiring their own sales people.

Our panel of experts have watched Nedungadi’s pitch video and gave us their reaction to IMshopping and Nedungadi’s business model.

Ex-Googlers seek traffic for how-to video startup

The Web is full of user-generated video, but for Sanjay Raman’s tastes most of it is too bland and poorly produced to actually watch.

That’s why Raman launched Howcast (http://www.howcast.com) – a high-quality, how-to video-sharing website – last year with former Google colleagues Jason Liebman and Dan Blackman.

While at Google the three Howcast co-founders noticed how popular do-it-yourself content was, but how little of it was in video format.

What the Tesla founders’ feud can teach entrepreneurs

Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk

High-powered electric-car startup Tesla Motors has hit a speed bump with the filing of a lawsuit by former CEO and founder Martin Eberhard.

The libel suit, filed on May 26 in San Mateo County, Calif. Superior Court, alleges current CEO Elon Musk falsely portrayed himself as the founder of the company and orchestrated Eberhard’s ouster as original CEO in 2007. In the lengthy 22-page document, Eberhard accuses Musk and Tesla of, among other things, libel, slander, breach of contract, negligence and failure to pay wages. The suit doesn’t even refer to Musk as a co-founder, but simply as one of “various investors,” who joined the Tesla board in April 2004.

Eberhard’s suit claims that from the moment he came on board, Musk “began a campaign to appropriate control of Tesla Motors and Eberhard’s legacy as the company’s founder and visionary.” The suit further alleges that Musk “began a pattern and practice of defaming and disparaging Eberhard in various widely distributed media outlets,” a few of which included The New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today and NPR.

Betting the farm on your customers

Organic dairy farmer Dante Hesse is hoping the customers who lap up his milk by the quart at local New York farmers’ markets will also invest in his future.

What started as a series of “low key” one-on-one conversations with customers at local farmers’ markets near his Ghent, New York farm, has escalated into a serious attempt to raise $850,000 – in as little as $1,000 increments – directly from his dairy-loving consumers.

“I learned pretty quickly that there was a lot of interest, but I also needed to find some council who could tell me how to do this legally,” said Hesse, who founded Milk Thistle organic dairy farm with his wife, Kristin, three years ago. He intends to use the bulk of the money to build an onsite processing plant that will help him ramp up production and diversify into making other milk-based products like yogurt, butter and ice cream.

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