Are you looking to take that final step towards a life of freedom by starting your own business? How about learning about how to do it from a couple of people who have been there done that.
In this episode, I bring on Rick Stephenson co-owner of OpenPrints.com. Rick and his brother started Openprints.com from scratch in their garage fifteen years ago, and now have a thriving business.
Rick’s background in his own words:
I grew up in Chesapeake VA. With most entrepreneurs I have listened to on podcast, they were selling candy in school or some sort of early entrepreneur story. I didn’t do that growing up. I just played baseball.
I went to college to play baseball – originally to East Carolina University which was a great baseball school, but once I realized I wasn’t going to be a major leaguer, I transferred to William and Mary in Virginia and played baseball for 3 years there.
I majored in English and was set on being a script writer (I was in college during the era of Wes Anderson’s indie films and loved those). After college I started working in the film/commercial industry in Richmond VA as a PA/Set Assistant. But I didn’t really see any specialized path I wanted to go down, so I decided to make a baseball documentary (which was really a quarter documentary and 75% instructional).
It was called Prospect Movie and featured a bunch of the MLB players I had played with growing up as well as a bunch of other well-respected baseball people. Once I was done making it, I imagined that I would put an ad in the paper and they would sell like hotcakes. It didn’t work like that.
I bought some newspaper ads in sports newspapers and sat at my computer hitting refresh for a week straight and got maybe like ten sales over the first week. I was pretty crushed but the response I was getting from the people in it and people who really knew what they were talking about was great, so I kind of pieced together that I didn’t know anything about selling anything.
There was a baseball company in Iowa called Perfect Game who did events and wanted to create a video recruiting website, and they saw the movie and invited me out and convinced me to move there.
So I moved out there to create a website called baseballwebtv.com with them, which was a video content site about high school and college baseball, and recruiting video database. This was during the early days YouTube, so it was pretty cutting edge at that time. And it didn’t end up working. I’m still a little bit puzzled why it wasn’t more widely adopted.
During the launch of baseballwebtv, the company had a programmer that was assigned to make the website, and he left for a different job about 3 weeks before we launched. So it was sort of a sink or swim moment and my brother and I essentially taught ourselves to program in 4-5 weeks to get the site launched.
Around the time it was becoming clear that BBWTV wasn’t working, a salesman came in to demo and try to sell a poster printer to the company. We saw that and my brother and I decided to start an online printing company right then. (while I was at this company I was also learning how to sell my DVD movie online).
So we moved back home to Chesapeake. I got a job as a military contractor programming. And we started PosterBurner and OpenPrints out of the house we were living in at the time, eventually having a couple of employees working out of the house and making a lot of noise with air compressors late at night.
From there we have just kept growing it. I kept working a programming job and all the money coming in went back into growing the company. We made sure we had no debt. We buy all of our supplies and equipment instead of financing it, and put the company’s finances ahead of our own.
That has allowed us to weather all the storms and survive all the mistakes we made when we didn’t know what we were doing.
Last year we bought our own production facility (which is our only debt – the mortgage on the building) and we just continue to learn and get better.
We’ve had a lot of growth in the last year and the big change has been that we realized what we actually do.
At first, we thought we were just taking people’s pictures and turning them into posters and canvases. But over time we realized what we’re really doing is taking the best moments of people’s lives and carrying those moments from the past into the present with a print they see every day (weddings, new puppies, new babies, kid hitting a home run, etc). And that realization has allowed us to communicate much better to our customers.
We also make our products in the USA. We have no financing or investors so we try to carry as little inventory as we can and still operate smoothly. I think around 48 of 50 of our suppliers are based in the USA so we can get our supplies fast and not have to use production space for storage.
- How is this Rick guy
- How Rick and his brother came up with the idea for their company
- How did they come up with their product line
- In the beginning what were some of the biggest hurdles
- We discuss the importance of “bootstrapping” early on and not borrowing money
- Once you get to a certain stage how to leverage money
- How did they deal with growth and hiring employees
- Why great customer service is so important
- Why made in the USA is an obscure concept today
- What does Rick and I think the future of entrepreneurship will look like in the future
- What are some of the future goals of OpenPrints.com