[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Deconstruction of a Rising Dream
Our second guess was more direct - literally. We gathered a list of companies in the Dallas area that had fax machines, prepared a one-page fax, and began bulk-faxing companies left and right. We sent out approximately 300 to 350 faxes. At the same time, we invested in a mess of postcards and stamps, printed up 500 postcards, and sent out all of those. All in all, we sent around 800 ads out into the Dallas area. The result? Anywhere from 20 to 40 postcards came back with a bad address, and about 30 or 40 people called and either complained loudly, or asked politely, to please remove them from our fax list. Once again, no takers. Not a one. Strike two.
While all of this was going on, I had setup accounts with a local Acer distributor to resell Acer computer products. We could have sold complete systems, but even then, it would have been much less expensive just to go down to the local electronics store and buy a pre-packaged computer system, and then fine-tune it to a client's needs. Our plan was simple component reselling. Monitors, CPUs, computer cases, power supplies, scanners... that kind of thing. Happily, this didn't require any monetary investment on the company's part - just a little time to file the paperwork with the distributor.
The third attempt at drumming up business came with a simple thought: If local electronic stores that were selling computers didn't have a computer service shop of their own, perhaps Rhodes Ink could serve as their on-site service contractor for their customers. We could pick up the computer for the customer, drive to their home or business, completely install the system, and configure it, for a reasonable fee. While companies like CompUSA and Best Buy might have a system already in place for just such a customer, there were more office-style companies that might not. Office Depot and OfficeMax, for example, sold computers, but didn't appear to have a department that would completely take care of the customer in regards to what we had in mind. So, I wrote down a number of businesses - including CompUSA and Best Buy, because, you never know - to visit and try and sell the services of Rhodes Ink. The result? After driving for 3 different days, for about 6 hours each day, in the different cities surrounding Dallas, and visiting managers and customer relation departments, I'd driven at least 300 to 400 miles. But, not one customer. Several willing companies - but not ONE client. Not a soul. Our optimism was certainly beginning to float away. We were happy, however, that this wasn't baseball: Strike three.
Up to this point, we did actually have a couple of clients for the company. During the startup of the company, I'd worked at a local hospital as a consultant for one day. Sometime around May or June of 1997, someone had spread the word about us, and we did a damage write-up for someone that had an apartment flooding, and needed an estimate on computer repair for their insurance. These were, however, the only jobs we'd had.
During October 1997, while we weren't plowing away at the Rhodes Ink steamship, we were bowling in a
league that lasts from September to May. The Las Vegas Bound bowling league was missing one
thing: T-shirts. So, with a little discussion and confirmation from the league secretary, we designed
and sold Las Vegas Bound t-shirts. Somehow or another, Rhodes Ink had taken on a different
meaning entirely. The selling of t-shirts was our single-most important money-making venture so far.
We took it one step further, designing a couple of bowling shirts that we'd like to wear ourselves, and sold them to league members. This was the only success we'd found so far, and I was going to milk it for all it was worth: I went to the local Wal-Mart, and discussed what it would take to sell our t-shirts in their store. At the time, Wal-Mart was running a marketing blitz on television explaining how they help local businesses far and wide make it big by combining their big-name with the local businesses merchandise. The result? I would have had to re-create the company to be a t-shirt printing system, shooting out multiple sizes, and about 100 to 200 shirts. If we'd wanted the company to be a t-shirt design company, and nothing else, I suppose I would have went for it - but as computer consultants, it, quite simply, wasn't what we'd gone into business to do. I never made the deal with Wal-Mart, but I don't regret it at all - if you don't go into business to do what you have been trained to do, and what you're good at doing, what was the point of going into business for yourself? Strike four.
By now, it was December of 1997. I hadn't had a regular job in over a year, and hadn't had a dime go into my personal account as a result of Rhodes Ink, either. Since I was the sole investor, I was losing my shorts, and I knew it - I began to make plans to re-enter my role as an employee. Still, I held out hope. I held on to my hope until I'd squeezed hope dry.
DECONSTRUCTION OF A RISING DREAM
My attempt to become my own boss has resulted in the learning of a great many things. It's also resulted in the lack of company responses: I'm still unemployed. I have no doubt that things will change for me - I just haven't got a clue when it will happen, or what shape it will take when it does.
Do I have any regrets over the last two years? Yes, plenty. But, by the same token, if I'd never tried to start my own company... if I'd never reached for my dream with outstretched arms... I would have always wondered "what if." And, I believe that the experience has made me a better person: I'm more sure of myself, can make decisions easier and clearer than ever before, and have generally become more organized. I am much more than I was than when I began this venture.
To anyone else that wants to follow in these footsteps, and believes that their product will sell better, and do better, than anything I did: More power to you. I have no advice to give, other than that which I have just given. If there was anything I could say... a single piece of advice... that I thought would sum up what's required, it would be a quote from, of all things, a science fiction television show called Space Cases:
Live your dream... don't dream your life.
Robert Lynn Rhodes
December 5, 1998