Boards

Hi all,

I’m thrilled to be part of this course and hope we’ll all benefit from interacting together!

A snapshot of the context

My name is Thomas; I’m a French project engineer and a total newbie when it comes to creating a business.


I’m currently living in a small, historic town in rural New South Wales (Australia), about 1 hour away from Canberra, called Braidwood. I’ve been WWOOF-ing (http://www.wwoofinternational.org/) around town for a few months and fell in love with the place. 


The population is about 1200, a mix of Braidwood-born people and former Canberra- and Sydney-dwellers who decided to take a break from the cities, quite often to raise kids. There are two schools in town, with a total of about 530 students enrolled between Kindergarten and Year 12, and not much to do in the evenings besides having a beer at one of the two pubs. Most of the businesses in town cater to the needs of Canberrans on their week-end transhumance to the coast (and then back). This traffic is seasonal and most of the tourist business happens around summer.  

 

Boards in 3 words:

Community, entertainment, education

 

Project

Create a for-profit community space revolving around gaming, and board games in particular. The space will be non commercial (no games for sale) but offer a collection of games for hire and a gaming area. In a first time, games will only be playable within the space (no games for loan), to avoid having to store multiple copies of each game.

Cash flow will be generated by (in order of expected importance)
1/ membership, offering unlimited access to the space and the games for a month.
2/ day pass, offering unlimited access to the space and games for a day.
3/ in-house events & activities: tournaments, game design courses, custom game crafting.
4/ special games packages for public and private events & activities: birthdays, fairs, team-building seminars, hospital, retirement house, etc.

The target markets are:
- local kids 7+ and adults: memberships and event games packages.
-Canberrans and tourists passing through town: day pass.

Targeted open hours:
Weekdays: 12-8pm (school ends at 3)
Weekend: 10am-6pm.

 

Unique Selling Points
- Knowledge of using gaming as an educative and community-building tool.
=> Obtain backing from parents, local councils and community-related bodies.

- Good personal relationships with some local families, including the deputy principal of one of the schools.
=> Powerful referral for parents.

- Different cultural background and history of travel.
=> Ability to offer culturally-diverse experiences and access to games that have not been translated in English.

- Experience in developing and presenting fun game-based activities.
=> Ability to renew and expand the offered experience, thus keeping members engaged.  

- Young age (27) and maturity.
=> Ability to engage with both kids and adults.

Context assets
- Having games for hire and not for sale.
=> Negotiate backing from game editors (free game copies as promotional material), thus reducing the cost of constituting and growing the game collection.

- Few entertainment activities available, especially for kids.
=> Little direct competition.

-  Nearest big town/city is Canberra, a one-hour drive.
=> Opportunity to expand freely into the neighboring area.

- Rural town with poor access to the internet.
=> Board games more in line with expectations & less competition from home entertainment.

- Tourist traffic from Canberra.
=> create cash flow by offering one-off gaming sessions for a low fee to passing tourists
=> growth potential: board games for hire for the week-end.

 

Context drawbacks and uncertainties
- Lower wages and purchasing power than in major cities.
=> Need to keep membership fee low and thus rely on number of memberships to sustain business.

- Seasonal tourist activity is the major business drive in town.
=> Cash flow may be unstable, although having a cold winter as the quiet season would favor indoors activities.  

- Little gaming culture in town.
=> Need to demonstrate the social and educative benefits of gaming.  

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Deliverable #1 : Stranger Test

When people ask me how I started my first business, It’ll be fun to tell them that it all started at the back of a fish truck, between the King’s Highway roaring week-end traffic and the Mobile service station.

 The first thing I learned from the stranger test is that I am very good at finding excuses to avoid contact in general: “Oh, he’s on the phone”; “Crap, she’s an old lady/young kid, that’ll be creepy”; “They’re in a group, I don’t want to intrude”; “He/she’s on her own, that’s awkward”… I probably fear intruding even more than being rejected.

But this is not simply introversion because, second, I don’t have a problem walking up to someone to offer something. It’s more the asking. For example, I don’t have a problem asking tourist couples if they would want me to snap a pic of them together in front of the nice backdrop, but I would have a hard time asking the same from them out of the blue. 
The test confirmed this: I actually had to buy a bag of lemons from the guy before I could feel empowered to ask him the small service of taking the picture with me. Even though I wasn’t blocking a queue or anything, it felt wrong to ask him and not offer anything in return.  

Third, it was another confirmation that breaking the ice is actually quite simple. I explained the idea behind the test, the guy accepted readily, we had a good laugh and a nice conversation. The next customer found us posing and more laughter ensued. A far cry from a usual roadside shop purchase.

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Deliverable #2 : Why do we validate?

I haven’t had a go at creating a business so far, although I’ve been (and still am) using my skills to freelance on illustration, writing and web design projects. I’ve learnt a few things along the way, though.

As an artist, I have a page on deviantArt, one of the biggest online art communities. Lots of freelance jobs get posted there every day. The trouble is that there is a mix of hobbyists, students and pro artists, which make it a very tough market for a good-but-not-pro-artist. Every ad gets flooded with replies within minutes of it being posted and it’s very hard to stand out from talented pros and dirt-cheap hobbyists.
I’ve had much better results working “locally”: posting an ad for custom drawn portraits in the local Gumtree page (the Australian equivalent of Craigslist), meeting with people and creating rapport with them.
My main customers were surprised to find an ad for custom drawings there.
In addition, they contacted me with projects that had nothing to do with portraits. 

=> Make it personal. Whenever possible, meet with the customer in person. If not, try and interact via Skype: a face and a voice go a long way in creating a sustainable work relationship.   

=> Start where you’re not expected. When starting, the easiest way to stand out from the crowd is to be where there is no crowd. Tackle the crowd once you’ve got a few sales under your belt.

=> Be flexible. This is a tough balance to strike. Present a sharp, focused solution but be ready to stray from it. This works particularly well with making it personal

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Deliverable #3 : Validate eBay

Ok. eBay, in action : 
(1) Provide a virtual marketplace where people can search for, buy and sell goods.
(2) Exchanges are made in an auction style or direct sale at pre-set price. 
(3) eBay is funded by commissions on sales.
(4) Provide a peer-review process to “secure” transactions.

To validate the concept, I 
(1) Ask local people to list and describe the items they are looking to buy and/or sell. I list the minimum price the seller is looking to get, the timeframe and the direct sale price (if applicable). 
I become the marketplace and matches people’s lists: for each item for sale, I draw a list of potential buyers. I contact them with the details of the seller, the details items and ask them what their maximum bid is for this item. 
I also keep a list of items for sale that anyone can view, to give people the opportunity to bid on a type of item that they hadn’t listed.   

(2) I contact all potential buyers and let them know what the current highest bid is. For the duration of the set timeframe, potential buyers can contact me to make or update their bid. Each time the maximum bid is raised, I notify the seller and all potential buyers, and update the list of items for sale.

(3) When the time is up (or a direct sale is made), I collect the payment from the winner and deduct my commission. I deliver the payment to the seller once the buyer notifies me that they have received the item. I ask both the buyer and seller for feedback on the transaction.

(4) I update the details of both the buyer and the seller in my listing: increment their number of (successful) transactions and add any feedback provided by the other party.

 

Obviously, this would prove to be an exponentially complex system to implement without using any kind of IT tool to automate the notifications. The alternative is to hold an old-fashioned auction sale, but the main benefits of eBay (no need to move the item before it is sold, flexibility on the timeframe and ability to bid on/auction multiple items at any given time) are lost.  

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Deliverable #4: Ebook pre-sale email

Subject: Ebook project – Sketchy things

Hi folks,

Thomas here. I’m considering writing an ebook on drawing for fun and for beginners. Not a boring book on art history or a technical one that requires you to be da Vinci’s reincarnation but something to give you the motivation and basics to enjoy drawing.

The outline I have in mind is:
1- Drawing for yourself
2- Drawing for pleasure
3- Masterpiece on a napkin

I know you guys could be interested in something like that and want to know if you would like to pre-purchase the book. It will sell for $15 a copy when published (release day will be around September) but you can get the early bird rate. Just paypal me $8 at myaddress@mail.com and you’ll get your copy as soon as the book is ready. 

Shoot me an email if you have any questions.

Cheers,
Thomas

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