The Sloan brothers are
introduced by Microsoft’s
Frederic De Wulf at a
Microsoft Web seminar.
The Connection: You’ve done a lot of things in
the past, including Battery Buddy. How does running
StartupNation compare to your previous ventures?
Rich: I would say this: Income comes in a variety of forms when you conduct business. For us, the
income from working with StartupNation has been
equal parts psychic income as well as the dollars and
cents associated with it. It’s a pretty amazing thing
for us to have toiled as inventors, as venture capitalists, as company crafters along the way, to have a
love of entrepreneurship, to know how powerful it is
for an individual, then to be able to work every day
through StartupNation and turn other people on to
entrepreneurship and help them realize their own
dreams. We get a lot of income out of the rush of
doing that every day.
Jeff: We love this. First of all, we believe in it.
We truly believe in it. One of the tenets of
StartupNation is that you can’t sell anything unless
you believe in it, unless you want it yourself, unless
you’re passionate about it. So first of all, we believe
in it; second of all, we love it. We’re stimulated by it;
we truly do love what we’re doing.
The Connection: What really sets
StartupNation apart from other small-business
Jeff: Rich and I have a very strong belief in life
plan before business plan. I think that’s a unique
message we bring to this. A lot of people approach
entrepreneurship with the idea in mind that this is
my ticket to easy street, this is my lottery ticket—I’m
going to get rich if I start this business. Certainly
there’s nothing wrong with that: One reason to start
a business is to be able to support yourself and have
the opportunity to obtain riches. But you should
focus on the things that bring quality to your life,
beyond money. You know: pride in ownership,
being able to truly develop your own work schedule,
developing your own approach to doing business,
all the way from what you’re going to wear when
you go into the office to where that office is—out of
your home or somewhere else. We believe this is as
much about lifestyle as it is about making money.
DID AMERICA really
need juggling balls
when we decided to
introduce a new juggling kit to the U.S.
market in 1992? Call us crazy, but we
thought it did.
Sensing a great opportunity, we established exclusive rights to import and
distribute a juggling kit, More Balls Than
Most®. Within a year, it had become
the bestselling Father’s Day gift at
department stores across the country.
Here’s how we transformed a “crazy”
idea into a crazy success.
We focused all of our energy, creativity,
packaging, branding and marketing
efforts on a very narrow niche market:
We recognized that businesspeople’s
offices were intense, frenzied places,
and something that added a little fun
and levity could be a hit. The juggling
balls were beach-ball-colored and
instantly brightened up an office, even
just plunked on a desk or credenza. The
balls had a perfect “ooh!” factor when
you squished them and came in a handsome leatherette case with an instructional pamphlet filled with irreverent
philosophy, humor and instructions.
The More Balls Than Most juggling kit
was an immediate sensation at retail
outlets. Adding to its popularity was
the fact that juggling—an activity that
requires complete focus and emersion—
actually does provide real stress-relieving
benefits. In the middle of a hectic day,
it offers a great way to clear up an
executive’s mind and bring a smile
to the faces of all spectators!
Here are our tips for finding a niche for
your product idea.
Find an underserved market. The bigger a company gets, the harder it is for
them to throw a lot of energy at creating
specialized products for small subsectors
of customers. See who the big guys are
overlooking and create something that
caters to their specific needs.
Go narrow before going broad. As a
small-business owner, you have limited
resources. Apply those resources to a
narrow target first and build momentum before going to a wider market
opportunity. We weren’t looking for
every customer—we were looking only
for people who wanted to give a fun
and thoughtful gift to executives. That
enabled us to concentrate all of our
branding and public-relations energy
on a well-defined group of consumers.
Price it differently. We priced the
More Balls Than Most juggling kit at
$29.95. This was three to four times the
usual price for juggling kits. In doing so,
we immediately appealed to a higher-end shopper.
Package it uniquely. The leatherette
case and quality of the balls were a
major departure from any other juggling kit out there, which instantly
brought cachet to the product. In the
minds of consumers, all of a sudden,
a juggling kit was a classy (and sassy)
gift to give. This applied to the branding
and messaging as well. All marketing
and product materials exuded quality
and fun. —Jeff and Rich Sloan
Rich: A huge shared passion is Arabian horses.
We buy, sell and breed Arabian horses ( www.aria
The Connection: Is there something else
you think you want to do with your lives?
The Connection: What do you do in your
Jeff: Horses will be big part of our future. Also,
traveling, experiencing new cultures and meeting people. We just returned from Dubai and Jordan. I could
see StartupNation becoming international. C