Interview with young entrepreneur Jeremy Parker from Voteforart.com
Cristian: Hi Jeremy and welcome on board. Tell us a few words about yourself.
Jeremy: Hi Cristian, Thanks for having me. I graduated for Boston University in 2007 where I was really into filmmaking. I produced the feature length doc One Per Cent, starring Russel Simmons that won the Audience Award at the 2006 Vail Film Festival. Ever since that experience of creating a product and leading a team, I became hooked on Entrepreneurial life style. I am now the president and founder of VoteForArt.com.
Cristian: So, you have recently started a new business, VoteForArt.com. What is it about?
Jeremy: Vote For Art is a community where you get to choose your favorite t-shirts for your favorite brands! From universities to baseball teams, music festivals to political campaigns, and everything in between, artists from anywhere in the world can submit their best graphic tee designs to be voted on on by the entire VFA community. For the price of the merchandise itself, that organization has now gotten months of free promotion, highly engaged fans discussing and reviewing their brand’s images, and cool, never-before seen, consumer-approved merchandise ready for sale with a built-in market waiting to purchase it. We are also giving artists from all over the world the opportunity to design merchandise for their favorite brands, earn money and huge exposure.
Cristian: What makes it different from other t-shirt companies?
Jeremy: We are focused on organizations and licensed institutions (Baseball teams, universities etc.) I like to think of VoteForArt.com as more of a marketing and promotion site than really a t-shirt company. We are allowing these organizations the ability to really engage their supporters and market themselves in a more organic way, and at the end of the contest (usually 2 months from start to finish) they will also have a proven design that they know will sell well. Its a win-win for the organization. The artists who use our platform, get huge exposure that wouldn’t be possible on other t-shirt platforms. We had a contest for the fan football tee for Oregon State, the winning design has been on the front page of the Oregon State Bookstore for over two months and will be worn by the entire student body.
Cristian: How exactly does it work? Who orders the t-shirts, who makes the designs and who prints them?
Jeremy: It is very simple 1. VoteForArt.com sets up a contest page for a specific organization. 2. The artists follow specific contest guidelines and submits designs. 3. The organization selects the top 10-15 designs that they feel are the best. 4. The designs are posted to VoteForArt.com to be voted on by the organizations fan base and the VFA community. 5. Based on the votes, the organization selects the winning design. 6. The winning design sells at the organizations retail location and/or our site.
Our Factory in the US produces all of the merchandise.
Cristian: You had a previous business (in the t-shirts industry) that didn’t go that well. What did you learned from this failure?
Jeremy: I don’t like to think that my previous experience was a failure. I made some amazing connections and I learned a lot. With Tees and Tats (my previous t-shirt business), we launched right before the recession (obviously we didn’t know what was going to happen). Not the best time to launch a high-end t-shirt line. But we were making it work, our sales were continuing to grow. I was faced with the opportunity to run voteForArt.com, which I felt considering the partnership we formed with MV Sport and the economy that it was a better decision for me to make.
Cristian: Have you ever applied for a job?
Jeremy: I applied for a few summer jobs during college, working at different retail stores and political campaigns, but nothing since Jr year of college.
Cristian: So is it better to look for a job after college or if you have an idea, to start your own business, even if you don’t have a lot of experience?
Jeremy: For me there is nothing better than taking an idea and turning into a real business. It is a lot more stressful, but It is a lot more rewarding.
Cristian: What is the most notable success so far for Vote For Art?
Jeremy: We launched in January 2010 and we have already held over 25 contests for major organizations including ASU, University of Wisconsin, University of Maryland, Purdue University, Oregon State, Reno Aces, Moondance Jam Rock Festival to name a few. We have partnered with top licensing company MV Sport. We are growing naturally without spending any money on marketing.
Cristian: How many employees do you have?
Jeremy: I have two employees
Cristian: Probably one of the first things you had to invest when starting Vote for Art was the website. Is it made in-house or outsourced?
Jeremy: It was outsourced, but we were lucky that the programmer lived a few blocks away from me so it was more of a collaborative process.
Cristian: As an entrepreneur, do you have to know the technical part of the online business if you want to start something that relies of a website?
Jeremy: I definitely think it helps, but it is not a must. You will learn a lot on the job and you will pick up more coding terms than you would ever want to know.
Cristian: I know from your other interviews that it was very important to have contacts with MV Sport owners that had license and a distribution network to sell in college bookstores. So how important is to have a network of people in your industry?
Jeremy: It is very important. The more people you know in the industry, the easier it is to get things done. Having the connection will not answer all of your problems, but sometimes just getting in the door is the hardest part and then you need to really sell what you are doing.
Cristian: Any advice for young people willing to start a business?
Jeremy: Do something that you are passionate about, because when things don’t work out the way you planned and your business doesn’t take off instantly like you dreamed it would, you still need to feel that with hard work you can make it successful. If you don’t have that passion, your business will never work.
Cristian: How do you market a company like yours? Which are the most effective marketing techniques when you start small?
Jeremy: We haven’t spent any real money marketing Vote For Art. We paid a hundred dollars here and there to test out some future marketing initiatives but nothing significant. I think the best way to market a small business is to tap into the blog network/ video sharing sites where your users are hanging out. For us it has been a little easier, because every organization that signs up with us has their own marketing initiatives. But really what it comes down to is the more you put yourself out their the better results you will have.
Cristian: What about the legal implications of running a small business? Where could one get advice on tax and law?
Jeremy: I was fortunate to have the MV Sport lawyers help us out. But there are always lawyers willing to work for small equity or differed payment.
Cristian: Most people are afraid their business won’t work. What is your advice for them?
Jeremy: Make sure before you start that you believe in your business. You should never go into something without feeling passionate about it. You need to feel that you can make it successful. If you are confident in your business that go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? an important learning experience that you can apply to all future challenges.
Cristian: Any plans for the future?
Jeremy: We are launching contests for blogs, magazines, film festivals, music festivals. We are adding products (hats, sweatshirts etc) and we are going to make this the easiest and least expensive platform for all organizations big or small to market them selves to their supporters (or future supporters). For the cost of buying merchandise, these organizations will have two free months of promotion and will have a proven design that they know will sell well. There is no reason that any organization who sells merchandise or wants to sell merchandise should not use our proven model.