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Investor Next Door

Isn't that what friends (and neighbors) are for?

It's the novice entrepreneur's mantra: "Don't be afraid to ask friends and family to invest in your business idea." But what if that seed money doesn't last past the seedling stage? Then you'll need to tap a wider circle of friends. At least that's what Robert Poole of Clayton, North Carolina, did. With $115,000 raised from friends in 1994, this postman-by-day financed the start-up of Rules of the Game, a Trivial Pursuit-like board game of obscure sporting rules guaranteed to stump sports nuts.

But before long, Poole realized he needed another $500,000 to drive the business. Confident the game would sell if only people knew about it, he hawked it to local radio talk shows where it was played on the air, attracting lots of attention. When Poole won an order from Kmart, more friends and family wanted in.

The lesson Poole shares: Don't underestimate public relations. Without soliciting a dime, Poole had 283 volunteer investors, mostly from his hometown of 8,000, contributing a total of $520,000. "I know 90 per-cent of them," Poole says. Nine investors even came from his mail route in nearby Raleigh, contributing about $25,000.

Last year, Poole sold about 100,000 games and made $750,000 in sales. And as the company goes public this year, Poole, who hasn't quit his day job yet, says big orders for his games are pending. His business, now called Game Technologies Inc., is also currently developing versions of Rules of the Game for the Web (http://www.rulesofthegame.net) and for CD-ROM.

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Investor Next Door.

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