Mind Your Mentors

If you're looking for great advice on starting a business, ask those who've "been there, done that."
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the December 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ever wanted to ask the great and powerful Oz your business start-up questions? You could get answers to your most pressing quandaries: How can I distribute my product? What are the biggest challenges of being in this industry? Where can I get a good bologna sandwich?

Well, maybe not that last question, but every entrepreneur could use some advice from above. In the case of entrepreneurship, "above" can mean a megasuccessful entrepreneur in your field who's gone before you. In the case of Jeff Snow and Darrell Jochum, founders of Thepollgame LLC in Bellevue, Washington, it meant getting advice from Pictionary inventors Rob Angel and Terry Langston.

The object of Thepollgame is to predict how other players will answer questions such as: Have you ever played spin the bottle? Have you ever driven more than 100 miles per hour? The object for Jochum and Snow, both 41, was to get the game onto coffee tables everywhere. In 1999, armed only with their idea, Jochum searched out Angel and Langston through a Seattle-area country club connection. (Angel and Langston were members, and Jochum had been the director of membership years before.) It wasn't easy to get a meeting with the Pictionary inventors-their schedules were jam-packed. "[Angel] never told me he wouldn't meet with us, only that it was difficult," says Jochum. "So I kept calling every week or two." It took about five tries to land a meeting.

Playing the game over lunch convinced the two veteran gamers that Thepollgame had great potential. "They wanted to let us know that [getting a game to market] was a difficult process," says Jochum. The experts also provided some general information about the gaming industry, made some constructive comments about the game, and suggested Jochum and Snow get as many "average Joe" opinions of Thepollgame as possible-a bit of grass-roots market research.

Using the advice in their game and company, Jochum and Snow expect sales to hit $600,000 this year. If you plan to achieve that kind of success that quickly, asking experts about issues specific to your industry can be invaluable. Says Ellen A. Rudnick, executive director of the entrepreneurship program at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, "Many [entrepreneurs] who have gone through it will have [stories] of how they got their name out, how they got awareness of the product, how they got distributors and so forth."

By the book
When you're about to start a business, it seems that everyone in the world has advice to offer. Whom do you trust? And where can you get reliable, up-to-date information? We came across a groovy start-up e-book that melds the online and brick-and-mortar worlds pretty successfully, while providing sound start-up advice.

The Live Start-Up Business Guide can be found at www.connexx.org/startupebook. For a one-time purchase price of $25, aspiring entrepreneurs can learn about online and offline marketing, public relations, funding, technology and business pitfalls to avoid. The e-book format also allows for links to helpful Web sites such as the SBA and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

One plus: Co-publisher John E.D. Coffey and his passel of experts are available, via e-mail, to answer your most pressing start-up questions. "We call it the Live Start-Up Business Guide because it will change, adapt and be constantly renewed," says Coffey. "And people who read it can contact us directly-live." Now, when's the last time John Grisham promised that to his readers?

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