Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Business Of Deer Pee

Link of the day - I will pay you $25, if you come up with a cool domain name for me.

I didn't set out to become a pee farmer.

I was working as plant manager at a steel-manufacturing facility and running a taxidermy business on the side. One day my wife, Judi, bought me some deer to use as live models. Owning deer is like keeping two rabbits in a hutch in the backyard. It's harmless enough at first, but soon you've got a whole yard full.

As my herd grew, I started collecting urine to use when I hunted. Pheromone-rich urine from a doe in estrus is the strongest buck attractant I know of. So when the does were in heat I would grab a shovel, scoop up their urine and some dirt with a shovel, pour it into a Baggie, and stick it in the refrigerator.

My friends and I had a lot of success hunting with the urine. In 1990 Judi and I built a barn with handling facilities and collection rooms. The next year we started selling refrigerated whitetail urine. Our urine must be refrigerated because it's 100% pure and undiluted. The preservatives that some of our competitors mix into their urine kill the pheromones that make this type of urine an effective lure. Pure deer urine has a shelf life of about 60 days, so we only collect it seasonally to make sure it stays fresh for the fall.

Collecting deer urine resembles a conventional dairy operation. We keep 130 deer and a few elk. The deer come into a barn at night to eat. Their urine drips through grates onto a sloping floor that runs into a collection vat surrounded by a cooling pit. When the vat fills up, workers store it in a walk-in refrigerator. We filter the urine, bottle it, and ship it out in coolers to our customers.

There are 17 million deer hunters in America, and the whitetail-lure business - a $44-million-a-year market - keeps growing. We have four full-time employees, and we hire three or four more to help out during the fall. Our bestselling product is a two-ounce spray bottle that retails for $15.50.

We also sell freeze-dried urine, which has an indefinite shelf life - once you remove the moisture, bacteria can't grow. We sell it with a bottle of distilled water that hunters use to reconstitute it. Initially hunters used tap water, but the chlorine in the water killed the pheromones.

We own a sporting goods store that sells our deer urine along with bow-hunting gear and paintball equipment. We're in the process of moving the whole operation to a new farm. It will be a turnkey operation, with everything in one place: collection, shipping, receiving, and retail.

I love my job, but people cringe when I tell them what I do. When they visit our facility, they assume it's going to be nasty. Not true: Even one kernel of deer feces is enough to contaminate urine. Every day we spray the whole barn with high-pressure hoses and dry it with powerful blowers. You could eat lunch off the floor of our deer barn.

The Stink in Farts Controls Blood Pressure

The Business Of Stock Photography

Dumping Starbucks For Profit

Monday, October 27, 2008

The King Of Foreclosures

Link of the day - Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

The South Bay's reigning King of Foreclosures runs around barefoot, doesn't own a cellphone and drives an 8-year-old Toyota Tundra pickup.

And without looking the part, Leo Nordine, an affable Hermosa Beach-based real estate broker, expects to average one escrow closing a day this year -- something that would make most agents salivate.

Nordine, a 45-year-old native son and surfer didn't just catch the current foreclosure tidal wave, he has sold 3,500 bank-owned homes during the last two decades. He credits his uncanny ability to time the real estate market's cycles and position himself to reap its rewards as the key to his extraordinary success. And he does it all from the comfort of his home overlooking the Strand in Hermosa Beach.

Little about Nordine's road to riches is typical. He is a case study in how an intense young man without a formal education can be propelled by his drive and work ethic to the height of success -- even when he doesn't live and breathe his job.

"What's important to me," Nordine says, "is family, surfing and work -- in that order."

Born to European parents who immigrated to the U.S. so their son could be born a citizen, Nordine's childhood was far from the American dream.

His insurance salesman dad, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, left when Nordine was 5. His mom struggled to provide for him and his sister. He recalls the family moving from apartment to apartment, staying one step ahead of the eviction notices. Nordine bought 25-cent T-shirts at Goodwill to wear to school and took two paper routes for the Daily Breeze when he was old enough to have a job.

Nordine recalls how his dad reappeared one day and asked to borrow $200; he obliged, but the loan was never repaid.

"It was the best thing that ever happened to me," Nordine says, noting how he opened a savings account with his very next paycheck.

"Ever since," he says, "it always felt better to me to save than to consume."

Even today he doesn't dress, drive or live rich. In fact, his financial success has come as a total surprise to him. "I never figured myself to be someone who would amount to much," he said, recalling how at age 15 he'd drive his Plymouth Duster to Carlsbad with his longboard on the roof. He'd surf all day, sleep in the car and pick the oranges off people's trees come mealtime. After washing up in the Hadley Orchard Cafe, he'd avail himself of its free samples to supplement the fruit.

Then, at 17, Nordine met the woman who would become his first wife. He took a series of odd jobs to help support her and her child and -- encountering difficulties working for someone else -- was summarily fired from each of them.

When she became pregnant again, he set his sights on real estate. Much to his surprise, he had a natural gift for pricing and timing the market. Within three years, he opened his own business and has run things his way ever since. He began specializing in selling bank-owned properties in 1990 because, he says, that's where the market was headed.

Nordine's business model is E.T. Surf, the Hermosa Beach surf shop he frequented as a kid. He recalls how owner Eddie Talbot "always treated us with dignity, let us hang out like little sponges just soaking up the surfing atmosphere."

Nordine treats his own clients with the same respect. He understands that homeowners may regard him as the devil incarnate, the guy tasked with selling their homes -- sometimes out from under them.

He's fine with it. "Whether I sell their houses or not, they are getting foreclosed," he said. "I negotiate the best deal I can for them . . . cash for keys."

Nordine knows that anybody can fall victim to hard times. And the last thing he wants is for his youngest son, 6-year-old Nate, to think things come easily in life.

To that end, when Nate was just 2, Nordine took him on an outing to Watts. On the subway, Nate saw a homeless man whose disheveled appearance and erratic behavior scared him to the point of tears. When the man exited the train, he paused by the boy, put his hand on his shoulder and said, "I'm sorry I made you cry, son."

"Nate will always remember," Nordine said, "that not everyone is as fortunate as him."

Nordine has made his own fortune not only by selling homes but also by investing shrewdly. In the 1980s, he bought about 20 properties, most of them single-family homes in Torrance. He sold them off in 1990 and '91 when he anticipated a bust was coming. He dived back into the market in the mid-1990s -- this time apartments in Santa Monica -- and sold off most of them in 2005.

Today, he and his second wife own a 22-unit complex and a 12-unit complex in Santa Monica; a single-family home and a four-plex in El Segundo; nine bungalows and a four-plex in Torrance; a five-plex in Redondo Beach; and the house-office in Hermosa Beach.

But being a dad and husband is what it's all about for Nordine. His is the first face his son Nate sees every morning when he wakes and the last one he sees at bedtime.

So what advice does Nordine offer those concerned about the real estate market?

Don't sell unless you absolutely have to. Don't buy until 2010, when prices should be at 2000 levels. And apply every spare nickel to paying off your debt, including mortgages.


Dumping Startbucks Can Be A Good Thing For Your Business

Don't Touch My Beer!

Easing Death's Sting While Turning A Profit

The Business Of Hats

Friday, October 24, 2008

Earn big money taking photographs in your spare time!

Link of the day - Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin

Earn big money taking photographs in your spare time!

It sounds like a late-night TV come-on for a phony get-rich-quick scheme. But in this case, it might just be true.

Thanks to the Internet and digital cameras, thousands of semiprofessional photographers are now selling their shots through so-called microstock Web sites to customers around the world. But it’s not like the old days of stock photography — before 2000: the price that each shot fetches is not enough to buy a cup of coffee. Microstock Web sites have turned the pricing structure for picture licensing on its head.

Traditional photographic stock companies charge several hundred to several thousand dollars per image. Microstock prices can be as low as 25 cents, and payments to photographers are even lower, often not much more than pennies per sale.

But some photographers are making significant incomes from their pictures, making up in volume what they have lost in per-shot commissions. And that, in turn, is affecting the business of some mainstream professional photographers.

For small-business owners or others needing images, microstock sites can be an alternative to conventional stock agencies, which base fees on the published size of an image, circulation and other factors.

Microstock sites charge far less, and, with few exceptions, buyers pay a flat fee, no matter how large the image is or where it is used.

“Maybe a $300 photo for a pamphlet distributed to 300 people is not worth $300,” said Jon Oringer, the founder of Shutterstock (, a four-year-old microstock agency.

Shutterstock customers, who pay a monthly subscription fee beginning at $199, can download up to 25 pictures a day of the site’s 1.8 million photos, at any resolution. For those who download the maximum, that amounts to 27 cents per shot. Shutterstock photographers are paid 25 cents for a purchased picture; the price rises to 30 cents once $500 worth of their work is bought.

In addition to Shutterstock, other microstock photo agencies include Big Stock Photo (, Fotolia (, Dreamstime ( and iStockphoto (

Each uses a different pricing and payment scheme; photographers have the option to upload the same pictures on multiple sites or, with some of the agencies, become an exclusive supplier for an increased commission. There is no fee to post photos on a microstock site.

Whether the varying approaches matter to customers and photographers is an open question. “The differences to consumers appear to be incremental,” said Bruce Livingstone, who founded an early microstock site, iStockphoto, in 2000.

Microstock sites do not accept all comers or all photographs. Each employs a team of inspectors who check every picture submitted for technical quality, as well as artistic and commercial merit.

Shots of dogs and cats are generally not welcome, while “lifestyle” photographs — pictures of people at work and play — are usually top sellers. Other subjects of interest include food, sports and fashion.

Getting photos accepted for a site is just one part of the battle. Potential buyers can find shots by browsing through a collection and its categories, or by searching using a keyword that describes what they want.

The photographer creates the keywords; most sites have no restrictions on how many, though Fotolia had to stop some photographers who were adding every keyword under the sun in the hopes that someone would stumble upon the shot.

Keeping one’s pictures confined to one site may not be a good idea, if the site attracts few customers, or becomes known for specializing in pictures of sheep while you are hoping to sell shots of toothpaste.

“We did not want to limit the ability of photographers to earn money,” said Tim Donahue, the founder of Big Stock Photo, which does not offer exclusivity.

Some photographers say exclusivity works. The same picture on multiple sites may have different prices. By being exclusive photographers can more easily trace those who might be misusing their work, either by using an image — on, say, a coffee mug — without buying rights to it or by stealing a concept they like, recreating a photograph and selling it as their own.

Those who are doing well selling their work on microstock sites have done their homework: they have figured out what type of photographs a site specializes in, what types of pictures sell and whether the commission is sufficient.

Lise Gagné of Quebec specializes in business shots, one of the most popular genres. Ms. Gagné, who has been shooting commercially for five years, earns more than $100,000 a year selling her work exclusively through iStockphoto.

“I like iStock’s sharing spirit,” Ms. Gagné said, referring to the extensive discussion groups and other client aides the site provides. “It’s a matter of being fair. You don’t have to go elsewhere.”

Because volume matters in microstock sales, a large number of shots must be uploaded. Ms. Gagné currently has 4,900 photographs available for sale on the site and adds 5 to 20 more each week.

Kelly Cline, a Seattle-based food photographer, has uploaded 1,363 images to iStockphoto, and her work has been bought 68,215 times. Significant payments began to arrive once she had 500 to 600 images in her portfolio, Ms. Cline said, adding, “If you upload more, it’s like shooting arrows in the air.”

Ms. Cline, a former food stylist, began shooting food four years ago. At first, she photographed her own work and then began uploading her material to iStockphoto.

Today, she said, she earns about $70,000 a year, 60 percent of her income, from microstock sales, and she remains an exclusive provider to iStockphoto.

But Stephen Coburn, a Web designer at Adobe Systems who began photography a few years ago as a hobby, said he would never use one microstock site exclusively. “I’d feel nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket,” he said.

Mr. Coburn supplies shots to five microstock sites, shooting people, objects and interiors. With 3,500 photos posted to the sites, he earns, on average, $6,000 per month.

Michael Shake, a tool-and-die maker in Toledo, Ohio, uploads pictures to 10 sites and earns $1,000 a month for his work. Specializing in shots of houses and new cars, he sells his work to real estate agents and car dealers looking for appropriate illustrations.

When a tire accessory manufacturer saw his work, he hired Mr. Shake to shoot an advertisement, shipping a tire to his home for the shot. “All I wanted was to earn enough money for new equipment,” Mr. Shake said. “It’s gone way past that.”

Not everyone is enamored with microstock Web sites. Professional photographers see the sites’ growth as diluting their own incomes.

“This is the death of beautiful photography,” said David Skernick, a professional photographer in Los Angeles who does not use the sites. Because of the low prices and large volumes of material, “now clients accept anything.”

Mr. Skernick has seen the value of his own work decrease, from a time when photographs were priced not just on their merit but on their intended use. He said he once sold a photograph that was used on a Brian Wilson album cover for $2,000. “Today I would get $2 for the same use,” he said.

Still, railing against the sites is about as useful as hoping cellphones will go away and phone booths will make a comeback.

“Every month, my income from microstock sales gets better,” Ms. Cline said. “You have to go with it or be left behind. Otherwise you’ll be saying, ‘Woe is me.’ ”

Hands Off My Beer!

Easing Death's Sting While Turning A Profit

The Business Of Hats

Value-added Junk Hauling?

Magic As Business

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hands Off My Beer!

Link of the day - I will pay you $25, if you come up with a cool domain name for me.

Simon Hartley, 38, invented the Drink Bouncer - a beer mat which is placed on top of drinks when the customer goes to the toilet or when smokers go outside.

The father-of-three created the mat in June last year and after piloting 24,000 across Teesside, he hopes that there will be national interest at the British Inventors Show at Alexandra Palace next week.

Simon said: “I came up with the idea before the smoking ban came in, though I had been thinking about it for a while.

“It’s to stop pints going missing or being collected when you go out for a cigarette or to the toilets.

“Plus it saves landlords having to replace those pints for free.”

Simon will have his own stall at the show for three and a half days and is hoping that big breweries will sign up to the idea by sponsoring the mats which will then be free to pubs.

He will also be promoting his new website which aims to put kids who grew up in care in touch with each other.

Easing Death's Sting While Turning A Profit

The Business Of Hats

Bodyguard To The Stars

Friday, October 17, 2008

Easing Death's Sting While Turning A Profit

Link of the day - Who Is Shawn Casey? Is He For Real?

Renee Wood says she’s used to weeping at work. She runs an online bereavement-gift outfit, Comfort Co., from suburban Geneva and gets calls all day from people who want to buy something special for someone who has just lost a loved one. Compassion comes naturally to Wood—she was a social worker in a neonatal unit in Little Rock for years before she moved to Illinois­—but it was only in 2000 that she figured out how to make money from it. Her sister-in-law’s father died, and Wood couldn’t find a suitable gift. She crafted a pendant out of her daughter’s Play-Doh and took it to a silversmith to make into a necklace.

Wood put a photo of the pendant on the Web and sold 150 of them. After getting a $6,000 home-equity loan from Harris Bank, she went to gift shows and found more items to carry on her site,, including Christmas tree ornaments to remember lost ones at the holidays. Wood, 42, has added Spanish-language products and would like to expand her pet-sympathy line. Revenue jumped to $625,000 last year, from $53,000 in 2003. “The more I grow, the more people I help feel better.”

The Business Of Hats

Value-added Junk Hauling?

Magic As Business

Prison Economics

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Business Of Hats

Link of the day - 10 weird facts about sleep and sleep disorders

Graham Thompson, owner of Optimo Fine Hats in Beverly, has for years gone to Ecuador to buy toquilla straw for Panama hats and to Italy and Portugal for fancy felts for fedoras. Now the hatmaker wants to reverse at least some of that trade flow—by opening stores in London and Milan. A shop in downtown Chicago is also on the to-do list.

Thompson, 36, who grew up in Oak Brook, had hat dreams as far back as the 8th grade, idolizing men in hats from 1930s and ’40s movies. As a teen, he hung out with South Side master hatter Johnny Tyus and ended up buying Tyus’ business, paying him $75,000 from cash flow over three years.

Today, Optimo draws locals willing to spend $500 to $20,000 for custom-made hats, though it boasts celebrity clients, too, including bluesman Buddy Guy, comedian Bernie Mac, and actor Andy Garcia. Thompson also has made hats for movies, including Road to Perdition. He’s now working on Michael Mann’s Chicago gangster film, Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. To supply his new stores, Thompson plans to jack up production to as many as 100 hats a week from 36 today. Revenue should hit $1 million in 2008, he adds, up from $700,000 in 2007 and $100,000 when he opened in 1994.

How two brothers founded more than a dozen companies and made hundreds of millions along the way

Freeshipping.Org Success Story

Buying and selling usused brands

10 Books You Have To Read If You Believe Humans Are Rational

Digital animation entrepreneurs make a legal killing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Value-added Junk Hauling?

Link of the day - The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

VALUE-ADDED junk hauling may sound like a questionable product to sell: it assumes that people will pay hundreds of dollars to get rid of ratty sofas and assorted flotsam in professional and socially conscious ways.

Its biggest selling points are friendly employees who presumably look more respectable than the local odd jobber, and who will, unlike the far less expensive city garbage collector, climb into that nasty basement or garage to haul out your junk.

Yet to the bafflement of industry experts, quality junk-hauling sells.

Take Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman, the 26-year-old founders of College Hunks Hauling Junk, based in Tampa, Fla. The pair started the company in Washington five years ago and now employ 25 people there; they also have franchises in 15 metropolitan areas.

Sending out college students in golf shirts and khakis, College Hunks had $2.9 million in business last year. Mr. Soliman and Mr. Friedman said they expected sales of $4 million this year.

The company charges by the size of the cargo: for an eighth of a truck, a quarter and so on, up to $500 for a full load, or $99 for a single item. Extra charges apply for some concrete, dirt, construction materials and other loads. And they will not remove some materials at all, like combustibles and other hazardous waste. The haulers promise to recycle and donate what they can — and say that it’s to their advantage to eliminate as much as possible this way, because they pay by the pound for whatever they drop off at the dump.

More than half of College Hunks’ business comes from homeowners in upscale neighborhoods who discard many items that the company takes to Goodwill Industries instead of to the dump. While some charities offer pickup services, they may be selective in what they accept and may not clean out a space, Mr. Friedman said, adding, “Calling College Hunks gets the stuff out in one sweep.”

About 30 percent of the company’s revenue comes from businesses — property managers, for example, who hire the company to clear rental units.

College Hunks has sold 36 franchises since January 2007, each requiring a minimum investment of $75,600, which includes a $25,000 franchise fee, to get started. “In our minds, we want to have 80 to 125 franchise partners across the country,” said Mr. Soliman, the chief executive. “We think we can do that within three years.”

From the beginning, their business plan called for franchising, as the least expensive way to expand the company. By the summer of 2006, when 12-month revenues were up to about $500,000, Mr. Friedman and Mr. Soliman had enough cash from operations to spend around $250,000 for lawyers and consultants to roll out a franchise plan.

Among the expenses were setting up a call center that could take orders from around the country and software that would allow customers to search online for College Hunks by ZIP code.

They also hired George Palmer, 63, as director of franchise development. “I’ve been in franchising for more than 30 years; that’s longer than the College Hunks have been on the face of the earth,” Mr. Palmer said.

His job is to arrange support for the franchisees, including marketing materials designed for specific customers, like real estate agents, bankers or moving companies. He also hosts conference phone calls with franchisees, where tips are shared — on good insurance rates, for example.

If the College Hunks plan sounds familiar, that is probably because a company called 1-800-GOT-JUNK? has already done it. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? sells the same services as College Hunks, and it has blanketed the United States and Canada with more than 300 franchises in the last nine years. It reported $121.37 million in revenue last year.

Mr. Friedman said College Hunks was already the largest junk-hauling business based in the United States, and that 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was the only competitor with more than a few trucks.

College Hunks — whose phone number is a similar 1-800-JUNK-USA (its Web site is — is undaunted by the competition. While Mr. Friedman said 1-800-GOT-JUNK? “is the McDonald’s of the junk-hauling business,” he said his company just wanted to be “the Burger King.”

Franchise consultants say there is nothing wrong with that strategy. They point out that Wendy’s did not enter the fast food market until about two decades after McDonald’s invented it.

College Hunks was conceived in the summer of 2003, when Mr. Friedman was a college intern at the International Monetary Fund in Washington and when Mr. Soliman started picking up junk for cash. The two, who have known each other since attending Sidwell Friends School in Washington, hauled junk together on weekends.

They split about $9,000 that summer. Then Mr. Soliman returned to the University of Miami and Mr. Friedman to Pomona College in California for their senior years, but their phones kept ringing for hauling jobs in Washington.

So Mr. Soliman drew up a business plan for College Hunks and entered it in the Leigh Rothschild Entrepreneurship Competition at his university. He took first place and won $10,000.

After graduating with a business degree, Mr. Soliman took a marketing job in Washington and used his prize money to restart the junk business on the side. Mr. Friedman helped, but he had an economics degree by then and a job at a consulting company.

“I created spreadsheets, economic research to help billion-dollar businesses make more billions,” he said. Six months later, he left to join Mr. Soliman and the junk business full time.

They recruited haulers from the University of Maryland, in nearby College Park, and area community colleges, paying them $11 an hour, with bonuses of $20 to $50 a shift if a customer called in and complimented their work.

The company’s name notwithstanding, the haulers don’t have to be hunky, Mr. Friedman said, but “clean-cut,” which he defines as well-groomed with no prominent piercings or tattoos. There is also at least one Hunkette, as they call a female hauler, and women also work in the corporate office.

Mr. Soliman and Mr. Friedman designed a logo with a cartoonish muscle man and invented a slogan: “Let tomorrow’s leaders haul your junk today!” They put out fliers and door hangers and handed out business cards.

Shortly before their 25th birthdays, they were ready to franchise, and they obtained a toll-free phone number with the word junk in it, paying a Michigan medical company $13,000 for 1-800-JUNK-USA. The number helped their marketing efforts immensely, they said.

“It was easy to remember and sounds like a national company,” Mr. Soliman said.

Big waste-collection companies might pose formidable competition if they pursued junk hauling, but they haven’t so far, and some of them openly disdain the idea of collecting junk from inside homes.

“I question the need and the appropriateness of companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?” said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems, based in San Francisco. The company collects garbage for San Francisco and nearby cities, and it recycles about 60 percent of what it collects in its facilities, Mr. Reed said.

Most homeowners get free or inexpensive pickup of bulk items from the curb once or twice a year as part of their city garbage collection, Mr. Reed said. So why would people spend $400?

“Most people are able-bodied and can haul their own stuff,” he said. “You just get a dolly, which most people have in their garage, and pull it out to the curb.”

Those sentiments were echoed at the National Solid Wastes Management Association, a trade group whose members include large trash companies, and in Waste Age, a publication that covers the waste-hauling industry.

But at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Launi Skinner, the president and chief operating officer, said quality hauling services were needed because “everyone in our society has junk.”

And sometimes it takes a sense of humor to move it. Among the College Hunks is Kevin Burns, a 21-year-old student who is also a full-time employee.

Last month, Mr. Burns was working on a job at a small apartment in Tampa. Magazines, notebooks, plastic soda bottles, lamp parts, 1980s electronics and, inexplicably, feathers covered every surface.

While her 10-pound Chihuahua yapped furiously, the resident, Deirdre Blancett, asked the haulers to remove the sleeper sofa, the television, the computer desk — pretty much all of her furniture — and whatever was on it.

When the job was about half done, Ms. Blancett’s nephew, Brian Vans Evers, arrived. Noting the College Hunks sign on the truck, he spat tobacco juice and remarked that college students had time for junk hauling.

Mr. Burns introduced himself and finished filling the truck. Then he slapped a College Hunks magnet on the tailgate of Mr. Vans Evers’s pickup and said he hoped he could work for him again.

Mr. Vans Evers looked at the magnet, just above his “Yur Followeeng a Rednek” bumper sticker. The house his aunt is moving into has more junk than this apartment, he said, adding that “maybe we’ll give you a call.”

Magic As Business

Prison Economics

Weird Businesses - Lightning Photography

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Magic As Business

Link of the day - How Changed The Domain Game For Good

Jared Sherlock is under quite a spotlight when he works. Well, it’s more like a lightshow.

The 20-year-old sophomore at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., spends his work nights on a stage doing magic. His multifaceted performances include fire juggling, escaping from traps, making things disappear and interacting with the audience in a manner similar to that of a stand-up comedian. It’s not a career that many think about putting their efforts into.

But magician Jared Sherlock, the winner of the “Clearly Very Talented” group in StartupNation’s 2008 Dorm-Based 20, has focused on that goal. We chose him as tops in this category because, though there’s plenty of hard work involved, all great performers in magic must have that rare and riveting talent to make it to the bigtime. If everything comes together, the payoff can lead to fame and fortune, like it has for celeb magicians like Criss Angel and David Blaine.

To fully leverage his natural gift for performing, Sherlock is studying theater and communications to best prepare him for the creative and business sides of his career aspiration – to become a full time magician.

He has already worked hard at this goal on the illusion end. Though some of his skills come naturally now, Sherlock still spends hours practicing his tricks. He watches tape of other magicians, draws from numerous movies to get inspirational ideas and collaborates with writers to come up with scripts for his shows.

So far his work has paid off.

Sherlock recently completed a four-day run at the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival and has performed around the Midwest for both college and corporate events. This coming school year, he’s looking to do performances on his own campus.

Influenced by family members, including his uncle, to whom one of his bigger tricks is dedicated, Sherlock has done magic since he was eight. He trained with the Society of Young Magicians and soon got work in a variety of local venues.

But Sherlock’s business is more than just magic tricks.

“My job is about 90 percent sitting at a desk promoting myself, and 10 percent is performing,” says Jared Sherlock “I don’t think people look at it as a business, but that’s just what it is.”

Sherlock’s act – and expenses – go way beyond a rabbit, hat and deck of cards. His stage show, which he says is indicative of how magical performances have evolved, involves about 20 people, including stagehands, dancers, actors and comedians. Major light shows are involved. His performances are really more like a variety show than what one might envision as a singular magic performance.

The Indianapolis native assures that these types of productions, which follow the footsteps of such big names as Penn & Teller and David Copperfield, aren’t cheap. They can cost tens of thousands of dollars to put on.

But Sherlock says that he finds many aspiring performers who will donate their time to his act just to have a chance to perform in front of large audiences.

“It’s their passion and their art,” he says.

That passion is obviously what drives Sherlock.

“I do small venues, but my passion is the grand illusion shows,” he says. “The bigger the theater, the more at home I feel. I just love people, and I love their amazement, and I love to see them smile.

Sometimes the hardest part is securing the right venue and date to ensure that tickets will sell. Depending on what type of act he wants to perform, Sherlock has to find the right locale, taking into consideration it’s size and environment. He also needs to be aware of what else is happening on certain days. For example, you don’t want to schedule an event in Indianapolis if the Colts are playing in the Super Bowl – a mistake that he once narrowly avoided.

“It would have been a lonely night in the theater on Super Bowl Sunday,” he points out.

Sherlock says he is confident that his industry will fare well during the current economic downturn, and whatever the future brings financially for consumers.

“People love to laugh, be entertained and have a good time,” he says. “I don’t think that will ever change.”

However, Sherlock concedes that performances for high-paying corporate events could drop off due to shortfalls in firms’ budgets.

Another side of Sherlock’s business is his commitment to philanthropy. Parts of the proceeds from all of his performances go to local charities.

“I consider myself an aspiring social entrepreneur,” he says. “I say ‘aspiring’ because our impact on society currently is very small in the scope of things, but we are only at the beginning, and we are ready to grow.”

He is in the process of setting up a foundation called Arts Now, which will provide funding for aspiring magicians.

So what is Sherlock’s end goal? Billboards in Las Vegas announcing his gig at one of the town’s hottest casino-resorts?

“Any entertainer would be honored to be part of that,” he says. “It a pipe dream, but it would be wonderful.”

For now Sherlock is trying to learn as much as he can in school and apply those skills to his business – a career on which he has a long-term focus.

“I’m hoping to be able to do this from here on out,” he says.

The Business Of Homebiz Scams

Teen Entrepreneur Shares Her Success Story

Disaboom.Com Success Story

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Street Magic

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Prison Economics

Link of the day - Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

When Larry Levine helped prepare divorce papers for a client a few years ago, he got paid in mackerel. Once the case ended, he says, "I had a stack of macks."

Mr. Levine and his client were prisoners in California's Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex. Like other federal inmates around the country, they found a can of mackerel -- the "mack" in prison lingo -- was the standard currency.

"It's the coin of the realm," says Mark Bailey, who paid Mr. Levine in fish. Mr. Bailey was serving a two-year tax-fraud sentence in connection with a chain of strip clubs he owned. Mr. Levine was serving a nine-year term for drug dealing. Mr. Levine says he used his macks to get his beard trimmed, his clothes pressed and his shoes shined by other prisoners. "A haircut is two macks," he says, as an expected tip for inmates who work in the prison barber shop.

There's been a mackerel economy in federal prisons since about 2004, former inmates and some prison consultants say. That's when federal prisons prohibited smoking and, by default, the cigarette pack, which was the earlier gold standard.

Prisoners need a proxy for the dollar because they're not allowed to possess cash. Money they get from prison jobs (which pay a maximum of 40 cents an hour, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons) or family members goes into commissary accounts that let them buy things such as food and toiletries. After the smokes disappeared, inmates turned to other items on the commissary menu to use as currency.

Books of stamps were one easy alternative. "It was like half a book for a piece of fruit," says Tony Serra, a well-known San Francisco criminal-defense attorney who last year finished nine months in Lompoc on tax charges. Elsewhere in the West, prisoners use PowerBars or cans of tuna, says Ed Bales, a consultant who advises people who are headed to prison. But in much of the federal prison system, he says, mackerel has become the currency of choice.

Mackerel supplier Global Source Marketing Inc. says demand from prisons has grown since 2004. In recent years, demand has switched from cans -- which wardens don't like because inmates can turn them into makeshift knives -- to plastic-and-foil pouches of mackerel fillets, says Jon Linder, a vice president at supplier Power Commissary Inc., in Bohemia, N.Y.

Mackerel is hot in prisons in the U.S., but not so much anywhere else, says Mark Muntz, president of Global Source, which imports fillets of the oily, dark-fleshed fish from Asian canneries. Mr. Muntz says he's tried marketing mackerel to discount retailers. "We've even tried 99-cent stores," he says. "It never has done very well at all, regardless of the retailer, but it's very popular in the prisons."
Outstripping the Tuna

Mr. Muntz says he sold more than $1 million of mackerel for federal prison commissaries last year. It accounted for about half his commissary sales, he says, outstripping the canned tuna, crab, chicken and oysters he offers.

Unlike those more expensive delicacies, former prisoners say, the mack is a good stand-in for the greenback because each can (or pouch) costs about $1 and few -- other than weight-lifters craving protein -- want to eat it.

So inmates stash macks in lockers provided by the prison and use them to buy goods, including illicit ones such as stolen food and home-brewed "prison hooch," as well as services, such as shoeshines and cell cleaning.

The Bureau of Prisons views any bartering among prisoners as fishy. "We are aware that inmates attempt to trade amongst themselves items that are purchased from the commissary," says bureau spokeswoman Felicia Ponce in an email. She says guards respond by limiting the amount of goods prisoners can stockpile. Those who are caught bartering can end up in the "Special Housing Unit" -- an isolation area also known as the "hole" -- and could lose credit they get for good behavior.

For that reason -- and since communications between inmates and nonprisoners are monitored by prison officials -- current inmates can't discuss mackerel transactions without risking discipline, say several lawyers and consultants who represent incarcerated clients.

Ethan Roberts knows about mackerel discipline first hand. Mr. Roberts, who was released in 2007 after serving eight years on a methamphetamine charge at prisons including the La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, says he got busted for various piscine transactions. "I paid gambling debts" with mackerel, he says. "One time I bought cigarettes for a friend who was in the hole."

Mr. Roberts and other ex-inmates say some prisoners make specially prepared food with items from the prison kitchen and sell it for mackerel.

"I knew a guy who would buy ingredients and use the microwaves to cook meals. Then people used mack to buy it from him," says Jonson Miller, an adjunct history professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia who spent two months in federal prison after being arrested at a protest on federal property.

Mr. Miller was released in 2003, when prisoners were getting ready for cigarettes to be phased out, and says inmates then were already moving to mackerel.

Since the Pensacola Federal Prison Camp commissary in Florida was only open one day a week, some inmates would run a "prison 7-Eleven" out of their lockers, reselling commissary items at a premium in exchange for mackerel, says Bill Bailey, who served three months last year on a computer-hacking charge. "I knew one guy who would actually pay rent to use half of another guy's locker because his locker wasn't large enough to store all his inventory," he says.
Big Haul

The Pensacola lockers, at about 4 feet high, could store plenty of macks, he says, a good thing for inmates who played poker, since a winning hand could result in a big haul. A spokeswoman for Pensacola said prison authorities discipline inmates who are caught bartering. At Lompoc, says spokeswoman Katie Shinn, guards "are not aware of such a problem with mackerel." When officials do catch inmates bartering, she says, punishments can include a loss of commissary privileges or moving to a less desirable cell.

There are other threats to the mackerel economy, says Mr. Linder, of Power Commissary. "There are shortages world-wide, in terms of the catch," he says. Combined with the weak dollar, that's led to a surging mack. Now, he says, a pouch of mackerel sells for more than $1 in most commissaries.

Another problem with mackerel is that once a prisoner's sentence is up, there's little to do with it -- the fish can't be redeemed for cash, and has little value on the outside. As a result, says Mr. Levine, prisoners approaching their release must either barter or give away their stockpiles.

That's what Mr. Levine did when he got out of prison last year. Since then, he's set up a consulting business offering advice to inmates and soon-to-be prisoners. He consults on various matters, such as how to request facility transfers and how to file grievances against wardens.

It's similar to the work he provided fellow inmates when he was in prison. But now, he says, "I get paid in American dollars."

Grilling on your backyard dragon

Oyster Bamboo's Fly Rods Success Story

Have Knife, Will Travel

Sneaker Art As A Business

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict

Link of the day - Who Is Shawn Casey? Is He For Real?

Apart from its tragic human toll, the Iraq War will be staggeringly expensive in financial terms. This sobering study by Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes casts a spotlight on expense items that have been hidden from the U.S. taxpayer, including not only big-ticket items like replacing military equipment (being used up at six times the peacetime rate) but also the cost of caring for thousands of wounded veterans—for the rest of their lives.

Shifting to a global focus, the authors investigate the cost in lives and economic damage within Iraq and the region. Finally, with the chilling precision of an actuary, the authors measure what the U.S. taxpayer's money would have produced if instead it had been invested in the further growth of the U.S. economy. Written in language as simple as the details are disturbing, this book will forever change the way we think about the war.

A San Diego entrepreneur has found a perfect business for frustrating times: Selling customers breakables to fling against walls.

A well-heeled business

Weird Businesses - Lightning Photography