By Carlos Serrano
Word of advice: If you’re going to use a convention as a practice run for your startup business, don’t make it Comic Con. It’s large, busy, and so full of big name companies that it might be hard to get your message out.
Better word of advice: Ignore what you just read and just go for it. It might just be the best time ever.
Some background information – a few months ago I was contracted by a friend of mine to write a 20-page comic book script. This would be the first issue of a series that would go up on my friends new startup, On Target Network. My friend, knowing the best way way to a freelancers heart, offered to pay me for my services. The rest, as they say, is history. My comic, about a Mexican luchador that battles supernatural foes, was eventually done and posted on the site.
An enterprising young man, my friend would later come up to with a proposal. He wanted more exposure and connections with artists and writers in order to get more comics on his website/company. He figured the best way to do that would be to go to a convention where there would be a ton of potential creative folks. New York City Comic Con ended up being the most likely candidate. He ended up inviting me and the three other writers/artists he had already contracted both to help him at his booth and just as a form of thanks. It was a nice gesture, one that was very much appreciated, but the trip still had a few road blocks that serve to illustrate the kinds of things one should keep in mind as a small student-run startup.
First, you’ll be doing quite a bit of penny pinching. Passes for conventions can get pretty pricey nowadays, not to mention the costs of getting a booth and other miscellaneous expenses. This means you’ll have to find ways to cut back on other expenses. For us, that meant driving instead of flying and staying at a hotel with, well, not exactly the prettiest view.
It’s nothing shameful or anything; it’s just something that has to be done because you’re more than likely not at the level where you can afford the best of everything. That’s not a bad thing. Just look at our table:
As you can see, we weren’t exactly the most prepared booth. There were a lot of complications during the days leading up to our trip. Things like documents and pamphlets that didn’t want to print, comic books that were too expensive to print, and other unfortunate events. Again, these are things you’ll have to deal with when first starting out, whether on your own or as a business.
In our case, we had to improvise, so we ended buying white paper, a ton of markers, and tape. We taped the paper to our tables and allowed people walking by to draw on it. In the end, that worked out well for us, because our booth was different from the other small business booths at the convention. That and there was a predictably large amount of people, as these photos illustrate:
Keep in mind, these pictures are all from just one day of the convention, and it was still technically the least crowded day. As you might imagine, we went through quite a bit of paper. More importantly, we also went through quite a bit of business cards, both personal and as a business.
While I wouldn’t say our experience is universal, even for other startups, I would say that it underscores some important points. The first is, of course, be prepared. Not just with one plan, but with a back-up and maybe a back-up to your back-up plan. Our “drawing tables” weren’t exactly our first idea (we thought of it on the long drive up to New York) but they ended up being a great time for everyone.
This brings me to a second piece of advice. Be prepared to make sacrifices and compromises. I can tell you right off the bat, most, if not all, members of the group that went to Comic Con were not looking forward to a 16-hour drive from Georgia to New York City. Unfortunately, there was little choice. When you’re just starting out, you have to make these kinds of decisions. That’s just a fact of life.
The most important thing though, and I say this very seriously, have fun. At the end of the day, you’re in a super small business working with people you know or are close to and it’s a convention. Take it seriously, but don’t be afraid to show people that you’re approachable and fun. It will get more people coming to you.
Besides, when you’re talking to someone dressed as Batman, it’s hard not to have fun.