After the Spectrum blog featured a new business that crams traditional Adventist culture and stereotypes into clever T-shirt slogans, we thought we'd track down the young Adventist entrepreneurs behind the idea and ask them how their brand-new business got started.
So the three entrepreneurs behind 1844 collaborated on answers to a short series of questions - demonstrating how they work together, even though they all live in different parts of the US. They didn't want to give too many personal details, because they wanted to retain the "mystery" behind 1844.
Question: Where did you get the idea for "1844?" Who is involved in the company?
Answer: It all started with a close friend that told us he was thinking about printing up T-shirts that said "I heart Potluck." We absolutely loved the idea and the brainstorming process exploded from there. Even though this friend didn't actually end up participating with us, the 1844 products that you see today were spawned from that first discussion we had nearly three years ago. The current brain trust behind 1844 is made up of Travis, Jonathan and Danny. Question: What response have you got to your T-shirts so far? How many have you sold?
Answer: The response so far has been tremendous. It definitely looks like we've hit a nerve.
To be honest, we expected some backlash from some who might not get our style of humor. But all the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. So far to date through the month of September (we began selling on September 5) we have sold about 60 shirts. The number keeps growing each day.
Question: Where do you get the ideas for your T-shirt slogans? How many different ones do you offer so far? Which is the most popular?
Answer: The concepts have literally been hatched by many of us sitting around in a room just thinking about unique lifestyle traits of Adventists and then talking out loud until we find an idea that seems like it will translate to a T-shirt.
Since each of the three founding members have very deep roots in Adventism (as far back as six generations in some cases) it has not really been that hard to come up with material!
So far we offer eight different designs with different color combinations available for several of the design themes.
The two most popular shirts by number of sales is "I heart Haystacks" followed by "1984 Rook Champion."
This was a bit of a surprise to us, as we thought some of the others would be more popular, but we are just thrilled that people are buying any of them at all! Question: 1844 is a sideline for you. How much time does it take? How do you divide up the responsibilities? Can you give us a basic idea of what you do in your "real" lives?
Answer: Yes, actually all three of us have day jobs.
Right now, 1844 is a side gig for each of us. We expect it to stay that way, despite the growing response we are getting from the Adventist community. We realize this is not going to be our golden ticket to early retirement, so we are trying to just have fun with it rather than attempting to build a small fortune on the backs of our fellow Adventists.
Because much of the operation is outsourced it has not required a tremendous amount of resources other than coming up with the ideas, designing them, and then posting them to our website.
While each of us has given a lot of input into the ideas that are printed, Travis has been the main driver of the design. Being the resident artist among us, he has taken our crazy concepts and put them to paper - or cotton. Since he is a freelance graphic designer, you might understand why this comes naturally for him.
Jonathan has taken on the responsibility of building the website and keeping it updated. He also has been a help in refining our ideas to a more polished level. His background in media production and communications is helpful in our quest to deliver a quality product.
Danny is mostly involved in idea generation, and was responsible for bringing Travis and Jonathan together to make 1844. Since he does not have any other specific duties, he has been assigned the task of responding to the numerous emails that have begun to pour in. Danny works for Florida Hospital in Patient Financial Services. Question: Are you making any money? How do you advertise?
Answer: Advertise in the Adventist community? Why, all you need to do is to start a rumor...
We're relying solely on gossip, er... word of mouth to help spread the news. Since we seem to have hit a nerve, it's working so far. At last glance, we've had nearly 5,000 visitors to our website from 57 different countries. The majority are in the North American Division.
The organic marketing strategy is starting to pay off, and we have begun to sell some shirts. We hope to turn a small profit at some point, after recouping a minimal amount of expenses.
Question: Spectrum readers were keen to offer you their ideas for slogans when you were featured in the blog. Did you like any of the suggestions? Do you pay a commission?
Answer: Yes, thank you for the ideas! We've received tons of slogans from just about every demographic. Some are great and some. . . well, not so much.
It's important to us that the idea be instantly recognizable, lend itself well to a T-shirt, and that it meets our aim of "embracing the culture."
We have decided to be very careful not to tear down the institution of Adventism, its beliefs or our church leaders.
We are also staying away from doctrine-related messaging since a T-shirt hardly seems like the place to make a deep argument.
As for commissions, we'd definitely love to be able to show our appreciation for any ideas that actually become T-shirts. At this stage in the business, there's not a whole lot of commission to be had. We hope to possibly hold a contest in the coming months that will allow for people to submit their ideas to us. The winner of the contest will get his or her shirt added to the shop and will receive some sort of prize, like a new iPod or something. We will let everyone know more once we have established the ground rules.
Question: Do you print T-shirts on demand (thus reducing costs) or are you printing in bulk (which may be cheaper because of economies of scale)?
Answer: At this point all of our production is done on demand. Once an individual orders a shirt, the order is picked up by our outsourced vendor and it immediately goes into production. Even though this means that we probably make less commission on each shirt, it saves us from having to invest capital into printing up stock and then warehousing and distributing it. To be honest we really like the turnkey approach best, as again, we have things to do in real life!
Question: Have any of you started businesses before? What advice would you have for your entrepreneurs?
Answer: This is Danny's first foray into the entrepreneurial universe.
Travis has been a freelance graphic designer for over a year now. But this is his first experience with something that can be called an actual business.
Jonathan operates a photography business with his wife Julie, called freckled pear studio. He is also involved with a few other web-based projects that he hopes to see launch soon. He can honestly say that he has never had as much fun or gotten such a response as he has with 1844.
As for advice: We'd say to remember that a great idea is a good start, but it's just that – a start. There's so much more work that goes into the entire process of taking an idea and turning into something tangible. It takes perseverance and a lot of sleepless nights.
Question: Anything else?
Answer: For every design that does make it to the shop, there are dozens that don't.
Some of the ideas are either so funny, or so wrong, that we have to laugh. . . and then vow never to speak of it again. For instance, don't expect any "It's William Miller Time" or "WWED" shirts any time soon!
We have just been taking this one day at a time and having fun with it. The fact that it has resonated with the Adventist community has been so enjoyable for us. It has been more fulfilling than any of the sales of shirts.
Of course we thought that we had a come up with a funny idea, but have been refreshingly surprised to find that so many others are appreciating the humor along with us.
We hope to introduce several more shirt designs in January of 2009, so stay tuned.
Visit www.eighteenfortyfour.com to check out the T-shirt designs.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/991