Ideas, Enthusiasm and Energy Fuel Recent Alumni Business Ventures
Story by Flor Edwards '11 / Images by Matt Gush '12
Recent graduates of Cal State Fullerton are setting the business world abuzz by applying what they've learned from faculty in the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, as well as other CSUF departments, and using it to create real-world entrepreneurial ventures.
John Bradley Jackson, known as J.J. to his students, has coached many young entrepreneurs through the CSUF Center for Entrepreneurship. "All of us have good ideas," Jackson said. "An idea is not a business, product or service. You have to prove that you can provide value and monetize it." The purpose of the Center for Entrepreneurship, he said, is to take ideas and apply that principle.
His most important advice for hopeful entrepreneurs brimming with ideas is to talk to people about their dreams. "It's typical that people want to keep their idea a secret," Jackson said. "Sharing and getting criticism is hard." But that constructive feedback is exactly what entrepreneurs need in order to succeed, he added.
"You have to start small, take baby steps and get validation that the idea is salable," he said. After that, it's up to the entrepreneur.
"Entrepreneurs have to have the spark and the guts to pursue their ideas," Jackson said. Many entrepreneurial graduates of CSUF have done just that – and are now reaping the rewards of their labor.
Tankfarm Clothing/Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson '03 (B.F.A. graphic design) is founder and owner of Tankfarm Clothing, a company that produces primarily a men's brand of clothing, similar to Abercrombie & Fitch, along with some choices for females.
How He Got Started
Anderson's grandfather owned a print shop in 1970. Anderson created drawings and cartoons, but he never thought that he could make a living that way. "I did art for fun," Anderson said. He went on to pursue a B.F.A. in graphic design from CSUF.
The name "Tankfarm Clothing" comes from a childhood memory of Anderson's. Near his home in Cypress was a three-mile area of tankers where he and his brother rode their bikes for fun. They called it the "tank farm." They started a record label in 2001 called "Tankfarm Records." They started making T-shirts and hoodies and "everyone really liked them," Anderson said. The name stuck and Tankfarm Clothing was born. Now they sell to outlets such as Nordstrom, Pac Sun and local boutique stores and ship to Australia, Japan and Europe.
"Get as much information as you can. Research and know if an idea is viable before you commit. Also, there is no such thing as an overnight success. Learn as much as you can along the way."
Jason Kiefer '08 (B.A. physics) comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. His great-grandfather owned an amusement park in Ohio, and his grandfather owned a Volkswagen car shop in Orange County. Kiefer found the opportunity to start his own business while working part-time at Subs Galore in Corona, Calif.
What It Is
Kiefer's company, RealTimeOrdering, brings technology to the food industry by providing software and an online presence for restaurants seeking solutions for online customer ordering.
How He Got Started
In 2002, Kiefer was a software programmer during the week and on the weekends worked part-time in the restaurant industry. "I decided to put the two together," Kiefer said. He soon launched his website, RealTimeOrdering.com, and now provides restaurants with a better way to serve their customers.
Where Is He Now
RealTimeOrdering has nine employees, is in 26 states and serves 800 websites. Clients include Figueroa's Pizza, Naked Pizza, Lazy Dog Café and Lampost Pizza. Kiefer recently turned down a lucrative buyout offer from a competitor. "After considering the offer we decided not to move forward with it," Kiefer said. "It's hard to put a number based on revenue. It's hard to know where you'll be three or four years from now." He said revenue has more than doubled in one year. He plans to keep growing the technology by creating features like an iPhone app.
His Best Advice
"Be driven. Trust in yourself. Don't expect money right away. It takes time to develop a product, but it's fantastic once you get there."
Becky Hamilton '06 (B.A. communications-radio/TV/film) turned her passion into her vocation and went from a film student at CSUF to co-producing a Hollywood blockbuster.
How She Did It
Becky moved to Hawaii in 2003 and met the Hamilton family soon after Bethany Hamilton, also known as the "Soul Surfer," became famous when she was attacked by a shark and lost an arm. Becky married Bethany's brother Noah and would become co-producer of the 2011 drama film "Soul Surfer." "It just happened through relationships with the family," Becky said. "Everything fell into place."
How CSUF Helped Prepare Her
Hamilton recalls her adviser at CSUF, Shelley Jenkins, being a huge supporter. "[Prior to CSUF] I had no frame of reference on how to make a movie. The film department gave me a basic understanding and experience," Hamilton said. "[Jenkins] was willing to share everything that she has learned. She challenged me to run for president of the TV and film society, and I'm glad that I did."
Hamilton said she is still busy with the production and marketing of "Soul Surfer," which is now out on DVD, so she doesn't have much time for anything else. She is looking to develop a TV series with her sister-in-law Bethany and husband, Noah. "We're working on the pitch," Hamilton said. "It's an adventure travel show involving traveling, surfing and humanitarianism."
Her Advice for Future Filmmakers
"Get involved with film production. Develop relationships. Go out there and make an effort. Show that you're a good worker and learn about the business side of filmmaking."
Bootlegger Brewery/Aaron Barkenhagen
Aaron Barkenhagen '07 (B.A. business administration/entrepreneurship) turned his class project into a real-life business venture during New Venture Creation, an entrepreneurship capstone class.
New Venture Launch
Barkenhagen used the business plan he created in 2007 in another capstone course, New Venture Launch, and with help from his dad, he introduced Bootlegger Brewery one year later to downtown Fullerton.
How It's Different
"Bootlegger Brewery is not a brew pub," said Barkenhagen, who had been home-brewing for 10 years as a hobby before his entrepreneurial endeavor. "We have tasting on site, but it's more like an open warehouse." He said the idea is to build a brand name and have a production facility to send beer out to other locations. Some of his buyers include Vons, BevMo, Whole Foods and Total Wine. This year they doubled sales and production, making $1 million in sales. "It's exciting to see things grow so quickly," he said.
"Just go out and do it! Don't delay or wait until it's perfect. Go and get it started. It's important to get real-world feedback. You won't succeed in everything. Go out and do something."
Swire Marketing Inc./Zack Swire
Zack Swire '03 (B.A. business administration/marketing) started small with his "hybrid ad agency." "It has evolved over the years," Swire said, and today Swire Marketing Inc. employs 30 people.
What Makes It Different
"We're not trying to go after what everyone else is going after," Swire said. In addition, he said Swire Marketing Inc. is a company that works on making its employees happy. "We constantly strive to challenge ourselves in the changing mold of the workplace, and it's exciting," Swire said. At the core of Swire's company is a telecommunications agency that believes great design is critical. But ultimately Swire said his company seeks to create work to inspire others. In doing so, he said, he is inspired himself.
The Company's Motto
Live. Create. Inspire. "As a team we work hard," Swire said. "But we make time for families and friends."
The Most Difficult Part of Running a Business Swire said being in the role of leader and knowing his decisions can affect a multitude of people is overwhelming at times. "The people side of it is the most difficult," he said. He knows that not every idea should be brought to fruition; just because a decision has been made does not mean that it's set in stone. "You can always change your course of action," he said.
One curveball Swire faced when he was developing his agency was finding out that his wife was pregnant—with triplets! "That's when I really started to think about things and got serious," he said.
"Align (yourself) with key people – mentors, advisers. Get an outside perspective for an honest answer. Connect with professors. People want to be supportive."
Counselor & Coach/Charles Chudabala
Charles Chudabala '09 (M.S. counseling) found his niche to become a life-counseling coach when he was fulfilling the 3,000 hours of practice therapy required to complete his master's in counseling.
The Best Thing About CSUF
According to Chudabala, it's the faculty. He remembers his adviser, Lee Abreu, convincing him to apply to a graduate program. Iverson Eiken, who taught an advanced practicum class in psychology theory, was his favorite professor. "He never made me feel like I was wrong," Chudabala said. "He taught me that [when it comes to psychology] every answer is a good answer." Chudabala ranks Cal State Fullerton's psychology department highly because of its hands-on approach and its accessible and personable faculty.
Now and Then
While fulfilling his hours as an apprentice at the The Center OC, Chudabala partnered with a classmate he met in the graduate program to start their own life-coaching practice. "It's different from traditional therapy," Chudabala said. "But it's like any business. I have to set goals and priorities, collaborate with a partner and be open to ideas." In the future, Chudabala wants to inspire others the way his professors inspired him. He plans to
continue his studies and eventually teach at CSUF. He is often featured as a guest lecturer in life-coaching.
"Take every opportunity. Return all phone calls."