About four years ago, two of my friends insisted that I join them in watching a Japanese animation (anime) show called Sailor Moon. I begged off, pleading ignorance and a lack of interest. Shrugging, they soon were absorbed in what appeared to be a terrible dub featuring girls with huge eyes and the longest legs I had ever seen. But soon, I found myself strangely attracted to the show. It may have been the unique design of the characters, the catchy music, or the interesting storylines, but somehow, I was hooked. Thus began my love affair with anime that would become both my hobby and business.
Sailor Moon was the first broadly shown public access anime. It was given a tough time slot at 6:30am EST, almost ensuring it would reach none of its intended audience. But for me, this time slot was idealI could watch while I got ready for high school. Each morning, I would turn on the TV in anticipation of what the days episode would bring, fascinated by the soap opera-like complexity of the stories.
I found myself trying to find any merchandise at all related to the show. My searches met with failure at every turn. Every store I visited, every source I could think of, had almost nothing to offer in the way of the foreign show Sailor Moon. Soon, it became an obsession, I asked my self day after day, as I trudged home empty-handed, how could it be possible that a show broadcast for children on public TV have nothing available for sale? I found myself frustrated and despairing of ever finding anything.
The Gift of Technology
About the time all this was occurring, I received a computer that I had to learn to use for school and college. I would soon view this machine as a godsend, my link to the anime community. I learned to use Internet access providers and logged on each day after school. I was addicted to the chatrooms I had stumbled upon, for it was within these chats that I learned from others who shared my interest in anime that, indeed, there were a few places where I could find what I was looking for. One suggestion was Chinatown in New York City, about a one hour drive from my house on Long Island.
I decided to give Chinatown a try, and found a veritable paradise of anime merchandise, ranging from dolls to figurines, trading cards, posters, and CDs. All this at dirt cheap prices too! I bought as much as my wallet could handle and rushed home, delighted with my purchases.
I did not hesitate to log online and spread the news to all my friends, profusely thanking those who had advised me. To my surprise, I found myself inundated with requests from people to procure merchandise for them. These people didnt have access to an anime mecca like Chinatown and could only rely on the aid of people like myself to buy the goods for them.
Beginnings of a Business
|It was then that the first inklings of a business idea began
to crystallize. I realized these people had no access to anime
merchandise, and were as desperate as I had been to find some.
I came up with the idea of charging a finders fee for
buying anime products for people who emailed me requests.
I had no idea that I would be so successful. I could barely keep up with the amount of requests that were coming in. The profits started building enormously. I would purchase a 25 cent postcard from Chinatown and resell it for five dollars. Multiply this by 50 buyers and I had quite an impressive sum for a high school student.
Elated by my success, I continued this hobby for several months, during which I became more and more computer savvy. I was also beginning to realize just how strong this niche market was, and tried to think of ways to capitalize on it.
At the same time, the number of buyers was so great that it was becoming too time-consuming for me to answer each inquiry about the catalog of merchandise I could obtain. Imagine sending each inquiry a personal response listing all the goods, with descriptions, and you can see the bind I was in. And so far, business was only coming in through word-of-mouth!
|"[The website] was a complete success! I spent half the time I previously did answering email, because people could now view the merchandise for themselves, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sales quadrupled."||
It was then that I decided to try creating a website. I spent several weeks conceptualizing the idea and learning all I could about HTML. I also splurged and bought a scanner so I could display samples of my inventory. I had looked at a few other anime sites, and realized the importance of images in hooking a buyer.
Finally, I unveiled the website. Looking back now, it was clunky, awkward, and slow. I was an amateur at writing in HTML and I had loaded pages with tons of graphics, trying too hard to cram as much information in as possible. The result was an image-intensive page that took forever to load, especially when modems at the time ran at a top speed of 28 bps. Nevertheless, it was a complete success! I spent half the time I previously did answering email, because people could now view the merchandise for themselves, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sales quadrupled and I had enough capital to expand and procure finer goods. By this time I had probably grossed $1500 in profits.
A Bumpy Road to Success
Chinatown was no longer enough to keep my customers satisfied, or to attract new ones. They didnt restock often, it was an inconvenient trek for what were possible bootleg goods, and finally, I would be leaving for college soon (an eight hour drive to New York, no less!) and would only have access to Chinatown when I was home on vacation. I faced the dilemma of finding greater quantities of authentic Japanese goods so rare that they couldnt be found in Chinatown.
I looked toward Japan then. I frequented Japanese bulletin boards, inquired with Japanese friends, called up companies I knew made anime goods, and kept my eyes open for opportunities. Slowly but surely, I began receiving responses and developing contacts that would help me in the future.
Along the way, I discovered several dilemmas of international business. One issue was the exorbitant shipping costs from Japan, which made it highly impractical to purchase only small quantities of goods frequently. I would have to pre-purchase large quantities of merchandise before I had actual buyers, and this necessitated a good deal of capital. Or, I could take special orders and when I was paid, order the goods from Japan, but this would greatly increase turnaround time. Another obstacle was the language barrier. I didnt speak or read Japanese, so when I came to Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, I enrolled in a Japanese language class.
There were also the little details that I encountered every day that can make the difference between a smoothly-running business and utter chaos. Professionalism was key, from dealing with fussy or incoherent clients, to managing inquiries in a prompt and courteous manner, right down to how to arrange payments and shipping. Payments entailed opening a bank account through which I could cash checks and money orders, and receive direct wire transfers. Shipping was extremely important since it was the foundation of my Internet company. I had to learn precise shipping costs to both domestic and overseas locations, along with things like insurance fees, customs details, international duties, and estimated shipping times.
As time went on and I became more proficient with computers, I conceptualized yet another scheme. This time, I developed an idea to register my own domain name and have my site hosted with a company that could offer such features as a secure server where my clients wouldnt need to worry about privacy or security, and shopping carts, special CGI scripts, and even my own customized email address.
After a year of development and consideration, I selected a webhost I felt was efficient, professional, and could cater to my needs. From there, my domain name, Animiko, was registered wit Internic. Within a week of this, I was set to use the site.
Currently, the Animiko website sports such features as an auction area, an anime cel gallery, and a bulletin board where people can post messages and exchange ideas. In the future, I hope to make use of the secure server environment by implementing a system through which I can accept credit cards.
Ive definitely come a long way from being the high school kid who scanned 25 cent postcards and put huge pictures of them on the web to earn five dollars a card. These days, I primarily deal with one-of-a-kind anime cels (painted acetate transparencies that animation is created with). Its an extremely expensive and time-consuming area to focus on, but the potential for profit is great. (Cel dealers can make upwards of $12,000 a month). Since dabbling in this area, I have seen my profits skyrocket 1000 percent. In a good month, I may gross $12,000, in others, a few thousand. All the money I currently earn gets reinvested to cover business costs such as maintaining the website and obtaining finer merchandise. Profits also now cover business trips to Japan, and attending cel art and anime conventions.
The Internet has opened up endless possibilities for entrepreneurs of all ages and talents. It has become the ultimate forum for exchanging information, goods, and services all over the world. I believe the Internet will lead to an explosion of online businesses specifically run by young, computer savvy entrepreneurs. After all, where else does childs play pay?
Bio: Deborah Chow is a student at Carnegie Mellon University, and she hopes that her business will eventually give her time to enjoy some real childs play.