Two recent RWU grads use social networking to build a global business
When Andrew Goetting ’08 was 14 years old, his boss at Bay Head Trading Co. – a local surf shop on the Jersey Shore – left him in charge of the store to take a sixmonth trip to Costa Rica. When the store’s roof caved in, Goetting called his dad for help, who told him that the solution to the problem was to find someone to fix it. A quick flip through the Yellow Pages brought a roofer to the shop, and it was back to business as usual.
That first taste of being in charge was all it took. Now, just one year out of college at the ripe age of 23, Goetting is the self-employed owner of a global company.
“It all happened because I would tell people – anyone who would listen – my idea,” Goetting says. “As soon as I opened up and started telling people, it really came to life.”
It is the SlouchBack – an inflatable cushion in the shape of a couch-back that in 30 seconds transforms your limited living space into a lounge your friends won’t want to leave. The brainchild of Goetting and his college roommate, Tyler Price ’08, the SlouchBack got its start as a joke between the friends, whose dorm room – which featured limited and uncomfortable seating – was a popular hangout freshman year.
Goetting held onto the idea for a few more years – “Andy just wouldn’t give it up,” Price says – until the business management major had to develop a business plan for a senior seminar. Working with his faculty mentor at the Gabelli School of Business, Goetting recruited friends to help him draft a prototype and brainstormed with Price before he formalized the plan and entered a Rhode Island State Business Competition where the SlouchBack advanced to the semifinal round. Not bad for a class project.
To say things have progressed quickly may be an understatement – after all, Goetting and Price have evolved from college students to inventors to entrepreneurs in just five short years. And in many ways, they have the Net Generation to thank for it. In December they hired California-based webmaster (and childhood friend) Jeff Seibert to establish a web presence at slouchback.com, created the SlouchBack Nation via Facebook and even started the Slouch Rep program to recruit college students who earn commission selling the cushion on their campuses.
Up-and-coming Manhattan-based blogger Arax-Rae Van Buren, whose website kissandtype.comalerts her readers to “the next big thing,” has been influential in promoting the Slouch – even taking it on air for millions of viewers to see when she taped a social networking segment for the Today Show in July. Van Buren is helping push the SlouchBack into a new market – young female urbanites with limited entertaining space.
“With our generation, we’re all into helping each other and everyone wants to collaborate as much as possible,” Van Buren says. “And with everything going on with social networking, it really changes how things can happen for us. After they reached out to me, I realized that I have the exposure and the audience to help them into a market they hadn’t yet focused on.”
With 2,000 units en route from China, the second-generation SlouchBack (improved based on test-marketing among 100 college students earlier this year) will hit the road this fall as the young inventors travel to campuses across the U.S. selling Slouches and recruiting Slouch Reps to join their team.
“Our overall goal is to work harder than anyone could ever imagine early in life so that we can live the life we want for the rest of it,” Goetting adds. “You don’t need a million dollars to start a company anymore, and that’s mainly due to the Internet. Kids need to realize that and take advantage of it.”