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Starting Up a Longboard CompanyRich Nelson
Title: Founder, Nelson Longboards
Degree: The College of New Jersey, 2010, Mechanical Engineering
As a junior at The College of New Jersey, Rich Nelson needed transportation to get to class from his off-campus house. He had biked to school as an underclassman, but became intrigued by longboards, which didn’t need to be locked and looked fun to ride. “I looked at my options and realized that I could just as easily make my own board,” says Nelson.
Without much woodworking experience, but armed with engineering know-how and a few borrowed power tools, Nelson set to task. He bought some wood, pressed it, shaped it, drilled it, cut it, finished it, and—after attaching some wheels—rode it. As a mechanical engineering major, Nelson had no intention of starting a business. But when impressed friends wanted their own boards, he knew he was on to something.
To drum up customer interest, Nelson became active in online longboarding communities, posting photos of his products. By 2010, he was selling custom boards through a website he designed himself. Nelson credits much of his rapid success to his use of social media to connect with his customers and win over new ones. “Facebook and YouTube are the best, easiest, and cheapest ways to advertise your product and get it out there. I’ll post something or respond to someone on Facebook, and customers are going out and talking about us because they’re excited that they know us.”
But having a product and building buzz aren’t enough to run a successful business. Nelson had to establish a limited liability company (or LLC) and get liability insurance to protect himself from lawsuits. “Right now, I’m learning things like payroll so that I can add an employee, making sure everything’s legal and the tax situation is sorted out.” Luckily, family friends with experience in accounting, law, and launching a business have offered help and insight.
What has come as a surprise to Nelson is the amount of work required to run a business. Selling boards to customers on six continents and sponsoring riders across the U.S. and Canada has taken an incredible work ethic, says Nelson. “Thanks to the engineering curriculum, I was prepared for the long hours.”
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