Neal’s early success with the Lemonade stand motivated the other kids to get going on their own startups. A comment from our friend Brian Bertha, sparked an idea to create a startup experience around the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017. The last time the US saw a coast-to-coast solar eclipse was 99 years ago in 1918. The next coast-to-coast eclipse will be in 2045.
Although the total eclipse is viewable only within a narrow 70-mile swath across the United States, the entire country seems to be talking about the eclipse. I loved Steve Martin’s recent tweet “I want to hire the person who does the publicity for the eclipse.” @SteveMartinToGo
The Eclipse startup team of Megan Ahlstrom Clark Ahlstrom, my nephew Joshua Ahlstrom and Jenny’s assistant Allyse Shumway jumped into startup mode to research ideal locations to view the eclipse and possible ways to raise money around the event. The primary goal was to help raise money for Jenny’s cancer foundation, Myeloma Crowd. Two years ago, Jenny set a goal of raising $500,000 to fund cancer research to find a cure for multiple myeloma cancer. To date Jenny has raised $477,000 and funded two very promising cancer treatments https://www.myelomacrowd.org/mcri/ (I will share more on Jenny’s cure cancer startup in the future.)
If successful, the Eclipse Team would help Jenny reach her goal of $500k for cancer research and if they crush the goal, the team could earn a bonus to help pay for their LDS missions and College.
With the strong motivation of these worthy goals, they researched ideal locations and merchandising opportunities around the eclipse. Research indicated that nearby
Rexburg, Idaho would be an ideal location to view the eclipse, as it falls close the center line of totality.
The first step was to validate the hypothesis: There will be thousands of people who will want to come to Rexburg, Idaho to watch the solar eclipse and need to rent an inexpensive campsite for their RV or tent and may want to purchase solar eclipse viewing glasses and t-shirts.
Q: Is Rexburg in the path of totality?
A: Yes. The total eclipse will be viewable in Rexburg for 2 minutes and 17 seconds beginning at 11:33 a.m. The eclipse will travel coast to coast in 94 minutes, which works out to nearly 27 miles per minute or about 1,600 mph which is three times faster than a commercial jetliner. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon aligns between the Earth and the sun. The shadow directly under the moon, called the umbra, is a total eclipse. The moon will also have a penumbra, which is a lighter shadow around the umbra. This is viewed as a partial eclipse. The path of the moon’s umbra as it moves across Earth is called the path of totality; the umbra is estimated to be about 70 miles wide. You need to be within 11 miles of the centerline of the eclipse to maximize the viewing time of the total eclipse. Every mile outside of that center zone the time of total eclipse drops.
Q: How many people are expected Rexburg, Idaho to view the eclipse?
A: Over 500,000 people are expected to travel to Rexburg to view the Eclipse. Rexburg, Idaho is a college town with a population of 28,000 people and is about three hours from Utah’s Wasatch Front. Because of the limited road infrastructure, it won’t be possible to drive up the day of the eclipse, people will need to arrive on Saturday, Aug 19th or Sunday Aug 20th in order to be sure they can get into town by the 21st. We called the local Walmart Rexburg and they are expecting a surge in business, one week before starting on Aug 14th. If people plan on driving up the morning of the eclipse, it is projected they will be stuck in a traffic jam that will back up into Utah.
Q: Will Rexburg have clear skies?
A: Yes, Most likely. Rexburg has 300+ clear, sunny days a year. Because of the probability of good viewability, Rexburg has been rated the #2 spot to view the eclipse. A conversation with an Idaho National labs employee confirmed that many NASA folks as well as European agencies were coming to Rexburg because of the high probability of clear skies. We visited the Marriot Springhill Suites in Rexburg and they said the Japanese Space Agency rented their entire hotel for the August eclipse two years ago.
Q: Can they rent land cost effectively to hold the event and make a profit?
A: Yes. Our good family friend Neal Harris is from Idaho Falls and he put the Eclipse Team in touch with a farmer who is willing to do a revenue split partnership on 25 acres of land across the street from the Super WalMart in Rexburg. The farmer agreed to take a percentage of each campsite rental, which lowers the risk of the team’s upfront cost. The wide-open area, across from the
Super Walmart that could host over 500 campsites was a perfect location! WalMart even started referring campers to the Eclipse Camp.
Q: Can they get a permit from the city to hold an event?
A: Yes if they meet the requirements. The City of Rexburg has been anticipating a huge inflow of crowds for the event and has made getting a permit for an Eclipse Camp fairly straightforward. The biggest obstacle is the requirement to have one porta-potty for each 50 guests. We soon learned that 100% of the porta potties in Idaho had already been rented. Oh crap! Who would have thought the limiting factor on setting up a fundraiser would be access to porta potties?
Q: Can they get porta potties so the city will give a permit?
A: Yes, but they will be expensive. Since there were no porta-potties to rent in the entire state of Idaho the team had to look elsewhere. Dozens phone calls later Allyse found two Utah companies willing to rent and transport porta-potties to Idaho for the low, low price of $600 a porta potty. The team will need at least 20 porta-potties for the event. Yep, you did the math right that’s $11,000 of porta potties. Yikes!
A few years ago I wrote a book called, Nail It Then Scale It – For The Entrepreneur. The principle of the book was before you launch a business and invest a lot of money you can research most of the variables to figure out if it is going to work. As we launch businesses, for many reasons we are often blind to the facts sitting in front of us. We ignore feedback, we ignore data because we are doing good things, but doing them out of order.
Will this work? Josh did the campsite layout on 25 Acres showing 240 tent sites and 300 RV sites. The new data point profit sharing with the farmer, cost of $600 porta-potties Clark and Josh put all the variables into a spread sheet and did sensitivity analysis on their business model. If they rented the campsites for $100 for three days, the team was losing money! Since it was too late to get into the porta potty business, they team changed their pricing strategy to $200 for a campsite and $250 for an RV site and re-ran their financial projections. If they sold more than 50 campsites, they could make money.
Now with all the data finally in hand, the team had to make a go-no-go decision:
Go Decision: 1) Do they take the leap of faith, raise prices, increase marketing efforts and look for other merchandising opportunities such as selling Solar Eclipse Glasses for $5.
No-Go Decision: 2) Is the risk of losing money too great so the most prudent path is to shut down the project, return the early deposits, pivot and find another way of making money with the teams new found entrepreneurial super powers. (This will have many frustrated people who have made plans to be in Rexburg for this event.)
After looking at the data, the Eclipse Camp 2017: Rexburg, Idaho Team evaluated the risks and decided to take the leap of faith and move forward with option #1. They increased their marketing efforts, (asked me to send an email to my friends,☺) purchased 2000 ISO Certified Solar Eclipse Glasses, purchased event insurance, finalized the city permit, rented the big screen and sound system for the outdoor movie, charged ahead with the porta potties and finalized the contract with the farmer.
So I guess we are doing this! The kids are getting the cutest calls from people all over the US that will be joining us for the Eclipse Camp 2017! Win or lose, I am very proud of all the skills Megan, Josh, Clark and Allyse have learned in pulling of this project. Ok team, time to make it real!
• Logo Created. Thanks Josh and Megan!
• Porta Potties ordered! Thanks Allyse!
• T-Shirts Created. Thanks Megan!
• Rexburg Event License granted! Thanks Allyse & Rexburg
• Business Model Analysis completed! Thanks Josh and Clark
• Website up. Thanks Megan! Megan taught herself how to use WIX and created her first website. I think it looks awesome!
• Set up online storefront and purchasing system. Thank you Jenny!
• Facebook Event Site up. https://www.facebook.com/events/448006968918352/ Thanks Megan!
• Facebook Page up. https://www.facebook.com/eclipsecamp2017/
• Instagram up. Thanks Clark!
• AirBnB Listing up. Thanks Allyse!
• SEO Program implemented. Google Ad words purchased
• Ask Dad to send out an email to his friends. Check.
• And hundreds of more details…
As the end of this story is not yet written, you can help write the end of this story by sharing this post and joining us next week in Rexburg for a once-in-a-century experience. So on Monday August 21 at 11:33am you will find me camped in farmers field across from the Super Wal-Mart in Rexburg Idaho staring up at the sun with a pair of funning looking Solar Glasses on. My friend Brian Bertha said, look at it this way Paul: The worst-case scenario is that your kids had a great learning experience and you had a very expensive camping trip. ☺