HATTIE: (In the Studio) Hi, I'm Hattie Bryant. In 1989 Robert Redford wanted to generate dollars to fund projects for artists and for causes dear to him. He had an idea that he could sell the same items found in his Sundance retail shop via a catalog. And he was smart enough to know what he didn't know. Redford recruited a man with just the right experience who was able to not only able to launch the business, he was able to build a strong foundation the company still enjoys today.
(Voiceover) Sundance is a place -- 6,000 acres of land and a lodge. Sundance is a film festival and Sundance is a catalog. Robert Redford bought this area in the Provo Canyon to protect it and then to provide a place for artists to develop their craft. The money to take the leap to came from his role in the file, "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid." Then he writes, "I couldn't get a loan from the bank." He found investors and now what started in 1969 is a premiere place to visit. A venue for film makers and a catalog company.
CHRISTINA (Operator): Sundance Catalog. This is Christina. How can I help you?
BRENT BECK: This is a product out of Jonah Bridge collection by John Reed, a famous Adirondack designer, and this is all hand-bent hickory, handmade.
HATTIE: (Voiceover) Brent Beck has been with the Sundance operation since 1970.
BRENT: It's preserving the history of the last century and really fits into what we're about. You know, going onto the product, it's outdoors, obviously. There's a brand-new kind of napkin holder that's got a wind tray on it. This is a weighted little tree that sits on top of the napkins, so if you're out picnicking or on your patio they don't blow away. A tray out of the same metal stuff.
HATTIE: (Voiceover) Robert Redford brought Harry Rosenthal, CEO of the catalog, into the organization because of his success in his own catalog business.
HARRY ROSENTHAL: If we're tight on space on this one, I would recommend killing the tray, even though I know it matches the napkin holder, just 'cause it's a really weak category. I mean, we've carried a lot of trays, and I think most of them are still out back somewhere. I don't know, but you've got to leave room for the story on this guy.
I grew up in the suburbs of New York, actually, a classic New York post-war suburb which is New Rochelle. If you've ever seen the old "Dick Van Dyke Show," it takes place in New Rochelle, New York, a very much classic suburbia. I went to college. I majored in Greek and Latin literature, perfect background for mail order. It's so perfect that I went to law school. There's not a lot else you can do with a Greek and Latin major. And I was a lawyer for several years in Los Angeles--securities law, tax law, real estate law--and always wanted to start a company and have a business, and I had some friends who felt the same way. So back about 10, 11, 12 years ago, we all quit our jobs, knocked on doors, raised money, and we started a mail-order catalog called Right Start catalog.
We really did think that we had the range of skills necessary that we could start up and succeed at a business that we knew nothing about. No, in fact, we did start up and succeed at a business we knew nothing about. However, I don't think that the range of skills was nearly as applicable as we thought it would be. I think it was more of the things that make any entrepreneur succeed, which is to say the ability to work very hard and to also react very quickly and be able to fly by the seat of your pants.
The first thing you learn, I think, when you start a new business in an area where you're inexperienced is that you really don't know anything. And the sooner you learn that, the faster you begin succeeding. It's when you think you know things that you don't know that you run into trouble.
HATTIE: How did you get to Sundance?
HARRY: Sundance found me. Actually, I'd never hear of Sundance. And I was, as I said, thinking of getting back into practicing law. And because Robert Redford's lawyer in Los Angeles had, at one point, been in the same law firm as I had, even though we'd been in at different times, we had a lot of friends in common and we knew about each other.
He knew that Sundance was thinking of starting a mail order catalog. And, lo and behold, he found out that someone that he knew a great deal about had just done a successful catalog start-up, and so they contacted me, forwarded my name to some of Redford's people out here in Utah, and then they contacted me to ask about what it would take to start a mail-order catalog for Sundance. And they already had an idea in their mind of what the mail-order catalog might be like, what the business was like. And this idea was not firmly grounded in the reality of the catalog as a business.
I figured I was never going to hear from them again because, essentially, I had said to them, `This isn't going to work,' and sent them back to Utah. They came back again and wanted to have another meeting, and we discussed it again, and finally asked me if I would work as a consultant and write a business plan. And I wasn't doing anything at the time, and I said, `Well, yes, I can do this for you, but I don't want to take your money unless you understand what you're getting into and are prepared to go forward with it.'
One of the things that you have to have and really is very valuable in starting up any business is someone who is going to get up in the morning and go to bed at night living and breathing that business. That's the main thing that they care about. It helps if that person has experience, but it's more important, in a lot of cases, that they have the drive and the dedication.
And Sundance didn't have anybody like that, and I said, you know, `I know a lot of people in the industry. I can't do it for you because I can't move to Utah. However, I can help you find somebody. But if you're not prepared to do that, you ought to really seriously consider whether you should start out on this path because that's one of the things that's required.' And they said, `Well, let's write the business plan. Let's see.' So we did that. We wrote the business plan and we formed the company, got it capitalized, and then Sundance made a really good offer to me. So at this point, I had to make some decisions about whether, as a business opportunity and as a career opportunity for myself and my family, I wanted to pick up stakes from Manhattan Beach, California, where I was living a half a block from the ocean, where you can see and hear the waves pounding outside the window, and move to Utah, a place I had literally never been.
I had visions of vast deserts covered with salt and sea gulls.
That was really all I knew. I didn't even know there were mountains out here. And I'd never been to the place. But I thought, `Well, it's certainly worth looking at.' I came out here, got familiar with it, thought about the business, and there was a very big difference between Sundance and where I had come from with Right Start. With Right Start, it was three guys named Lenny, Stan and Harry. I mean, if you opened the front cover of our catalog, you'd see there's Lenny, Stan and Harry holding stuffed animals. And, you know, we wanted our faces and names to be there, but we weren't particularly well known.
HARRY: The first thing to think about when you're starting up a business is, who else is doing it and what can I learn from them? If you're thinking of starting up anything from a corner drugstore to a software company, somebody else has tried it at least in some way.
Maybe not exactly the idea that you have, but in some way. So the first piece of advice I would give somebody is, OK, think about all the things that are similar. Think about all the people out there that are doing the things that are similar to what you're doing and find out all you can about them. Find out how they make their money, what works and what doesn't work. If you're thinking of starting a weekly newspaper, there are other weekly newspapers out. How do they do? Where do they make their money? Step number one, learn about the business--learn about the target market, learn about the competition, learn about the business. Step number two, get a really rigorous business plan together.
HARRY: Most businesses start out under capitalized. I've done it – really – coming from a position where I should have known better. I was a corporate finance lawyer. My other partner, Lenny, was a CFO of a $200 million company (yet) we were grossly under capitalized. And it's because optimism rules amongst entrepreneurs.... you know, the general rule – we used to call it Art's Rule after Art Minella who was one of the lead partners of the law firm ... it's going to take longer and it's going to cost more.
So be really rigorous in your business plan. Figure out how much capital you're really going to need, then add to it because it's going to take more just because it's going to take longer. And usually the early years of a company involve losses.
The third thing I would say is that you have to understand that while this may be the most wonderful experience of your life, you might be in for five years of the most abject misery before you get there. It's really tough to start a business. And I think anyone who's started a business would say the same thing. It was a heck of a lot easier starting Sundance with the capital we had behind us and with Robert Redford supporting us than it was when three guys named Lenny, Stan and Harry started Right Start.