Millionaire Interview: Craig Wolfe – Founder of Celebriducks – Rubber Duckies that look like celebrities as seen on NBC, FOX, ABC, CNN, ESPN, TNT, VH1 and many more
In this interview we talk to Craig about how his passion for unique art landed him a multi-million dollar company. He describes just starting out and working with large companies like Coca-Cola. He also discusses how Celebriducks does such an amazing job with PR and has been seen on NBC, FOX, ABC, CNN, ESPN, TNT, VH1, A&E and was voted one of the top 100 gifts by Entertainment Weekly.
Check out Celebriducks.com to find out more from Craig.
Read the transcript.
Craig Wolfe, who was featured in FOXBusiness.com’s Small Office Home Office profile series,
got into the animation marketing business more than 20 years ago, working with large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, M&M/Mars, Hershey’s and Campbell Soup.
He ran his business from home then, and still does today, only now his business is of a slightly different nature. Wolfe went from animation marketing to designing and creating rubber ducks in the likeness of celebrities, such as baseball star Derek Jeter and comic Lisa Lampanelli, from his home-based company, CelebriDucks.
Although he got into the business with little relevant experience – a college degree in business and religion didn’t help much in the animation business – Wolfe today is able to make a living doing what he loves. But, he said, didn’t get here without a few bumps in the road.
Here are three tips Wolfe offers to anyone thinking of starting their own business.
No. 1: Remember: you are your brand; branding of yourself as an extension will only be as good as your brand.
So your top priority should be to build a great, strong brand, and the natural extension to promote yourself as the brand will happen organically. Promoting yourself first has no substance behind it. Think Richard Branson of Virgin and Steve Jobs of Apple – they had the respected brand first, the personalities later became intrinsically intertwined with the already-winning brands.
No. 2: It’s not how much money you make, it’s how much you keep! Paying attention to overhead costs is key; they take down more businesses that you can imagine.
No. 3: Know that you are never without options. It’s easy to feel trapped when things aren’t working out the way you hoped. But if you can see every misfortune or difficult moment as nothing more than another moment ripe with potential and realize that you can make something out of it, things happen, orders arrive, people call, and onward and upward.
“Never let your mind go into a space where you feel trapped,” Wolfe said. “I don’t know why they don’t teach that in business school, because to me it is at the heart of every successful business venture that had to overcome adversity.”
Who: Craig Wolfe, president CelebriDucks
What: CelebriDucks is a company that creates rubber ducks of the greatest icons of film, music, history and athletics, which have been voted one of the top 100 gifts by Entertainment Weekly.
Where: Wolfe’s main office is on the ground floor of his three-story home, just down the hall from the bedroom. He works 100% out of his home, with clients and film crews coming by to conduct business.
“I enjoy it and they seem to always enjoy seeing hundreds of ducks,” Wolfe said.
When: He said he tries to work a 9-to-5 day, but evenings and weekends are also used to catch up on work and keep tabs on the business.
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Pros and Cons of Working From Home“It hardly seems like work after hours, as I’m just walking by the room and it’s hardly any hassle to knock off a few e-mails or finish something up,” Wolfe said.
When did you start your company? CelebriDucks evolved out of Wolfe’s animation company, Name That Toon, in 1998; Name That Toon launched around 1998.
How: When Wolfe graduated college with a degree in business and religion, he said he found himself with no direction.
“I always found that if I wasn’t moved to something emotionally, then I couldn’t really conceive of it as an area of serious livelihood for myself,” he said.
But it all changed, he said, when one day he saw an original framed drawing of Mickey Mouse for sale; it was one of the drawings used in the 1930s Disney carton short. He said he was captivated by what he calls “the raw energy in the animator’s hand drawing.” That hand provided him with direction.
Wolfe then sought out where to get similar items and later launched his original business, Name That Toon, in which he bought and sold original Disney vintage animation drawings.
After being turned down for the contract to market the artwork for FOX’s Simpson cartoons, Wolfe said things finally started to look up for his new endeavor. He ended up marketing the artwork for the Motown-music laden California Raisin commercials, then, later, marketed Coca-Cola’s vintage vending machines, Coke glass bottles and other memorabilia. The only problem was, computers then took the lead in animation, not one’s hand – and Wolfe had no technical training.
“But you know, how it is … when you feel passionate about something, doors open and you connect with the right people to help you make your dreams a reality,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe eventually got the Coca-Cola contract and his marketed items went on to become some of Coke’s top selling art pieces. He said his “little company that could” then became the largest publisher of advertising artwork from television commercials in the United States, creating the first animation art lines for Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, M&M/Mars, Pillsbury, Campbell Soup, Hershey’s, etc… But that wasn’t fulfilling enough. He wanted to raise the bar some more.
“I think it’s common that many entrepreneurs want to create their own brand, their own characters and that’s the creative force that drives so many of us,” he said. “So it was a little scary, but I made a conscious decision to completely reinvent my business.”
So he started making celebrity rubber ducks.
“A common question I always get is: ‘You just make ducks?…You can make a living doing this?’ Well, yeah! If you make some of the finest ducks in the world and are the only ones in your niche producing them for celebrities, collegiate mascots, Fortune 500 companies, etc., you can easily become a millionaire doing it,” Wolfe said. “Rather than wasting time thinking about what I could’ve or should’ve done, I found a way to create something different or better.”
Why: Wolfe said he loves the freedom, flexibility, ability to set his own hours, and the ability to find the best people worldwide to work with. He said you couldn’t pay him enough to go back to working in an office. Wolfe also credits being his own boss with having less stress and an enhanced control of one’s life.
“They say one of the most stressful parts of any business is middle management,” he added.
“You’re responsible for all kinds of things, but lack the full authority to make the necessary changes to implement them. Working at home eliminates so much of the stress of all that.”
Day in the Life: Some days end later than others, according to Wolfe, depending on the production schedule of CelebriDucks’ overseas operations. But typically, he is in the office by 9 a.m. He takes breaks to exercise, eat and sometimes go out and take a walk, then ends his day around 5 p.m. After dinner, it’s a bit more office work, then non-work activities like reading, watching television and working on an album in his small home studio.
Pros and Cons: For Wolfe, the main ‘con’ to this type of work is working with his art department across the country. E-mails and phone usually suffice but “there are times when I would just love to be sitting in the room reviewing artwork and sculpts in person,” he said. “It just makes it a bit easier.”
But the upside to working from home, he said, is that it allows him to have “a tremendous staff all over the place who you could never really fit under one roof without an undue amount of expense, stress, and overhead that is totally unnecessary. The beauty of working at home is working with the best people wherever they might be!”
How Passion Made the Rubber Duck Into a Celebrity
Monday, 07 March 2011 Craig Wolfe
Drugs…..ok, seriously, I always wanted to create my own brand. I was already the largest publisher of advertising animation artwork from television commercials having created the first ever animation art lines for Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, M&M/Mars, Pillsbury, etc….But at the end of the day, I never created the Coke bears or Bud Frogs. So when a friend, a little drunk I do believe, had this idea of making ducks that were also celebrities, it just sounded too cool to resist. King Features was willing to give us our first shot with Betty Boop and the rest as they say is history!
2. What was your most successful marketing method you used for CelebriDucks to get them known?
I think sending out press releases in the early days changed everything and here’s why. The Atlantic City Press got one and asked why they should do a story about us….I thought about it and said, “well, I’m from N.J.” which is true. They said sounds good. Their little story came out that weekend and the VP of the Philadelphia 76ers read it and got in touch. We did an Allen Iverson duck for them which was a huge hit and then all these pro teams like the Yankees, Cubs, the NBA, NHL, all came calling. We were on ESPN and all over the media and thus the company changed almost overnight.
3. You mentioned you bootstrapped your company. Do you have any suggestions for other entrepreneurs wanting to bootstrap as well?
Yes, it doesn’t matter how much money you make…it’s how much you keep!!! Watch that overhead! In the beginning you can outsource so much of what you do. Don’t worry about fancy offices and big staff when starting out. Work in your garage, bedroom, wherever. What is more key is getting your idea out there and tested to see if it is viable and at the same time building a good website. As I always say, slow and steady wins the race.
4. What other advice to you have for entrepreneurs to be successful with a fun product like yours that may not be an every day necessity?
If you feel a passion and love of something, there is a good chance there are a lot of other people who will feel likewise. Also, just because it’s a fun product doesn’t mean it can’t have a huge niche. Who didn’t have a rubber duck growing up?….there are millions of them in homes all over the world. So if you are creating something that is connected to something that is already known, you’re one step ahead of the game! Remember people will spend money for something unique and different. But it really does have to be done well. Another rubber duck??…there’s already tons of them…..but put a unique twist on your offering like I did and you must might have a whole new category.
5. How have you kept the business going and growing?
Innovate, innovate, innovate. Don’t be a one trick pony. If you look at our website, you can see we have continued to add and retire different celebrities to make it a very fun and unique collectible that people can collect. We now do the world’s first 100% recycled duck. We now have a whole line of food themed ducks with our Canard (French for duck) line of Chocolate, Coffee, Cupcake, and Wine themed ducks in these beautiful gift boxes. Our Holy Smoker BBQ pig arrives this Spring.
Also, we really do a lot of our business in the custom duck world. We do custom work for everyone from SeaWorld to Fortune 500 companies to rock bands. Our products have one of the highest retention rates in the industry with people keeping them for years after an event where they got one. They are just too cool to throw away! We are always doing custom work for someone somewhere as you can see from looking at the custom duck section on our website.
6. What’s up next for you?
Well, expanding the business, that’s for sure. We know that virtually every college in the country would love us to do their mascot so the challenge for us is to get a stronger distribution network in place. That, and really make sure people understand the uniqueness we bring to the table in terms of successful promotions. Of course we are always looking for the right licenses to expand the line so choosing carefully is important. I also have other interests in my life that I’m working on such as recording my first album and that’s all a fun and important part of my life. Bottom line, the key for me is to find what makes me and other people happy and build on that….if I can do that, then that’s a life well lived in my opinion.
Craig Wolfe graduated from Hobart College and went on to become the largest publisher in the country of artwork from television commercials. After selling that business, he then went on to start a company that created the first ever line of celebrity rubber ducks of the greatest icons of film, music, history, and athletics that were voted one of the top 100 gifts by Entertainment Weekly. Contact Craig at: http://www.CelebriDucks.com or by phone at: 415-456-3452
Hey, how cool….somehow a wonderful writer, Caryn Fitzgerald, really liked my life story and kindly, out of many hundreds of submissions, chose to include me as one of the thirty people in her book…even put me on the cover!….yes, that’s me in the CelebriDucks varsity jacket on the left. I’ve always been a big believer in people following their passions and not accepting any limitations as to what’s possible. So if my story and the story of these other amazing individuals can help inspire others, I’m all for it.
Ok, mom….are we ok with me not being a doctor now! Enjoy!