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The art of starting up: How lightweight tools paved the way for Giant Cardboard Robots

“You realize there’s a formula to starting a business, and there are steps you can follow to make sure you scale your business effectively.”

–Ian McCullough, co-founder of Giant Cardboard Robots

Giant Cardboard Robots
Jason Lentz, co-founder of Giant Cardboard Robots, in his cardboard robot suit.

Late one night in a college architecture studio, Jason Lentz reached that point when fatigue and deliriousness spark an idea so far out, it just may be genius. Standing on a stool and encasing himself in a cardboard body suit, Jason unknowingly designed his first iteration of what would become the giant cardboard robot.

Fifteen years later, Jason—along with business partner and long-time friend Ian McCullough—have turned this late night design into a scalable business. The team has attracted hundreds of cardboard robot Facebook fans and international attention.

By taking advantage of right-sized and right-priced tools, Ian and Jason have learned how to make, promote and sell their products in a way that makes sense for where they are now—and where they’re headed.

Startup rule #1: Never underestimate word of mouth

When you have a cool invention that you’re genuinely excited about—people take notice.  And sharing your product in simple ways can attract attention that spreads like wildfire.

In 2009, Jason wore his giant cardboard suit to the Burning Man Decompression event, where someone took a video of him having an impromptu battle with a masked superhero and uploaded it to YouTube. Not long after, Jason won a costume contest at a San Francisco dance club and earned blog coverage from a popular art and culture blog—Laughing Squid. And after an international tabloid magazine picked up the story, the duo’s giant cardboard robot design surpassed the tipping point of popularity.

Startup rule #2: Take advantage of social platforms to get your product in front of the right people

After the buzz began, Jason and Ian decided it was time to test the viability of giant cardboard robot arms in the marketplace. Jason hand-cut ten robot arms and put them up for sale on Etsy—an online community that gives budding businesses a platform to sell their products around the world. The two men charged $100 per pair of giant cardboard robot arms and, much to their surprise, quickly sold out.

It didn’t take long for Jason and Ian to realize they had a product people wanted. The team just had to figure out how to meet demand without working themselves crazy or breaking the bank.

They needed a smart and inexpensive way to scale.

Startup rule #3: To get off the ground, look to the cloud

A veteran of starting up, Ian is a believer in the value of lightweight and cost-effective tools in helping businesses get off the ground.

“With cloud-based solutions, the cost of computing and collecting data is dropping,” says Ian. “This means that two-person operations can use valuable tools without paying for extra features and functionality they don’t need.”

But even when money is tight, there is a cost associated with mess. For this reason, Ian recommends that startups use lightweight tools like MyERP, Proof HQ, Arena PartsList and Arena PDXViewer to keep operations under control.

Want a set of giant cardboard robot arms for yourself or a friend? Check them out here!