Who’s the hero in your life? Now you can embrace yours by turning friends, family, or even yourself into a personalized action figure, thanks to “You Kick Ass” a Seattle startup company founded by Keri Andrews,(’97, ’14) and close friends Alesia Glidewell and Douglas Jordan.
The company uses 3D printing to allow customers to create personalized action figures.
The friends conceived the business idea of allowing anyone to create their own action figure after Glidewell had modeled for “Chell,” the 3D hero of Vale Software’s popular Portal game series, and Valve licensed an official Chell action figure.
But none of them had background in creating physical products.
“We didn’t know the first thing about how to execute it as a business concept,” says Andrews, a former Microsoft vertical manager of Bing search advertising.
Executive MBA Training Transfers to Real-World Business Success
That all changed when Andrews enrolled in the WSU online Executive MBA (EMBA) program a year later. She had always wanted her MBA and had several years’ experience working in the business sector. The EMBA provided a perfect environment to advance her technology and business skills and get her closer to her dream of starting the action figure company.
For her capstone project, Andrews pitched the business plan for You Kick Ass. Class research and a feasibility report proved to her it was a valuable business idea. She ended up quitting her job at Microsoft to focus on developing it.
“I’m so glad I completed the EMBA program. It guided me on what questions to ask consumers to determine what resonates with them,” says Andrews. “I learned that you can’t make assumptions. The key to business success is research, asking questions, and interpreting answers correctly.”
For example, Andrews says her customers didn’t want to buy action figures for their kids, which was one of the company’s original goals. To understand why, she realized she had to alter her market research questions. By just changing the wording of her survey, she was able to determine that customers would buy figures of their kids, as a way to celebrate them as heroes.
Her research also revealed the product appeals more to adults than children, and that people in the target market love the moniker “You Kick Ass.”
“Our name stems from our initial concept that there are many ways to ‘kick ass’ in your life, for example by being an athlete, a great mom, a fire fighter, or other scenarios where you are a hero,” Andrews says.
The Making of a Hero
Product tests showed people gravitated toward being an original hero, Andrews says. She developed software that lets anyone map their face to a 3D-shaped head by uploading a photo. Customers can personalize their action figure by choosing a body style, coloring, and super power. The company plugs that information into a comic template, so each figure comes with a customized story. Two 3D Zcorp printers can each print 40 full-color heads at time, taking five hours for each batch. Andrews manages the manufacturing of the heads, and the bodies are premade in China. Each figure costs $60 and is ready to ship in four weeks.
Swimming with the sharks
Before launching the business, the team conducted a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 that raised $46,603. That got the attention of a producer of the television show “Shark Tank,” who invited Andrews and Glidewell to audition, and they were asked to appear on the show. Filming occurred in September 2014, and the episode aired May 8, 2015.
Andrews says the scariest moment during the whole experience was walking down the hallway toward the stage: she literally wanted to turn around and run away.
“It’s called ‘Shark Tank’ for a reason,” says Andrews.” We’d seen them tear apart so many entrepreneurs on the show, so we did a lot of research beforehand, anticipating questions they would ask, and role playing.”
It turns out they had nothing to fear. Three sharks made investment offers, and the team walked away with a deal from Mark Cuban, who invested $100,000 in exchange for a 10 percent stake in the company.
A forward-facing future
Andrews says Cuban is a good fit because even though the company is currently focusing on manufacturing, its long-term vision is to improve technology and the product. Since taping the show, Andrews says the skin tone color has been improved to match the figures’ necks and heads better, neckline adjustments have minimized the appearance of the seam, and facial features are more recognizable. Additionally, designs are in the works to release new action figure heroes in the next year.
To learn more about You Kick Ass, visit youkickass.com.