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Can’t get a job, start a business

Mitchell Hartman Feb 4, 2011

Can’t get a job, start a business

Mitchell Hartman Feb 4, 2011


Bob Moon: As we reported earlier, it was a head-scratcher of a month when it comes to job creation. But we do know this much: We’re still seeing people leave the job hunt altogether and go out on their own. They’re setting up as solo consultants, putting up websites to sell online or launching full-blown start-ups.

From the Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mitchell Hartman introduces us to a family of these new “rebound entrepreneurs.” In this case, they’re looking back a few hundred years in history to get their new business off the ground.

Gene Tesdahl: Bonjour, my name is Henri Francois Letannier, the year we are in here is 1745, and I am dressed as a coureur du bois, an unlicensed trader for furs.

Mitchell Hartman: Pardonnez s’il vous plait the fake French, but in real life:

Tesdahl: I’m Gene Tesdahl. I help do the historical editing for Journal of the Early Americas, a new publication that is launching here right now in 2011.

The journal is a magazine for historical re-enactors — people who dress up in woolen breechclouts, carry flintlock muskets, cook in brass kettles, and re-play the French and Indian War or life on the Oregon Trail.

Tesdahl, his wife, her father and sister are mailing their first magazine issue this week. I met up with them at a launch party at journal “headquarters.” It’s the Denver-area home of Tesdahl’s father-in-law, Casey Criswell. He also likes to don the colonial garb.

Casey Criswell: And I would be a merchant. Very comfortable and very prosperous.

That laughter from the rest of the family might just be because life hasn’t been prosperous of late. Criswell was a successful construction consultant. Then the commercial real estate market collapsed.

Criswell: My personal income has completely disappeared.

Fortunately, his wife still has her job at a big biotech company. Daughter Summer, age 24, got her graphic design degree in 2009 and was promptly unemployed for six months. Finally, she landed a job in online sales. Then got laid off. She’s got an interesting take on her own misfortune.

Summer: If it weren’t for the recession, we wouldn’t have been able to start this magazine, because none of us would have been around, you know, we wouldn’t have had the time. And it worked out really well to just lend my skills to it.

So far, Summer’s lending those skills without compensation. The magazine has a handful of advertisers — people who make birchbark canoes and trade-trinkets for wannabe frontier trappers. More than 100 subscribers have signed up for the first six issues at $30 a year. It’ll take 1,000 to break even.

Tesdahl: And when Casey first said this idea to me I thought, “This wasn’t a good idea.”

That’s Gene, the faux-French son-in-law, and his skepticism carried some weight, because he’s already in the not-too-well-paid history business — getting his Ph.D and teaching part-time.

Tesdahl: Right now, you hear a lot about how this is not the time to launch businesses of most kinds as well as print media.

Rieva Lesonsky: There’s so much expense to running a magazine. It’s hard to make money.

Startup adviser Rieva Lesonsky should know; she used to edit the magazine Entrepreneur. I asked, would she launch a print publication now?

Lesonsky: Wow, I would not. I mean, I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade. I think that the success that you can find in magazines is in the niches, in those really specialized fields.

Like, “historical re-enactment enthusiasts: 1521 to 1848.” The publishers of Journal of the Early Americas think they’ll succeed because they know this niche — people who want to read footnoted articles about things like authentic tobacco pouches and how early settlers navigated the Des Moines rapids.

Tesdahl: So we’re going to make some “syllabub.” It’s an alcoholic milkshake, very popular in the American Colonies.

Gene Tesdahl is making colonial punch from a how-to article in the first issue.

Tesdahl: Putting into that muscovado sugar, and then I’m going to add Madiera wine.

Hartman: OK, that’s not “some” Madiera. That’s actually quite a lot of Madiera.

Well, historical accuracy is one of their selling points. But so is being up-to-date, with a website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. All part of marketing in the modern era, says Casey Criswell. Remember, he plays the prosperous merchant.

Criswell: And I’ve had employees and I’ve run a business. And the whole point is to make money.

Maybe not right away, but eventually, enough to employ at least one unemployed daughter, and provide income for that prosperous merchant’s comfortable retirement as well.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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