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Topic: The Business of Teaching Time With Kids Watches

Entrepreneur Seeking Capital Scores Angel Investor While Waiting Tables At Upscale Restaurant

Billy Darnell, Founder and CEO of Zoobee, Inc., a Dallas, Texas-based children's watch company, secured $250,000 from John Albers, former President and CEO of Dr. Pepper, by simply waiting tables in Highland Park. Darnell would don his Zoobee watches on each wrist delivering sales pitches and selling watches "under the table" to interested customers while he served food at Patrizio's, an upscale Italian restaurant. Every Monday afternoon, wealthy businessman and former Coca-Cola distributor Edmond Hoffman would dine at Patrizio's with his wife. As fate would have it, Hoffman regularly sat in Darnell's section, and the young entrepreneur recalls, "Mr. Hoffman was an intriguing customer. He requested his wine glass to always be kept half-full, and his wife insisted that her salads be made without nuts." When Darnell unintentionally upset Mrs. Hoffman one day by serving her salad with nuts, he quickly corrected the mistake. Mr. Hoffman was so impressed with Darnell's adept customer service that he asked for Darnell's name and number and requested that the young man contact his secretary to arrange a meeting for a potential job offer.

A week later, Mr. Hoffman tried to woo Darnell with a tempting $40 K starting salary position at his company. Darnell politely rejected the offer and asked Mr. Hoffman why, after all the lunches he had served him, had he not inquired about the children's watches adorning Darnell's wrists. Perplexed by this response, Hoffman noted that he had noticed the watches and invited Darnell to explain their significance.

"That's why I must reject your gracious job offer," remarked Darnell. He shared with Hoffman his industrious efforts to build a watch company while attending Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX) and working summer jobs at local watch importers to learn the business. Darnell explained how he convinced his classmates to research Fossil Watches for a project conducted through Cox School of Business Marketing and Sales classes. He easily "closed the deal" with his peers by negotiating with Fossil to donate free watches for the students upon completion of their project. Darnell strategically used this connection with Fossil to enhance his knowledge of the watch industry.

Darnell then briefed Hoffman on how, at the age of 19, he conceived the idea for his watches while watching the Donahue Show, awaiting his flight home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Dallas/Love Field Airport. Hearing Darnell's story of perseverance, sacrifice, and determination for success convinced Hoffman that there was a business opportunity at hand. He instructed Darnell, "Come back in six months. If you are still in business, have increased sales, and have gained some kind of distribution network, along with a business plan, then I will invest in your company."

Six months later, Darnell arrived back at Hoffman's office with $60,000 in sales, comprised primarily of his first big hit with the third largest home shopping channel, Shop At Home Network, in Nashville, Tennessee. As if Hoffman's six-month challenge hadn't stretched Darnell enough, he nearly lost the sales he had made through the television network. Darnell had to rush the twelve-hour trek back from Nashville to Dallas to fulfill every order and confirm shipping receipts within 48 hours of the live broadcast.

In addition to increased sales, Darnell was able to prove himself and the value of his company to Hoffman with the distinguished publicity he had obtained. Entrepreneur Magazine featured Darnell as a "Rising Star", D Magazine highlighted Darnell's business in its "Top Ten Intriguing Start-Ups," and WFAA's Good Morning Texas aired Darnell's watches as a "Perfect Gift" product.

Hoffman was impressed. He was also aware that Darnell was barely keeping his dream alive by funding the company himself. The recent college graduate financed his emerging business by maxing-out credit cards at $25,000, obtaining a loan of $18,000 on his Honda Accord, and selling his beloved Sea-Doo jet skis for $3,000. Hoffman immediately contacted his good friend John Albers, former President/CEO of Dr. Pepper. Two weeks later, Darnell met with Albers and Hoffman, business plan in hand, and convinced the two business gurus that there was, indeed, a market for Darnell's watches. Albers put up $250,000 for ownership in the company. Darnell also walked out with a generous $25,000 check from Albers that would cover rent and past due bills in order to survive until the rest of the finances could be arranged for transfer.

Today, Albers and Darnell are celebrating their fifth anniversary in partnership and the success of Zoobee's newest line of Time Teaching Watches.


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