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Topic: The Business of Teaching Time With Kids Watches

THE EDWIN L. COX SMU SCHOOL OF BUSINESS COXtoday - Summer 1998
ON THEIR OWN by Vinton Murray … BILLY DARNELL

     LIKE MANY 19-YEAR-OLD entrepreneurs, Billy Darnell wasn't thrilled with the thought of college. He wanted to tackle the world after high school. His mother told him he could do anything he wanted once he finished college; but he would get an undergraduate degree, and if he were smart, he would round out his business major with a liberal arts minor. That was in 1994. Today, Darnell is graduating from SMU with a business major, an art history minor, and a successful business venture headquartered in his two-bedroom apartment adjacent to campus.

      "My mother was right," said Darnell. "That hunger I felt four years ago to get started in the world has not gone away; it has just developed. I am much more mature now and more motivated. SMU taught me about being a leader - to think about what I want to do and not just do what I want to do and not just do what others do." As founder and president of SafariWatch®, Inc., Darnell came up with the concept of watches featuring photographs of wild animals after seeing an interview on the "Donahue Show." "I was waiting for a plane home at Love Field, and I saw this guy, Jeff Walsh, who was putting famous paintings on watch faces. By luck, I got his number from the Donahue folks, and I talked to him the next day."

      The idea stuck. The next few years were spent researching the watch business, working on a business plan, searching for an investor, recruiting a few collaborators, and finding the right photographer for the animal shots.

      "My guiding force during all this was Jerry White," said Darnell, referring to the director of the Caruth Institute. "Without him, I don't think I'd be where I am. He focused my thoughts and coached me along the way. His key piece of advice was that leaders surround themselves with people who complement their strengths and weaknesses. And I used that advice when I looked for people to help me."

      In the fall of '97, friends Simone Seeley, a speech writer at American Airlines, and Cruce Saunders, a computer and marketing specialist, joined Darnell as he approached his launch. Watches were being manufactured in Dallas; photographs from Art Wolfe's portfolio were selected; and Darnell, Seeley, and Saunders worked on the sales and marketing site, the SafariWatch website (http://www.safariwatch.com).

      The site opened for business in November; since then the watches, averaging $59 apiece, have sold at a steady pace. With pictures of lions, cheetahs, leopards, zebras, elephants, giraffes, and two different shots of lorikeets, the original line has leather wristbands and Seiko® movements. The lorikeet, a brightly colored Australian bird, has been by far the most popular, according to Darnell.

      The second series, Wolfwatch®, features four watches, each with its own photograph of a wolf. "We used nylon mesh bands on this series; it's more comfortable in hot weather, and it's a younger look," Darnell added. The current project is a children's line called Zoobees®, with a plastic wristband printed with the pattern of the animal's skin. They are working on the prototype now and hope to have samples to show sales reps by mid-summer.

      In June, the Nature Company is going to test SafariWatches in 20 of their 120 stores around the country; a national sales representative group, Club 35, is considering taking on the line; and Billy Darnell has decided to stay in Dallas and work on his venture full time. "With graduation comes freedom and independence, but that also means the last regular check from home. I guess I've come a long way from being the kid with the Kool-Aid® stand."

 

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