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 October 8, 1999

Enterprising duo learning from launching non-profit

EDITORS NOTE: The Business Report will follow Playground Records in upcoming issues as they attempt to turn their business idea into a successful non-profit enterprise.

BOULDER — Educating troubled kids through popular music sounds like a great idea, one that everyone embraces. How can a company devoted entirely to this cause make it in today’s marketplace?

Whit Faulconer and John Guy are embarking on an aggressive, non-profit entrepreneurial venture promoting this very idea that they believe will be turning a profit by early next year. Called Playground Records, the company “seeks to record, produce, and sell music by the best artists of our time to educate underprivileged kids in basic education, trade skills and the arts,” says Boulder-based Faulconer, who deals with the creative end of the business.

Co-founder Guy, who heads the company’s legal and financial aspects, has even loftier ideals. “We’ll be the only record company that dedicates itself to donating our entire proceeds to kids in trouble,” he maintains from his home in Charleston, S.C. “Our biggest challenge is obtaining the financing to get us off the ground. But we’re ready to go.”

While performing as a musical duo called Mexican Water in the early >90s, Guy and Faulconer discussed the state of education and the environment. “A lot of environmental suffering is caused by the lack of education — you can’t care about a species, for example, if you don’t know it exists,” notes Faulconer. “Teaching kids early on will result in a better society. Music is the universal language for teaching because it reaches people emotionally.”

With a lifelong passion for music, they decided to combine their determination to make a difference with their talents.

With a background in CD production, corporate sales and contacts in the music industry, Faulconer and Guy wrote an ambitious business plan that included recording various artists at musical events and concerts, producing CDS, distributing the CDS through various company partnerships and instituting a registry of organizations that rehabilitate underprivileged kids.

“We’re trying to create partnerships with companies that have retail locations where we can sell CDS. We’ll tailor the music to the corporate partner’s market and generate funds that way,” Faulconer says. He envisions well-known artists interested in their cause recording songs directly for the Playground label. “There are billions of dollars in the music industry. There should be a non-profit record label where artists can make contributions. No other record label is consistently acting for any cause.”

However, with no money outside $10,000 in credit cards, and with recording artists bound legally to their recording contracts, they’re finding that even their enthusiasm and contacts with E-Town, Ben & Jerry’s, Volvo, Saab and musicians such as Dave Matthews and Vince Gill, it’s tough to promote their idea to the big guns.

As new entrepreneurs, Faulconer and Guy are finding out why. “Their business is still unformed. They need to go back to the drawing board and refine it, do the market research,” says their mentor, Nick Forster, founder and president/executive producer of E-Town, a nationally syndicated radio show based in Boulder.

Although Forster strongly appreciates their mission and the humanitarian effort behind it, he thinks their biggest challenge is their vision.

“In any enterprise, the story is paramount. Theirs has to be shorter, more focused. If they can’t tell me the story, then I can’t tell James Taylor, for instance, so he won’t know why he should record for them.”

Guy recently heard the same advice from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Charleston. “I presented our business ideas, and they pointed out that we need more focus instead of spreading ourselves too thin. We should consider that.”

Forster agrees. “If they did nothing else for a month but asked questions and refine the purpose of Playground Records, they would do themselves a service. They have to convince us why their product is good and different. They need a niche, something to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.”

In fact, Forster suggests something interesting. “Perhaps Whit could work as a project coordinator for Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s),” with whom Faulconer already has a good relationship. “Ben has a million good ideas, but no time. He could pay Whit a salary to manage all of his projects, and Whit can learn the business. That could gain him the expertise he needs to launch his own business.”

Despite the challenges of limited resources and the time it takes to get their story to the “right” people, Guy believes Playground can donate $250,000 to five of their registry organizations within a year.

“Once we have one donation and our first CD release, we’ll be self-sufficient.” To that end, Faulconer recently went on a national promotional tour to sell the idea to various musicians and companies with whom he has contacts.

Will Playground reach its goals? “It’s going to take a musician and individual who believes in us. I’m going to stay on the road until this thing works,” Faulconer contends.

EDITORS NOTE: The Business Report will follow Playground Records in upcoming issues as they attempt to turn their business idea into a successful non-profit enterprise.

BOULDER — Educating troubled kids through popular music sounds like a great idea, one that everyone embraces. How can a company devoted entirely to this cause make it in today’s marketplace?

Whit Faulconer and John Guy are embarking on an aggressive, non-profit entrepreneurial venture promoting this very idea that they believe will be turning a profit by early next year. Called Playground Records, the company “seeks to record, produce, and sell music by the best artists…

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