80 hours to avoid working 40 hours: Game entrepreneur tells his story

Mike Still • Mar 21, 2019 at 11:45 AM

WISE - “An entrepreneur is someone willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours.”

That was Jackson Martin’s take on starting and maintaining one’s own business Wednesday as he told his story at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Martin was guest speaker this year for the college’s Alfred and Shirley Wampler Caudill Lecture in Entrepreneurship, and he discussed how he got into the business of inventing, manufacturing and marketing Coinhole.

Coinhole is a cross between the popular cornhole bag toss game and bouncing a coin into a hole, and Martin said inventing the game was one of his first pieces of business luck after he had just built a cornhole board for a friend.

“In 30 minutes, it all happened,” Martin said. “I bounced a coin into the board and the name coinhole came to mind.”

Getting to that point took plenty of work, though.

“Money is not the most important thing in life, but money is important,” Martin said before describing how he found his way through North Carolina State University by earning an education degree. Finding a $28,000-a-year teaching job and living with his parents, Martin said his situation looked good with no rent and little overhead.

Martin said he enjoyed woodworking and had access to his father’s workshop, and that led to his idea to mass produce a rocking ottoman, or a foot stool. After setting up a production line to build a hundred of them, he said he found they were not as hot a seller as he imagined.

“There’s still 70 out of a hundred ottomans still sitting in dad’s storage bin,” Martin said.

Another idea for a locker shelf system never really caught on, Martin said, but he eventually found there was a demand in his area for cornhole boards. That led to a steady business making the boards for about $60 a set and, by 2008, he had invented what he thought would become an instant success.

“I thought I was going to be a millionaire,” Martin said. “I wrote a few checks and went nowhere.”

By 2010, Martin had sold some coinhole sets but not enough to turn into the success he first expected. Having borrowed against his pickup truck to keep his workshop afloat, he finally got a break before Christmas 2012 with his first large order for coinhole boards. For the next three years he kept the cornhole business going while trying to spark more demand for Coinhole. He also started a music/sound system business on the side, but by 2015 business was looking tight again and he was putting his truck up for more financing while trying to renovate a $120,000 house he had bought.

Even then, Martin said he was looking at ways to build up Coinhole by making college-licensed versions of the boards although the cost of getting those licenses was prohibitive then. By spring of 2016, the truck again helped him get a little more money, and later that year he got an order for 800 coinhole boards.

“That was $6,000 in my bank account,” Martin recalled.

Other than a basic online order website, Martin had not really considered advertising until an acquaintance told him he could shoot a video for $100 of people playing the game.

“I realized you have to spend money to make money,” Martin said “That video got 200,000 views in two weeks.”

With more advertising and an upgraded website, Martin said demand kept growing and he had to grow his business from himself and a cousin working in a workshop to a facility hiring as many as 35 people to meet holiday season demand for as many as 20,000 coinhole boards.

One season when Martin’s crew was trying to keep up with another run of orders, Martin got an email from nationally known toymaker Hasbro and replied that he was busy and would get back to them in a few days.

Hasbro got back to him instead, with a proposal to market Coinhole in major retailers across the U.S. and in at least ten other countries. Two weeks later, Martin and Hasbro signed a contract that gained Coinhole an international foothold in the toy market and still allowed Martin to make, market and sell Cornhole to small retailers.

“Last year we signed with 200 retailers,” Martin said. “This year our goal is to sell 100 thousand, and we’re looking to have 50 thousand ready by Thanksgiving.”

Licensing agreements with colleges and universities became financially practical, Martin said, and several samples of Coinhole that he brought for display included facings with colleges and universities.

Coinhole boards are simple too, with a flat plywood board drilled with a target hole, a small plywood support to angle the board upward, and a vinyl facing that comes in a variety of designs.

“Wood is cheap and vinyl is cheap,” Martin said.

“If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to act like one,” Martin told the audience. “You have to sell something, you have to surround yourself with people who are entrepreneurs. Last, any amount of success has a little to do with luck., which can mean being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing.

“The more often you’re doing the right thing at the right place, you might get lucky at the right time,” Martin added. “I would be an entrepreneur all day rather than go back to my old job.”