When Ben Baker decided to throw an outdoor music festival last summer, he gave himself 45 days to make it happen.
“It wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t easy,” says Baker, owner of Rollic Group and Cool Bus Party Rental, both Genesee County-based businesses. The then 21-year-old had planned to fill the 40 acres at Salt River Acres in Isabella County with 10,000 people, but the week of the event, realized he’d be lucky if he got 2,000.
“My promotion strategy was all off,” he says. “It was one of those things where I had two options: I could pull the plug on the whole thing and look like a punk, or I could go for it and just take the hit.”
He went for it, and about 4,000 people showed up. While Baker counts the 2014 Element Music Festival as a financial loss he also chalks it up as an invaluable learning experience.
Next time – and there will be a next time, Baker says – he’ll give himself at least a year to prepare.
Was Element Festival your first major project?
No. I’ve been DJing since I was 16. By the time I went to college, I was throwing some pretty big events throughout Midland and Mount Pleasant. We would bring in concert rigs and confetti canons. By my junior year, we had up to 3,000 people coming out for them.
How does a college student know how to get a concert rig?
You just call people. And if you don’t know them, you get to know them.
How does Cool Bus Party Rental play into all of this?
I was bussing people into these parties, and sometimes, would have 10 buses rented in a single night. I was subcontracting these buses through other companies, and my father stopped me one day and said, “You’re already making money and you don’t even own a bus. What would happen if you did?” And that’s how Cool Bus came about.
What’s your proudest moment as a business owner?
Macy’s Spring Preview event. It was a fashion show earlier this year, where we donated the proceeds to PAL. All of the “movers and shakers” from the community showed up. We actually ran out of seats – I had to order more seats the day of.
What inspires you?
I listen to the same speech by Eric Nightingale every morning. It’s called “19 Minutes That Can Change Your Life.” It puts me in the right mindset.
Do you have any mentors?
One of my former college professors visits me once a week. We just grab lunch and talk about what I should be doing and the next steps, keep me on track. I’ve got a couple of guys like that. It’s important to have that network. You never know what you can learn from someone else or what kind of project they may have for you.
How many of your projects could you have done without your network?
None. I don't know half of this stuff. I couldn’t have done the Macy's show without TaQuon D. Buford. He handled all of the fashion. I couldn't do something like that on my own.
In today's business world, how important is face-to-face communication?