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Pandas, Pies & Promotions | Mission Pony Tries a New Gait

IMG_6915April Ellis is a medical social worker turned urban cowgirl. Like other California entrepreneurs, she started out puttering in her garage, inventing a motorized pony to enter into a neighborhood event. Her zero-emission mount—built on an electric wheelchair base—attracted so much attention that she decided to build a herd to rent out for street tours. Mission Pony was born.

We’ve been following April and her stable of seven hobby horses as she navigates the legal challenges that come with building a small business. Last month, April told us about the trouble she was having finding liability insurance. When we checked back this week for the 3rd part of our series, April told us about her clever solution.

Our goal at Rocket Lawyer is to provide entrepreneurs like April with simple and affordable legal guidance, so they can follow their dreams. April, and thousands of others like her, show us how it’s done.

Laura: How’re things going since we last checked in with Mission Pony?

April: April was a really busy month! We had quite a few events, and we’re in the process of changing our business plan. We’ll probably need help from Rocket Lawyer again.

Laura: What’s your new plan?

April: We started with a model of entertainment rentals, but we haven’t been able to find general liability insurance. The insurers lumped us under the category of amusement rides, like roller coasters. We had two agents who shopped us around with no luck. Then we tried going through an arts consortium, but we just got turned down again.

Now, we’re changing our model from entertainment to advertising and promotions. We’ll have a Rocket Lawyer attorney help us with the business plan. The last one we used (for a liability/photo release) was excellent, so we’d be open to using him again or another attorney.

Laura: How did you come up with that angle?IMG_7463

April: Everywhere we go, people want to take pictures of the horses. People are really attracted to them—when they see them, they want to know what is going on. You have a captive audience for your business. Put your logo on the horse and it goes viral!

We’ve been doing promotions at all our events. At Sunday Streets (a San Francisco event when streets are closed to cars), we promoted Mutiny Radio, and online independent radio station. At the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown, we advertised the premier of the film Infinity & Chashu Ramen, filmed in San Francisco. One of the cast members dressed up as a panda. We put a panda on a unicorn, and wow! People went crazy. The film got a lot of attention, and more people went and bought tickets. At the Petaluma Butter & Egg Festival, it was the Petaluma Pie Company. We had cute girls in Petaluma pie shirts, and the logo on the horses. They handed out coupons and they ran out.

So, we were testing the the model, and it seems to work quite well. Now we’re changing our website and tweaking the business plan.

Laura: Will you also be able to pursue pony tours?

April: We can still do what we did at the Exploratorium event, which was giving pony rides under the insurance umbrella of another organization. It’s sad that we have to put that off, but until we can find (an insurer) who sees it in a different light, we’ll go with our new plan.

Laura: What’s the next show for the ponies?

April: We might be at Carnival in (San Francisco’s Mission District). It’ll be wild. We have to figure out who were are going to promote there.

We’d also really like to have the unicorns in the San Francisco Pride Parade at the end of June. I’d love to have one of the grand marshals on a unicorn! So we’ll be working on that.

I’d also love to build a giraffe. It would have a long neck so you could see it in a crowd, and it’s head could move up and down so that you could drop things into the crowd. But first, we want to make sure our business plan is solid, and we have our general liability insurance in place.

Laura: Good luck with the new plan! We’ll check back in down the road.

If you’re an entrepreneur just getting started or expanding, check out Rocket Lawyer’s resources for small businesses—everything from contracts to incorporation to tips and advice.  Read our 7 Ways to Bulletproof Your Business to make sure you’ve taken care of all the essentials.

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