Like most self-made millionaires, Craig Wolfe came from rather humble beginnings. His idea was to create rubber ducks that looked like celebrities. Since he was starting small, he did all his PR and sent press releases to everyone he knew. Fortunately, a newspaper on the other side of the country ran his story, and the vice-president of one of NBA’s top franchises loved the idea and had him create a duck based on their superstar. That was the big break he was looking for because, after that, people and businesses started contacting him from all over the country. Fast forward to today, his current net worth is sitting at a cool $5 million.
We recently caught up with Craig Wolfe and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started making money?
I became the largest publisher of artwork from television commercials creating the first ever animation art lines for Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, M&M/Mars, etc. I figured no one else was doing this so why not me! Eventually, I sold it all off to create CelebriDucks which was a whole new art form of celebrity rubber ducks of the most celebrated icons of film, music history, and athletics. They were voted one of the top 100 gifts by Entertainment Weekly and featured on hundreds of TV shows, magazines, and newspapers including The Tonight Show. We have sold millions of them, and we are known as the top custom duck manufacturer in the world. We do them for everyone from SeaWorld to The New York Yankees.
Then I had the idea to address the importance of bringing jobs and industries back to America by bringing the whole rubber duck industry back to America where the rubber duck was invented before the whole industry went overseas. We are now the only ones making them here and are doing them for companies and organizations such as Harley-Davidson and The Future Farmers of America. Our second US factory in Michigan is now making PVC Free rubber ducks out of food and medical grade materials which are considered the safest rubber ducks in the world for babies to teethe on.
I also just launched our new chocolate division, www.CocoaCanard.com, with our Spooning Chocolate, the only Dairy, and Gluten-free hot chocolate that can instantly mix up in a cup of hot water and you will never miss the milk. It is now the go-to product in that category and considered the purest and finest hot chocolate on the market and uses Fair Trade chocolate. I basically do things that inspire me, and fortunately, it has worked out for me.
How did you get started in business? When did you start? Did you ever imagine you would become this successful?
You know, with the ducks, I never expected it would get that big, but I did think it was a cute idea – rubber ducks that looked like celebrities. I did all my PR and sent press releases to everyone. Fortunately, a newspaper on the other side of the country ran my story and the vice-president of one the NBA’s top franchises loved the idea and had us create a duck of their superstar. When we got done with that duck, it looked more like him than he did! The promotion went great, and then people started contacting us from all over to have us create ducks for them. I eventually sold off the animation and became all ducks!
What is your primary source of income?
Funny enough, it is just making rubber ducks which proves that if you own your niche and have a decent idea, anyone can become a millionaire.
Would you be willing to tell us your current net worth? How did you accumulate your net worth?
5 million. It started with the animation company and then with the ducks, funny, whimsical characters made my money – who knew!
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your net worth?
I keep the business fresh and innovative; I never stay complacent. I’m always bringing out new ducks and fresh products. I don’t invest in the stock market, real estate and CDs. Bottom line, I invest in myself, in my business and thus, I am debt free with no outstanding loans – plus, I own the whole company 100%.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram…..we pretty much post on our company website regularly.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
Actually. We find running on PR does the best marketing for us and the most cost-effective. Social Media is a game changer today and anyone can do it very cost effectively. We do have a great Amazon partner who handles that for us and they do campaigns for us which do very well and people love them.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
Well, PR is key for us and of course, social media. But if you really want to stand out in the clutter, then you need to build a better mousetrap. Create a great product that is cool, fun, innovative, unique and different and then be so good at it, that you dominate your own your niche – that is the key to success. You really want to become the best in your niche and be focused like a laser in getting your message out, one you can make that happen then you can give people a reason to talk about you and tell others.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
PR and social media.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
I decided to terminate all our Amazon re-sellers. It was tough as we had so many, but we finally chose one major company to represent and protect our brand on Amazon, and it has worked out great. Now, we can control the look of the brand on there and also the MAP pricing.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
Control your destiny. One of the biggest mistakes people do is give creative or financial control to raise funding to get their new venture off the ground. At one point, to expand quickly and take some of the burdens off me, I had a lot of my business pass through my manufacturer who took on more of the financial burden. But I did not like my loss of control, and after a bit of a struggle, I took it back. So you should never give up any equity or control unless you absolutely have to as no-one will ever run your baby and have the passion for it as you, the company creator.
What have you learned in the process of becoming wealthy that others can learn from?
Never get complacent. And honestly, money is only as good as what you can do with it to make a difference in the lives of others. For me, the end game is about leaving it all to non-profit entities that can further be doing good in the world and helping those who have less.
What new business would you love to start?
I am actually already in the midst of that. Our chocolate company is just in phase one. We are writing a children’s book to go with it, and a whole lifestyle branding to bring the entire Cocoa Canard themed merchandising program to the market. Ducks, chocolate, children, fun licensed products, and a heart-warming message in a children’s book which is entirely different from what’s out there – what’s not to like.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
Well, I think I would have been more creative in the kinds of properties I brought to market. But it’s funny, it’s like trying to be who you are now thirty years earlier. Who you are now is based on those thirty years of doing things both right AND wrong. So yes, our Costume Quacker line of celebrity parody is our best work ever. But it took us years and years of design and testing to evolve to this point. But I do wish I had thought of this a long time ago.
Do you have any favorite business-related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
I love ALL the Trout and Reis book – Positioning, Bottom-up Marketing. They are not just brilliant, but so much fun to read and filled with so many interesting case studies.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
“Never give up control and ownership” – Mom. She was right, well at least she was right for me. Everyone is different. But for me to feel creatively motivated and inspired, I need to have control of my baby to do whatever I have to do to bring it to life. I always said that when I wanted to return our whole industry back to the USA where it began, if I had a board of directors, I would have been fired, no doubt for ”not maximizing shareholder value in the short term!” But I always looked at the big picture. I knew if I did this we would own our niche and over time no-one could duplicate what we can do. I didn’t have to convince anyone as I owned the whole company and did just that and it really worked out in the end.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
It’s not how much money you make; it’s how much you keep. Excessive overhead can bring down any business no matter how much you make. Lean and mean is the key to survival especially in the beginning before business gains traction.
Do not try and be all things to all people or you become nothing to anyone. Focus like a laser on your niche and be really clear on what you stand for.
Reflect your core brand ethics and quality in every marketing communication to the public.
Compete on the cheap end, and someone can always make it for less. Quality like the tortoise will ultimately win out or as I like to say, “live by the penny, die by the penny,” don’t compete on price alone. Quality is the hardest thing to knock off.