Business

Meet April Ellis: Giddy Up Mission Pony!

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Mission Pony's April Ellis

April Ellis, pictured upper right, talks to a curious passer-by at City Streets in Mission Bay. Her friend, Patricia Baiyor, rides in true Mission Pony-style.

Every entrepreneur has a story to tell, and each is unique. Meet April Ellis: she’s a medical social worker turned business woman, with an idea that is by no means typical. But that’s just the point. With any luck, it just might be different enough to work.

April’s big idea? She’s an urban cowgirl, hoping to make motorized ponies the next big thing in San Francisco. Developing a stable of large hobby horses mounted on motorized bases, she hopes to rent out the ponies for rides and tours.

Building a business is a process, and at Rocket Lawyer, we want to help entrepreneurs get the guidance they need, every step of the way. That’s why we’ll be following April’s story as she takes on each opportunity and challenge.

Recently I talked to April about how she came up with her big idea, and what she’s done so far to get started.

Jenny: What was your inspiration?

April Ellis Big Wheel Race

April and her Big Wheel Race pony

April: Well, it didn’t start out as a business. I live in Potrero Hill here in San Francisco, and every year, one street over, the Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race goes on. I’ve gone three years in a row, and I really wanted to ride this year. So I started messing around in my garage. I knew I wanted it to be some kind of horse thing, but how to put wheels on a horse? When I saw an electric wheelchair, I thought, why make something that I have to propel, when it can propel itself?

Jenny: How did your idea become a business?

April: People really seem to like the ponies. I would ride it around to do my errands. You only ride a little ways at a time because people stop you–they say, ”Stop, stop! I have to take a picture of this!” So I made one and took it to a City Streets Festival in the Mission, and people loved it.  So I made three more for four total. We thought, there’s something more we can do here. Let’s see if there’s a business model that would work.

Jenny: What were you doing before you decided to start your own business?

April: I’m a medical social worker. I’m good at it and I enjoy it; but I didn’t know what was next for me in that field. My husband had been at his job for a while too, and we both decided to take 6 months off to figure out what was next. At the time, I certainly didn’t think I was going to start a business!

Jenny: What are your aspirations for the business in the short / long term?

April: If things go well, we’d like to start offering two-hour trail rides in San Francisco: in the Presidio, along the Bay, downtown, Twin Peaks. Something with great views.

And I want to have 10 horses so we can do multiple trial rides and private event rentals. It can be themed!  And we’ll bring the ropes and the stuffed calves.  We’ll do horse polo which will be terrific.  Did you know they do Segway polo?  Steve Wozniac is a big enthusiast so I figure we could do something similar. I could rent space at parks and schools.

Long term, if it’s well received, I want a stable of ponies. And with that it could be expanded to hourly rentals in the daytime and people could lease horses so that they could have free access to them, anytime, to get around in the city. But first we have to see how viable it is.

Jenny: What have you done so far to set up your business? How have you used Rocket Lawyer so far?

April: I’m amazed by what a long list of things there are to do in setting up a business, wow! I’ve been absorbing all the good articles you have on Rocket Lawyer.  I feel like my learning curve is vertical right now, and there’s such good info on your site. I’ve been using Rocket Lawyer On Call® to work on my business plan and LLC operating agreement. I think once I have have more solid numbers on my business plan I’ll be ready to investigate insurance.

And I am planning on using my Rocket Lawyer membership to talk to an attorney. I’ve never done this before, so I want to make sure I’m doing everything right from the legal side of things. It’s really handy that I can do all of this with my membership.

I’ve also set up a website: missionpony.com. I got a Twitter account (my first, still learning about how to work it), and a Facebook page.

This week I’m heading to City Hall to get my business license and fictitious business certificate. I’ll be setting up my business bank account and EIN too, and I’m going to meet with our accountant to get his input.

Jenny: What’s the best part about being an entrepreneur? And what’s the most challenging?

April: On some days it thrills me and on other days it’s just a lot of work.  I can see how you work from morning to night.  I took a time management class for entrepreneurs and that’s one of the things they said. You have to set when you’re going to start and when you’re going to finish. I’m used to working jobs where it’s easier to measure my time. I just spent an hour trying to figure out how to put a head on a horse. It’s a different kind of time management!

I’m very excited, but I do have concerns. I’m terrified about being sued.  We build very safe horses, but I feel like people are very litigious.

And if nobody comes, I’ll just stop.  I’ll go back to work for someone else and it will be a lot easier than starting my own business!

Check back soon to read more of April’s story. Next time we’ll talk about April’s experience working with an attorney in the Rocket Lawyer On Call network.

And April’s smart to be concerned about potential liability issues. We’ve developed the 7 Ways to Bulletproof Your Business to help businesses like Mission Pony get it right. Is your business bulletproof?

About Jenny Greenhough

Combining a love of writing and technology, Jenny started her career as a 6-year-old selling dot-matrix birthday banners to her friends. As Content Manager at Rocket Lawyer, Jenny developed online resources to help people find the legal information they need. She earned a B.A. in English literature from the University of Oregon, and an M.A. in film studies from Emory University.
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