Carving a niche in software world

Pumpkin: A man goes into business for himself with a program for creating images for jack-o'-lanterns.

October 18, 1999|By David Hayes | David Hayes,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Some dream of seeing their face on a 50-foot movie screen. Others fantasize about being memorialized in history books. Bob Wilson just wanted to see his face on a pumpkin.

Wilson was watching the news a few years ago when he saw a segment featuring a couple of artists who had sculpted their faces into their jack-o'-lanterns.

"I said 'Man, I like those, but I want me on a pump-kin,' " Wilson said. "I started looking for the software they used to make the stencils, but I couldn't find any."

That started Wilson's three-year odyssey into the business world of Halloween. And Bob Wilson, financial-analyst guy, became Bob Wilson, pumpkin guy.

Or, to be more precise, "Punkinhead" -- the name of Wilson's software business.

"When I started, I just wanted to get this idea out of my head," Wilson said. "I never planned for this to be a business, but it's turned into one."

Deciding to develop the software himself, Wilson visited the University of Utah and hired a student who took six weeks to write the initial computer code.

The software went through four more rounds of testing. Children, teens and adults were asked what they wanted. Kids wanted music, so daughter Betsy's third-grade violin teacher was hired to do background music.

Wilson wrote the software tutorials. His brother did the artwork. Wife Kathy became the model for the tutorials.

In July 1998, the first CD-ROMs were pressed and the software -- named "Me on a Pumpkin" -- was born. Wilson slapped a $19.95 price tag on the package.

The software allows a user to take any digital image -- a scanned photograph or a photo from a digital camera, CD-ROM, or an image from the Web -- and use it to make a stencil for carving. The software includes editing tools to size and crop the picture.

Once designed, the stencil can be printed out in three sizes -- up to 8 by 11 inches. The software examines the photo and creates a stencil that won't result in a failed pumpkin attempt "where pieces fall out in your lap," Wilson said.

"Me on a Pumpkin" also includes preparation and carving tips.

Wilson has built a Web site to sell the software online and reached a variety of marketing agreements, including a tentative deal with a large retailer.

His company spent $4,000 on a Web advertising campaign that only yielded a couple of hundred dollars in sales but got a far better response when Keith Coleman, a Louisiana pumpkin artist with a popular Web site, agreed to provide a link to Wilson's site.

Wilson said he and his partners have invested about $35,000 in the project and sold 10,000 copies of the software so far, which puts Punkinhead in the black.

In Wilson's home town of Kansas City, the software is featured in a promotion by Hy-Vee Food & Drug stores, which are giving away a pumpkin to anyone who buys the program.

Meanwhile, some enterprising businesses have used the software in other ways.

An Arkansas man uses the software to design stencils of school mascots, Wilson said. He enlarges the stencils dramatically, and spray-paints them on school parking lots.

"Me on a Pumpkin" requires a 486 PC or better with 8 megabytes of memory and a printer. For information, go to www.punkin1.com or call 877-786-5461.

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