Eric Hill sits at his computer with his business partner, Daniel Payne, standing behind him while they discuss their future plans of producing more issues of their self-made High Cotton News. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
June 16, 2009
STARKVILLE -- One day in November, while Mississippi State University student Daniel Payne was cruising Facebook, he came across a group called Young Entrepreneurs.
He looked at the long list of members and noticed there was only one MSU student, a guy named Eric Hill.
Payne had had a lawn-mowing business back in his high school days in Ocean Springs. Hill had been running businesses, mostly computer-related, since he was 10, growing up near Monroe, La.
Payne added Hill as a Facebook friend.
"Do I know you? haha," Hill wrote in a Facebook message he sent to Payne.
"No," Payne replied, "i saw a fellow MS State person in the Young Entrepreneurs group so I thought I would add you, it''s always nice finding other young people who are interested in business."
From that point forward, the two united. They kicked around the idea of publishing a small, two-page restaurant reader and circulating it to every restaurant in Starkville. When they got a quote on how cheap it was to produce, they decided they could afford to print something bigger, more legitimate. By then they had decided to produce something filled with "positive" news, in contrast to news they saw as depressing.
The two published the 15th issue of the free four-page broadsheet High Cotton News on Thursday. Hours later, they spontaneously recollected the story in Hill''s living room. The story of the establishment of the newspaper suggests young people are still interested in starting something new despite tough conditions.
As Payne and Hill got to know each other better, they became convinced they should create something together.
The idea of writing positive news came to them when they were watching the evening news at Payne''s house one night in January. They settled on one channel.
"Let''s see if there''s any one positive story," said Payne, 21, an accounting major.
"There might have been a long story on troops who''d died in Iraq, a lengthy segment on how the stock market had plummeted and a little one-minute thing on a 102-year-old woman," recalled Hill, 20, an aerospace engineering major.
"It was just terrible," Hill said.
One Friday shortly thereafter, while Hill was driving, he received a quote on the cost of publishing the restaurant reader, which was their original idea. It was cheap. "Heck, we could even afford to even do a four-page paper," Daniel said.
Over the next couple of weeks, they figured out how to manage content, delivery and financing.
"We didn''t want to borrow anything to sell anything that we didn''t have to," Hill said.
So both contributed $50 of their own money -- "just past business savings," Payne said.
Hill paid for the registration of a limited-liability corporation, or LLC -- Payne-Hill Publishing LLC -- while Eric paid to set up an account for an office number routed to their cell phones.
Then they needed writers. They put out advertisements on Facebook and other Web sites.
One person who responded to the ad, Jerry Johnston, had a vision for the publication that meshed perfectly with Payne''s and Hill''s, the two discovered when they sat down to interview him. They decided he would manage content for the paper.
Hill had a friend who knew how to make pictures, so once Hill contacted the guy, art was squared away.
Door to door
Then they hit the streets, going door to door on Main Street, to get advertising.
They asked business owners what they could do that wasn''t already available. "I guess that was our market research," Payne said.
The vision was closer and closer to a real thing. Now they just had to make it.
One day in early March, a few writers gathered in one room of Hill''s apartment, the one he calls the office, and gradually put the first paper together.
Hill had worked on the yearbook in high school, and so, after brushing up on his skills, he went to work assembling the articles and ads.
They stayed up until sunrise. Coffee helped. They had done it. They had published their own newspaper with its own niche.
They paid for an order of 3,000 papers with a credit card backed by about $1,000 in ad sales dollars.
The next day, Payne and Hill stayed up and waited for their newspapers to arrive. "We were excited about it," Hill said. "We stayed up talking about big plans.
"For both of us, it was the first tangible product -- ''I made this.'' This had a production to it. We got a product we could see -- 3,000 copies."
Payne and Hill marched down Main Street handing out papers to businesses and people on the street. (They would later hire delivery boys.) The papers are free.
"There was a lot of skepticism," Hill recalls. "Because we were young."
But now business owners realized the product Payne and Hill had sold them on was legitimate. "We didn''t think you meant this," was a common positive response.
As the weeks went by, they improved production, Payne said, and people have responded well. They still circulate 3,000 copies of each edition to Starkville-area restaurants.
They do not know what will become of the newspaper in the coming months. Payne graduates from MSU in December and is interested in going to law school.
They do not think they would publish the newspaper if the advertising well runs dry. "At the end of the day, it is a business," Hill said.
Good thing expenses are low. "No presses, no office, no liability," Payne said.
For Hill''s aunt Carol, who''d come from Ohio to visit him last week, his latest project''s success is no surprise. "I''m used to him doing this stuff," she said. "He''s done it for a long time."
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