I met Ryan Kopf through an odd accident – I heard about one website he did (www.MaiOtaku.com) via one I was using for research (www.UpcomingCons.com). I was curious about the MaiOtaku.com project from a business side, and quickly discovered Ryan worked on both.
He turned out to be the very model of what I promote here on the blog – a person who has merged his career and hobbies and future plans into one. Ryan provides an interesting insight of a dynamic young person cultivating many future possibilities – through his fandom.
1) Ryan, first, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do. How did you get to what you do now – being involved in many fandom projects that have business potential.
I am someone who has recently gotten very involved in the world of fandom, particularly fan conventions. I run some websites for fans, including MaiOtaku and UpcomingCons, and I am on the Board of Directors of the Mindbridge Foundation. I first got involved in the world of fandom and conventions through the Mindbridge Foundation. After I attended my first AnimeIowa convention in 2006 I wanted to get involved. I learned more about Mindbridge, and started coming to both Mindbridge and AnimeIowa meetings. Everything else was a simple natural progression from that point, because I was already going to be involved a lot in fan conventions and learning about how they work.
2) You're involved in 3 major fandom projects that are nearly businesses unto themselves – UpcomingCons.com, MaiOtaku.com, and the Mindbridge Foundation. Tell us about each and how you got into them.
Mindbridge was the first project I got involved in. I attended my first anime convention, AnimeIowa, in 2006. Midnight the night before, out of a spur-of-the-moment idea, I started making a costume for a character, Wolfwood, from the Trigun series, even driving out for supplies to build his giant prop. I met tons of people at the convention, and made a lot of friends that I am still in touch with. I wanted to get involved, and eventually joined the organization behind AnimeIowa, the Mindbridge Foundation. I tried not to miss many meetings, and started getting an idea of the work that goes into conventions and started doing work for Mindbridge as well.
UpcomingCons.com was created when I first started searching for other fan conventions in the area.
This started while doing public relations for a small gaming convention in Iowa City. I was researching area conventions that might be interested in cross-promotion, and I found it wasn't easy to find all the upcoming conventions nearby. I decided that compiling all the data on conventions might be a great project. I was already operating several websites, so using my web framework would make it easier to keep a database of conventions. After some brainstorming I had the first draft of UpcomingCons finished in a few hours. Since then I have reviewed several conventions as press, taken thousands of pictures, and met tons of fellow fans.
MaiOtaku was another idea I had because I was already been building social-network software for my websites, the same software that UpcomingCons runs on. I had wanted to come up with a fun, potentially profitable idea, and an otaku dating website was one of those ideas. It was originally just one of several ideas I had looked at but never started, until a fellow AnimeIowa staff member suggested that it would be very popular. He was right: now there are over 1000 members, 3000 pictures, 6000 comments, and 700 private messages.
3) What have you learned from your different projects?
I have learned all sorts of things from my projects. I can see the varied types of individuals that like anime from MaiOtaku's demographics. I've learned a lot about the difficulties seen when organizing conventions from Mindbridge and other conventions I've attended. I've even learned about public relations, journalism, photography, marketing, and more from UpcomingCons.com. There's a lot of unquantifiable experience you earn by being involved in so many things at once – you start getting better at multitasking and organization as well, and you make a lot of connections too.
4) Where do you see your projects going – and their professional potential?
All of these projects have a lot of potential. I hope Mindbridge will continue growing, adding more conventions and further spreading area fandom. I can see UpcomingCons.com helping connect me with hundreds of conventions and thousands of fans. Maybe groups will start asking me to help them organize conventions as I earn even more experience in the field. MaiOtaku continues growing, especially as I attend conventions and advertise. The fact that it's free means that it will continue growing regardless of what I do externally to promote it; new members join even when I don't pay attention for a week. We have a already have very inclusive community, something I am very appreciative of.
5) So where do you see yourself in the next five years?
The great thing about doing so much while still in college is that I have plenty of options. Although I know I can rely on finding a job developing websites for others, I am hopeful that one of my many projects becomes profitable enough that I can work on my own. While I could probably work 8 hour days at Google, I would probably have more fun working for myself on MaiOtaku.
6) Fans have many things they can do to merge hobbies and career ambitions – websites, blogs, art gigs, etc. What would you recommend people do when making these "crossover" projects?
There is a lot to consider when people are working on their own mixed hobby/professional projects. Whatever you're doing the best advice is to always plan, brainstorm, and write everything down. Each of my websites has something of a 'business plan', analyzing the people who I might be connecting with, the work that will be required, costs, and anything else I can think of. This can be useful for any kind of project. Artists can make a list of conventions to attend nearby, expected profit at each, associated costs, and how they'll promote their work. If projects are envisioned as a business it helps when trying to understand the costs, risks, and potential benefits of the project. This is almost twice as necessary in the current economy. Planning out expenses and doing whatever possible to minimize them is important to be able to keep doing something you enjoy.
7) The economy is tough. Any advice for people pursuing their dreams in tough economic times?
The answer is here exactly the same as the answer above – plan thoroughly. Some dreams are more expensive than others, and that makes it even more important. If you have an idea of where you'll be making money then you'll be better off. It's important to know how to cover everything you have to pay for, even if it's not about making profit.
8) Before we close this interview, anything else you want to say?
The typical advice I always hear is about focusing and specializing more on doing one thing really well. Obviously that's one thing to consider. It might be far more profitable to specialize on doing one thing really well, but if you start out as diversified as I am then you can get a much better idea what to spend all your time on in the future. My advice is that as long as you have free time then you might not be doing enough, and seek out something fun and interesting to be involved in.
Thanks for taking your time from doing so much to speak to us Ryan!
- Steven Savage