Ep17: Turning your hobby into a business

David Curtis, Spartin Nerf Gaming

Turning your hobby into a business isn’t always easy, and not all hobbies can easily become profit-making businesses.

But doing something you love is the ultimate work/life goal, so when you find a hobby or passion and get to turn that into a business, work no longer seems like a chore. 

We speak to David Curtis, founder of Spartin Nerf Gaming, about getting his business started and how his love of cos-play became his livelihood.

We hope you enjoy this episode. Get in touch for more information on how we can support your business start-up journey.

For more in-depth information, latest news and guidance, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs

Read the full transcript here

Introducer (00:01):

Welcome to the Outset Podcast, the business start-up podcast from Outset Cornwall for support and inspiration to start, run and grow your business. Here’s your host, Rich Gunton

Rich Gunton (00:15):

Welcome to the Outset Podcast. Doing something you love is the ultimate work life goals. So when you find a hobby or a passion and get to turn that into a business, work no longer seems like a chore. We speak to David Curtiss, founder of Spartan, NF Gaming about his love for cosplay and how it’s become his livelihood. David, welcome to the Outset Podcast.

David Curtis (00:41):

Nice to meet you. Yeah, I’m glad to be here.

Rich Gunton (00:43):

We’ve been on this call for about 20 minutes off, off podcast, as it were. <Laugh> talking about the wonders of gaming and the creativity of it, the costumes we’ve talked about conventions, and that’s all really been for me personally, a bit of a learning curve as to what your world and your business is all about. So if we start to sort of unpackage it, because there’ll be people listening to our podcast, no doubt who will totally understand what you are doing, how you are doing it, and will no doubt want to get in touch with you. And we’re going to give out your Instagram and your YouTube channel shortly. In a nutshell to, to kick things off, how would you explain what it is that you do on a day to day basis?

David Curtis (01:23):

I find a character of a game or even film or TV show that I like. That’s not an average person. You would see yourself dressing up as, and then make that a reality. So say someone from Star Wars, like say, if I wanted to do a storm trooper, for instance, I’ll look at what I need to use to build it and how much time it’s going to take. And then I end up building the costume and taking it and wearing it at ComicCons and stuff like that.

Rich Gunton (01:50):

This is big industry like globally, as well as regionally, locally and nationally. Isn’t it?

David Curtis (01:55):

Yeah, it’s a big thing because there’s loads of places in America that have conventions spanning like three or four days and they have all sorts of varieties of stuff. Like no matter what kind of comic book nerds like anime person or even just a film buff, there’s, there’s so much to see at things like that.

Rich Gunton (02:15):

So these, these conventions that we were speaking about earlier, and you mentioned that we have some locally like this as near as Cornwall and Plymouth and Torquay, what’s the most recent convention you’ve been to?

David Curtis (02:25):

The one, the recent one I’ve been to. I wore my Star Wars costume that I made. And it was the one in Truro a couple of months ago. Me and my girlfriend, we dressed up in our own costumes we’d crafted. Just basically walking around the convention, talking to other people that enjoy the, the kind of hobby and the craft and getting tips and hints and stuff. And what I could do next. I love mashups like mixing costumes together to make a costume that you wouldn’t believe exists, but does. I’m a huge Halo fan and I’m a huge Star Wars fan. So what I’d done is I combined those two costumes together and I made myself a Star Wars, Halo suit.

Rich Gunton (03:01):

Okay. And your, and your girlfriend…..

David Curtis (03:03):

She made herself a full Halo suit. She’d done it herself, a fully loaded suit in all its colors.

Rich Gunton (03:10):

Ah, magic. I can in some ways relate to what you’re saying, because I went to see the Rocky Horror Show a couple of months ago. <Laugh> yeah. So is that that’s kind of dressing up all the show or for a theater show. Yeah.

David Curtis (03:21):

For a cause you get that feeling of being someone else. So like when you’re in normal clothes and you’re going to like a, I don’t know, a meeting and you’re in a nice fancy suit, you, you feel, you feel a little bit posh and like, you feel like you’re ready for it, but when you go to conventions, you can dress up as weird and as wonderful as you like. And no one’s going to judge you for it. Yeah. So it could be, they pretend to be someone for a day and then just, you know, go home and have a smile on your face when I’m crafting, like costumes can take up to like three to four months at the minimum because you know, you’re spending time doing the blueprints. You’re spending time cutting the foam or whatever you’re using like resin. There’s all of that time element in crafting. And it’s a good escape from, from the outer world really? Because you’re concentrate on what you’re doing. So you like block out everything and you’re like, you work on like the chess piece or I don’t know an arm guard or something along those lines and you’ll end up just escaping. And it’s a really good way of coping for me, for things like depression and anxiety. You’re doing something that you don’t normally do, but in, in a fun and friendly environment.

Rich Gunton (04:22):

Yeah, totally understand that. You mentioned there that sometimes, you know, on the costume side of things, you can be working on something for weeks or if not months. Yeah. If there was an average day <laugh> whether it’s now or I mean, are you still in the startup phase of, of your business?

David Curtis (04:37):

Still in the startup phase, I’ve made a few costumes for friends and stuff and I’ve made a few like custom pieces for people here and there. Nothing big yet. Because I haven’t got the space. It depends on what you the person, or persons, my friends need. Because the bigger the costume, the more effort you put in. So the longer it’s going to take, I set up  my craft knife, a table out and then I just start working on pieces here and there mm-hmm <affirmative> so then like over the next coming weeks, I’ll have, I’ll put them all together and it’ll become like one piece.

Rich Gunton (05:07):

It’s so interesting. I mean I’ve been involved with Outset since it started, you know, back at what 11, 12 years ago. And I think it’s something to being here in Cornwell as well and, and that the crafting and the artistic and the creativity yeah. Type of people. But I must say that this, that the gaming component to that blended in with the creativity is a new one. Yeah. But something totally of the now probably a, a booming market, I mean, in terms of your customer profile and I guess they are literally anywhere in the world, are they?

David Curtis (05:38):

I think when you watch a movie, the weapons that they use in the movies, like Star Wars; they’re made by prop makers, they’re made by people like me. I’ve got a commission coming, hopefully for the AOL field I go to, they want to wear a costume at the field.

Rich Gunton (05:52):

Right.

David Curtis (05:52):

So he wants a commission for me to make basically another star war OST suit. So we can run around at the air off field in one of them.

Rich Gunton (06:01):

And I suppose the, the dressing up in costume, in terms of, from a customer’s point of view, the buy into that, it’s purely a hobby and a luxury item to a large extent. Yeah. But I suppose people are up for investing in financially investing into that because it’s yeah. It’s something that they, they can use again and again, and enjoy.

David Curtis (06:19):

That’s what it is. It’s like I can go onto Etsy say for instance and things like that or eBay, and they’ll be like bits of costumes that I can’t make because I don’t have a 3d printer or something along those lines and I can purchase it and someone’s handcrafted. It can add to one of my costumes or vice versa. Someone could be making a costume and they could say, oh, look, I can’t build this piece. Because it’s too difficult for myself. Save me. For instance, I made a couple sold them online to people and then the people have got little attachments. They can have like bits for the costumes. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> but a lot of stuff that I’ve wanted personally. And I thought to myself, well, if I make a load of them, there’s going to be people out there who have the same problem as me because they don’t have the resources or the money or time to make it.

Rich Gunton (07:00):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s, I think that’s like a golden ticket. Isn’t it for a lot of small businesses is it very often starts with actually, this is what I need. I can’t find it. Or I can’t find it affordably or, or in the right time frames or whatever. Yeah. And then being able to, to sort of fill that gap now, I think that’s fantastic.

This is the Outset Podcast. We’re talking to David Curtis of Spartan, NF Gaming. So we can find you David on YouTube. So you’ve got, if we, if we literally just search Spartan, NF Gaming on YouTube, is that right?

David Curtis (07:35):

Yeah. Literally search there. I do a lot of reviews. I’ve done some NF reviews. I’ve also done step by step breakdowns on stuff that I’ve built. I’ve also got videos of me at conventions wearing the kit and, and wandering around showing you what’s there and what you can expect from like conventions and stuff. So like if you want to go for the first time, you know what to expect a little bit.

Rich Gunton (07:57):

and on Instagram as well, David Curtis Davidoff. So David OEE on Instagram as well. So I guess that’s a lot, lot of visuals on there.

David Curtis (08:06):

There’s a lot of like pictures, a lot of videos. You get to see some of my else off gear that I’ve got in my collection, stuff like I wear to events, basically a collage of what I’ve done.

Rich Gunton (08:15):

Is one of the primary way of engaging with your customer base or your customers to be as we sort of, you know, as you get into next year and, and you grow and develop your business. Is that a way of, of engaging and finding those customers at these sorts of conventions?

David Curtis (08:30):

Yeah. Oh definitely. Yes. Because like I want set up a stand next year at one of the conventions that I go to and I’ll bring some of my costumes that I’ve made, set them up and then I can collect business cards, I can take people’s numbers, they can take my number and they can ring me, message me on Facebook and say, oh, excuse me. I liked your helmets. For instance, can you make me one? And I’ll ask the price and then, and then we’ll come to some sort of deal and conclusion of one which is going to cost. And then what I do is I’ll make it and they’ll give me their address and I’ll ship it to them. I’ll send it to them.

Rich Gunton (08:59):

Fantastic. And I suppose from turning a hobby into an income and into a business, it’s got to be commercial. You’ve got to make money out of it.

David Curtis (09:07):

Yeah. You’ve got it. It’s a tricky one, but you’ve got to do it or you’re not going to survive. We’ve let anything nowadays once you make it good and you enjoy it, the money comes in naturally because you are not, oh, I have to make this. Oh, I have to make that. Well, yeah, I’ve got to make this today. I’m excited kind of thing.

Rich Gunton (09:24):

In terms of the customer then. So you’ve got your stand next year and people come up to you and you start to get, you know, orders. I suppose there’s a relationship there where that same customer could come back to you on a regular basis or at least every now and again,

David Curtis (09:37):

You can build a relationship with anyone. So like any kind of person you meet, you know, you build a costume for them, their friends are going to see them, they’re going to go, where’d you get that from? And, and it’s like kind of word of mouth, you know, your costumes and your, your creativity stuff becomes your advertisement in a way. People are going to see the work you have done and they’re going to be, oh, I want one of them. And then they’re going to get my details and stuff and then message me.

Rich Gunton (10:00):

Do you have suppliers then? Or do you just sort of source your kind of role materials? I suppose from normal life

David Curtis (10:07):

As matters? This may seem I buy most of my materials from Halfords.

Rich Gunton (10:11):

Okay.

David Curtis (10:12):

Cause the stuff I build my costumes out of are the Eva full foam mats that you get for mechanics. They put on the floor. And then what I do is I’ve got craft knives, glue gun, and heat gun and the adhesive. And then I heat up the Eva to mold it into a shape I want. So if I wanted it to be a giant shoulder piece, then I mold it. But if I wanted to be more angled and detailed, I’d have to like cut out some blueprints that I’ve done and then kind of mold it into a shape, cut it up. And there’s a lot, there’s a lot of processes to it. And then once you get the shape, you like you glue it all together and go from the steps there.

Rich Gunton (10:47):

And is there much competition in what you are doing then locally?

David Curtis (10:51):

There’s a few crafters here. There’s a guy I know called he’s called Tim. He helped me make one of my helmets as I’ve got in the, my bedroom. And he does a lot of stuff with resin and I really want to learn. So hopefully over the next coming months, I can go to his workshop and actually learn how to make resin stuff. And then eventually when I get into resin, craft casting and stuff like that, I can start selling a few bits of resin stuff on my my page when I get one up and running.

Rich Gunton (11:18):

It’s a really interesting concept. And, and as I mentioned before, in terms of Outset and over the last, you know, 10, 11, 12 odd years, nearly now of, of different clients coming through, we’ve had an awful lot of creatives, you know, be they artists, designer makers and all that type of stuff, but certainly with something like a platform of as YouTube. And when you’re talking about using resin, for instance, and, and in actual fact, the entire process, there’s probably quite a half decent business in the activity, led learning to hold classes and workshops and that type of thing across that sort of space. Isn’t there?

David Curtis (11:50):

Yeah. There’s many YouTubers that do it. You know, if you are struggling with something you’re making, someone on YouTube has got an answer for you. Someone’s got a little handy, little trick that you wouldn’t think existed. You wouldn’t even believe existed. I’ve learned the, the tips that I’ve learned from just YouTube alone for making something my costumes are mind-boggling scare crazy.

Rich Gunton (12:09):

What about doing like a physical workshop?

David Curtis (12:12):

A handful of people could come in, but that’s why I want the big space for the one thing I like seeing is creative people and it’s dying out. It really is.

Rich Gunton (12:18):

So in terms of Outset then, so you’ve mainly just gone through the Outset Online.

David Curtis (12:23):

My life’s been a bit up and down recently over the last couple months, cause I have a, a 19 month child. It’s kind of hard to balance work and day to day life.

Rich Gunton (12:32):

Yes. Oh, believe me. I completely understand what you mean. <Laugh> yeah. So someone’s listening to this podcast and whether they’re into, into gaming in particular, which I hope they are, because if we’ve marketed this podcast correctly or they’re just, you know, someone in Cornwall or wherever else they are, and they’re thinking, you know, this is what I do. I don’t know. I, I, I make flower pots or I really enjoy blacksmith or, or whatever. I think that is a, is a pastime is a hobby is a, is a, is a point of interest into something that’s commercial. Where did you start? Did you start to think, how can I actually make money out of this? Will people actually pay me for my time? Which transpires into being more than a pound an hour to actually create something.

David Curtis (13:15):

It come up by pure accident really. My friend was like, I’ve been to this convention. And I said, no, I bought a costume for the first convention. Cause I didn’t know. I didn’t think I could craft as good as I could. The experience, all the people there were fantastic. It was. And then they thought, oh, okay, next time I build myself a costume from there on, I thought to myself, oh, I want to make this a business because I’ve had people ask me, can, can you make one for me? Oh, how did you make that? Can, can I have like tips and tricks and stuff? And I thought to myself, well, if I make a YouTube channel and post up videos on what things I’ve done, and then I have the workshop where I make the stuff, I can kind of balance them together and make kind of like a, a community out of it all.

Rich Gunton (14:01):

We can find you on YouTube, which we mentioned again. So by searching Spartan, NF Gaming, you’re on Instagram as David Curtis Davidoff and we are talking to David Curtis of Spartan NF Gaming. You mentioned like briefly there about depression and anxiety, which I’ve literally written down because I think that’s the, you know, we’re recording this now in November of 2021. And I think even this time, last year we thought we would’ve been well out of the pandemic. Yeah. And so I think people from all walks of life in, you know, whether they be in a small business or a startup business, or even year five of their business or whatever, I think those things of being anxious or suffering from all different levels and forms of that depression perhaps encompasses. I mean, do you think that this has helped you?

David Curtis (14:49):

You know, I’ve been on benefits for a while now and building professional style costumes, they are really not cheap, but you can make something out of nothing. Like there’s stuff around the house I’ve used. Like there was an old mop head that I used for a costume I’ve used old curtains and stuff like that. And, and suffering with like anxiety and depression money gets in the way. And then you think yourself, well, I’m not going to make a costume cause it costs too much money. But then when you start looking around the house of things you don’t use, or like I use floor mats from Halfords, it’s like 12 to a pack and you get four sheets and that can make you pretty much most of your costume. And then the anxiety side of it is going to conventions. There’s your crowd; it’s crowded. There’s loads of people, you, you, you lose that anxiety a bit and you you’re around people that understand your kind of hobbies and likes can like socialize. It, it doesn’t feel so awkward if that makes sense.

Rich Gunton (15:45):

Yeah, no for sure. For sure. Well, one, it’s a change of physical scenery and space, I suppose. And secondly, you know, human interaction, most human beings need don’t we, you know, yeah. Being in the same sort of space as someone who’s in theory strange, but they’re there for the same reasons as the enjoyment and the interest within that convention particularly makes, makes, makes perfect sense. If I had to say to you, if we fast forwarded three years or five years and business was going as well, and if not better than you would ever dream that it’s to be, what does it look like? You know, what are you kind of aspiring to, to achieve?

David Curtis (16:22):

So the big dream, especially for five or five or six years is I want to have a workshop that’s up and running that makes costumes for, for people. I want to do live streams for people. So like people can see what, what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I want to run at conventions. I want to remain stands, selling stuff, showing people what can be achieved from basically nothing, have the interaction with the cos play community in terms of just being social, online, being social at conventions and just showing people that costumes are, are also a thing to, to help you as well. And instead of just like, you see people dressing up, like if I walk down the street in my costume, I’d get looked at weirdly, people think what was he wearing? But a convention it’s, it’s something totally different.

Rich Gunton (17:10):

Well, thanks. Thanks so much, David I’ve really enjoyed that.

Introducer (17:15):

Thanks for listening to the Outset podcast brought to you by the Outset Cornwall programme, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, HM Government and the Outset Foundation, supporting people to become self-employed and start their own business. For more information, visit outset.org/cornwall.