By Lee Davis
People can find the inspiration to start a successful business in the most unusual ways.
For Alex Ferguson, a senior at Vestavia Hills High School, the inspiration came from his then-10-year-old brother, Graham.
Graham, a fan of American Ninja Warrior, a popular reality television show, wanted a ninja-style obstacle course in the family backyard for his birthday. But soon Alex and their father, Scott Ferguson, realized that no plans to build such a course existed.
“We looked everywhere for a do-it-yourself guide on how to build a course in the backyard,” Alex recalled. “The closest thing we could find was a few YouTube videos of people training on their personal courses, but these videos had no instruction on how to build our own. So we decided to come up with the plans for ourselves.”
So they turned to the boys’ grandfather, Inge Waddle, an engineer by trade. Waddle drew up the blueprints for the course, while Alex put together an instruction manual.
Graham eventually got his ninja warrior course. And his brother got his business.
In the months that followed, Alex created the on-line startup ninjawarriorblueprints.com, where more than 7,000 customers have downloaded his blueprints for building ninja warrior obstacle courses in their own backyards.
“My dad is an entrepreneur and I’ve always had an interest in business. I had a dog-walking service and I had lemonade stands as a kid,” Alex said. “An online business is a great way to start. There’s less overhead than a traditional brick-and-mortar business.”
The elder Ferguson said that orders to purchase the blueprints have come from all 50 states and many foreign countries, including Canada, Norway, Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The download, which includes 10 obstacles in a compact 16-by-9-foot space, sells on the website for $79. The 10 obstacles, according to the website, include cliff hanger, peg board, rumbling dice, globe grasp, devil steps, pipe grasp, Tarzan ropes, cargo net, salmon ladder and pipe slider.
Plans for a smaller, portable course are available for $39 and for a larger course, called the Ultimate Builder’s Bundle, for $109.
As additional incentive for customers, the website posts free blueprints of a ninja warrior favorite, the iconic salmon ladder.
The website doesn’t sell the material for the courses, so Alex negotiated a deal to direct customers to Home Depot for supplies, including offering a gift card for the big box giant with certain purchases.
“We’re appealing to families who are looking for a way to build a course at a reasonable price with readily available materials,” he said. “This isn’t for a huge warehouse and a huge budget. It’s something that anyone who wants to train at home can use.”
Scott Ferguson said that, while some of the website’s customers include those who want to be on the television show, at least half are families with children who see the ninja warrior concept as a great way to get all ages to exercise together.
Normally you don’t think of 17-year-olds and 11-year-olds doing much hanging out,” Ferguson said. “But Alex comes with his friends and Graham has his buddies at the house and they are all exercising and enjoying the obstacle course together.”
The Fergusons have built a similar bond with their customers. Many go to the website and post pictures of themselves building the courses and training with their children in their own backyards. The website is filled with comments from happy customers expressing gratitude for producing blueprints and instructions that are easy to understand.
“I get goose bumps when I see the pictures,” Ferguson said. “It’s so great to see parents working together to build something that they can enjoy with their kids.”
Alex spends much of his time after school working on the business, and he said it doesn’t interfere with studying and homework.
“I try to tie in the business to school as much as possible. I told my math teacher that I’d applied a lot of what I learned in his class to the business. He liked hearing that,” Alex said, laughing.
Another positive aspect of having an online business is that he can perform certain tasks – such as sending out emails – during school hours.
The business has also drawn national attention. It was spotlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the surge in popularity of private ninja warrior courses.
With things going so well, Alex said he could see building a career around what began as his brother’s simple birthday request.
“That would definitely be a dream,” Alex said. “It would be so great to do this full time. It could grow into so many things. I’d love to give it a try.”