Marketing & Brand Manager | Biz Kid$ | Seattle, Wash.
by Kristin Todd Stires
Shelby Burford has always loved business and entrepreneurship. He also loves a good story, and he has plenty of them — like the one about his first venture, when he set up a lemonade stand off a dirt road in his tiny, rural Indiana town. His parents still have a photo of a tractor pulled up next to the stand.
Once, he and his sister held an “art sale,” which consisted of coffee filters dyed with food coloring displayed on a card table in the family’s front yard. The art sale was strategically planned when funeral service attendees were arriving at the church next door. Burford’s dad happened to be the officiating pastor, and as you can imagine, the art sale was quickly shut down.
At age 14, Burford started his own graphic design company, which he kept throughout his time at Baylor. Then, there was the time he was a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune.”
But one of his more recent stories begins on a New Year’s Day flight to Seattle in 2011. Burford had graduated with a degree in Entrepreneurship in December 2010 and decided to move to Seattle, but he needed a job.
“I booked a one-way ticket to Seattle,” Burford said. “On any flights I had taken before, I always brought a résumé with me because you never know who you’ll be sitting next to on a plane. I thought printing an abridged version of my résumé on cocktail napkins and having the flight attendants pass them out with beverage service would be a good way to make a connection with each passenger.”
Burford enlisted a company specializing in weddings and events to print up 250 résumé napkins. After approaching the flight attendants with his idea, Burford was given permission to hand out the napkins himself. So he followed the beverage cart down the aisle and distributed his résumé, which included his seat number, to 160 passengers; however, it wasn’t quite the target audience he had hoped for.
“The passengers ranged from supportive moms and families that said ‘Great job!’ and ‘Good luck!’ to uninterested tourists who were wiping their mouths with the extra napkin,” he said. “There weren’t really any business people.”
Burford decided if the right people heard the story about his cocktail napkin résumés, it could lead to some job interviews. He emailed the Seattle Times and an article ran less than a week later.
“After the article ran, I received about 100 emails and ended up doing 27 interviews over six months,” he said. “There were some positions that I thought were great, but they fell through; there were other positions that I ended up turning down.”
Burford finally landed a job at Biz Kid$, a public television series that teaches youth about money, business and entrepreneurship. As marketing and brand manager, he oversees social media efforts, writes a blog, conducts research and creates retail products. One of his major projects has been the launch of a pilot program to incorporate Biz Kid$ video content paired with lesson plans into high school and middle school classrooms, and he is working to expand it nationally.
“Finding a job can be a difficult process, but it is your responsibility to communicate that you are the employee that company needs,” he said. “That involves being creative, taking initiative and getting into a company’s world before they are even looking for someone. There will always be a need for excellent people, but persistence is vital.”
Burford has garnered further coverage from media outlets, including The Kansas City Star (syndicated column) and American Public Media’s Marketplace Money®, and his creativity continues to serve him well. In April 2012, he returned to campus to compete with a friend in the Baylor Entrepreneurship New Venture Business Plan Competition — they walked away with the $15,000 first place prize. But that’s just another story to add to his collection.
“In my classes at Baylor, I learned how to tell a compelling story in business,” he said. “That’s why the napkin résumés ultimately worked. It created a story that was interesting and caught people’s attention. It was more than just a pragmatic story about a kid looking for a job.”
*At time of print, Burford accepted a new role with Amazon.