Take drive, determination and a strong work ethic. Add a strong belief in yourself and your product, and you’ll have the reasons why senior Devon Kondaki has all the makings of the becoming the next Dr. Seuss with his company WinzlowNation.
Featuring his lead character, a whimsical, fuzzy cartoon gnome named Winzlow, and his 21 additional friends and family members, Kondaki has already written two books. He illustrates them himself with a combination of pen and colored pencils.
“The Mystery of The Magical Bwa Bwa Fruit,” for children ages 3-7, teaches about diversity, fruits, colors and locations, followed by “¡Hey Ya Mama!” a beginner book for ages 0-3, which teaches about family, language and speech.
Originally from Coral Springs, Fla., the senior political science major and Hanover Business Scholar first got the idea for WinzlowNation at age 17 while doodling in one of his high school classes. He’s uncertain where the idea for the creature’s look came from, but has no doubts about his purpose.
“The message came from me wanting to improve our education system,” said Kondaki. “(I want) to teach kids values and knowledge, and Winzlow is the image of that.”
His first Winzlow product was a t-shirt design, which Kondaki sold at his school in Coral Springs, Fla. After a period of transition during his first year at Hanover, it wasn’t until his sophomore year when Kondaki released his first book in prototype form.
To gain exposure, Kondaki plans to go on book tours in metropolitan areas. Already, he’s taken what he calls a mini book-tour within the local community.
In September, Kondaki brought Winzlow to Cincinnati’s Comix Expo, followed by a trip in October to New York’s Comic Con, where more than 120,000 people attended. The experience taught him what he would need to do before his next trade show visit.
“I need to get a guy dressed in a Winzlow-suit, a better-looking booth, well-produced copies of the book and dolls,” said Kondaki. “But overall, the whole experience solidified who our customers are.”
Even though he does all the writing and illustrating for Winzlow and crew, Kondaki is not a one-man operation. He has a team of six staff members, including seniors Anabelle Horton and Brian Stewart, as well as recent alumnus Xavier Jackson ’12. Kondaki also receives help from Hanover staff member and considers Business Scholar Program Executive Director Jerry Johnson ’69 one of his primary mentors.
“(Jerry’s) helped me to understand how to set up my company, how to structure it, what are the processes I need to do, how to do presentations, etc.,” he said. “Jerry has been very important and the Business Scholars Program has taught me the skills to get from Point A to Point B.”
Giving presentations are another way Kondaki has worked to gain exposure and potential investors. He’s spoken in front of 150 members of the Venture Connectors Club of Greater Louisville as well as to the Louisville Metro Chamber of Commerce. In both cases Kondaki and Winzlow attracted a lot of interest. He hopes to secure funding in order to reach his customer base via touring that will generate sales and give him the means to produce a new product line of dolls once he graduates in May.
In the meantime, Kondaki is currently studying marketing and business in Japan on a Richter grant. He plans to meet with several business leaders while there to learn how to translate an American company into the Japanese market.
Eventually, Kondaki wants to have the Winzlow books translated into other languages, beginning with Creole for the large numbers of Haitians who live around his hometown in Broward County, Fla. Next comes Hebrew and Spanish.
“I think it’s relevant since our first book is on diversity,” he said.
You can learn more about Kondaki's company at winzlownation.com
Published Monday, December 16, 2013