From Bones to Business
Applying Life Experience to Entrepreneurship
Like most entrepreneurs, when Guy Gsell first set out to start his business, his journey wasn’t easy. Gsell, however, had a rather unique starting point that separates him from the majority.
“When I was putting my business plan together and I was going out to investors trying to convince them to invest in a dinosaur park, what I had to sell was the popularity of dinosaurs,” he says. “I think that they seem unreal, but they were real and that's what kids love about them. At an age where more and more things are taken away from kids, we never take the dinosaurs away.”
However, like a lot of entrepreneurs, Guy’s business idea started as a childhood passion.
“My earliest memory was going to the New York World's Fair in 1965,” he recalls. “They had a very famous dinosaur exhibit and I remember being really fascinated with that. That was something from my childhood that I remembered fondly.”
From there Guy would take his adventurous spirit to theater, where he worked his way up from playwright to stage manager and, eventually, the managing director of the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, New Jersey.
It was during that time that he caught the eye of some New York theater producers who were in the process of developing an exhibit hall in the old New York Times building in Times Square.
With his years of theater experience and a successful launch of one of the state’s top theater education programs, Guy would eventually move on to join the Discovery Times Square team as the Founding Director.
During his time with Discovery, Guy helped create numerous sold-out workshops and ancillary programming for the famous King Tut exhibit, as well as Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition and DaVinci’s Workshop.
“Teaching kids, entertaining kids is something that I really like and understand, so that aspect of it is very exciting to me,” he says about his time with Discovery.
After spending 12 years with the company, Guy decided to take all of his years of experience in the arts and apply them to his next big idea.
“I took my years of experience as a theater artist and combined that with my experience in the exhibit business, my experience in administration, and my experience in management and I decided I'm just gonna put these all together and I'm just gonna start this dinosaur park,” he says. “I knew a number of people who were both philanthropists and people who had done some investing in theater, as well as Broadway shows, so I went to them and explained to them the allure of dinosaurs and why I thought this would work. The seed money was enough for me to quit my job and scout out locations to try and secure a location for the park and find out more about the business of dinosaur parks.”
It was from that moment that Field Station: Dinosaurs became real for the lifelong dinosaur lover.
Times weren’t always smooth sailing for Guy, though. He is the first to tell you that there were moments where he wasn’t sure how he would make ends meet.
“It was an intense period to get the park open,” he says. “I had a certain amount of money and I had to get the park opened by a certain time and if I didn’t, I would be losing a lot of money… But I somehow found it within myself to be up for that challenge.”
So how did Guy manage to see the high-pressure project through? The answer is simple: creativity.
“It really makes you get creative and that's one of the lessons I would take with me,”he says. “I'd say we have to be a lot more creative. We can't just say this $6,000 is $6,000 because that's not looking at it right. Instead, it’s all about, ‘How can we deliver the best thing that we want to deliver for the least amount of money?’ It’s not about how can we deliver $8,000 worth, it’s how can we get that number down and still have a good product.”
While it may sound like an overwhelming challenge for most, Guy welcomed it with open arms.
“I'm a puzzle guy,” he says. “I go into everything in the same way that I would approach a crossword puzzle. I say, ‘Okay, there’s a solution to this and I just have to find what that is.’”
As for any advice he might have for fellow entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs looking to start a dinosaur park, Guy says the answer lies in objectivity.
“I think you have to take a step back and look at things objectively,” he says. “By taking that step back and looking at everything objectively, I took a lot of the fear out of it.”
To listen to Richard Rierson’s full podcast interview with Guy Gsell, click here.