Teen Entrepreneur Hawks Backyard Ninja Dreams
Alex Ferguson, center, tests out a backyard obstacle design with his father, Scott, and brother, Graham.
Back in 1997, the Tokyo Broadcasting System began airing a sports entertainment program called “Sasuke” in which competitors vied to complete a four-stage obstacle course. To date only a handful of competitors have completed the course, but the show has become a global hit that’s aired in 157 countries.
Ever willing to learn from the competition, NBC has now aired eight seasons of “American Ninja Warrior” with hosts Matt Iseman, Kristine Leahy and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila. Competitors, chasing a $1 million prize, are impressive, but the real stars of the show are the back-wrenching obstacles they navigate: rope courses strung over water, tilting platforms and towering climbing walls.
No doubt more than one would-be American Ninja has reflected from his couch that such a course might be fun to have in the backyard. Enter Alex Ferguson, a 17-year-old senior at Vestavia Hills High School who got to thinking about backyard obstacle courses after his younger brother Graham said he wanted one. Their mom had two caveats: It couldn’t cost a fortune or take up the whole yard.
After the project was complete, Alex got the idea of creating an online business whereby he could sell blueprints of ninja warrior-style obstacle courses for other fans of the show. He devised his obstacle courses to fit, as much as possible, in an 8-foot by 16-foot space and include precise details on construction. With the help of his father, medical software CEO Scott Ferguson, Alex set up NinjaWarriorBlueprints.com, where more than 7,000 people have viewed plans and specs. Customers have arisen from all 50 states, as well as Canada, Norway, Australia and Switzerland.
Alex readily concedes his dad was a huge help. “He’s an entrepreneur himself and helped with many aspects of the business, helping me to market, showing me how to launch things and making suggestions. But I built the website myself and put together an email list of 7,500 people, and 500 people have bought plans,” Alex says.
Meanwhile, Alex is looking to expand the business by creating new blueprints based on Lego building blocks.