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'Life an open book test,' SongPro's Jones tells students
9:55 a.m., Feb. 28, 2003--Grandmothers can be very wise, entrepreneur Ronald Jones, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of SongPro, told students in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics during sessions Wednesday and Thursday.

Jones said his own grandmother gave him two key pieces of advice that have guided his career, the first being that “no one has a monopoly on brains” and the second that “life is an open book test” and you are free to look for advice and assistance wherever you can find it.

“Different people have different skill sets,” Jones said. “It is important to meet and know as many people as you can.”

For his own part, Jones has received assistance in launching SongPro, a recent start-up that manufactures music cartridges for the Nintendo Game Boy, from a wide range of people, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the rap singer Nelly.

Jones said that he decided to launch a company in the late 1990s, with his first idea being a “silent radio network” that would use a liquid crystal display to flash news headlines, stock market prices and scores of sporting events.

He discussed the idea with representatives of a Korean company but could not convince them it was a good one. So that his trip to Korea would not be wasted, the representatives offered him a tour of their plant.

Jones said he was holding a Nintendo Game Boy and when he came across stacks and stacks of boxes of hand held MP3 players, he put two and two together. “I thought, ‘Wow! If I can put an MP3 player in the Game Boy, I’d have something.’ I knew Nintendo had sold about 80 million Game Boy units to that point and calculated that if I got 10 percent of the market, I’d be the king of MP3s.”

Jones went home to California, created a web site for his product that made use of Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and put out a press release about the new product, which was initially called the Song Boy. His site got 10,000 hits the first day and then all he needed was to manufacture the actual unit.

He turned to Microsoft, which has been supportive, and even met Gates. It was recommended that he secure needed microchips from Texas Instruments.

Nintendo learned of the Song Boy and took action because of the similarity of the name and the fact that no one but Nintendo itself can make cartridges for the Game Boy.

“Business is politics and politics is business,” Jones told the students, and after conducting a market survey on the numbers of African Americans who purchase Nintendo products he turned for assistance to Jackson. It paid off and the parties negotiated an agreement by which Nintendo would license Jones to manufacture his product if he would change the name to SongPro, which he did.

SongPro hit the shelves of several major national stores and Internet vendors in December with a publicity assist from Nelly, whose manager was known to Jones’ cousin. That reinforced his belief that “business is about relationships.”

SongPro is manufacturing a variety of products for the Game Boy–music, music videos and electronic books–and Jones said he is always looking for new ideas and applications.

Jones said the next step is raising capital to fund an aggressive advertising campaign.

For more information on Jones’ venture, go to [www.songpro.com].

Article by Neil Thomas

Photo by Eric Crossan