By J. Chambless
James Pinto, 16, on his family's home basketball court, which launched his successful line-painting business.
By John Chambless
Three years ago, when he was 13, all
James Pinto wanted to do was get a decent basketball court painted on
his family's driveway. Today, he's the head of a company that does
At 16, when most of his peers are more concerned with Xbox and Snapchat, Pinto has more poise and focused enthusiasm than a corporate CEO twice his age. Sitting down for an interview in the lower level of his family's home, south of West Chester, he is happy to share the short tale of how he saw a need and built a company from the ground up.
As one of six children, “all my brothers were into sports and played basketball,” Pinto said. “I thought I'd do my brother a favor and find a kit online to paint him a court. I found a stencil for $14 or so. It was fine, if you're looking for a quick, lower-quality job, but it just didn't do the job I wanted. It was really hard and took me every bit of five hours just to tape the lines. The paint was bleeding under the tape. I was about to be done with the idea and move on.
“But one of my dad's friends came by and saw it and offered to pay me to paint a court for him,” Pinto continued. “That's where the idea was born. So I did his court, and from there it snowballed. It was word of mouth. I did about 15 jobs in the next two months, using the kit and trying to find ways to improve it.
“I was down on my knees, roll-painting the entire court. And driveways are very hot,” he said, smiling. “I was making money off of every job, because the only costs were paint and tape. But I was doing it alone.”
Frustrated that he was unable to get sharper, professional-looking lines, James turned to his older brother, Michael, who had a friend whose father ran a trade show fabrication company in Delaware. “We talked through some ideas and they drew up a computer-aided design that allowed us to create a 20-by-20-foot stencil,” Pinto said. “We wanted to be able to take it apart like puzzle pieces so we could transport it. We started with a material called MDF, so we were getting better lines, but it wasn't perfect. But we did get jobs done faster.”
The boards used for his stencil fit into a pickup truck, and the heavier material largely eliminated bleeding paint lines, despite the variety of surfaces Pinto faced. Not every driveway is smooth, and he had to learn to compensate.
“After about a year of using that first stencil, we were getting more clients, creating our website, reaching out to people,” he said. “We had so many people contacting us. By the winter of my freshman year, we got the stencil almost perfected. The pieces were small enough to fit into my truck, and fit together perfectly. We got it down from a five-hour job to an hour and a half.”
Despite the wide variations in the surfaces of driveways, “We were trying to get the same quality for every court,” Pinto said. “By the summer of my freshman year, we started hiring about 10 guys, on and off, who would help us paint. They were older than me. Michael was in college, so he wasn't able to help as much. After that summer of doing about 50 jobs, some of the guys got very good. I was able to trust them to keep the quality up. It was the biggest summer we had up to that point.”
The courts are high-school regulation size, which is smaller than a college or professional court. As a result, high school and junior level players can use the Home Court Advantage lines to refine their shooting skills on an accurate court. The paint is highway-grade Rustoleum, and will last for at least two years, Pinto said. The original court on his driveway is still in good shape despite heavy use.
Pinto has two stencils that he uses to handle all the job requests, particularly during the summer months when he can devote more time to his business. Scheduling homework and football practice around the demands of running Homecourt Advantage can be a struggle, he said with a grin.
“I can only do one or two courts a week now, because of school,” he said. “I usually have football from 3 to 5, get home, do homework right away, then make sure everything is up to date, the checks were paid, and we have any materials we need. Then on weekends, I make sure we have enough paint, materials and employees to do the painting on Saturdays and Sundays.”
While his father is Matthew Pinto, a very successful author of books on Catholic issues and the founder of Ascension Press, James hasn't relied on any gifts for his start-up business. His father has decades of experience in handling a very successful publishing business, “and I think dad's been one of my biggest mentors,” Pinto said. “He's been very hands-off, and that's been the best thing, in a way. He's there for advice. When it comes to professionalism, I'll ask, 'How I should contact this person? What should I do when it comes to investing? How do we handle equity in the company?' He's let me do this myself, and I've been able to learn so much through both failing and achieving.”
When it comes to satisfied customers, Homecourt Advantage has a long list of successful projects. “We were at our friend's house and noticed the impeccable basketball lines painted on their driveway,” reads one testimonial on the website. “They told us to contact Home Court Advantage. They were so polite, friendly and organized. Don't let their youth fool you – they are as professional as any contractor I've used. Now our kids love practicing basketball after school.”
Pinto is a junior at Archmere Academy, and is beginning his college search. He's thinking about Oxford or Stanford, where he plans to concentrate on computer science and business.
While he isn't yet old enough to sign legal documents (his older brother has signed off on paperwork so far), Pinto has the business sense to carefully reinvest any profits he makes. “The first court generated about $50 in profit, and I put that right into buying the next supplies,” he said. “And I kept reinvesting into the business. So now we're doing well financially. The business is self-sustaining.”
Pinto has a goal of franchising his stencils and plan so anyone can start their own painting business. “We have a nationally registered trademark on the company name, ready-made marketing materials and an operations manual in continual development,” he said. “We could make the stencils by the dozens. We could ship them to court installers and they would do everything themselves. We could ship them the stencils to see what they can do with them before they become a licensed franchisee. We may be looking at competition,” he said, “because right now there are no other competitors. So branding is very important to us.”
The business could be expanded to painting full-size basketball or tennis courts, Pinto said. “We could do well just doing the painting work, but I want to focus on selling the half-court stencils. That keeps it simple. Painting the courts would bring us the cash flow to then create the stencils.”
Area parks and schools sometimes can rent line-painting equipment, Pinto said, but staff members often don't know how to do the best job, or they don't know the proper dimensions. “We've had parks contact us,” he said. “We just did a community center about a week ago. A lot of them don't want to buy a machine, or they don't know how to do it.”
Setting up legal documents and spreading the word about his business has taught Pinto self-confidence. “I'd say that before this I wasn't as aggressive,” he said. “I was searching for stuff to do – computer science and mechanical work, and doing research.” His peers know about Homecourt Advantage, and Pinto said that maybe someone his own age or younger could be inspired to start their own business because of his success.
“Even if this business ends up not being successful, it's very important that I provide myself with opportunity and connections,” he said. “As I approach kids my own age, it may motivate them. I'm interested in selling to kids like me who are looking to do something, to learn a business. I get the stencil to you, you learn the whole business. It gives them great exposure. If I can do it, anyone can. That's the cool part about it.”
For more information, visit www.discoverhomecourt.com.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email email@example.com.