In its inaugural season on the shelves of 19 retail stores and all University of Nebraska–Lincoln concession stands, Corn Finger sold over 4,500 of its foam fingers in 2009. Photos by Danny Schreiber.
At this Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game, Cornhusker football players won’t be the only ones working hard to solidify a spot in the hearts and minds of fans, Corn Finger will be making a strong return to Memorial Stadium, as well.
“[We’ll be] right at the base of the walking bridge north of the stadium,” said Cody Butler, Corn Finger co-creator. “There’s about 35,000 people that are going to walk right past us on a sidewalk. We’re going to test a lot of our new products with individuals, pull them aside, ask them what they think, and hopefully, try to sell some things at the same time.”
In the next 12 months, Corn Finger plans to roll out a handful of new products in addition to its staple foam Corn Finger, which retails for $9.99. T-shirts, stickers, antenna tops, removable tattoos, and baby onesies are already in the works, and as the weather cools down again, expect to see Corn Finger mittens.
I sat down with Cody (left) to hear more about Corn Finger’s background, current operations, and short- and long-term goals.
“I was at a point in my corporate career where I was frustrated and wanted to start my own business,” Cody recollected. “The other part of it was I wanted to be an inspiration to my younger brothers and show them that you can have crazy ideas in your life and act on them.”
And his brothers knew this idea quite well – it was over a conversation with the two of them and their father that the idea was formed. It was 2008, and with lots of hope for the upcoming Husker football season, they we’re discussing all things college football. Somehow, Cody recalled, they landed on the topic of hand gestures.
Why doesn’t Nebraska have their own? The three of them wondered. “So, we accidentally came up with a hand gesture that we thought not only represents Nebraska football but our way of life in Nebraska.”
Simply put, the hand gesture looks like a corncob – raise your hand like you’re going to be giving an oath, bend your pinky towards your palm, but don’t touch your palm, keep your middle three fingers stiff and slightly relax your thumb.
So, how did they go about promoting it? “Long story short,” Cody said, “I ended up finding the man that invented the foam finger himself in 1970. Today, he’s a mass producer of foam – big operation in Montgomery, Texas – I took the idea to him and he did exactly what he did in the 70s: he looked at his hand, made the shape, sketched it out, and we came up with this (shows corn finger gesture).”
With Corn Fingers in hand – or, on the hand – last season, Cody and his team gave them out to students, sold them in the stadium parking lot, showed them off at away games, and featured them in self-made online commercials.
From the start, Cody said it’s been well-received. In fact, to get a jump on the idea they attracted the interest of hybrid corn seed producer DEKALB to cover the costs of an early batch. Cody pointed out that it matched their color scheme and related to their industry, and they were sold.
Selling fans on using it game after game for all Nebraska sports, however, might not be as easy, but that’s was brought Cody into it. “The challenge of it sounded fun,” he said. “How do we turn a hand gesture into a cultural phenomenon or how do we turn it into a product that’s viable?”
He thinks he’s on the right path, and if his answer to one of my questions is an indicator of his passion and drive, I’m certain he’s on his way to success.
“One of my dreams is to be a prime example for people, [specifically] young people. To say [to them], ‘We know you have crazy ideas, you’ve just got to say it, don’t be afraid to say it.'”
Two years after proposing his idea, Cody’s acted on it, thousands have bought into it, and potentially thousands more could do so at this Saturday’s Red-White game.
View my abridged interview (link to full interview below) to hear more about Cody’s story and motivation behind Corn Finger, the other product releases, and Corn Finger’s long-term goals.
To view my full interview with Cody, visit: siliconprairienews.com/videos/cody-butler-of-cornfinger-full. Hear him tell more of the story behind Corn Finger, talk about the other team members, how they’ve gotten students to adopt it, and their marketing efforts on the web. He also shares his experience of balancing his current full-time job as realtor with his entrepreneurial endeavor, as well as his thoughts on entrepreneurship in Nebraska.