Lynn Kimsey at the Bohart Museum

In the Cards

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Culture, Office Hours, Spring 2024

A lifetime fan of anime and video games, UC Davis lecturer Justin Virrey, M.B.A. ’20, ran a comic studio called Ballpoint Pen during his early career in corporate finance. Now he teaches the principles of entrepreneurship to students, keeping his comic studio venture in mind. 

“I learned a lot of things about starting a business and just how hard it can be,” said Virrey. “Now I like to use my experience to teach people about how they can manage a smoother entrepreneurial experience.”

Virrery’s childhood included Saturday morning cartoons and visits to comic book stores. When he was younger, he aspired to work on cartoons and comics but began looking into more traditional careers as he got older. 

“I don’t draw very well, and it’s super difficult to get jobs at top studios, so I decided to just go corporate and focus on a career in corporate finance,” Virrey said. 

Anime cards

Business cards from Virrey’s comic studio became collectable. (Courtesy photo)

But around four years after graduating college, he decided to give his childhood dream a shot. He used the money saved from his finance job to start up and fund a studio called Ballpoint Pen, scouting artists at anime conventions to help him with illustration and other logistical and marketing work. While his studio sold a good amount of prints, one of its biggest successes inadvertently came from its business cards.

“We determined that a lot of people in conventions love collecting things, especially if they’re really rare,” Virrey explained. “We had a set of business cards with different images on them that we were giving out for free, but we started to realize that people actually really liked collecting them.”

So, Virrey and his team began limiting the distribution of these cards by strategically taking them in and out of rotation and charging premiums for requests for specific ones. Con-goers continuously came back to Virrey’s studio and even started to trade among themselves to complete their collection. By the end of the convention, some were spending upwards of $100 to get the last of the cards they needed. 

“We really just connected the dots of what people like to do in these conventions and turned it into a great way to generate revenue,” Virrey said. 

Virrey said that there were a lot of tradeoffs in running the studio, though, with the main ones being time and money. Ultimately Ballpoint Pen shut down in 2013, and he chose to continue his career in corporate finance and product strategy. Virrey continues to teach students about the lessons he learned through entrepreneurship and encourages them to explore it themselves. (He currently teaches MGT 151, “Management of Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” at UC Davis.)

“It could have been something, it could have been nothing, but I learned a lot from that particular experience,” said Virrey referring to the studio. “I highly recommend pursuing entrepreneurship, especially to those who are just graduating and want to experience various aspects of business in an accelerated amount of time.”