What MLS star Jeff Attinella learned by launching a children’s book publishing company

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Deciding to launch a business is one of the most difficult decisions you might ever make. It requires creativity, skill, energy, perseverance and luck, among other things. Success is far from a sure bet. Yet, countless entrepreneurs — like MLS star Jeff Attinella — launch new businesses every year.

It’s in these moments of uncertainty and risk-taking that great businesses are formed.


Eventually, you must forego all doubts and trust wholeheartedly in your business idea. This passion and faith were two motivating factors in Jeff’s decision to launch It Had to Be Told, a children’s book publishing company, in 2017.

Jeff Attinella FamilyJeff Attinella is a professional goalkeeper for the MLS’s Portland Timbers. Jeff, along with his wife and father-in-law, decided to launch a business last year. They had absolutely no experience in the children’s book publishing industry and created the company based entirely on an idea.

Since launching It Had to Be Told, Jeff has experienced several highs and lows, much like any business owner in their first year. From inventory management to marketing, here are some lessons he’s learned since launching a children’s book publishing company.

Start by solving a problem

It Had to Be Told publishes illustrated children’s books based on historical sporting events, like the Cubs winning the World Series or LeBron James bringing a championship to his hometown Cleveland. As Jeff put it:

“Think Dr. Seuss meets Sports Illustrated for kids.”

The idea for creating these stories came out of necessity.

Jeff wanted to read to his new daughter, but couldn’t find any children’s books that he truly enjoyed reading. He’s a professional athlete, so his passion is sports — specifically sports history. Yet, he was unable to find any non-fiction sports books written for children. Rather than un-inspiringly reading another bedtime story, he decided to create his own.

This is a great example of a blue ocean strategy. The children’s book publishing market is incredibly competitive, with powerful publishers and thousands of titles. However, there was still a void in the market: non-fiction children’s books based on sports history.

While Jeff didn’t know how many other parents shared this problem, he felt confident that he could create a business that solved it.


Good businesses solve problems, and good marketing starts with understanding those problems. If you’re considering starting a business, it’s best to understand the problems you solve. This analysis will provide you with validation of your business idea and can also give you the information needed to create your unique selling proposition.

It takes more than a great idea

Jeff Attinella It Had To Be Told HomepageOne of the biggest hurdles Jeff has faced so far has been building brand awareness and communicating his great idea to the world. As he says:

“When you create something that doesn’t exist, people don’t know it exists.”

Deciding to launch is difficult, but finding a way to build buzz for your new business can seem even harder. The communication channels for customers are becoming noisier every day.
You might get decision paralysis trying to choose the right marketing channel. Between social media, email, SMS, organic search, direct mail, television and radio, it can overwhelm the savviest of entrepreneurs.

The plethora of options, combined with the thousands of other businesses competing for the same customer’s attention, can make marketing your new business seem nearly impossible.

The belief that business can become overnight successes or achieve viral growth is an illusion.


Even the businesses that do experience rapid success do so because of years of hard work and experience put in by their employees and founders.

While marketing a new business inside a current industry is hard, marketing a completely new idea is arguably more difficult because it requires:

  • Finding and defining a completely new target audience
  • Educating customers of the problem and solution
  • Operating without historical evidence or customer validation
  • Setting the market for your product and future competitors

Editor’s note: If you’re just starting out, one of the very first things you can do is secure a domain name. That way, while you’re testing out your concepts, you won’t have to worry about anyone else stealing your bright idea.

Walk before you run

When launching a new business, it’s important to walk before you run. This was one of the biggest lessons Jeff Attinella learned. They launched the company by creating four titles. The process for producing four illustrated children’s books was extensive. They researched, wrote, edited, illustrated, revised, and published these titles very quickly. As a result, they had inventory without the immediate demand.

Having excess inventory can be helpful when there is high demand for your product or costly if demand is stagnant or decreasing.

Because new businesses often experience volatile demand, it can be nearly impossible to predict exactly how quickly your inventory will sell. This is especially true with new products operating in an untested market.

How do you know how much inventory to create for your first product run? After all, the more you produce in a product run, the lower the cost per unit becomes. It’s very difficult to predict demand for a new product. As a result, it might be wise to conduct market research using a sample audience or build forecast models to estimate demand. Ultimately, whatever you decide, you need to be willing to live with the results.

If you underestimate inventory, create a plan to satisfy the excess orders. If you overestimate inventory, be ready to sell, sell, sell. If your time selling the excess inventory is creating an opportunity cost, then be willing to cut your losses and refocus your resources.

Jeff Attinella InventoryLearn from your mistakes

Failure is a necessary business tool. You learn much more from a mistake than a success, and it’s during these moments that you discover your true passion.

Almost every entrepreneur can relate to Jeff’s comment that “There are certain things that I would do differently if given the opportunity.”

Hindsight is 20/20. Just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re destined to repeat it. In fact, the great business owners are the ones who use their mistakes as catalysts for change. Jeff mentioned inventory surplus as an initial mistake they made and followed up by describing how they’ve taken that mistake and adjusted their plan for future titles.

For instance, they’re launching a Kickstarter campaign in the coming weeks based on the history of the University of Alabama’s football program. Rather than producing inventory and then pushing demand, he’s hoping to create a demand and then publish the inventory to satisfy that predetermined demand.

As you move forward with your new business, continue to look for ways to make improvements to your product, process and people.


You’ll certainly be aware of the big mistakes in your business, but it’s the small inefficiencies throughout your operations that can create the most impact. Don’t be afraid of change and be willing to adapt when things don’t go accordingly.

The biggest takeaways from Jeff Attinella

Jeff Attinella is a professional goalkeeper and, as such, understands that there is so much more that goes into a victory than what people see on the outside. It took practice, hard work, time, sacrifice and failure to get to where he is professionally, and this same dedication and perseverance is necessary for him to succeed in his new business venture.

If you’re an entrepreneur launching a new business, there is a lot you can learn from Jeff’s short time as a business owner. Find a business that solves a real problem, recognize that it takes more than just a great idea, don’t rush it, and be willing to learn and adapt. If you can practice some of these lessons, you can put your business is the best position to succeed.

Image by: Timbers.com