Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that celebrates the Inc. 500 founders for whom good enough isn't good enough, the ones who blast past what everyone else thinks are boundaries.
In 2012, personal injury attorney James Frazier and his neighbor, music producer Eric Nordhoff, got hooked on the zombie apocalypse TV drama The Walking Dead. When they learned the show was shooting about a three-hour drive from their homes in Thompson's Station, Tennessee, they went down and hung out on the street outside the makeup and costume trailers. (This was before a rabid fan base necessitated gated sets.) On the way home, they decided to start a podcast, The Walker Stalkers Podcast With James & Eric. They got The Walking Dead's director and executive producer to come on the podcast, and that prompted the show's actors to come on as well. As the number of Walker Stalkers subscribers grew, Frazier and Nordhoff decided to hold a meet-up that would bring fans together with the zombie slayers they adored. The problem: "I'd never even planned a birthday party for my kids," let alone an event for hundreds of people, Frazier said. He attended comic book shows around the country, taking notes and meeting with organizers and actors. Eighty people came to Fan Fest's first event; last year's Atlanta convention drew 70,000 attendees. Here's how two neighbors turned a love of zombies into a fan frenzy. --As told to Sheila Marikar
Four years ago, my neighbor and I both got into The Walking Dead. Our wives weren't into it, so on Sunday nights, he'd come over and we'd watch it together. I saw on Twitter that they were shooting the last scene of season three in Senoia, Georgia, which is about three hours from us. We drove down and kind of had a dream day. We watched them shoot from a coffee shop across the street and then got to meet all of the cast outside the makeup and costume trailers.
On the way home, we decided to start the Walker Stalker podcast. It quickly went to No. 1 on iTunes. We invited Greg Nicotero, the director of special effects, to be on our seventh episode. Eric made a parody song and Greg loved it. He played it for the cast the next time they were all on set. That kind of gave us this trust, off the bat, that we were good fans and good people. More actors and crew members started coming on.
Ahead of season four, we decided to organize a fan meet up. Six hundred people showed up and we recreated a scene from The Walking Dead. For our third meet up, we expected about 1,000 people and ended up having 10,500. People started asking, "Can you bring one to our city?" We did Chicago next, and when 13,000 people showed up, we realized we had something. By the time we realized that we should be doing these conventions in a more regular, organized way, most of the actors had been on the podcast one or more times, and it was easy to say that we're just transferring what we do on the podcast to a live setting. While we have different levels of tickets and access, we focus on making sure that every attendee feels like each convention was designed for them to have the most amazing experience possible.
The core of our business is Walker Stalker Con, but we do a sister event, Heroes & Villains Fan Fest, based on superhero shows like Flash, Arrow, and Gotham. We also have the Fan Fest online news outlet, where we produce original content and web shows. Our first one comes out this fall. It's called Geekster Ink and it's based on the tattoo artists who come to our conventions. We're trying to utilize all the stuff that happens at the conventions to create a year-round experience for our fans.