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Entreprenerd

RPI grad Dan Cotrupe studied architectecture, and he’s pursuing that dream—and his business plan—by designing miniatures for tabletop games

by Elizabeth Conkey on August 23, 2012

Dan Cotrupe photographed by Elizabeth Conkey

When Dan Cotrupe wasn’t busy studying architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, road tripping in pursuit of White Castle cheeseburgers, or playing Star Wars drinking games with his fellow Alpha Chi Rho brothers, he was, figuratively speaking, in another world.

Cotrupe and his friends were avid tabletop minis gamers throughout college, and continue to share that interest now that they have graduated.

What, you may be wondering, are “tabletop minis gamers”?

When in doubt, consult Wikipedia: “Miniature wargaming . . . incorporates miniature figures, miniature armor and modeled terrain as the main components of play. Like other types of wargames, they can be generally considered to be a type of simulation game, generally about tactical combat, as opposed to computer and board wargames which have greater variety in scale.”

“We are a pretty eclectic set of nerds,” Cotrupe says.

Their favorite games? War Hammer and War Machine.

During his senior year, Cotrupe completed a very intricate midterm model for one of his architecture classes. “I brought it home and my friends told me it would be an awesome centerpiece for War Hammer,” Dan remembers. “But I brushed it off because I thought they were just kidding.”

It wasn’t until he graduated from RPI in December 2010 that Cotrupe gave their suggestion a second thought. Finding work was proving to be a challenge, and he was frustrated. Cotrupe finally realized that perhaps his friends were right. Maybe he really could make a living by combining his two passions, gaming and architecture. So, Cotrupe took a risk and opened Tectonic Craft Studios (TCS). (To check out Cotrupe’s work and explore the world of minis gaming, visit TCS’s website at tectoniccraftstudios.com.)

Why “Tectonic Craft Studios”? Dan explains that many architects take words and give them other meanings. In the case of TCS, he chose the words “tectonic” and “craft” because together they literally mean “making terrain,” which is exactly what he says makes his business unique.

Although Cotrupe singlehandedly makes all of his models using Auto CAD computer programs and a state-of-the-art laser cutter, he is not alone in other aspects of his business. Many of his fraternity brothers assist him with the marketing and finance aspects of the business, and he considers them an integral part of its success. Some even travel to gaming conventions with Cotrupe to help spread the word about TCS.

This year, Cotrupe and company have attended eight conventions, all of which, he said, were fun but energy intensive. At these conventions, he was able to meet some of the individuals who funded his business via Kickstarter.com. It was this website that introduced TCS to the world and brought international attention to Cotrupe’s models. Cotrupe attracted backers from as far away as Malaysia, Germany and the Czech Republic.

To generate interest, he created special incentives for prospective backers. Depending on the amount of money pledged, he offered gifts ranging from movement trays (for action figures) to battle accessories.

In the middle of the Kickstarter process, Dan was offered a job at an architecture firm in Minneapolis. He was faced with the choice of pursuing a “real” architecture career or continuing to grow his new business. He chose TCS, much to the confusion of his parents.

“They were of course very supportive and proud of me,” Cotrupe says. “But I think they were worried at the same time. . . . I mean, I had to eat and pay my rent!”

Cotrupe’s mother and sister both pledged on Kickstarter, while his “technologically challenged” father supported him in a different way—with boxes of groceries.

In the end, Cotrupe’s original Kickstarter goal of $8,000 was surpassed in just five days, and culminated in a grand total of $41,026 raised. This was enough to buy the laser cutter and to secure a workshop space. Cotrupe’s products range in price from $25 to $125, and take hours to design and paint. The laser, which cost approximately $14,000, and which cuts all of Cotrupe’s designs, is essential in order to mass-produce his models in a timely fashion.

“My Kickstarter backers were such a big part of this whole process,” Cotrupe says. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”

He also pegs TCS’s success on the rarity of the product. According to Cotrupe, companies that sell models for minis games are easy to find. However, those that specialize in terrain are few and far between. Tectonic Craft Studios is one of only a few companies in the world that specialize in terrain and offer the option of customization.

“I was lucky because I was doing something that people actually needed and wanted to buy,” Cotrupe says. “The way I explained it to my Dad was like this: Imagine a paint company that didn’t make the brushes. . . . I’m making the brushes.”

Cotrupe explains that gamers spend countless hours and lots of money to make their armies look as impressive as possible, so, customized terrain is a coveted addition to any tabletop game.

“Gaming is all about strategy, tactics, and storytelling,” he says, “But it’s also about aesthetics. That’s why terrain is so important. It’s so much easier to really get into a game when you have the right accessories.”