The Fanspired: An Origin Story

The Fanspired was opened online in November of 2018. It was not crafted after years of entrepreneurial experience, wasn't motivated by a business degree, and didn't have a fully constructed business plan sitting on a desk when opening day came around. Once the seed of an idea was planted, the Fanspired exploded from the ground and stretched for the sky in a relatively short amount of time as far as starting a business usually goes. Fueled by passion, hope, inspiration, (and perhaps a tad bit of desperation), The Fanspired was a project combining decades of heart, hurt, and healing for its founder. This is her story.

This article was published by Martha Andrus, in the Murray Ledger and Times on December 4, 2020. The link for the original article is provided. It has been copied here with the correct link to the Fanspired website, a correction which was printed in the Murray Ledger and Times in the December 7, 2020 issue.

Sara Straub is the daughter of my Murray High School classmate and friend Kathy Farrell Straub. Kathy recently moved back home to Murray from her retirement home in Florida, and Sara made the move with her mother. Sara’s grandparents are the late Dr. Richard “Doc” Farrell and Bea Farrell.

Sara did as most kids do, graduated from high school and then graduated from the University of the Cumberlands (Cumberland College when Sara was a student). But instead of venturing out into the job market, Sara’s journey into entrepreneurship took a long, winding road, but she is now right where she wants to be in terms of her passion of establishing her own company.

Sara began an online company called The Fanspired in 2018, but her journey into how she became the owner of this business is the story, and a testament to perseverance. Her move to Murray with her mother may also lead her to her ultimate business goal.

The Fanspired is an online company which specializes in pop culture and sports merchandise, along with other merchandise including clothing, holiday, and housewares. In fact, The Fanspired has eight different departments of online shopping available. The definition of pop culture is name brands such as Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, to name a few. These are the bigger names and pop culture derives mostly from characters in movies and television.

This is Sara’s journey:

Sara grew up in Florence, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. After high school gradation, she attended Cumberland College which included a debate scholarship. She had a double major in communication arts and philosophy and religion.

Sara grew up being in the sports world. Her father was a high school football coach and Sara said she just drifted more into sports than maybe most girls.

“I am pretty sure I learned how to throw a ball before I learned to walk,” Sara said. “I played baseball, basketball, was the kickball captain on the playground in elementary school, and even walked on as a member of the volleyball team at college."

“I was and am a huge Reds fan, Bengals fan, and I bleed blue come basketball season.”

After college graduation, Sara interned for the Cincinnati Reds and felt she was on the path to her dream job.

“The Reds stadium is my ‘happy place,’” said Sara. “The internship was an amazing experience.”

When an open position came up in the organization, Sara applied, but found out that her lack of a statistics class kept her from being hired. She decided to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree and take a stats class along the way in the hopes that she would secure her dream job.

“When I decided to go to graduate school, I applied to the University of Kentucky and University of Oklahoma,” said Sara. “I had a friend in Oklahoma I knew from our debate team days and he told me to come out to Oklahoma and help coach the speech team with him. Oklahoma offered me an assistantship and Kentucky didn’t, so I packed my bags and left for Oklahoma.”

While Sara was at Oklahoma, her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“I was in my second semester,” she said. “I asked one of my professors if I could wait and take my mid-term exam after spring break. It was the only final I had and it was in an elective class. I wanted to be with my Mom while she underwent her first chemotherapy session, but the professor said no. I asked him what were my options and he told me it was to either take the exam at the scheduled time or fail the class if I did not.”

Sara said she did not want to fail, so she dropped the class. During her last semester, she was told by her advisor that she could either write a thesis, which would probably take another year, or she could take the comprehensive examinations.

“I wanted to take the exams and be done with it,” said Sara. “But then I found out I was one class shy of being able to take the exam (the class I dropped). So then I am trying to figure out what to do. I was advised to stay one more semester, apply for the PhD program and one class would complete my master’s and the other classes would start me on a PhD degree. I just wanted to finish my master’s degree, so I elected to continue toward a PhD. This was in 2009-10.”

Sara considered applying for a job with the Reds again, but every sports team was on a hiring freeze.

“A lot of my friends who had graduated and began working at good jobs in their field of study had lost their jobs because they were one of the newer employees. I decided if I stayed in school, at least I was doing something.”

Sara began her fourth year and was on schedule to finish her dissertation.

“All of a sudden my advisor quit,” Sara said. “She didn’t just quit teaching, she quit academia all together. I was tossed around from one advisor to another and finally found one who would help me. My master’s degree was in sports communication - how sport is used to communicate identity. No one really had any idea about this subject. My advisor told me that she had her work, her advisees work and then mine. I told her I was scheduled to graduate on time and she told me that probably was not going to happen.”

Sara continued to work on her dissertation for about seven months and then she received an email in March informing her that she was now a part-time student and she had to start paying back her student loan.

“The interest on my debt kicked in at $700 a month,” she said. “Oklahoma had slashed funding for public schools and for the first time they could not help fifth year students.”

So Sara did what most children do, she called her mother and asked her if she wanted a roommate.

“At the age of 29, I moved to a retirement community in Florida with my Mom. I just couldn’t afford rent and a $700 payment only being able to work part-time and work on my dissertation. So I ended up with a PhD ABD (all but dissertation).”

Sara began working two part-time jobs in Florida, one of those being retail.

“I wasn’t finding much time to work on my dissertation,” Sara said.” After a year, I had only finished a couple of chapters and the semester was starting. I was basically working full-time with two part-time jobs and I decided I just needed to find a full time job. But, of course, none of them required a PhD unless I wanted to teach and I decided I did not want to be a teacher. It was only my ticket to free tuition. And if I didn’t want to be a teacher, I didn’t really need a PhD.”

Sara found that most of the jobs required work experience, which she did not have except for teaching, so she was going around in circles.

“I had out educated myself,” she said.

Sara began working at a retail clothing store and in seven months had moved up to be assistant manager.

“But retail just finally wore me out and I quit,” she said.

She took a few months off and worked for a while at a nonprofit.

“The job I was doing involved empowering low income women to help them become economically stable and dependent by starting their own business or receiving some kind of training. This position was funded by a grant, the grant ended and so did my position.”

During the process of finding a permanent job, she encountered the same obstacles - she had a PhD, retail management experience, teaching experience and couldn’t find a job in the corporate world.

About a month later, Sara was talking with a woman she had become friends with during her time working at the nonprofit, who was a business coach.

“We decided that we had been telling these women to strike out on their own and I needed to do the same,” she said.

Sara initially began a web design company helping businesses set up a we