UI grad a gaming entrepreneur

BY LUKE VOELZ | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Rob Linden came home from City High one day to a bedroom filled with million-dollar bills. Several thousand of them.

The 16-year-old had ordered a few boxes of the gag gifts with his mother's credit card.

But Betty Linden supported her son's transactions. After all, he resold them in bulk on eBay for small businesses to use as props for a profit of almost $500 per month.

"He just had a really good business sense and more courage to put a lot of money out there knowing that it would come back in some form," she said. "That just wasn't something I would have done, but he seemed to have a vision that it would work, so I backed him."

Rob Linden still deals in cardboard and paper today. The 30-year-old opened Linden Cards & Games, 617 S. Dubuque St., in 2007, hoping to combine a love of gaming with his love of business.

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a business degree in 2003, he chose the entrepreneurial route instead of working at banks or insurance companies.

"I guess it's my own idiosyncrasies, but I hate those people," he said. "They're not traditional businesses. Their only goal is to make money. [My business] is fun; you can play it and also get something out of it."

Most of Linden's sales are trading cards for the competitive card game Magic: The Gathering, released by gaming company Wizards of the Coast in 1993.

His top interest is out-of-print Magic cards, which he keeps in thick plastic casings behind a glass counter near the register. The priciest antiquity is a single card called "Time Vault," first printed in 1993, which Rob is selling for $239.50.

"I think the old Magic cards are the coolest thing on the planet," he said.

Hunting down and bartering for the store's rarities keeps his gaming interest alive despite being too busy to collect and compete on his own.

"You can't run the business like a hobby, otherwise it won't work," he said.

That rule can be an advantage in the business world.

"If you think about the way businesses are organized, you have to make decisions that involve risks and potential payoffs," said UI finance Associate Professor Thomas Rietz.

Most of Linden's profits come from the Internet, where he sells Magic cards worldwide through eBay and various gaming vendors. Online transactions only make up around 20 percent of his total sales, but they make up most of his income, through shipping expenses and the cost of rare cards.

"As a hobby store, you're really shooting yourself in the foot not having some sort of Net presence," Linden said.

The physical store acts as an oasis for stressed students. Though the building is weathered and smells a bit musty — originally an accountant's office designed in "brown and beige" — many of Linden's customers stick around for the atmosphere he creates.

"Rob is very hospitable," said Wes Smith, a 2010 UI graduate and a friend. "I've often struck up games with him, and he encourages players to have friendly little matches in his store. My original reason for patronizing his business was his prices, but now I go there because of the environment."

Linden admitted maintaining this atmosphere can be a time crunch.

"I can get it all done in a 26-hour workday," he said.

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