Archive for the ‘Entrepreneur’ Category

Young Millionaires Who Made It Bigger

October 5, 2007

By Kristin Edelhauser Chessman

What do Sir Richard Branson and Michael Dell have in common? Aside from their obvious success and wealth today, they were both recognized by Entrepreneur magazine as “Young Millionaires” in the late ’80s. When we first interviewed Dell, he was 23 years old and fresh out of college. He spoke about the struggles of running a $6 million business while attending school, but said the rewards were more than worth it. And you can bet that today, as the world’s second-largest PC maker, he’d say the exact same thing.

Our past Young Millionaires have plenty in common; for instance, many of their ideas were initially greeted with skepticism. That’s what happened to California Pizza Kitchen founders Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield, who told us in 1986 that people thought they were crazy for going into the restaurant business. Yet today, CPK is an industry leader with more than 210 locations in 29 states and eight countries.

Liz Lange, 40
Founder of Liz Lange Maternity
Featured in November 2001

Then: In 1996, prospective retailers told Lange that pregnant women wouldn’t spend money on her sophisticated maternity wear. Ignoring them, Lange borrowed money from friends and family and opened a small office in New York City, where she sold made-to-order clothing to women by appointment. Thanks to word-of-mouth, Lange’s business started booming, and in 2001, she reported $3 million plus in sales.

Now: Lange continues to prove those retailers wrong. Today, the Liz Lange Maternity Collection, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, can be found at Lange’s three Liz Lange Maternity flagship boutiques, and her secondary line, Liz Lange for Target, is the exclusive maternity line at all Target stores and on Though Lange wouldn’t release sales figures, she says the company has grown in huge multiples since 2001. Lange adds that her constant activity, which includes lecturing around the country, writing her monthly column for Prevention magazine, and spending time with her family, suits her perfectly. “I’d be very bored without it. I’ve always dreamt big, but never thought it could be like this,” she says. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get stopped on the street or receive an e-mail from someone telling me I made a difference in their life.”

Larry Leight, 54
Co-founder of Oliver Peoples

Featured in October 1989

Then: How many companies can say their second year of sales surpassed their first by 400 percent? Not many. But Oliver Peoples, which began selling antique eyewear in 1986, reported that statistic to Entrepreneur back in 1989. “The business has been a giant success, and we’re still young!” said Leight. In 1987, Oliver Peoples created its own brand, Oliver Peoples Eyewear, and named Leight the chief designer.

Now: Oliver Peoples is now preparing to launch its 20th anniversary campaign and showcase its new collections. Since we last spoke with Leight, he’s been named one of the top nine American designers by Conde Nast Publications and Ford Motor Company. Though the company has changed, it’s continued to grow dramatically. In fact, Leight says the company continues exceeding sales projections each year. Perhaps the most important business lesson Leight has learned is to not give up. “Even if everyone is against you, if you are passionate about something, you have to fight for it,” says Leight. As for the next 20 years, Leight hopes to continue designing expressive, stimulating eyewear that will appeal to the brand’s global clientele.

Richard Allred, 44
Founder of Toes on the Nose
Featured in November 1999

Then: Sometimes you have to test out more than one path before settling on a career. That’s what Allred learned after graduating from the University of Southern California and getting involved with real estate. After he realized it wasn’t the right path for him, Allred decided to take a leap of faith and gather $110,000 from friends and savings to build his company, creating Hawaiian-print clothing. When interviewed in 1999, Allred’s 7-year-old company was expecting to double from $5 million to $10 million in sales that year.

Now: When we last spoke with Allred, he said he hoped his casual, classic surf clothing would become timeless fashion. Now, with 33 employees and about eight years under his belt, Allred can be confident that Toes on the Nose has done just that. Though Allred prefers not to release his total sales volume anymore, he says the company has been focusing on expanding internationally and has established beneficial partnerships with International Marketing Group. “We’re doing a lot. We’ve leveraged our brand in different marketplaces, which has allowed us to grow with the help of other peoples’ expertise,” says Allred. But more than anything, Allred says the last 15 years have taught him the importance of a good internal support team. Since his marriage and the birth of his daughter, Allred has been forced to learn how to delegate and trust in others’ abilities.

Tony Hsieh, 33

CEO and Director of
Featured in November 2003

Then: It all started in 1999 when Nick Swinmurn made an unproductive trip to the mall in search of shoes. Disappointed by his lack of purchases, Swinmurn got the idea for, a one-stop shop for men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. But first, Swinmurn needed financial backing. He persuaded Tony Hsieh, who had earned $270 million from selling LinkExchange to Microsoft in 1998, to jump on board. “On the surface, it seemed like the quintessential poster child for a bad dotcom idea,” said Hsieh four years ago. But after recognizing the $40 billion market, Hsieh saw potential. By 2003, the company was projecting $65 million in sales.

Now: Potential was an understatement. This year,–which is derived from the Spanish word for shoes, zapatos–is projecting $800 million in sales, bringing the company that much closer to its original goal of achieving $1 billion in gross merchandise sales by 2010. But not everything has remained constant with the company, starting with its image. “Back in 2003, we thought of ourselves as a shoe company that offered great service. Today, we really think of the Zappos brand as about great service, and we just happen to sell shoes,” says Hsieh. has expanded by adding apparel, handbags, sunglasses and watches to the site, and is promising more to come. Another key change: Founder Swinmurn left Zappos in 2006 to start STAGR, a website focusing on customized apparel.

Julie Aigner-Clark, 41
Founder of The Baby Einstein Company
Featured in November 2000

Then: From the beginning, Aigner-Clark’s business ambitions have been focused on her family. They started with her infant daughter, Aspen, in 1995, when Aigner-Clark realized there were no age-appropriate products for sharing her passion for art and classical music. So the former teacher took matters into her own hands and created her first video, Baby Einstein, featuring captivating pictures and mothers speaking different languages. After pitching her idea for two years and not making any progress, Aigner-Clark got her big break at the American International Toy Fair in New York City, where buyers snatched up her product. By 2000, the company had reached sales of $10 million.

Now: In 2001, Baby Einstein was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, who continues nurturing the brand and has seen sales climb past the $200 million mark. As for Aigner-Clark, it’s been a bittersweet transition. “It’s not as if my ‘baby’ grew up and went to college; it’s as if my baby was picked up by an alien space craft and beamed to another planet,” Aigner-Clark says. Perhaps the best lesson she’s learned through it all: “Don’t take anything for granted. Enjoy the moment. Recognize the beauty and good fortune. And take pictures.” This ambitious mother of two, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, shows no signs of slowing down. She recently started a new business, The Safe Side, a nonprofit that deals with children’s safety, and she’s gone back to her roots by teaching literature two days a week.



A Marketplace with a Mission

October 3, 2007

By Laura Tiffany founder Rob Kalin hasn’t just created an online marketplace for crafts; he’s built a site that creates entrepreneurs and strives for a sustainable future.

After speaking with Rob Kalin, the founder of handmade products marketplace, it’s apparent that like any true entrepreneur, his company isn’t just a means to a paycheck. It’s a mission: A mission to change the way commerce works; a mission to promote sustainable products; a mission that, much like eBay, is creating an exponential number of entrepreneurs in its wake.

EBay is an apt, but ironic, comparison. It was frustration with the online auction giant that first inspired Kalin to create Etsy in 2005. As a woodworker, he was looking for a place to sell his wares. “I [felt] like eBay [had] grown to the point where it’s this faceless corporation, and I wanted to create a company that would have a handmade feel to it,” says Kalin, 27. He and a group of college friends holed up in his Brooklyn apartment for six weeks before launching the initial beta version of, with Kalin on design lead and his co-founders, Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik, handling programming.

A little more than two years later, Etsy has 100,000 active sellers and 500,000 members. More than 1 million items have been sold through the site, which has become synonymous with handmade goods. Part of the site’s attraction is its simplicity. With just a few steps, a crafter can set up his or her store with a subdomain and list items at a set price. Users pay 20 cents to post an item for four months plus 3.5 percent of the selling price.

And the site already has gained cachet in the crafting world. It’s not considered unprofessional to forego building your own website in favor of having an Etsy store; in fact, some crafters who already have established websites build a presence on Etsy, too.

This rapid growth has proven to be a challenge. Etsy now has 47 employees; building the engineering team was so difficult that Kalin opened a new office in San Francisco to attract talent. While rejecting the idea of bringing in an outside CEO to manage Etsy, he has hired a financial person. “We have a really good advisory team, but I also want to keep that experimentation and I don’t want to feel like I have a formula for how things work,” he says.

For the Long Haul
Kalin applies his deep interest in sustainability to his company, not just the products that are sold through it. He views Etsy as a long-term commitment, not as a ticket to dotcom 2.0 wealth, and treats his employees like a community. He pays them a fair wage and provides good benefits and profit-sharing, as well as a casual work environment. “I wanted the company itself to be a community, based on how much we see each other but also because we do have this common purpose,” Kalin says.

This sense of community also pervades Etsy on the user end. The forums hum with Etsy members answering other users’ questions. The latest feature on Etsy, The Storque, is an online magazine written by members. And Kalin hired five of the top Etsy sellers to run Etsy Labs, a community crafts center that shares space with Etsy’s 7,000-square-foot Brooklyn, New York, headquarters. “It’s been incredible,” he says. “Two nights ago at 11 p.m., there were 10 people sitting around cutting patterns, learning how to make their own skirts and shirts.”

For Kalin, it all ties back into his bigger mission: helping to build a sustainable future. “[An item] has this whole other layer of meaning to it if you know who gave it to you, who made it, or if you made it,” he explains. “When it breaks or needs alteration, you can fix it or you know somebody who can fix it. Instead of living in this utterly throwaway culture where if something doesn’t work or doesn’t fit, you just get rid of it.”

Kalin and the 100,000 Etsy sellers aren’t alone in this mission to create. The Craft & Hobby Association charted a 3.3-percent annual increase in the crafts market from 2002 to 2005. The association also says 4 million people each year discover crafts. This all bodes well for Etsy, which should bring in more than $2 million in sales this year.

Right now, Etsy’s engineering team is catching up with the site’s growth, but Kalin’s mind is always racing ahead, thinking of new features. He sees a huge opportunity in internationalization, where Etsy will be served up in local languages, showing items in a user’s native currency first.

“I think there’s still 99 percent of the world who doesn’t know who the hell we are,” says Kalin, in a very glass-half-full manner. That just means Etsy is still on its way to becoming the sustainable world marketplace that Kalin has always envisioned.


Dorm Room Dreams

October 3, 2007

By Sarah Pierce

Sure, there are plenty of college students that charge $5 for a cup at a keg party. Rarer are the students that see opportunities in their collegiate surroundings and start successful businesses aimed at serving other co-eds.

From the educational to the entertaining, these three companies started by twentysomethings are making it by “real world” standards. Read on to find out what inspired them and whether being a student has been a burden or an asset to their growing ventures.

Who: Joe Leary, 21; Peter Handy, 21; and Dan Abrahamsen, 22
What: Moving and storage company aimed at fellow college students
Year Started: 2005
Startup Costs: $30,000 self-funded

Moving On Up: It was in the back of a dirty U-Haul truck where inspiration struck Joe Leary and Peter Handy. Handy had enlisted the help of Leary and a few other friends to help him move his belongings at the end of his freshman year. They found few options for storing their belongings over summer break and instantly knew they could cash in on helping other students facing the same problem every year.

“We were pretty blown away by the demand that took place our first year,” says Handy, who recalls the excitement of seeing the orders pour in slowly turn to fear. “We had to basically close the order process down on the website because we had such high demand. We wanted to make sure we could serve our customers the best we could our very first year.”

To prepare for the next year, they hired professional moving companies and launched a new backend of the website to provide better customer service. It was a smart move that helped push their first year’s sales of $50,000 close to $200,000 the following year.

Successful Students: According to the trio, being full-time students has actually made it easier for them to run their business.

“Probably the most advantageous aspect of being a student entrepreneur has been being here among our own customers,” says Leary. Most students don’t know he owns the company, so he’s able to get honest feedback from them about what they like and what needs to be changed.

“We get a lot of support from the university, which is very helpful,” adds Handy. BoxMyDorm is now the official moving and storage company for the student body at Penn State and serves a select number of other college campuses. But the box doesn’t stop there.

“We have a very aggressive growth plan,” says Handy. “You’ll see us next year in a lot of new places across the country.”

Mi Maestro
Who: Archie Jeter, 26
What: Live, interactive Spanish classes taught by Latin American tutors via virtual classrooms
Year Started: 2006
Startup Costs: $15,000 from an angel investor

My teacher: Archie Jeter is no stranger to Spanish classes. In addition to his college courses in the U.S., he spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. It was in Guatemala, though, where he learned to embrace the language.

“There was something special about the immersive style of teaching that takes place in Latin America,” says Jeter, who spent two months in Guatemala before his senior year. “I saw how much everyone enjoyed learning–and how fast they learned Spanish.”

As a self-described “internet nerd,” Jeter began wondering how he could connect people in the U.S. that want to learn Spanish with the unique learning opportunities in Latin America.

The answer was Mi Maestro, a site that provides live, one-on-one tutoring with a native speaker located in Latin America. Mi Maestro students book the classes based on their own schedule and click on a link when they’re ready to begin the lesson. Once inside the virtual classroom, they have access to a chat feature, an interactive white board and a video window where they can see and hear the tutor in live video and audio.

Double Duty: Jeter wrote his business plan, pitched the idea to investors and analyzed the Latin American market to choose the best location for teachers–all while doing an internship and completing his senior year in a master’s program at Florida International University.

“It was what I wanted to do and I had a lot of passion for it, so I made the time and made it a priority.”

Final Connection: For Jeter, learning Spanish from a native speaker is crucial to fully understanding the language. “Learning a language is more than just learning words or grammar; it’s actually learning the culture,” he says. “Through Mi Maestro, you’re able to make a real connection between the two.”

Who: Ricky Van Veen, 26; Josh Abramson, 26; Zach Klein, 25; and Jacob Lodwick, 26
What: T-shirts with humorous, tongue-in-cheek sayings aimed at twentysomethings
Year Started: 2004
Startup Costs: $4,000 self-funded

Wearable Wit: What began as a fun side business for Ricky Van Veen, Josh Abramson, Zach Klein and Jacob Lodwick is now a successful company that has people wearing the friends’ jokes. The team sat down in March 2004 to sketch out 10 shirt designs with the goal of selling the shirts on to fund the then-fledging site. The funny T-shirts were an instant hit with the CollegeHumor fan base.

Tees with ‘Tude:BustedTee‘s shirts range from the topical–“Leave Lindsay A-Lohan”–to the old-school, with inside jokes only their targeted age demographic would understand. A picture of a Nintendo cartridge that says “Blow Me,” for example, is only funny for those who owned a Nintendo and remember having to blow the dust out of the cartridges to make them work.

“Culturally speaking, our humor is very on point with our age demographic, which is 18 to 28,” says Josh Mohrer, director of retail.

That sort of focused marketing is what makes BustedTees so successful–not to mention they’re just plain funny.

Graduation: BustedTees now sells about 1,000 shirts a day and can be found in retail chains like Urban Outfitters. But it was the acquisition by IAC last year that really pushed the small side venture into a bona fide company.

The interactive conglomerate acquired a controlling share of Connected Ventures, the four-company group started by Van Veen and Abramson that includes CollegeHumor, BustedTees, video-sharing site Vimeo and a second T-shirt business called Defunker.

“Despite being owned by this big company, we’ve really retained our personality in a big way,” says Mohrer. “This company has always been run by and for 20-year-olds, and to change that would be a mistake.”


Get in Good

October 1, 2007

By Guy Kawasaki

After 20 years, I’ve finally figured out that it is much easier to make a sale, build partnerships, create joint ventures–you name it–with people you already know than it is to do business with people you just met. The key is to establish a relationship before you need it. And the key to that is mastering the art of schmoozing.

1. Understand the goal. In his book The Frog and Prince: Secrets of Positive Networking to Change Your Life, Darcy Rezac gives the world’s best definition of schmoozing: “Discovering what you can do for someone else.” Great schmoozers want to know what they can do for you, not what you can do for them. If you understand this, the rest is just mechanics.

2. Get out. Schmoozing is an analog, contact sport. You can’t do it alone from your office on the phone or via computer. Force yourself to go to trade shows, conventions and seminars. Get out there and press flesh.

3. Ask good questions, then shut up. The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot; it’s that you can get others to talk a lot. Ask questions like, “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “What brings you to this event?” Then listen. Ironically, you’ll be remembered as an interesting person.

4. Unveil your passions. Talking only about business is boring. Your passions make you interesting. Good schmoozers unveil their passions after they get to know you. Great schmoozers lead with their passions. (In case you ever meet me, my passions are children, Macintosh, Breitling watches, digital photography and hockey.)

5. Read voraciously–and not just business publications. You need a broad base of knowledge so that you will have access to a vast array of information during conversations. Even if you are a pathetic, passionless person, at least be a well-read one who can talk about a variety of topics.

6. Follow up. In my career, I’ve given away thousands of business cards. If all those people called or e-mailed me, I’d never get anything done. The funny thing: Hardly anyone ever follows up. Great schmoozers follow up within 24 hours–a short e-mail will do: “Nice to meet you. I hope we can do something together. I loved your Breitling watch. I have two tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals if you want to attend.” Include at least one thing that shows the recipient isn’t getting a canned e-mail.

7. Make it easy to contact you. Many people who want to be great schmoozers don’t make it easy to get in touch. They don’t carry business cards, or their cards don’t have phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Even if they do have the information, it’s written in gray 6-point type. This is great if you’re schmoozing teenagers, but if you want old, rich, famous and powerful people to call or e-mail, use 12-point font.

8. Give favors. One of my great pleasures in life is helping other people; I believe there’s a big Karmic scoreboard in the sky. God is keeping track of the good that you do, and she is particularly pleased when you give favors without the expectation of return from the recipient. The scoreboard always pays back.

9. Ask for favors in return. Good schmoozers give favors and return favors. But great schmoozers ask for favors to be returned. You may find this puzzling: Isn’t it better to keep someone indebted to you? No, because keeping someone indebted puts undue pressure on your relationship. By asking for and receiving a return favor, you relieve the pressure and set up a whole new round of give and take. After a few rounds, you will be best friends, and you have mastered the art of schmoozing.


What Technology Does My New Business Need?

July 15, 2006

By Ramon Ray

Congratulations, you’ve opened your new business! As your hands run over the new furniture and you wrap up a few things with your lawyer and accountant, you’re probably starting to wonder what kind of computing infrastructure you should consider for your business.

Many businesses have very similar needs, which I’ll outline below. Depending on the specific needs of your business, there will be some particular technologies you’ll need that other businesses have no need for. Here are six things your business must have in the beginning in order to be successful.

Local Technology Consultant
One of the most important investments you can make is to ensure you have one or two local technology consultants who you trust, who know about your business, and who can guide you in your technology growth.

You have an accountant (for obvious reasons) and a lawyer (for even more obvious reasons)–having a local technology consultant or solution provider is no different. Get references, see what past work they’ve done and, like an employee, give the relationship time to mature to be sure they’re working in your best interest.

A good place to find small-business solution providers is at Microsoft’s Small Business Specialist Program (

High-Speed Internet Access
Every business, no matter how big or small, needs high-speed access to the internet. Having traditional dial-up access is simply too slow and too limiting for a business. High-speed internet will enable you to take advantage of online backup, VoIP and other technologies you wouldn’t be able to do at all or as efficiently with a dial-up connection.

For those businesses who are only online or do a significant amount of business online, your internet service is the life blood of your business. You must ensure that the vendor providing the service offers very reliable service and support.

Of course, you must have computers for each employee. These computers shouldn’t be slow, rinky-dink, bottom-of-the-barrel relics from the early ’90s, but should be relatively new, high-speed tools. Each computer should have plenty of memory (512MB or more), hard-disk space (80GB or more), a fast processor (2-3GHZ) and a quality screen for minimum eyestrain.

Your computers must be set up in a network with a file server and shared internet access.

Those who are dealing with large files such as graphic artists, design shops or others must have very powerful computers to be able to quickly manage and store the files. The memory you use backing up 100-word files that a very small law firm might deal with is much smaller than backing up 100 hi-resolution photos.

Data Security
It’s absolutely imperative that your businesses data is secure and backed up. Your local network and each of your computers should have a firewall (a hardware firewall for your network and at least a software-based firewall for each computer) and anti-virus software (many come bundled with features to detect phishing and other online threats as well). In addition, ensure your computers and network are configured by a local security consultant (your general knowledge solution provider might not have sufficient expertise to properly harden your computers and network from online attackers).

If you have a wireless network make sure it’s secured as well. The second phase of your security plan is to ensure all of your data is backed up and that you have a recovery plan in place. If you came to work and found nothing but a hole in the ground, what would you do? What plan would you have in place to recover your data onto other computer systems? That’s how you have to think.

If your business retains personal information of your customers, especially financial information, social security information, etc, it’s even more important that a professional security consultant work with you to ensure your information is secure. Your network must be secure, but also your online applications. Hackers can go to your website and use “back door” holes in the online software to access your database if the online application or database isn’t properly configured.

Every business must have a website. If you want to start out with a very simple site that’s more like a digital brochure, that’s fine for now. But consider having a website filled with relevant information for your customers, partners and employees.

You can easily build a website on your own using tools from Homestead Technologies, Microsoft Office Liveor many other web-hosting companies. You can also hire a website developer to do this for you.

As your business grows you’ll find that filling your website with as much customer-facing information as possible will a) reduce the amount of inbound e-mail and phone calls to your business, and b) customers can serve themselves from your website and be happier.

One of my personal pet peeves is seeing a growing business with an AOL, Yahoo! or Hotmail e-mail address. I think it’s unprofessional, and since it’s very easy to have an e-mail address with one’s business name, there’s no excuse. Your web host can set up e-mail accounts for you as part of your web-hosting service. Or, as always, you can work with your local technology consultant.

If you’re in a regulated industry it’s vital that you have systems in place to archive your e-mail to ensure it complies with government regulations for your industry.