Sources of Inspiration: Entrepreneur Success Stories

Quitting your day job and spending your life savings to become an entrepreneur is no easy task, especially in today’s turbulent economic environment. In this classic high-risk high-reward situation, you could stand to lose your principal and even end up in debt, but the rewards are boundless. We all know the stories of the most famous, trailblazing entrepreneurs – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ray Kroc or H. Ross Perot. However, these storied names have become so legendary and larger than life that it’s hard for the average Joe to relate to their success. Let’s focus on a few lesser-known, but just as relevant, entrepreneur success stories. Two guys, with only $8,000 in savings and a $4,000 loan, rented an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont – a college town without a proper ice cream shop – and opened an ice cream shop. Their only formal training had been a correspondence course in the art of ice cream making. They purchased equipment and came up with “unique flavors” – such as “Red Velvet Cake” and “Late Night Snack” – which differed from the standard flavors offered by large chains like Baskin-Robbins. Twenty years later, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield’s ice cream business, Ben & Jerry’s, brings in $237 million in annual revenue. Meanwhile, two ladies, Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash Taylor, took $200 in cash and a revolving line of credit and started a tiny clothing line with a “girlish appeal”. Neither woman took a salary for two years as they worked to popularize their brand. Their signature velour tracksuits eventually caught the public eye, and were soon adopted by the likes of Madonna, who turned the tracksuit into a public trend in the 1990s. The limited supply of the product increased its affordable luxury appeal, and soon its brand was available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus and Bloomingdales. The company, Juicy Couture, posted $47 million in annual revenue by 2002, prior to being acquired by fashion giant Liz Claiborne for an undisclosed amount. Whereas the first two examples needed capital (although not much) to get started, Dana Levy’s story is even more amazing as it started with nothing more than a computer with an Internet connection. Levy started an e-mail newsletter, Daily Candy, which informed New Yorkers of the latest restaurant openings, hip hangouts, events and great deals around the city, all written in an informal “Gossip Girl” style. The first newsletter was sent in March 2000 to a mailing list of 700 members. The newsletter soon became a trendsetter, and led to its expansion into a dozen other cities. Levy eventually sold the newsletter to a venture capital group for $3 million in 2003, which in turn was sold to Comcast for $125 million in 2008. These three success stories show that impossible dreams can come true – not through miracles but through a combination of hard work, determination, luck and good judgement. If you hope to join their ranks as a successful entrepreneur, remember the old adage, “even the longest journey starts with a single step”.

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