10 Smart Entrepreneurs Who Found A Way To Make Money Out Of Nothing
Two years ago, Eli Reich was a mechanical engineer consultant for a Seattle wind energy company when his messenger bag was stolen. The environmentally conscious Reich, who rode his bike to work every day, decided that instead of buying a new one, he would simply fashion another bag out of used bicycle-tire inner tubes that were lying around his house. Soon compliments on his sturdy black handmade messenger bag turned into requests. "That was the catalyst," says Reich, who obtained a business license, gave up his day job, and quickly launched Alchemy Goods in the basement of his apartment building. The company's motto: "Turning useless into useful."
When Marty Metro and his wife added up the number of times each of them had moved over the years, it came out to an astounding 29 times. Metro knew they weren't alone in using massive amounts of cardboard boxes and was convinced he could help movers, businesses and the environment by creating a solution to the cardboard quandary. For now, BoomerangBoxes.com offers an online exchange for those outside the delivery area to link up and exchange boxes with others for a nominal fee. With annual sales projections exceeding $750,000, the company boasts 75 percent-plus gross margins.
Eugene Gromov is a domain wizard. Software developer by trade, he has accidentally discovered that software companies are having a hard time finding available domains for their new products and services. But coming up with unique, memorable domain names was his hidden talent. After naming domains for others part-time for three years, he was literally forced into going into domain name business full-time. “When I started getting multiple orders a day, I realized that I can’t do it on my own any longer. I needed help”. So he launched PickyDomains.Com a site that aggregates orders for domain names and shares 50% of the profit with people who name domains for him.
While golfing with his brother one day, Andy Yocom saw prime advertising space on the flags on the course. He and his brother Timmy reasoned that any marketing messages would get prominent attention if they were placed on the flags, since golfers focus on them when they take their shots. Today, Invision Golf Group has expanded its advertising and marketing services beyond just flags to include whole golf course sponsorship-from banners in locker rooms to advertising on golf carts. The strategy is working: At press time, the sales were standing at $300,000 a year, and the company now has a presence on 142 golf courses in 26 states.
Ten years ago, The Great Throwdini (David Adamovich), now 59, retired as a physiology professor, bought a billiard hall and took up knife throwing. Adamovich now holds six world records and performs about 20 solo shows a year. He has performed on Broadway, at corporate events and weddings and on TV shows such as "Late Show with David Letterman" and ESPN's "Cold Pizza." He makes around $100,000 a year for his knife-related ventures, but for $75 an hour Adamovich also offers private lessons at his Long Island, N.Y. home.
Leg casts decorated with Sharpie markers are so five years ago. What’s the new must-have item for the injured fashionista? Designer crutches, of course. For Laurie Johnson, founder of LemonAid Crutches, the idea of adding a little pizzazz to the drab world of medical supplies was born out of terrible tragedy. In 2002, a small-plane crash took the lives of her husband and 2-year-old son, and left her with a broken femur that wouldn’t heal. A year later, still in emotional and physical pain, Johnson decided to take life’s lemons and make lemonade. It all started when her sister spray-painted Johnson’s crutches and fabric-trimmed the handles. “I sat there thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so silly, but they make me feel better!’” says Johnson, 46. “I said, ‘If I feel this way, someone else is going to feel this way, too.” And though the designer-crutch business may seem like a small niche, Johnson has big plans for several new projects, such as offering crutches to children’s hospitals. Last year Lemon-Aid brought in just under $150,000.
Betty Funk's purses, made from used seatbelts, are so strong you can pull a truck with one, as a customer found out when a tow rope proved too short. The purses are so strong, you could whack a purse snatcher into next Tuesday. The strap won't rip, either, if you get into a tug-of-war with a pilferer. After all, the purses are made from material designed to save your life. Some people balk at the prices, which range from $40 to $130, depending on the size of the bag, and can rise to $160 for custom-made bags. But the business is booming. The company has sold close to 1,000 bags so far.
Like so many great business ideas Katie Olver’s eureka moment came to her out of a desire to buy something that didn’t exist. She was on the look-out for a personalized novel as a present for a friend, but the only ones she could find were for children. With a little persuasion, she convinced her partner of seven years, Jon Reader, to help her turn the idea into a business, and got to work on setting up U Star Novels, a series of personalized romance novels where the reader is the protagonist. The 2007 revenue is expected to be around $140,000.
Ralph Trumbo is neither an athlete nor a celebrity. Nevertheless, he has a bobblehead likeness of himself sitting on his mantel. Bobbleheads, those shaky-headed 3-D caricatures, have jiggled free of their mass-produced roots of an earlier generation. Once merely featureless figures decked out in team colors and handed out on game day, they now depict just about anyone who wants one. Ralph, who graduated from the University of Iowa with a fine arts degree in 2002, has been drawing caricatures since he was a child. He turned that interest into a job making bobbleheads after graduation. He won't say how many he makes beyond ''quite a few.'' Prices range from $150 to $200.
Tom Taylor never expected to be a player in the business world; he just wanted to play video games. But as he got better and better, his passion for competitive gaming--and his desire to share his expertise with others--grew. Last year, Taylor, a top-five rated player in the pro-gaming circuit, started a video game coaching business to help others who wanted to improve their games. "I wanted to offer them a shortcut so they didn't have to go through what I did to learn," says Taylor, who started playing video games at age 7. Running his business, Gaming-Lessons, out of his Jupiter, Fla., home, Taylor draws dozens of clients from middle-school kids to middle-aged parents and from college students to celebrities. His fees? A whopping $65 an hour.
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