One way to increase your chance of success is to parlay the skills you learn on the job or in school into a moneymaking venture. Smart entrepreneurs always learn all they can from an employer or professor before going out on their own.
“Before starting my business, I worked in brand management for Quaker Oats,” said Sally Kroha, who promoted Rice-A-Roni, Chewy Granola Bars and Quaker Oatmeal.
A year ago, she founded DazzleDerm Inc., a Chicago-based company that makes “Buffing Soap Bags” that turn a bar of soap into a skin exfoliator. Kroha crafted the first bag on a sewing machine in her basement.
“I wanted an easier way to exfoliate my skin,” said Kroha, who made bags from more than 200 materials before she decided on the right type of nylon netting. Users place a bar of soap inside the bag, pull the drawstring, and put the bag around their hand to clean and exfoliate their skin.
“When you use a regular puff, you have to keep adding liquid body soap and juggling the bottle,” said Kroha. While she wanted a bag to hold the soap, she “had no idea the bag was going to create this great lather.”
She approached the marketing of her invention just the way she ran lines of business for Quaker Oats.
“In my former job, I was accountable for the financial results of the product line, developing a business plan and a marketing strategy,” said Kroha. “I had a full team of people reporting to me. Now, the steps are the same, but I am the cross-functional team.”
Kroha works with a team of freelancers and subcontractors who moonlight on her projects. Although she has the talent in place, things aren’t happening quite as fast as they did at Quaker Oats, she says.
“It’s harder to get people to jump when it’s just you and your little business,” said Kroha, who works with a trademark attorney, a patent attorney and a freelance public-relations expert.
Her bags are made overseas by a vendor, and she sells them directly to local customers and via Amazon.com’s small merchant area. Like most small startups, she financed the business with her savings and help from friends and family. She’s currently looking for investors and distributors.
“My colleagues at Quaker Oats gave me some referrals, since my product is in no way competitive with their food business,” said Kroha, who started DazzleDerm in a corner of her husband’s Internet solutions company. Before going too far down the road, she used the Internet to check out the competition. “There is nothing comparable,” she said.
Charting a course
The founders of Dome Chartering and Trading Corp. in Mandarin, Fla. started their shipping company using the skills they learned at New York State University’s Maritime College at Fort Schuyler.
“We thought we’d start a company ourselves, providing the same services we were learning about in college,” said Christopher Hughes, one of three founders of Dome Chartering, which is moving from Florida to Annapolis, Md. in April.
The company rents ships to transport dry cargo like steel, industrial materials and wheat to different parts of the world. Most often, they sail between the East Coast and Gulf Coast of the United States to Central and South America. After graduating from Maritime College, the three co-owners went their separate ways to work for other shipping companies.
“Our sea schedules were all different, but it just happened that each of our companies were based in New York City,” said Hughes.
In 1998, his friend, Russell Paret, got the idea to start a business, and had $20,000 in savings to contribute.
“It was hard at first, because we are young, and in this business, you have to build a reputation,” said Paret. (The owners are 29, 30 and 31 years old). “You have to convince people who own million-dollar ships that you’re trustworthy enough to take good care of their ship. We had to do a lot of sweet-talking.”
But because ship owners are motivated to keep their ships at sea to make money, they were willing to take calls from the young partners. Their biggest challenge was having enough credit available to charter the ships, in order to transport their clients’ cargo.
“You pay the first 15 days in advance, plus the fuel and the cost of stopping in a port,” said Hughes, who says those costs can be more than $100,000. “That expense is on our credit cards for a week, then, we get that back, plus our profits, if all goes well and the weather stays good.”
Their biggest financial problems are caused when bad weather forces their ships to stay extra days in port, racking up additional fees.
In 1999, their gross revenue was $1.8 million, slightly down from the year before. Hughes said they love what they do, and don’t plan to give up.
The Tenth Annual Conference of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity is set for May 10-13 in Lowell, Mass. “AEO 2000: Microenterprise Builds Community” is the theme of the meeting, which brings together people promoting microenterprise development in the United States. For more information on the group and the meeting, visit: www.microenterpriseworks.org, or call (703) 841-7760.
Reporting by Julie Neal. Jane Applegate is the author of “201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business,” and is founder of ApplegateWay.com, a multimedia Web site for busy entrepreneurs. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.