Every Entrepreneur Has to Start Somewhere: First Venture Stories [ANSWERS]

Christopher Wells, Restaurant Building Blocks

I was 11 years old and it never got off the ground but I planned it for about 6 months. My mom was struggling trying to get her own communications firm off the ground. A few blocks from our house was an abandoned gas station. It was on the busiest street in my town and couldn’t understand why that business had failed. I figured in my young mind that any business that would set up shop and offer a good product and service would be a success. So I decided that a show store would be the best and easiest idea for me to set up. I spent months thinking about what kind of money would be needed and how would I learn all the stuff I didn’t know about. My biggest concern was , as I remember it, how could I manage my staff how would be clearly older than me. I could hire teens, but they would still be unimpressed by an elementary school kid. I kept thinking, how would I have to talk to them to get them on board to work for me. And the size of the task at hand got to big for my little head but I looked at that building for the following years thinking, what could have been!

Thanks to Christopher Wells!

David Hassell, 15Five

I was 23 years old when I started my first company in New York City. I was excited about technology and entrepreneurship, the possibility of creating something that would be used by millions of people, as well as the opportunity to create wealth in the process. After 7 years however, I realized that while I was passionate about the process of growing the business and helping our employees learn and grow, I felt unfulfilled; there was no connection between what our company produced and my values or what I cared about. I looked for greater meaning in my work with my second business, but with very little money in it I learned that passion without monetary success doesn't work either. Now with my third venture, 15Five, I've brought it all together bringing something I care deeply about- helping companies create a culture of open, transparent communication – and also creating a thriving business in the process. It took me over a decade to learn, but now I know you don't have to choose between your passions and making money. You really can have it all, and it's the best way I know to live a truly fulfilling and successful life.

Thanks to David Hassell!

Erica Tevis, Little Things Favors & Little Things Baby

My very first business was when I was 16 years old (1993-1994) renting out wooden, handpainted lawn storks in my hometown of Woodhaven, NY and the surrounding areas. I was a taking Studio Art classes in high school and I wanted to tap into my creative talents by designing something of my own. I created unique, original designs of storks and had my grandfather who was a contractor cut out of 6′ foot tall sheets of wood the outline for the storks. Every day after school I sanded, painted and lacquered two storks to rent out to customers. I established a website called www.LawnBabies.com and printed flyers for my area to try and drum up sales. I successfully rented out these storks for 60 dollars for the week and provided to the new parents a wooden plaque with the child's name, date of birth and birth weight and height as a keepsake. About a year into my business venture (and only a handful of rentals) I received a cease and desist letter from an attorney in North Carolina stating he represented a local business in NC who sold stork “packages” that I could buy from them to create my own business online and that my storks looked too much like their storks. Since I was young, had no money and no legal representation, I immediately closed up shop and stopped renting my storks – there was no way I could compete with a business that had an attorney I thought! What I learned was that anything I created should be copyrighted, trademarked or patented. But I also learned that through hard work and persistence – I could create a successful business.

Thanks to Erica Tevis!

Crystal O’Connor, The Moxie Entrepreneur

My first Entrepreneurial venture was a nanny agency. To market the business I bought some local ads in magazines but when it came time to interview the families and nanny’s I had not yet solidified a powerful process that made me feel good about the nanny/family connection. I did not yet have systems in place for marketing, application processing, contracts, billing or the overall business model. I would connect the nanny with the family and realize I was nervous and their ability to perform, provide excellent safety for the children and what to do to protect myself and my business from any harm. This fear caused me to take a different approach and find nanny’s for New York and other East Coast agencies for a fee like a broker. Hey, they had the processes down and felt more comfortable with matching the families with the nanny’s right? Well, the first few I placed I made absolutely $0 profit from because the agencies took the information about the Nanny (i.e. name, contact info. etc.) after I did all the work interviewing them and giving them an initial background check and placed them with families. They basically took my nanny and never paid me a dime. So, the mistake was in the process and there should have been an agreement/ contract with the east coast agencies so that I got paid for my work.

Thanks to Crystal O'Connor!

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David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Back in 1997, I was living in Seattle when an initiative was passed to fund light rail to run through the city. One of the reasons this initiative passed was on the promise of economic development, since the light rail was to go through two economically distressed areas. I developed a business plan to create a non-profit 501c3 advocating for economic development around the light rail stations in these communities. My idea was to help small businesses capitalize on the opportunity and thrive. I spent 2.5 years raising funds and building support. Ultimately the venture failed (for a variety of reasons), but it taught me a number of things about entrepreneurship and the direction I wanted to head professionally. You can see the markings of this experience in the blueprint I laid out in 2008 when I founded Early Growth Financial Services, my now successful financial services company. I’m still supporting small businesses, helping to provide them with the opportunities, infrastructure, and insight they need to thrive. I still believe in working hard on business development, making connections, building support, and creating supportive entrepreneurial communities. And, though some entrepreneurs have started calling business plans an anachronism in today’s modern business world, I still believe that a business plan is an essential working document, necessary to map and guide the growth of any successful business.

Thanks to David Ehrenberg!

Andrew & Rebecca Swick, CheckedTwice

Our first venture was and is a family affair. My sister Rebecca sent out her Christmas wishlist over email and got not one, not two, but three copies of the same Robert Frost poetry anthology. The next year, she coded up the family-focused online gift registry that would become our business. That was in 2003. Now we've helped thousands of families have a more relaxed holiday season without taking away any of the fun.

Thanks to Andrew & Rebecca Swick!

Brad Halsten, The Burger Dive 

My first entrepreneurial venture ever was my current business. In 2010 I opened my restaurant The Burger Dive in Billings Montana. I was just 2 months shy of my 40th birthday at the time. I have learned several things since opening and in the time prior to opening. I think the main thing I've learned on a positive note is that it can be done. If someone has a dream business, they really should go for it. It has worked out very well for me and my family. That said, there is a lot of work both now, and in preparation for opening. I have learned that you really can't be to prepared. Financially. make sure you have funding securely in place, and overestimate you start up costs. That was one roadblock that almost got us before the doors even opened. Through perseverance though, we made it happen and things have gone well.

Thanks to Brad Halste!

Nicole Wright, Wright Financials

When I was 23 I left my sales job with no plan. I took a month off to write and recharge and then began looking for finance clients as I had 5 years experience in Accounting Management and as a Financial Controller. It came together quickly for me and after that I increased revenues by 15% or more each year in business. Wright Financials has afforded me a comfortable lifestyle with several months vacation each year, has enabled me to start an additional 3 companies and to be a philanthropist. The struggles were primarily with being young and learning the corporate ropes; having to look and act older; learning the methods of managing people twice my age; learning to communicate with many different personality types.

Thanks to Nicole Wright!

Dan Ramirez, Growthink

So, When I was 14 years old,  I decided to save all of my money and buy a snowblower. I bought it to beat out all the other kids in the neighborhood who shoveled snow for neighbors. I then went door to door in advance to contract the houses and eventually hired the other kids to work for him. Up until today I have started and exited multiple Internet and product-focused ventures and owned over 3,000 niche websites.

Thanks to Dan Ramirez!

Jennifer Maguire, Jennifer Maguire Communications & PR

As a kid in the 1970's, my first business venture was a Kool-Aid stand. It's 2012 and I have my own public relations agency, Jennifer Maguire Coughlin PR. But even back then, I learned that every team needs a leader who can manage operations (and people), a solid business plan is  critical (even if it means marketing in your back, er, front yard) and good product is key (it must have appeal!). I suppose it's apropos that I became a public relations expert, convincing media and consumers to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid regarding my clients.

Thanks to Jennifer Coughlin!

Christopher Brereton, PictureHealing 

My very first entrepreneurial experience was when I was about 10. I was on court ordered visitation with my Father and all he ever wanted to do was go to toy shows to scope out the latest Hot Wheels cars. You'd think a 10 year old would be excited about this, but I dreaded every second of it, until I realized that I was thirsty and so was everyone else because no one was selling drinks or food. The next time I had to go with my Dad, I asked him to pack my wagon in to the car and stop by the grocery store so I could get some sodas to sell to the event attendees. He obliged and like a young boy would, I used my entire allowance and sat at the entry to the store pumping quarters in to the vending machine getting one soda at a time until my wagon was full (No one dared to tell me I could go in and buy a few twelve packs and some ice). I spent about 8 to 10 bucks and sold almost every single one! When I left I had about $20 in my pocket and I was the proudest little boy on my block! After that, I was hooked on what business could do to solve problems.

Thanks to Christopher Brereton!

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Sandip Sigh, Go Get Funding

My first entrepreneurial stint was when I was in primary school. My mum used to bulk buy treats such as chocolates. I found out where she stashed them and I used to take pocketfuls to school to sell. Turned out to be quite profitable!

Thanks to Sandip Singh!

Elle Kaplan, Lexion Capital Management LLC

My first entrepreneurial venture was a lemonade stand located on the beach. It was wildly successful because even as a small child I understood the importance of one key aspects that can help an entrepreneur succeed – location, location, location!

Thanks to Elle Kaplan!

Annamaria Farbizio, Moving Story Books, LLC

I still remember my first entrepreneurial venture even though it was over 50 years ago. My sister (8-years-old) and me (11-years-old) bought holiday cards from a wholesaler. We went door-to-door in our neighborhood to try to sell them. They were beautiful products and it was fun to represent them but it required us to walk a lot, smile and be nice to people even though we had blisters, and work at being convincing sales people even though we were both rather short in stature and still are.That experience taught us a lot about persistence and it was sweet when someone bought from us! I must love the feeling of starting new ventures since I just starting another one in May of this year. And I still carry holiday cards.

Thanks to Annamaria Farbizio!

Maxine Tatlonghari, Vanity Girl Hollywood

My first business venture was a boutique public relations practice when I was 24. I learned that it is a lot harder than it looks and that when you are in a service-based business, it is very important to create systems for yourself that will continually gain clients and keep you top of mind (i.e. newsletters, cold calls, etc). Now, social media. I love being an e-commerce entrepreneur as I am in that position where sales happen around the clock, but that initial lesson of face-to-face networking and personal relationships are still something that is in my entrepreneurial DNA.

Thanks to Maxine Tatlonghari!

Laura Spawn, VirtualVocations, Inc.!

My first business venture was more of an experiment my brother and I decided to try back in 2007. I'd been looking for a job online, spending upwards of 5 hours a day researching legitimate openings when I thought, ‘Hey, if I'm doing this, other people must be too!' My brother had just graduated with a Computer Science degree, so, we decided to make a simple job board and I would just input the job information I was coming across each day that didn't fit my skill set, to see if they fit for anyone else. We decided to charge the job seekers on a subscription basis, and VirtualVocations.com was born. I remember when we got our first subscriber, the adrenaline rush and excitement! I learned a lot along the way. I was pretty much broke when we started the business, so, I used a lot of creativity and I guess what is called ‘guerilla marketing' to spread the word. I posted on forums, answered people's questions, wrote articles and posted them to free content sites, anything I could think of, and slowly, we gained more and more members. Five years later, Virtual Vocations is still going strong and continuing to grow, and it is still amazing to me how an idea borne from something I was doing to enrich my own life has expanded to help so many others. Some of the things I learned was that people like to connect. Even though my business is online, a personal email from me goes a long way in helping my customers feel comfortable and confident in using my website. I learned that if something you try isn't working, or your customers aren't benefiting, don't be afraid to change or eliminate it and try something else, pay close attention to what your customers want. I also learned that you have to have a lot of personal stamina and drive to get that first venture going. If it hadn't been something I was already personally interested in, I don't know that I could have stayed up all those nights until 2am working while my kids were asleep to get the site launched.

Thanks to Laura Spawn!

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Pheng Taing, Author, The Book You Shouldn't Have Read

My very first venture was an online retail outlet. I started College Dresser selling clothing, handbags, and other accessories geared towards college students with a few friends and it failed miserably. Everyone had a full time job while trying to launch this website. The website eventually launched, with only me doing all the work. It eventually failed due to improper planning and a lack of commitment from co-owners. A valuable lesson learnt is to make sure you go into business with people who takes it seriously, or better yet, go into business yourself if you're able to.

Thanks to Pheng Taing!

Alan Ginsberg, Business and Self Employment Coach

I started my business during the the “great recession”. I had recently been laid off for the first time in my life after thirty successful years in the corporate world. I not only wanted to make a difference in my community but one in the world. I like to say “I am rebuilding the economy one business at a time”. Not only have I had a positive impact but been successful financially. For anyone considering a business it is a mountain to climb but very rewarding when you reach the summit.

Thanks to Alan Ginsberg!

Matt Rutter, GrapeVibe

We started GrapeVibe because we believe there are a ton of amazing things happening around us every day, but because we have no way to hear about them all we end up missing out. We solve that problem to help people find new and interesting things happening near them through our website customized to your location, interests, and friends. At the same time plenty of people go to an event only to find out after the fact that someone they knew was also there and they could have met up beforehand. We make it more easy for them to organize with their friends before events take place. Finally, there is no tool for people to use to reminisce about the great things they've done. Some people keep concert stubs, some have photo albums, but keeping track of all that and who was there gets lost over time. We created a central place for all of your cherished life experiences so you can relive the good times.

Thanks to Matt Rutter!

Colleen Lloyd-Roberts, Top Notch Nail Files

My first business venture was in my 20's a friend and I started a company “Food For Thought”. We found an industrial area and delivered cookies, apples and packaged snacks in the afternoon to their offices because everyone gets “peckish” in the afternoons and in industrial areas there's no place to buy snack foods. Each food item had a little quote attached to it which was part of our concept. People loved it and wanted boxed lunches. I was working full time so I'd get up early each morning and prepare everything and then we hired high school and college students to do the deliveries. This was my first venture where I had to manage margins, pay hired help and be sure the hired help showed up on time. It was a wonderful first-time experience and a fabulous opportunity to dip my toe in the waters of entrepreneurship. About one year later, I quit my full time job and I've been an entrepreneur ever since.

Thanks to Colleen Lloyd-Roberts!

Bob Din, En Pointe Technologies

In 1985, a fast food business I invested in (as a minority partner) was seeing no return. I was eventually tasked by other investors to see what was going on. I decided to computerize the accounts after realizing things were a bit messy on the management side of things. I bought an IBM PC, but quickly realized I also needed a hard disk, a tape back, etc. Being prudent, I called several places and obtained different advice (if they even called me back!) and varying price ranges from a few hundred to thousands of dollars for almost the same product! That's when I realized there was a huge opportunity here: if I can provide correct information, a reasonable price, and exceptional service, I will be successful. That year (November 1985), I bought a ComputerLand business (by LAX airport) and grew it to $700 million annual revenue by 1999. Today, as En Pointe Technologies, it has more than 500 associates in the United States and another 1,200 globally.

Thanks to Bob Din!

David Zahn, Zahn Consulting

The very first entrepreneurial venture was a newspaper route.  Gave me the taste for meeting people’s needs, introduced the difference between a service and a product, and demonstrated the concept of “value for the money.”

Thanks to David Zahn!

Heidi ThompsonEvolve Your Wedding Business

My first venture (aside from the occasional lemonade stand) was “Story Time” which focused on helping kids read and learn to love reading. I set this up when I was about 8 years old and I worked with the younger neighborhood kids. I've always been a book worm and wanted to help other children experience that love for reading. Now that I think about it, I had the one-to-many business model down back then because I would often work with groups and get paid per child. It was a pretty good summer income for a 8 year old!

Thanks to Heidi Thompson!


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