Thinking of starting a small business? Follow your passion
Many people dream of leaving their jobs and going into business for themselves. Not everyone follows through, though, and for most the dream remains just that. But those who take the leap, follow their dream and pursue their passion can find discover a niche.
Here are three entrepreneurs, who took that leap of faith and followed their passion.
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Mike Maddi, Puppetoys
Mike Maddi is president of Puppetoys, a line of puppets that also function as stand-alone toys. Before he launching his small business—out of his living room in Astoria, N.Y.— he was a veteran makeup effects artist. His work appears in such films as "C.H.U.D." and "Last Exit to Brooklyn." But that diverting career wasn't enough for him.
"As an artist, I get bored very easily," said Maddi, 50. That restlessness inspired him to invent his puppets. However, the path to turning his invention into a bona fide consumer product was long and fraught with disappointment.
In the early 1990s, he took his prototype to the buyers at Toys "R" Us, who were impressed enough to order 1,700 units. But he didn't have enough capital to fill the order, and the opportunity slipped away.
Maddi redesigned his creation and took it to the 2008 American International Toy Fair, where he once again caught the attention of the Toys "R" Us buyers. This time, they provided a manufacturer, and the puppet is on store shelves today.
The company is up and running thanks to passion and persistence, which potential small business owners need to navigate the inevitable hard times, he said. "You have to have an idea and have great passion for it, and expect to take it through a few times along the way."
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Elle Kaplan, Lexion Capital Management
Elle Kaplan is CEO and founder of Lexion Capital Management, a wealth management firm in New York. Kaplan, 36, worked for a decade at Wall Street firms and was well-compensated accordingly, but it never felt right.
"I didn't feel like i was helping anyone or contributing anything positive to the world," she said. She had toyed with the idea of creating a "client-centric" wealth management firm but was wary of the risk. Eventually, her own clients urged her to go out on her own.
Kaplan had saved enough start-up capital, but her secret weapon was her rapport with clients.
"I had called a few clients at around 2 p.m., and we were profitable by 5 p.m.," she said. "I had a very loyal following, and these people were willing to take their life savings and follow me."
Anyone considering leaving a safe career to found their own company will get lots of conflicting advice. Kaplan's advice? Consider the information source.
"Some of my friends and family were the biggest naysayers," she said. "They love me and they wanted to protect me, but they don't understand the industry. The people who really pushed me were entrepreneurs. 'You're crazy' came from a place of love, but 'go do it' came from concern about my career."
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David King, Sticky
David King runs artisanal candy company Sticky, where sweets are custom-made in a live show in front of its customers. The Santa Monica, Calif., resident is a transplanted Australian, who used to work in a top tier law firm in Sydney.
"I'd been at the firm for four years, and the money was starting to get good," said King, now 42. But despite his upward trajectory, he had misgivings about his career that he couldn't ignore. "I liked the people and I liked some of the work, but it was not always satisfying."
Using $40,000 of savings, money from his family and some maxed out credit cards, he got the start-up capital he needed to found Sticky. Twelve years later, its original Australian location is turning a profit, and he expects the recently opened Hollywood Boulevard franchise in Hollywood, Calif., to do the same.
What counsel does King give aspiring small business founders?
"Be prepared emotionally to have it go bad," he said. "If you go into any business you need to be optimistic, but part of your brain has to be ready to fail as well."