What: Gift certificates redeemable for a variety of memorable experiences
Who: Gavin Bishop, Michelle Geib and Robb Young of Xperience Days
Where: Hoboken, New Jersey
When: Started in January 2005
Though the multimillion-dollar gift-giving market will never cease to exist, gift-giving patterns change as often as the latest fashion trends. In recent years, research shows consumers are looking for gifts that are unique--not your run-of-the-mill department-store gift cards. As one of the first companies to catch on to this trend, Xperience Days lets customers give an opportunity of a lifetime as a gift.
According to co-founder Gavin Bishop, Xperience Days offers a wide range of life-enhancing experiences "that people dream and talk of doing, but rarely get around to doing." The average cost of the gift certificates is $275 to $300--prices range from $65 for a trapeze lesson to $110,000 for a private zero-gravity flight.
The concept of giving experiences, which is common in the United Kingdom, was an idea that UK native Bishop, 37, and his co-founders, Michelle Geib, 29, and Robb Young, 34, knew would be a hit in the States. They were right-since the company's launch, at least three competitors have entered the market. "People in the U.S. generally have an adventurous streak and are willing to try things," says Bishop, who met his co-founders while attending business school in South Africa. "Plus, they're very good gift-givers."
Though the company targets anyone "with an adventurous spirit," the founders focused on the San Francisco Bay and New York tri-state markets when they launched in January 2005. As popularity increased and they realized there were plenty of adventurous activities available nation-wide, the trio added experiences throughout the country, such as Formula One racing in Las Vegas and white-water rafting in Pennsylvania.
Although sales figures are difficult to calculate because the company sells gift certificates, which are a deferred income, Bishop projects 2006 sales of about $2 million--drastically more than the $100,000 it took the three entrepreneurs to finance the startup. They knew investing in such a project--with no asset backing or constant cash flow--would incur serious risks. Nothing quite as risky, though, as jumping out of a plane.
- Lindsay Holloway
All Decked Out
What: A deck of cards featuring exercise routines
Who: Phil Black, creator and founder of FitDeck Inc.
Where: San Diego
When: Started in April 2004
In a huge leap of faith, Phil Black quit a lucrative career as a money manager at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco and moved his family, including his twin baby boys, to San Diego to pursue his entrepreneurial dream. When Black started a business less than a year later, his dream became a reality.
With $20,000 in personal savings and a passion for fitness, Black, 36, a former Navy SEAL instructor and a Harvard Business School graduate, launched FitDeck Inc. in April 2004. "We design, manufacture and sell fitness products that make exercise simple, convenient and fun," says Black.
Black credits his inspiration for FitDeck to PUG, a fitness game he and his buddies played in the dorms between study sessions when he was an undergrad at Yale University. An acronym for Push-Up Game, PUG revolved around a deck of cards and caught on quickly as a popular pas-time among his peers.
FitDeck is composed of upper-, middle- and lower-body exercises, as well as some that incorporate the entire body. On each card, players find a step-by-step explanation of the exercise, along with an illustration and the suggested number of repetitions for beginning, intermediate and advanced workouts. The main idea is for players to shuffle the deck and deal themselves as many cards as they like, depending on how long they want to exercise. A 10-card workout, for example, lasts about 15 minutes.
Priced at $18.95, or $24.95 with an instructional DVD, FitDeck earned 2005 sales of $4.7 million, with projected sales of $8 million to $10 million in 2006. Rather than advertising, Black relies on PR efforts to pump up sales of the cards, which are sold through the company's website and various online affiliates, as well as through catalogs and other distributors.
With success comes growth. The newest addition to the FitDeck family of products is FitDeck Jr., which is geared toward children. Black says he has several other FitDeck products in the works that are specific to certain sports or geared toward women.
- Bethan-Rose Rodriguez
Music to Kids' Ears
What: Rockin' interactive music classes and CDs for kids and their parents
Who: David Weinstone of Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals
Where: New York City
When: Started in 1998
Wow much: $400
One-time punk rocker David Weinstone wanted to immerse his children in music, but after searching New York City and finding only dull programs, he felt the need to create something fresh.
A classically trained musician, Weinstone, 46, set out to create some rockin' kids' music. With $400 worth of instruments, six home-recorded songs and cheap rental space in the basement of an East Village restaurant, Weinstone started an interactive music class called Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals. Within a month, families who wanted to attend were lining up around the block, and media and record companies were banging down the door.
After recording the songs used in his classes to sell on www.musicforaardvarks.com, Weinstone noticed his popularity reached far beyond New York City, so he started licensing his program. He now has more than 10 licensees, some as far away as England and Japan, with more on the way. With his success, Weinstone's income has struck a high note--he went from making $30,000 per year as a bartender in 1998 to about $250,000 in 2005. After 12 CD releases, the father of three now has a contract with Nickelodeon/Noggin to make music videos of his songs, and he plans to venture into writing children's books.
Says Weinstone, "I just want to be able to lie down on my deathbed and say to myself, 'I spent my life doing something I really care about.'"
- Amanda Pennington