business: literary agency
founder: Lisa Swayne, 29
year started: 1997
location: New York City
1997 revenues: N/A
1998 revenues: $2 million
start-up costs: $3,000
sources: personal savings; husband's moving allowance
Lisa Swayne easily wins the award for doing the most with the least. She didn't really even have "start-up capital." Sofa-cushion change is more like it.
"I was so broke I stole paper clips," she says. She's not kidding. Swayne was working for a literary agency in Washington, DC, when she was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Figuring no one would be interested in loaning a one-woman show money to peddle books, Swayne pillaged her meager savings account. "I was more frugal than I've ever been in my life," she remembers.
The penny-pinching paid off. Thanks to the three clients who signed on with her when she and her husband moved to New York City, Swayne managed to pay the bills those first few months.
Then the revenues poured in. Swayne's specialty is working with new media clients such as Aliza Sherman, author of Cybergrrl! A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine, $12). Though some publishers are still wary of anything Internet-related, Swayne is certain the print media success of Sherman and others will show that cyberstars are generating new fields of interest people will want to buy books about.
At least one lender agrees: Citibank's entertainment division just loaned Swayne enough money to launch a small-scale campaign promoting her agency. "By the time it's over, I won't have spent more than $90,000," she says. Considering what she started with, though, she'll likely turn that bread into enough to feed the entire publishing industry.