What's the Big Idea?

About-Face

From corporate lawyer to gift basket mogul.

In 1992, Cynthia McKay was a young lawyer in Denver intent on building a lucrative corporate clientele. Starting a business was the furthest thing from her mind. But that changed when McKay's husband received a gift basket from his mother for his birthday. McKay was incensed when she learned the meager gift basket stuffed with candy bars, chips and other junk-food favorites cost $50. What nerve! What chutzpah! What an outrageous rip-off. "Maybe I was so ticked off because I was practicing consumer law at the time," she says. The first thought that bolted through McKay's head was, "I could do better."

"Besides the fact there was nothing of substance in the basket," she says, "it was just slapped together. No artistic ability went into it. I found it very offensive." McKay stewed about the gift basket for only a day before bolting into action. "I decided to start a company making gift baskets," she says. Within 24 hours, she had quit her job, scribbled the outline of a business plan on the back of a cocktail napkin and registered the name Le Gourmet Gift Basket Inc.

"Frankly, it was pretty cavalier of me to think I could pull this off," laughs McKay, now 43. "After all, I had no retail or creative background, and I didn't know what kind of competition I faced. It never even occurred to me to check demographics." Working nearly around the clock, her business was profitable within six months of conceiving the idea. In 1996, she franchised her concept and now has 225 locations nationwide.

In McKay's case, ignorance may indeed have been bliss. She admits that if she were thinking rationally, she might not have launched her business. Says McKay, "Thankfully, I wasn't that pragmatic."

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This article was originally published in the February 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What's the Big Idea?.

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