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Good Fortune

Diary of a start-up: from idea to fruition.

Once upon a time, there was a police officer named Sid Martinez. As a cop, his job was to uncover problems and find solutions. Seeking a career change, Martinez found a new outlet for his problem-solving and bilingual communication skills: cookies.

While innovative ideas may be born in an instant, businesses can take years to succeed. Here are the steps Martinez and his partner, Jeff Dole, took to achieve success:

1994: While at a Chinese restaurant, Martinez decides fortune-type cookies could be the perfect vehicle for teaching Spanish. He modifies the cookie into a taco shape, adds cinnamon flavoring and inserts a small phrase, or "dicho." Each phrase is printed in both Spanish and English. He bakes 100 Dichos for a test run at a local restaurant and the treats sell out in 30 minutes.

1995: Martinez knows he has a great idea. Without food industry experience, however, he's unsure how to proceed. He meets food industry veteran Dole and invites him to join the venture. Martinez and Dole invest $37,000 of their personal savings and work day jobs to support the business.

Winter 1995-Spring 1996: The partners perfect the Dichos recipe, logo and package design. They apply for a patent and trademark.

July 1996: The duo finds a manufacturer and debut Dichos at the Texas Restaurant Association Show in Houston; 5,000 cookies are sold. Orders pour in from Mexican restaurants. Martinez and Dole quit their jobs to concentrate on the business full time.

October 1996: The "Smart" Cookie LLC is officially incorporated.

February 1997: The company lands its first national account with the Tia's Tex-Mex chain.

Spring 1997: Southwest Airlines purchases Dichos for holiday promotions.

July 1997: An article on The "Smart" Cookie appears in The Wall Street Journal.

September 1997: The "Smart" Cookie signs its first buyer in Mexico.

October 1997: The Austin Independent School District orders Dichos for school lunches, incorporating targeted bilingual messages for students like "Stay in school." The partners launch their Web site (, which has garnered orders from as far away as Russia.

December 1997: Annual sales reach $250,000.

January 1998: Work begins on an amaretto-flavored version of Dichos with messages in Italian and English.

May 1998: The owners are offered $1 million to sell their business; they decline the offer.

October 1998: A deal is sealed with Taco John's International, a Mexican fast-food chain with more than 430 restaurants. The Taco Tico chain also comes on board with 85 restaurants.

December 1998: Sales reach $500,000. Of 25,000 Mexican restaurants in the United States, 1,500 carry Dichos.

1999: Martinez and Dole estimate $1.5 million in sales.

2000 and beyond: "This product will be around when we are long gone," says Martinez. "We're building a brand name."

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Good Fortune.

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