Tim Vanderhook, 26; Chris Vanderhook, 28; and Russell Vanderhook, 30
Specific Media, Irvine, California
Projected 2007 Sales: $70 million-plus
Description: Online advertising company
Three's Company: Building a multimillion-dollar business wasn't really on Tim Vanderhook's mind at age 18. He was just tired of working odd jobs and saw potential in online advertising. So, in exchange for a share in the startup, he persuaded older brother Chris to let him charge $99 to his credit card for a domain name. For $33, Russell jumped onboard shortly thereafter. With no experience, "we taught ourselves everything," says Tim of their 1999 launch. "First we learned online advertising, then we taught ourselves advertising as a whole. This was a gun-slinging, wheeling-and-dealing-type atmosphere, because nobody had done it before."
Changing Times: With that self-schooling, they pioneered the use of the pop-up ad on mainstream websites. From 2000 to 2003, they were dominating the pre-Google online advertising market, and "making a million bucks a month," says Chris. "We were high-fiving in the office every day. But [then] the reawakening happened." While they were celebrating, the market picked up again after the dotcom crash, and Google came to take over online advertising, leaving Specific Media in its shadows. They were forced to get serious, so they shifted their focus to their current concept, which compiles internet user demographics to create target profiles for creating more relevant advertising. Today, clients include more than 200 companies from the Fortune 500.Lofty Goals: Though the guys are happy with how far they've come and the strong product offering they have today, they've set their sights on bigger things. "In reality, we're not where we want to be," says Russell, adding that international expansion is in the works.
Follow Their Lead: Stay focused and don't lose sight of why you're in business. --Lindsay Holloway
Megan Duckett, 35
Sew What? Inc., Rancho Dominguez, California
Projected 2007 Sales: $4.6 million
Description: Manufacturer of custom theatrical draperies and distributor of flame-retardant fabrics
Finding her way: After immigrating to the U.S. at age 19, this native Australian found work as a technician for a concert production company--and started sewing in her spare time. Her first gig was sewing fabric coffin linings for a Halloween show. "I rented a [sewing machine] and lined 10 coffins," recalls Megan Duckett. "[I discovered] that I had a talent and an ability to manipulate the fabric in a craftlike way, and I really enjoyed it." Duckett worked evenings and weekends on her craft business, and in 1997 she quit her full-time job, rented a warehouse and officially incorporated.
Building Buzz: Not one to wait for the phone to ring, Duckett used every inexpensive marketing tool she could, such as mailers, fliers and handmade business cards. She also chatted up her company's services every chance she got. "Everyone was a potential customer," she says. That grass-roots marketing led to her making draperies for theater, concerts and special events worldwide.
Creative Coverings: Manufacturing the custom draperies for Rod Stewart's latest concert tour was a highlight for Duckett. "We made about 1,500 yards of the Stewart family tartan," she says. "We made it into this enormous design that would register onstage with the audience--it was totally unique." The work of Sew What? has also graced the tours of such legends as Gwen Stefani, Prince and Fleetwood Mac, to name a few. But despite a packed schedule, she still makes time to help the community: Duckett founded From Stages to Students, a program that provides free or low-cost draperies to school theater programs and community rehabilitation centers that teach sewing.
Follow Her Lead: Chat up your new business every chance you get, as you never know where leads will come from. --Nichole L. Torres