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What Motivates You?

Is it money? Revenge? The thrill of competition? These 4 successful entrepreneurs reveal why they do what they do.

Motivation: Helping Build Better Lives
As a struggling mom with a high school education, 34-year-old Karen Hoxmeier had always been a bargain hunter . by necessity. After teaching herself how to use a computer, Hoxmeier quickly became an avid online shopper and discovered she had an amazing knack for uncovering obscure discounts and little-known coupons that saved her hundreds of dollars. Two months later, she built her own website, and MyBargainBuddy.com was born. The Murrieta, California, business generated well over $3 million in sales as an affiliate marketing site last year.

My motivation has always been about money, but not in the way you would think. Most people think entrepreneurs are primarily motivated by making money--for me, the twist on the story is that I derive my business power from knowing that I am helping people save money. My mom was very young when she had children and soon found herself on her own. She didn't have a lot of education and had to work at whatever she could to feed us. Early on I was determined that I would give my kids a better life.

I hear what I need to hear to know that I am reaching my goals. I get notes from people all the time who use my site and tell me it's changed their lives. For many it has meant the difference between being able to give their kids new toys from a store [or from] a charity box from the local church. If I'm having a rough time or get tired, I just sit and read the e-mails that I get daily. It's a great ongoing motivator.

Everyone has their moments of worry and doubt. Mine came when I discovered that the hosting site I was using wasn't compatible with how I wanted to build my site. So after having just learned to use a computer, I realized I would have to learn HTML and all the other elements involved with building my own website. I read lots of books and basically taught myself what I needed in about three months. But it was hard and scary. The way I got through it was to keep giving myself short-term goals--goals that were easily achievable in a short period of time. Every time I reached them, I was that much closer to building a better life--not only for myself and my kids, but for my customers, too.

Motivation: Innovative Design
What happens when two "mad scientists" and a numbers guy get together? For John Swartz, Aaron Lown and Carter Weiss, all 38 years old, it resulted in building a better wine tote and, ultimately, an award-winning accessories company in New York City called Built NY. Lown, a former designer for handbag and accessories company Kate Spade, and former furniture designer Swartz took the ubiquitous tote to new heights with a curvaceous design using neoprene. Weiss saw the product's potential, and all three took the leap by pooling their savings and borrowing from friends to manufacture 10,000 wine totes. Today, Built NY has 45 key products, including lunch totes, baby bibs and laptop sleeves. Weiss and Swartz share what keeps them creative and thriving.

When we arrived at the final product, we had a "eureka" moment. Not only was the product innovative, but the methodology was as well. We realized that we could scale this one product into many, many other products and that this was just the beginning. We had 45 years of experience between the three of us, and it was finally culminating in this company. So we continue to be motivated by the desire to innovate, to make more great things. We chose the material [neoprene] before knowing what the design was going to be. That is how we are motivated; we innovate by finding a match between the material and a use for it.

Innovation means recognizing the opportunities in a crisis. Our first crisis was a big one. After our initial run, we decided to manufacture more than 10,000 additional units, but when we got them the material was all wrong. It wasn't the firm rubber material we had chosen, but a much softer, suppler one. We thought it was a disaster. But when we examined it from an innovative point of view, we decided that it was actually better. In the meantime, the factory gave us some financial concessions for their mistake, which allowed us to do some things we otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford.

All of our employees are innovators. We consider them designers, and they submit design ideas. One of our staff loves to come up with names for products, and he's really good at it (we're not). Sometimes an idea will sit for a year and then we bring it back up, so everyone knows that their creativity is very important. We're demanding in the sense that we want them to give their absolute best and to work hard. We don't care if they're here at 7 or at 10, or what they wear. We just want them to care. And they do.

Motivation: Taking on the Giant
Few people have the courage to create a business that competes directly with a large competitor. But that's exactly what Karl De Abrew did more than 10 years ago. The 33-year-old entrepreneur built a successful business developing plug-in software for Adobe Acrobat, the well-known PDF reading program, and created a top-rated website called Planet PDF. Yet all along, he and his team were plotting something even more ambitious. In 2005, De Abrew's company, Nitro PDF Software of Pleasanton, California, launched a software product that competes directly with Acrobat. The company's 2007 sales were about $5 million, and an infusion of angel investor cash will help Nitro PDF pursue its next goal: to ensnare 10 percent of the $1 billion PDF software market in about three years.

Just because a company is big doesn't mean its product is for everyone. We've spoken with our customers, and they say that Acrobat is too complex, too monolithic and too confusing for the average user. On the flipside, our product is surgical in its focus; we've specifically targeted the business user who wants to create or edit PDFs without having to finish a computer science degree first. I kept getting motivation from the knowledge that there was this niche that I could fill if I surrounded myself with the right people. We're a team of about 35 taking on a team of [thousands] at Adobe, and we're winning.

The number-one thing that will drive me to succeed is to tell me that I can't do something. I guess that makes a lot of sense with our product. In the beginning, we had no shortage of people saying to us, "Wow, you guys have got a pretty serious job ahead of you;" now they're amazed and very supportive. During the dot-com crash in 2001, we all had to tighten our belts and get rid of some businesses we had spent a lot of time and money building. But I never lost the excitement of being able to play a pivotal role in creating something larger than myself, and that kept me going.

Being a successful entrepreneur, in my opinion, is a function of how well you deal with the setbacks. There's no shortage of great ideas and no shortage of people willing to give it a go . . . for a while. When the going gets tough, that's when you need your motivation. You've got to keep feeding and building it. Read books about other successful people, see what they did, think about how you can incorporate their ways of thinking into yours. There are a lot of clever people out there--why not put them to work for you, intellectually speaking?

Motivation: Solving a Problem
Epiphanies often strike in the most unusual places--in bed, taking a shower or simply taking a power walk with the dog. For Puerto Rico-born Lisa Rudes-Sandel, 44, her moment of truth came in the dressing room of Barney's New York. Trying on one pair of low-rise jeans after another, Rudes-Sandel couldn't find anything that fit her right. Figuring that other women in their 40s had the same problem, in 2005 the daughter of a garment manufacturer created an ingenious line of denims with hidden panels that trim and slim. Today, Tummy Tuck Jeans is a $60 million company in Los Angeles. Written up everywhere from TheNew York Times to People magazine, Tummy Tuck Jeans is expanding everywhere but on the hips of its wearers.

I was alone, and I loved it. I was so motivated in the beginning because it was clear to me that no one else was doing what I wanted to do. I was determined to be different and to really offer women what they needed in a well-fitting jean. The challenge was to figure out how to do it, but the motivation never [faltered]. Once I launched the product, women all over the country were sending in comments praising me for the "invention" that changed their lives.

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the motivation of having a very clear-cut mission--to use my skills in the garment business and what I have gained traveling all over the world in solving an age-old problem: bringing sexiness and style to the average woman. I never had to worry about analyzing markets and researching fashion trends--I knew that the void was there, and every waking moment was spent figuring out how best to fill it.

I don't see how anyone could succeed without being totally excited about their product. My mission was so specific from the beginning; it was easy to keep my eye on the goal. Sometimes if I'm losing creative steam, I leave the office early so I can regroup and come back fresh the next day. Sacrificing that little bit of work time can really pay off big in reigniting the motivation to succeed even more.

Erika Kotite, owner of Kotite Media Group, is an independent editor and writer in Lambertville, New Jersey, who produces content for books, magazines and online publications. The former editor of Victorian Homes and Romantic Homes, her work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Romantic Country, Romantic Homes, San Francisco Business Times and Victorian Homes. She also co-produced two books for Sterling Publishing.

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