Starting a company with nothing can be more intimidating than starting a company with millions. Fabrice Penot, the subject of this month's cover story, knows that better than anyone.
"If someone had given us $2 million to create Le Lebo, we would have spent it," he says. Penot really did start with pretty damn close to nothing: He built Le Labo, his perfume label, with little more than an idea and a lot of passion. Penot left the world of high-end retail perfume (bye-bye, Armani) to launch his own fragrance line with $30,000 in outside funding--an investment funded by a corporate bonus, a hocked car and a chorus of slammed doors.
Penot's dream of starting a perfume business was fueled by the same elements that have driven many aspiring entrepreneurs: corporate fatigue and a dream. After leaving the well-heeled, well-scented halls of Armani, Penot and his business partner, Eddie Roschi, launched their scent with a singular focus of creating product, not overhead. In a competitive $25 billion-a-year perfume industry, the two hit their stride taking on the rarefied airs--and rarefied marketing machines--of Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and myriad elite brands. But somehow Penot's unique product struck a chord with buyers, and in an economic market that largely frowned on luxury products, the $200-a-bottle label found its groove.
The duo's lack of debt and lack of fear gave them the opportunity to focus on profit and product. Penot calls his company "too small to fail." The company now has four standalone boutiques worldwide, and employees are equipped with laptops that allow them to work remotely. Fail, they did not.
How did they do it in the face of a recession and a seemingly endless series of bankers and VCs laughing at the very idea? They bootstrapped it--and like so many wily 'treps, they made smart decisions but never lost focus on the end product and the buyer.
Starting your dream company can be intimidating, especially if you have nothing. But it's infinitely doable with a few crafty moves, some sweat equity and a clear vision.
Figure out intelligent ways to bootstrap, no matter what your business is (see our list of start-for-nothing resources). In a market that saw a 47 percent decline in VC funding and lending last year, figuring out where to save and how to bootstrap can mean the difference between the sweet smell of success and the bitter whiff of defeat.
Amy C. Cosper
Follow me on Twitter, @EntMagazineAmy