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Meet the Innovative Entrepreneurs Who Won Our Top Awards for 2013

Editor's note: Join us at Entrepreneur's annual Growth Conference on Jan. 22, 2014 in honoring the Entrepreneur of 2013 award winners and gain insight from their experiences as the leaders of growing businesses. Winners will be announced from each of three categories during the complimentary luncheon portion of the event. Attendance is free, but register now to save your spot.

There's nothing new about the products represented by the winners of Entrepreneur(R) magazine's Entrepreneur of 2013 Awards--camera lenses, wedding rings, baked goods--but what these innovators are doing with them is decidedly modern.

In creating his top-selling camera accessory, the olloclip, our Entrepreneur of 2013, Patrick O'Neill, hitched his star to arguably the world's most beloved device: Apple's iPhone. Emerging Entrepreneur winner Joshua Opperman developed an online market for discarded wedding rings from the lovelorn. And College Entrepreneur Nelly Garcia aims to take her successful cake-baking skills to the masses via internet workshops.

These three take our prizes for the year. From thousands of entries, Entrepreneur editor in chief Amy C. Cosper and vice president of marketing Lisa Murray, along with The UPS Store's vice president of marketing, Michelle Van Slyke, and PR manager Chelsea Lee, narrowed the field to 15 finalists. Then readers voted on their favorites at Entrepreneur.com. We hope you'll be as inspired by them as we are.

 

Entrepreneur of 2013: Patrick O'Neill

Entrepreneur of 2013: Patrick O'Neill
Photo (C) Ewan Burns
Patrick O'Neill
Entrepreneur of 2013

Patrick O'Neill

olloclip

Huntington Beach, CA
Founded: 2009
Employees: 45
Sales in 2012: $11 million

A New Focus

The olloclip amps up the iPhone camera

Patrick O'Neill, founder and CEO of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based olloclip, has two great passions: photography and technology.

An entrepreneur for more than two decades, he got into the mobile-accessories business in 2000. At the time, he was designing products for other companies, but his idea for an iPhone camera lens was already bubbling up. "I thought, wouldn't it be cool to put camera lenses on the phone like we do with our big cameras? The problem was," he recalls, "how do you elegantly mount it?"

Patrick O'Neill
Patrick O'Neill

His solution: attach lenses on either side of a small plastic sleeve that could be slipped over the iPhone's camera lens. "I felt more strongly about this than anything I've ever done in my life," O'Neill says. "I put everything into it. I put my whole house on the line."

Using his own money, he brought on his director of design, Chong Pak, and a marketing expert. Though O'Neill "knew basically how it would work," the team spent the next year creating hundreds of prototypes using a 3-D printer.

"Just OK" wouldn't do. There would be no moving ahead with production until the three-in-one olloclip--featuring fish-eye, wide-angle and macro lenses--was just right. The final lens set weighs less than an ounce and fits in a pocket.O'Neill says he never thought much about the company's growth potential. "I knew there were other people as crazy about photography as I was, and with the iPhone 4, the camera was amazing compared to any smartphone that had come before. That combination of factors--this was the right time for this," he says.

A Kickstarter campaign seeking $15,000 brought in more than $68,000, enabling him to ship his first product in 2011. Growth came quickly. The company, which started out of O'Neill's house, now has about 50 employees. Revenue was $11 million in 2012 and projected at $20 million for 2013.

The company has more than 30 distributors throughout the world, and its products are sold in chains such as Best Buy and Target. Late last year, it introduced an update to the original olloclip--a sleeker unit with four lenses--as well as products for the chunkier iPhone 5c and a macro-focused lens set.

But the biggest coup has been getting olloclip stocked in Apple stores. "When we were developing this product, we said the best place we could be is in the Apple store," recalls O'Neill, who sent the company's merchandising team samples, telling them to "play with them over the weekend." O'Neill says he "believed in this product from the beginning. I knew they would love it."

And they did. Shortly before the iPhone 4s was announced, the merchandisers' review came in: "Wow, that's amazing."

"In the big Apple stores, we're on 10 pegs right now, and we've been there for two years," says O'Neill, who won't reveal what percentage of revenue comes from the retailer. "It's hard to stay in there. Apple is the pinnacle. If you can get in there and stay in there, you're doing a lot of things right."

Patrick O'NeillName three personality traits that have helped you become a successful entrepreneur.
Belief in myself. Curiosity. Persistence.

What kinds of people do you surround yourself with at your company?
Funny people and intelligent people, in that order.

Do you consider yourself a risk-taker?
Yes--double down and go for it.

What are your hobbies?
Taking pictures for fun. Travel. Racecar driving.

Are you a list-maker or a make-it-up-as-you-go type?
Make-it-up-as-you-go type. My mind is always going a hundred miles an hour. I would spin off into space without my solid team behind me.

How do you deal with people who disappoint you in business?
Off with their heads. All kidding aside, I'm not unreasonable. It's not a perfect world, and shit happens. But if someone betrays me or my family/company, I have to cut them off.

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Jenna Schnuer writes (mostly) about business and travel and is a contributing editor for Entrepreneur.

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This article was originally published in the January 2014 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Making It Big.

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