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Magic Moment

Veteran business owners share their entrepreneurial turning points.

At times, every entrepreneur feels like a phony. Everything is business as usual on the outside-but on the inside, you can't help but wonder "Am I the real thing? Could I wake up to find this has all disappeared?"

Then comes that moment. Something clicks. You get a huge order, garner some solid press coverage or carry off a successful public offering. That feeling of shakiness subsides. You realize you are, in spite of your hidden doubts, a success.

We asked some successful entrepreneurs to share their turning points. Some of these moments were as dramatic as a record stock market recovery. Some were as quiet as a look of satisfaction on a customer's face. Some were not moments at all but rather a gradual alignment of vision and reality.

It may come as a surprise to you that some of these big-shot business owners ever faced obstacles and battled with entrepreneurial insecurity before they experienced their big breakthroughs. Perhaps you'll detect some surprising similarities between their stories and yours . . . or encounter a foreshadowing of your great moment to come.

Sue Scott

Primal Lite Inc.

Novelty lights
Richmond, California
Founded: 1987
Start-up costs: $25,000
1997 estimated earnings: $5 million

"I don't think you ever get past the fear of it all going away. The business environment is too competitive and interdependent. As an entrepreneur, there is never a comfortable space. Each time you cross a hurdle, you prepare for the next. Only with my 10th anniversary in business have I felt a sense of foundation or position in the industry. Now that the stage is built, I am open to write more creative scripts and open up to different opportunities."

Bernard Howroyd

APPLEONE EMPLOYMENT SERVICES INC.

Job placement service
Glendale, California
Founded: 1964
Start-up costs: $3,500
1997 estimated earnings: $350 million

"As strange as it may sound, the realization that AppleOne would succeed first hit me when I had less than $5 left to my name.

"I started AppleOne with zero experience in the employment services industry, so it took me a little while to learn the ins and outs of the field. Everyone expected me to fail, and for a while it looked like that dour prediction would come true. But then I made my first placement and saw the look of relief and gratitude on the face of the woman for whom I had found a position. Watching the relief wash over her face, I made a vow to myself to accept total responsibility for my business.

"There are no bad businesses, only people who do business badly, and with that first success, I realized how important my company could be. The knowledge that my business could make a positive impact on the quality of someone's life empowered me to move forward, improvising when necessary to ensure success. Once I had a clear vision for AppleOne and saw how it could improve the lives of so many, success naturally followed. Centering my efforts around the needs of others has continued to be my guiding principle."

Kenneth Seiff

PIVOT RULES

Sportswear
New York City
Founded: 1991
Start-up costs: $5,000
1997 estimated earnings: $10 million plus

"It's a difficult task to point to a moment, a meeting or even a sale and say 'That's it; that marks the turning point in our business.' I started Pivot Rules in 1991 with a $5,000 investment. Last year, we grew the business more than 35 percent to more than $9 million in revenues. This year we successfully went public on Nasdaq. Even with the capital provided by the initial public offering and with what I think is the best team in the business, I try not to feel secure. I know if that happens, a company just like ours is going to come along and see that security as complacency and try to take us for everything we've got."

William Williams

GLORY FOODS INC.

Southern-style canned vegetables
Columbus, Ohio
Founded: 1989
Start-up costs: $20,000
1997 estimated earnings: $12 million

"Customer reaction was the turning point for Glory Foods. Our 1992 introductory launch in Atlanta in Kroger supermarkets and subsequent sample testing at Black Expo events around the country provided the positive feedback we needed from consumers to move forward. Consumer loyalty and interest has been, and continues to be, our strength."

Todd Holmes & Louis Amoroso II

BEER ACROSS AMERICA

Mail order beer-of-the-month club
Lake Bluff, Illinois
Founded: 1991
Start-up costs: $20,000
1997 estimated earnings: $30 million

Says Louis Amoroso (r.), "We were fortunate enough to have a segment that ran on the 'Today Show' during the 1993 holiday season.

"When I got home after a long day, they reran the piece on the 'NBC Nightly News,' and Tom Brokaw was talking about the future of American business with a still shot of our warehouse in the background. That's when I knew we were heading in the right direction."

Scott Adams

DILBERT COMIC STRIP, BOOKS, PRODUCTS

Danville, California
Syndicated: 1989
Start-up costs: $25
1997 estimated earnings: not available

"When The Wall Street Journal did a front-page story about Dilbert in 1994, the noise level moved from a low rumble to a boom. Suddenly it was news. The phone hasn't stopped ringing since."

Rachel Perry

RACHEL PERRY INC.

Natural skin care and makeup products
Chatsworth, California
Founded: 1976
Start-up costs: $1,200
1997 estimated earnings: $5 million

"A certain segment of people became diehard Rachel Perry fans and loved the products and packaging I had created. I then became aware that I had my own loyal niche market. I was very fortunate to enter an industry that was in the process of tremendous growth-that was the health-food industry. As the industry grew, my company, being a part of that industry, grew along with it. No one thing put me securely on the road to success. It was my own tenacity that kept the company going."

Vicki DeArmon

FOGHORN PRESS INC.

Outdoor recreation guidebook publisher
Petaluma, California
Founded: 1985
Start-up costs: $25,000
1997 estimated earnings: $1.5 million

"In our second year, when Foghorn was still getting a foothold in publishing and trying to decide just what we were in business to publish, I called Tom Stienstra, syndicated outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, about doing a camping book for our spring list. We met and together created the guidebook concept for California Camping. He later said he was persuaded to sign with us by the fire in my eyes and his belief that I would make it happen. Twelve years later, California Camping is now in its 10th edition, having sold 500,000 copies, and Tom Stienstra has seven guidebooks with us. That book and that author were the turning points. Now we are one of the premier outdoor recreation publishers in the country."

Kenneth Cole

KENNETH COLE PRODUCTIONS INC.

Footwear, accessories and men's clothing
New York City
Founded: 1982
Start-up costs: $200,000
1997 estimated earnings: $300 million

"When I realized the road to success was long and rocky and attempted by many-few barefoot."

Contact Sources

Scott Adams, ScottAdams@aol.com

Apple & Eve Inc., (516) 621-1122

AppleOne Employment Services Inc., (818) 240-8688

Beer Across America, (847) 604-8008

EarthLink Network Inc., (800) 395-8425, http://www.earthlink.net

Foghorn Press Inc., (707) 773-4260

Glory Foods Inc., http://www.gloryfoods.com

Kenneth Cole Productions, (212) 265-1500

Laracris Inc., (773) 445-8891

Pivot Rules, (212) 944-8000

Primal Lite Inc., (510) 234-1000

R.J. Groux Corp., (714) 557-5722

Rachel Perry Inc., (818) 886-0202

Staples Inc., (508) 370-8727

Zooth Inc., (940) 855-9035

Research compiled by Natasha Emmons and Connie Cousins

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Magic Moment.

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