Jeff Musa used to lie awake at night, worried that his Dallas business, Cutting Edge Software Inc., would eventually go the way of the dodo, the passenger pigeon and the Rubik's Cube. His company's success was based on just one product, Quickoffice, an office-style productivity suite that turns handheld organizers into something like extensions of computers.
What are Musa's markets? The Palm organizer, the Visor, Microsoft Word and Excel. These are large, specific markets, and any of them, at any time, could have decided to create software for handheld organizers. In 1996, when Musa had his epiphany, he would "call 3Com [the owner of the Palm Pilot organizers] every quarter and ask, 'Are you doing that spreadsheet yet? Are you doing that spreadsheet yet?'"
They weren't, and they didn't discourage Musa, 34, from creating one. But if they had, Cutting Edge Software might still be just a computer software computing firm, and it's possible Musa would still be earning $22,000 per year.
At the same time, Musa was building and refining his product-one that at first only enhanced the Palm organizing experience-at a time when he didn't know whether Palm's success would continue. "I spent many, many nights lying awake," Musa repeats, "and not just because of all the caffeinated coffee I drank."
Things are different these days. Musa's firm has five full-time employees and a revenue of "better than a couple million-for competitive reasons, I can't say any more," and his company should double that figure this year.
But not every enterprise will sit idly by and allow an entrepreneur to enhance its products. Ty contacted Sobolewski more than two years ago and told her she would have to have official consent from the toy-makers to put out a magazine promoting their Beanie Babies, which meant she had to pay them a big fee to do so.
And what would happen if Microsoft or 3Com started their own Web sites with spreadsheets that would work with hand-held devices? "Well," Musa says, "since we're the category leaders [with] the best product out there and thousands of hours invested in it, and we're a brand name that people know and have heard of-hopefully they would entertain an offer to purchase us rather than go and do it on their own."
It sounds like the aftermarket arena can be somewhat nerve-racking, but Musa doesn't think so. "There are a huge number of advantages to being an aftermarket, especially as an entrepreneurial company. It's difficult, time-consuming and just all-in-all risky to try to build something completely new and unique and make it work.
"The aftermarket is interesting," continues Musa, "because you have a product that you're aligned with, and yet you can be successful in your own right."
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Geoff Williams is a frequent writer for Entrepreneur and a reporter for The Cincinnati Post.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.