Got ID?

Charlie Lazor, John Christakos & Maurice Blanks, all 37: Blu Dot

As frustrated consumers when it came to buying affordable designer furniture, Charlie Lazor, John Christakos and Maurice Blanks--three former college housemates--often discussed getting together to give consumers a stylish American alternative to expensive European designs. But nothing happened until 1996 when Christakos, having earned an MBA in 1993, decided to take $50,000 he'd saved and leave his consultant job to start Minneapolis-based Blu Dot. He eventually persuaded Lazor and Blanks to join him (by then, each had a master's in architecture), and the trio began to collaborate on designs via fax and during weekend retreats. Lazor and Blanks would fly to Minneapolis once a month, while Christakos worked on the business aspects of the company.

Blu Dot's first line debuted in 1997 at a trade show in New York City and was picked up immediately by retailers. "The blocking and tackling of the business is 80 percent of what we do; design is maybe 20 percent in the end," says Christakos. They've been successful at both, with their designs now available at retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel and Target, and have made their way onto shows like Friends, Saturday Night Live and Will & Grace. The company was recently selected as finalists for a National Design Award from the Smithsonian Institution's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum for extraordinary contributions to design. Sales are expected to exceed $3 million by the end of this year.

Success Secrets

What's been your biggest hurdle?
John Christakos: We outsource a lot of our manufacturing, so a big challenge was controlling the quality of what our vendors were producing for us. Our very first batch of product had 1,000 parts all with the holes drilled a quarter of an inch too close together. We're always watching out for things like that.

Did you ever imagine yourself as an entrepreneur?
Charlie Lazor: From my perspective as an architect, it's every architect's goal and dream to get out on their own and start and grow an office. When you get out of school, that's what you're always striving towards.

What's the best advice you ever received?
Christakos: I got some good advice when I was in graduate school from an entrepreneur who asked me what I wanted to do. He said: "You know you don't have to invent Velcro. Just pick something that you really love to do, and do it better than other people, or try to do it better than other people."

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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Got ID?.

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