What: Comfort fleece
blankets, bears, chocolates and other novelty gifts
Who: David Avalos of INsecurity Blanket
Where: Burbank, California
When: Started in 2001
Adults need security blankets, too--just ask David Avalos, the 46-year-old designer of the INsecurity Blanket, a snuggly fleece blanket created to help people take a lighthearted approach when facing their insecurities.
The idea struck when he noticed how much comfort a blanket gave his 3-year-old son. Avalos suddenly started wishing he had something as simple as a blanket to comfort him whenever he hit rough times.
With no experience in the manufacturing industry, the former TV executive and current co-owner of a TV production company decided to design a full line of novelty gifts such as blankets, pillows, bears and chocolates (sold for $24.95, $14.95, $11.95 and $5.95, respectively). Before long, Avalos was attending gift shows across the country, and his products were an instant hit. The line is now available in 175 gift and pet stores (a pet blanket was released last year), as well as in two mail-order catalogs and on the company's Web site (www.insecurityblanket.com). The products have also been popular at hospital gift shops.
"I've found my passion, and that's just creating my own path," says Avalos. By putting the marketing skills he learned in the TV industry to use in his new business, he managed to generate national press coverage in Parenting magazine and on The Rosie O'Donnell Show and Extra. In addition, INsecurity was featured on About.com.
Now that sales for 2003 are projected to hit $60,000, Avalos has set his sights on developing new products, including INsecurity slippers, nightlights, pajamas and even a book.
What: Restaurant and retail
facilities management services
Who: Mark Bucher of Fixx Services Inc.
Where: Bethesda, Maryland
When: Started in 1999
Mark Bucher takes the headache out of handling the kind of maintenance nightmares that restaurants and retail stores routinely face. In fact, years of firsthand experience with managing such properties inspired him to launch Fixx Services, a company that offers facility management services.
Now businesses that have maintenance problems can call Fixx to get help 24/7; third-party plumbers and other professionals are sent to the site by Fixx representatives. "[Customers] want one number to call if their oven breaks or if someone throws a brick through their front window," explains Bucher, 34.
Customers receive 40 percent off repair prices once they pay a one-time membership fee in addition to monthly fees based on their volume of calls. Vendors are willing to offer the discount because they get more business from Fixx's referrals.
Self-funded and homebased until last year, Fixx Services now has 12 employees in Bethesda and currently does business nationwide, thanks to word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied customers. Bucher expects sales for 2003 to reach $10 million.
In Good Company
What: Roommate service for
Who: Carmel Sullivan of Co-abode.com
Where: Santa Monica, California
When: Started in 2000
In an effort to temper the isolation she felt after her divorce, Carmel Sullivan decided to find a roommate--preferably a single mother like herself--to share her home. But after realizing no services existed to help with her search, she placed her own ads, personally conducted interviews and eventually found her perfect match.
Realizing that the women she'd interviewed--but hadn't chosen--might find compatible roommates in each other, Sullivan decided to get them in touch with each other. The women were extremely grateful for the help, prompting Sullivan to make a business of helping single mothers. "It's really an idea [whose] time has come," says Sullivan, 45, who notes there are a staggering 14 million single mothers living in the United States, many of whom are struggling financially as well as emotionally.
With the help of a friend in addition to $20,000 from an angel investor, Sullivan created a Web site that features member profiles of those looking for roommates, offers resources for single mothers and provides a "Circle of Friends" page that mothers can visit to get some support. Today, 4,800 users nationwide pay $30 per year for membership. Sullivan projects 2003 sales to quadruple 2002's $30,000.
Now that Co-abode.com has found some success--the business has been featured on CBS News, Good Morning America and Inside Edition--Sullivan has received countless funding offers. She hopes one day to create a nonprofit arm of the business to provide the first and last month's rent (in the form of a microloan) to women who are in dire need of relocation assistance once they have found their new roommates online.
On a Shoestring
What: An Internet privacy
Who: Jon Oringer of SurfSecret Software
Where: New York City
When: Started in 1997
Start-Up Cost: $0
When Jon Oringer decided to use his computer know-how to start a company and create his own Internet privacy software, he became completely self-sufficient, although mom and dad were there to support him all the way.
Oringer, who lived with his parents while attending graduate school for computer science, already owned a computer. Fortunately, Oringer had been "programming forever," so in the comfort of his own room, he created a Web site and wrote his own ordering system, thus conveniently eliminating the costs of hiring a Web developer and purchasing shopping software. The Web server space cost $100 per month, which Oringer paid for himself during the first two months. By the company's third month in business, however, his revenue stream easily covered those expenses.
Because he was a full-time student sharing a roof with his parents, Oringer, 28, had the luxury of paid utility bills. Now working out of his own apartment in New York City, he employs four off-site programmers but still codes everything himself and automates as much as possible, thereby keeping his costs extremely low.
His first product, SurfSecret, has been licensed to many public libraries and was soon followed by PopupEliminator in 2001. Oringer is currently working on spam-elimination and firewall software, and expects sales to reach $700,000 for 2003.