Start-Up: $166 in 1993
Sales: 2003 projected sales nearly $5 million
Swell Idea: Ken started his career in emergency services as a lifeguard in Carlsbad, California. The ill-fitting and faded trunks the lifeguards wore prompted him and then-girlfriend Jennifer to buy $166 worth of fabric and make 30 pairs of trunks. When the trunks quickly sold to Ken's co-workers, the couple knew their big wave had arrived.
Swim Meet: Free samples won over lifeguard agencies that ultimately switched when larger companies didn't deliver on time. Now the leading provider of trunks to professional lifeguard agencies as well as the Coast Guard, Ken contends: "[When] you're competing against the big boys like Nike or Speedo, the only way we could win is if we had awesome customer service and were a lot of fun to deal with. We did, and we won." Thousand Mile has since added a complete line of mail order outdoor wear.
Lifesaver: The thrill of saving lives pulled Ken back into the tide five years ago. "I wanted this company to grow, but there's nothing more rewarding than a surf rescue." Ken now commutes by plane to Half Moon Bay, California, two days a week, where he's a firefighter/paramedic for the Fire Protection District and teaches its surf rescue program. "I can come back to the business and see things [from a different perspective], see what's working and what's not."