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Out of the Ashes

This company faced sure disaster--but came out shining.

Things were looking bright for Michael Feldman and Jonathan Mafrice in the early days of their start-up, Pyramat LLC, in Los Angeles. Founded in 2000, their company designs and manufactures an innovative floor mat that folds into a chair for video game players. As avid gamers and recent college students, they knew there was a market for such an item. Says Feldman, "We were able to isolate a need."

By February 2001, the business was humming along nicely. Feldman and Mafrice, both 27, were manufacturing the Pyramat signature item and selling their wares at industry trade shows. They'd also just received their first significant purchase order from a big-name store, Bed Bath & Beyond.

Then disaster struck. The warehouse where they'd been storing their inventory caught fire. They lost $100,000 worth of their product--and were due to deliver to Bed Bath & Beyond in three weeks. "We sat there with our heads in our hands, laughing for a couple of minutes because it was so strange," recalls Feldman. "Once we got past having no idea what one does in a situation like that, we said, 'We're in the mud,' and we knew we needed to get out and get clean. We got right to work."

They started with their insurance claim. Then it was time to do some serious reorganizing. "We had to be creative," recalls Feldman. "We had to convince our suppliers to send us terms; we had to work with factory agents to speed up the payment terms on the other end; and we had to beg, steal and borrow from friends and family to tie the two together." In the end, they were able to fill the big Bed Bath & Beyond order--thanks to a two-month extension they'd negotiated.

Two years later, that creativity in the face of adversity has propelled Feldman and Mafrice to major success. Not only is Pyramat projecting $9 million in sales for 2003, but their latest creation, a mat with built-in speakers, won top industry honors at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Today, Pyramat products can be found in large retailers like CompUSA, Fry's and Kohl's and on Amazon.com.

Feldman hasn't forgotten the road it took to get where they are today. "You have a plan, you have a vision, you know where you're going, and you know how to get there," he says. "There are so many things that happen along the way that are out of your control. This was just one of those episodes for us."

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Out of the Ashes.

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