What: Printer cartridge
Who: Paul Sowinski of Top-Notch Computer Supplies Inc.
Where: Sterling Heights, Michigan
When: Started in 1998
How much: $5,000
When Paul Sowinski got hooked on attending computer shows in high school, his dream of becoming an entrepreneur arrived in the form of toner cartridges. Self-help books like Brian Tracy's Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills That Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed (Fireside) and a loan from his parents sent the 18-year-old on his way.
Working out of his home, Sowinski bought two computers, phone lines and inventory. His inkjet and laser toner cartridge company, Top-Notch Computer Supplies, was profitable from the start-and the teen entrepreneur was suddenly flush with cash. "My friends always had money because their parents gave it to them," says Sowinski, who made $40,000 his first year in business, doubling it the next year. "When I started making money, I was like 'Ohmigod.'"
Initially indulging personally and professionally on frivolous items, Sowinski, now 23, has since reformed his spending habits. "There was a lot of waste that I overlooked," he says. "I feel like I matured a lot." Eliminating three cell phones and changing his business phone carrier cut expenses, as did breaking down the daily cost of each potential purchase. "Now I look at everything as a potential profit or not," says Sowinski, who estimates 2003 sales of $500,000.
With Sowinski's vision of a million-dollar company on track,
his new goal of $100 million is plausible given his passion for
business and lean operations. "I wanted to learn by
error," he says. "I've made all the errors you can
make. When [I] cut costs, that's money in my pocket. Every
dollar counts now."