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Never Fear

On the verge of starting your own business, but too chicken to step off the edge? If these entrepreneurs could take the plunge during uncertain times and still succeed, imagine how well you can do in today's brighter economy.

Starting a business is a lot like jumping onto a fast-moving merry-go-round: It looks a little crazy to anybody watching, and it's almost guaranteed that you're going to stumble as you jump on. But you're also bound to have a lot of fun, and as long as you dig in your heels and are determined to hang on, you're likely to enjoy the ride.

If you feel a little scared at the idea of starting a business, take heart from the stories that follow. If these entrepreneurs could start businesses in 2003-when the economy was seemingly going nowhere but down-surely you, too, can find success today.

Laura Osborne, 26, and Sheila Dardashti, 25

Business:Treesje, a handbag business in Beverly Hills, California. The purses are sold to boutiques and have attracted celebrity fans including Liv Tyler, Kate Winslet and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Founded: May 2003
Start-Up Costs: $20,000 from their savings from previous jobs. And they continually reinvest in their company.
Revenue So Far: About $75,000
Employees: None

Osborne and Dardashti's Background: They both studied at the University of San Diego. Osborne dove into business and got her M.B.A.; Dardashti was in fine arts. They knew of each other but were not well acquainted until they met as bridesmaids at a wedding and started talking. Soon afterward, Dardashti began designing the handbags, while Osborne started marketing them. Today, they both contribute a bit of everything to the business.

Osborne's Top Three Tips for Start-Ups:
1. Love what you do. Whether the economy is good or bad, says Osborne, "you need to have passion. If you want to start a business just to make money, that's fine, but the money isn't going to keep you going. It's not going to cause you to wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas for the business. And if you're passionate about your business, you're going to swallow rejection much [more easily]."

2. Keep the quality of your product at its highest level possible. "Keeping a customer in a down economy is crucial. We've got to keep that customer for life, because there aren't a lot out there," says Osborne. "Their dollars are hard-earned, and they don't have a lot of money to place elsewhere. And we make it clear that if somehow the quality is lacking, we'll do whatever it takes to make it up to that customer."

3. Save money wherever you can, and concentrate on keeping the cash flow flowing. Says Osborne, "Penny-pinching has really helped us."

Dardashti's Final Two Cents: "Every day is so different than the next, which was initially frustrating and discouraging. But the daily volatility has taught me to stay focused on the light at the end of the tunnel."

Yana Drogobetsky, 25

Business:Bambini Design, a Brookline, Massachusetts, retail store offering European furniture, clothing and accessories for babies and young children
Founded: May 2003
Start-Up Costs: Around $70,000. Some was a loan from Drogobetsky's parents, but more than 60 percent of it was from savings she'd been socking away for a couple of years.
Revenue So Far: More than $100,000
Employees: One full-time employee

Drogobetsky's Background: During college, while earning a degree in early childhood education, Drogobetsky worked as a night nurse, caring for twins and triplets. She also spent a year as a kindergarten teacher before realizing that what she really wanted to do was own her own business.

Drogobetsky's Top Three Tips for Start-Ups:
1. Know your market. Drogobetsky did consider the risks of selling high-quality furniture in a low-quality economy. But she also believes that "no matter how the economy is doing, kids are always being born, and kids always come first in families."

2. Dare to be different-very different. "I have bright colors, furniture that changes as the child gets older, and exclusive lines that you can't get anywhere else in the United States," says Drogobetsky. "There's so much competition out there that you really need to stand out and be different, because clients do have a choice."

3. Understand your customers; they're tough to come by. When you meet them, be prepared to explain why you're their best option. Says Drogobetsky, "I know how to present my product to the parents [so] it almost seems like an investment."

Drogobetsky's Final Two Cents: "You have to be willing to take risks in business, but risks that you can validate for yourself."

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the February 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Never Fear.

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