When U.S. newspapers mentioned that Singapore would lift its ban on chewing gum at the start of 2004, most readers probably let it register for two seconds before moving on to the funnies.
But Art Baer thought "There has to be a market here." Baer, 26, knew if he was going to move beyond the daydreaming stage, he had to move fast. He had a background on Wall Street, but this was his first crack at becoming an entrepreneur-and in an foreign land, no less. Investing $20,000 of his own money into Impress Gum, Baer quit his job, flew to Singapore several times, talked to the right people in the government, lined up a manufacturer, and hired a marketing firm to promote his gum, which fights tooth decay.
Because Singapore wants residents to chew for medicinal purposes instead of for fun, Impress Gum is primarily sold in pharmacies, and residents who want to buy a pack must first sign paperwork at the pharmacies. By the end of the year, Santa Barbara, California-based Impress Gum will have brought in at least $350,000 in revenue.
If Baer had an edge over established gum manufacturers, it was his inexperience. "There were a lot of requirements on what ingredients the gum had to include, and no [existing] gum would have qualified," explains Baer, who gave his contract manufacturer an outline of the ingredients his gum would need-and got Impress Gum into stores six weeks before his biggest competitor, Wrigley's. Even now, Impress Gum has about 40 percent of Singapore's gum market.
Being thousands of miles away from his brand can make for a sticky situation, says Baer, "but I touch base with my sales and marketing firm through e-mail and phone." E-mail is easiest: "It's a 15-hour time difference from Singapore to California," he says. "I've had a lot of late-night phone calls."
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.