Company description: Manufacturer of specialty makeup and body creams
Founders: Christina Bartolucci, 39, and Laura DeLuisa, 37
Location: Glendale, California
Projected 2004 sales: $5 million
Behind the Scenes: Cristina Bartolucci and Laura DeLuisa met and found their inspiration in the trenches, doing makeup and hair on movie sets. "An actress would come in [with puffy eyes] in the morning and have to look perfect at 7 a.m.," says Bartolucci. "We would pack [her] eyes with gauze soaked with ice water, which was uncomfortable and messy." To solve the problem, the pair invented their first product, I gels, in 1999. Today, signature products like Lip Venom lip gloss and Revolotion body makeup are popular with fans including Jennifer Aniston and Kelly Ripa.
Loose Lips: "When [we] first started the company, I was doing graphics in a copy store, and this kid came up to me and said, 'DuWop? What a great name. Is it registered?' I said, 'I don't think so,' and he said, 'Let me register it for you,'" says Bartolucci. "In front of me, in the store, he went online and registered, and stole our name. It took us three years and a lawsuit to get it back. So now, no matter how excited I am, I take a deep breath and think 'Is silence the best response here?'"
Rein It In: After distribution of DuWop products exploded thanks to a zealous sales rep, Bartolucci and DeLuisa realized they didn't want to be a mass-market brand. They scaled back distribution and now offer their products in specialty boutiques, such as Henri Bendel and Fred Segal, as well as upscale retailers Nordstrom and Sephora. The pair hopes the new strategy, combined with a full line of products now in development, will take DuWop to more than $10 million in sales in the next three years. -Nichole L. Torres
Company description: Internet-based adventure travel company specializing in expedition travel
Founders: Ashton Palmer, 32, and Kristy Royce, 35
Projected 2004 sales: $6 million
No Fear: Driving snowmobiles in Antarctica, working at jungle camps in the Amazon, camping in the Australian Outback-as former expedition leaders on cruise ships, Ashton Palmer and Kristy Royce had done it all. But in 1999, this husband-and-wife team set out on a new adventure: starting their own travel agency. With no previous business experience, the couple, who first met at a youth hostel in Australia, faced the challenge head on. "Our whole lives up until that point had been filled with risk," says Royce. "So for us, this wasn't too risky."
Perfect Niche: Palmer and Royce stand out from other travel companies by specializing in trips on small cruise ships to remote locations where the highlight is the destination, not the amenities onboard.
Teamwork: A $200,000 investment from a family member more than covered the couple's $100,000 startup costs. However, because the money was doled out in increments, they were forced to work nights at restaurants and forgo salaries for the first year and a half. The rough roads have only strengthened the pair. Says Palmer, "Together, we were able to create something that neither one of us could have done individually."
All Work and Some Play: Once or twice a year, Palmer, Royce and their staff of six get out and experience the trips themselves. "It's important to remember how amazing these trips are," says Royce. "You forget after a year or so, so you've got to go out in the field." -Sara Wilson
Company description: Interactive promotion agency
Founder: Josh Linkner, 34
Location: Farmington Hills, Michigan
Projected 2004 sales: $15.5 million plus
Get Up and Go: From an initially self-funded startup in 1999, ePrize has blossomed into the world's top interactive promotion agency. The company helps bridge the gap between the offline and online worlds by turning anonymous consumers into permission-based customers, with the lure of fun, interactive web promotions.
Dotcom Crash Course: Whenever you come across a company so strongly connected to the internet, you have to ask how they survived the dark days of the dotcom crash. Josh Linkner saw it coming in mid-2000 and began to shift away from serving the venture-backed (and soon to be extinct) dotcoms that made up most of ePrize's client list. "We had to adapt our complete strategy and company to service the large brands that would be around to pay the bills," explains Linkner.
The Campaign Trail: With more than 900 completed advertising campaigns and a client list that reads like a who's who of large U.S. corporations, ePrize is miles beyond its nearest competitor. The company signed on 17 new major brand accounts, including Circuit City and FedEx, in the first quarter of 2004 alone.
All That Jazz: One word you'll hear a lot from Linkner is creativity. His background as a jazz guitarist, pianist and singer has helped him bring an artistic attitude to his business. "Jazz is [about] a very improvisational, creative-type of environment," he says. "I look at what we're doing as a company much the same way. Instead of notes, you're working with people and technology."
The Future's So Bright: A spirit of innovation and evolution is driving ePrize toward its next goal: $30 million in sales by 2007. But it's not all about the bottom line at this company. Top-notch customer service and quality employees are two principal areas that spark ePrize's engine. Says Linkner, "Some day, a company will come along and put us out of business, so it might as well be us." -Amanda C. Kooser