Smart Ideas 12/04
Manufacturer of athletic headbands with a specially designed
Who: Vincent E. Norment, founder of DApparel Inc.
Where: Lincolnwood, Illinois
When: Started in early 2003
There's nothing like a headband soaked with sweat and falling into your eyes to get you off your game. At least that's what Vincent E. Norment thought as he watched a professional basketball game. He saw the players struggling with their athletic headbands and wondered if there was a better way.
Norment, 42, believed a thick strap across the top of the headband, made with the same superabsorbent material as the rest, would not only absorb more of an athlete's sweat, but also stay in place. With a background in sports-related products, he approached headband manufacturers to drum up interest. "They looked at the product and said it wouldn't work," he says. "I didn't let that stop me."
A patent search found nothing similar on the market, so Norment immediately patented his idea for DBands under his DApparel Inc. moniker. He'd been around the sports market long enough to know that the key to success with an athletic-themed product is to get it into the hands (or in this case, on the heads) of professional athletes, so Norment promoted DBands during the three-point shooting contest at the 2003 March Madness collegiate basketball playoffs. After asking athletes for their opinions, he persuaded one player to wear the headband on ESPN. Thanks to the exposure, Norment landed endorsements from professional players-Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers and Brad Miller of the Sacramento Kings, to name a few.
With the $9.99 to $14.99 product coming to sporting goods stores like The Athlete's Foot and Foot Locker in spring 2005, Norment expects to sell between 50,000 and 100,000 DBands by December 2005. His ultimate goal is to make the DApparel brand a household name-one head at a time.
Life in the Fast Lane
shop specializing in online sales
Who: Kathy Elliott of Virtual Auto Sales
When: Started in 2001
The perpetual drama of buying a good used car inspired Kathy Elliott to create an easier process. While shopping for a used car for herself in 2000, this aerobics instructor and personal trainer, frustrated with the dearth of choices in her local area, decided to look online for a car. Finding one in Chicago, a far trek from her Texas home, she bought the car sight unseen and flew there to pick it up, planning to drive it home. After finding that the car was not in the pristine shape she was promised, Elliott, 38, resolved to start her own, more accurate and efficient used-car shop.
Starting an online business made sense-it would allow Elliott to sell to customers nationwide and take advantage of the growing use of the internet for big-ticket purchases. Plus, she was sure many people simply didn't have the time to search countless lots to find that great, reliable car. "When I came up with the idea, finding a car online was a novelty," Elliott says. "It was just becoming popular."
Armed with her new passion, Elliott set about attending car auctions and learning the business of auto sales. Today, customers tell her the desired make, model, year, mileage and so on, and she hunts for a match in her national auction database. When she finds it, Elliott arranges for any repairs and ships the car to its new owner. Her customers, she notes, are happy with the ease of the process as well as the seven-day/700-mile guarantee on each car she sells-and with sales of close to $1 million expected for 2004, Elliott's pretty happy, too.
That's the Ticket!
peer-to-peer ticket marketplace
Who: Eric Baker and Jeff Fluhr of StubHub.com
Where: San Francisco
When: Started in 2000
There'd be no more scalping if Eric Baker, 31, and Jeff Fluhr, 30, got their way. These friends and business school alums founded StubHub.com to bring ticket buyers and sellers together for safe, reliable transactions. Tickets to a wide variety of events are available, and anybody can use the site to sell their tickets-from season-ticket holders to StubHub.com's partner network of sporting teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, performing artists, universities and more.
StubHub.com fills empty seats while collecting a healthy profit by charging a 10 percent transaction fee to buyers and a 15 percent fee to sellers. Selling tens of millions of dollars' worth of tickets annually, StubHub.com has even created a ticket donation system so average-Joe ticket sellers can donate the proceeds from sales to charity. "People have always been trying to resell tickets," says Baker. "When people [use StubHub.com], they say, 'This is so great. I didn't even know this was possible.' And once people use the service, they come back."
Find your seats: StubHub.com co-founder Eric Baker makes buying (or selling) tickets a snap for fans.
On a Shoestring
New-media technology firm that specializes in the entertainment
Who: Naveen Jain of Sparkart LLC
Where: Emeryville, California
When: started in 1999
How much: $5,000
Young music fans see the fruits of Naveen Jain's labor every day. Founder of Sparkart LLC, this 24-year-old entrepreneur creates websites and enhanced CDs-he has also created a solution to track how many times music is played and shared among peers. "We're helping record labels generate new revenue streams," says Jain, who has built websites for such well-known bands as Korn and Linkin Park, and done online promotion work for Eminem and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Revolutionizing an industry wasn't Jain's primary goal at startup-but getting a paying web design gig was, so he borrowed gas money from his family to meet with a local company looking for a web designer in 1999. This computer aficionado got the job and spent the initial $5,000 he earned to build his business.
Jain saved money in his early days by working out of a bedroom in his parents' home, using off-site independent contractors to help him complete the work. Being a virtual company meant zero overhead-he and his contractors even saved money on phone bills by using e-mail and IM to communicate. Sparkart moved into office space in 2001. Even then, it was shared space with another company, and Jain purchased the necessary hardware at a greatly reduced cost from eBay auctions.
It was this flexibility and make-it-happen mentality that helped Jain get into his musical niche. After seeing Linkin Park perform in their early days, Jain cold-called a band member's brother and sold his website-building services as a way for the band to communicate with fans. The strategy worked, and when Linkin Park exploded, so did Sparkart's business. Today, with labels like Epic Records and Maverick as clients, Jain expects 2004 sales to exceed $3 million.