The Entrepreneurs: Keith and André West-Harrison, 33 and 38, respectively, co-founders of Olde Victorian Inn, a bed-and-breakfast; Miss Celie's Spa Orleans, a day spa; and VooBrew Coffee & Tea, a coffeehouse
Location: New Orleans
Founded: March 2003
Startup costs: $17,000 from personal savings and three IRAs
Employees: Roughly 20, mostly contract employees
Projected sales for 2005: Over $500,000
How they got started: Keith and André have actually owned the Olde Victorian Inn since the mid-'90s, but it was in March 2003 that they went from small-business owners to true entrepreneurs. When they started the Olde Victorian Inn, they fancied themselves retired country gentlemen and were able to lead lives of relative leisure while keeping their B&B going without much serious effort. Then 9/11 happened, and the tourism industry was thrown into a blender.
As they found themselves one, then two and finally three months behind on their mortgage, Keith and André quickly realized they needed to do something drastic to keep their business afloat. Using every square foot of extra space in their B&B, they opened a day spa in March 2003--and what's more, they realized they were really enjoying themselves.
Almost a year later and just as The Startup began, the pair added VooBrew Coffee & Tea just a block away. In the course of the last 12 months, they've begun offering consulting services to other B&Bs on how to improve their marketing, and they've also been looking into licensing their day-spa and coffeehouse logos and products to other like-minded businesses.
How the company evolved during The Startup: In the beginning, especially on the surface, Keith and André appeared to be nonchalant entrepreneurs, men moving forward without a plan. The main reason they gave for opening their coffeehouse: There wasn't a cool enough coffee-house around for them, so they started their own. But even if they didn't let on, the pair knew what they were doing--soon, their coffee-house menus were promoting their two other businesses, and likewise, at the B&B and day spa, the staff was talking up the coffeehouse.
Extremely media-savvy, Keith was also quick to recognize the possibilities that would open up to them by having AOL continually spotlighting their businesses. Keith can't put a dollar figure on the exposure, but it has certainly helped them with networking. "It put us in contact with people who wanted to further our cause, whether it be with people hoping to help promote our products or just keeping us in their prayers," says Keith. "It's been like a pipeline into the world market."
What's next? Predicts Keith, "We'll get a couple of book deals out of this."
The Entrepreneurs: Steve and Jeanne Beckley, 42 and 44, respectively, co-founders of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, a mountain-region theme park offering cave tours, sky-tram rides, hiking trails and an upscale restaurant
Location: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Founded: April 2003
Startup costs: $5 million from a bank loan
Employees: 165 during the summer; 40 during the winter
Projected sales for 2005: More than $4 million
How they got started: For a decade, Steve, an avid spelunker, had been trying to persuade a mountain man to sell him some land with some millennia-old caves on it. In 1999, the man finally relented, and Steve and Jeanne quit their jobs--he owned an unsuccessful oil-production company; she was working in a corporate job--and moved from Denver to Glenwood Springs. They immediately started a small cave-touring business, driving people up the mountain in a van and guiding them through the caverns. But it wasn't until April 2003 that Steve and Jeanne transformed their independent operation into something quite different: an evolving, growing theme park that revolves around their cave tours. Now, a tram carries passengers up the mountain. From there, visitors can tour the caves, hike scenic trails, dine in the restaurant or purchase knickknacks at the gift shop.
How the company evolved during The Startup: The Beckleys' year on The Startup was actually their second year as a full-fledged theme park, and in many ways, their growing pains were over. During that first year, they were hammered by crowds that had to wait hours in line, and they had a restaurant where the food ranged from mediocre to inedible. (Occasionally, hot dogs were delivered to customers--still frozen.) And one day the power went out, stranding their banker, who was en route to the park, on a stuck tram.
During their second year of business, the Beckleys were trying to live down their reputation, and generally, they succeeded, mastering the art of crowd flow and revamping their restaurant to offer classy, yet family-friendly, fare. Customers raved, and Steve was able to persuade the city to let him continue his expansion plans.
But for all the good news, everything wasn't perfect. They had a streaker dart through the crowds one summer day, and a lightning storm once took out the power, shutting off the electric lights strategically placed throughout the caves and leaving one tour in the dark.
What's next? Steve and Jeanne have been working on a detailed plan that involves installing everything from rides--like an Alpine coaster--to an amphitheater, where they'll be able to have concerts. The cave tours are fascinating and an excellent reason to visit, but the Beckleys recognize that to get the public to return, the park needs to grow.
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.