Description: Antique violin restoration and sales
Founder: Richard, 46
Location: Long Island, New York
2004 projected sales: $100,000
eBay user ID: richietman
Richard appreciates anonymity. When he used to sell antique violins in New York City, people would come to his house, and while "most of them were nice, some of them made me feel uncomfortable," says Richard. "One guy didn't seem to have taken a bath. And another was actually drawing flies. That was a little disconcerting. But eBay keeps you away from that."
Richard has requested that his last name not be published, and he has reasons for wanting his privacy. For one thing, although he cheerfully obliged to be in a photo shoot, he doesn't feel like shouting from the rooftops to the entire literate world that, hey, Richard So-and-So has an incurable brain tumor.
After his diagnosis in 1995, Richard went under the knife and kept his career as an attorney for five years. But when the tumor returned and he had to undergo radiation treatment, Richard knew he had to leave the law profession. "If you know anything about brain tumors, the radiation really knocks the crap out of you," he says.
For about eight months, Richard was in a self-described La-La Land, but by 2001 and 2002, he had more energy and focus--despite the tumor being very much active. His wife has a comfortable career on Wall Street, so Richard didn't feel forced to start a business. But he had been restoring and selling violins for years, and had even sold a few on eBay. So he decided to turn violins into a full-fledged business.
He typically ships seven or eight violins per month, which can sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars each. The rest of the time, he's searching for violins that need a little or a lot of TLC. Some violins Richard gives away if they aren't worth restoring but are too good for the trash bin. For instance, earlier this year, he sent one to a school in Beijing.
Restoring violins is a for-profit business, but it's also a mission and a lifestyle. Richard's workday usually begins at 9 a.m. after dropping his son off at school, and it ends after picking him up. His 7-year-old son, Kevin, has autism and needs a lot of special attention. "He's really my primary focus," says Richard. "My entire day revolves around him."
That's why eBay has been a good fit--it suits a variety of lifestyles. "If you have a particular interest in an area, and if you have an expertise, you can either make money or enjoy the [trade-offs], like spending more time with your son. And you learn new things and find new interests. It can be very exciting."
And for as long as he is able, Richard plans to keep learning and enjoying his dual roles as entrepreneur and Mr. Mom.
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.