The Real Deal

What's it really like to be embezzled, expand internationally, or sell your product to Target? Get the inside scoop from these entrepreneurs on the ultimate highs (and lows) of business ownership.

Admit it--you're curious. Like the irresistible urge to gawk at tabloid TV or read a gossipy celebrity story in People magazine, you can't get enough intimate details of what other people have gone through. As an entrepreneur, you've wondered, What would it be like to expand internationally or surpass your competition? You've dreamed about fighting back against government regulation or seeing your product appear on the Today show. And though you have no desire to experience it, you want to know how an entrepreneur survived an embezzlement scandal that cost him over $250,000. You even want to learn the heartbreaking details of the small-business owner who failed, but then dusted himself off and built another business.

Face it, you want to hear how other entrepreneurs have weathered storms, overcome obstacles or surpassed all expectations to catapult their businesses to the next level. Read on to share some once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

What It's Really Like to... Get a Product Into Target
"You can't get a better feeling than when you get your first customer," says Joe Heron, 43, CEO of the Minneapolis-based Ardea Beverage Co., which manufactures airforce NutriSoda, a healthy soda pop packed with amino acids and B vitamins and lacking the usual ingredients like sugar, aspartame, sodium and caffeine. In Heron's case, the feeling he had after landing his first customer was pure euphoria-because his first client was Target.

Heron had his eye on Target early on. He found a qualified and well-connected food broker, FMN Moscoe, which started negotiations with Target in May 2003, just months after Heron started his business. In April 2004, Target agreed to a slow roll-out, selling the sodas in 100 stores around the country. Today, they're in 365 stores and counting.

During negotiations, Heron attended meetings, filled out countless forms, found and bought product insurance, and built an infrastructure so that if Target said yes, Ardea could accommodate the retail giant. "To get into that scale of a company, the elation is so high because it means you can conquer anything," says Heron, whose sodas are also sold in specialty stores and 21 airports and are expected to capture over $3 million in sales in 2005. "There's nothing more exciting than watching somebody go to a shelf and buy your product."

So Heron really went into stores and waited around to see a customer pick up his soda? "I still do."--Geoff Williams

... Lose a Business Partner
When a business partner dies, it can be as devastating as losing a family member. It's doubly painful when your partner is a family member.

Kirsten Judd was 33 when her husband, Dr. Richard Irons, died in 2002 at age 52. On Valentine's Day of 2000, they had founded their for-profit professional association, Professional Renewal Center, which offers behavioral health services and consultations for professionals trying to conquer work-related challenges such as career burnout, substance abuse and sexual misconduct. They also created PRC Management Co. LLC, which provided the management and operations to the clinic. Irons worked on all things medical, while Judd took care of management.

When Irons died unexpectedly, Judd had little time to grieve. She had two young sons and 10 employees depending on her. But burying herself in her work was difficult because, as Judd recalls, "There was a definite void in the organization, and in looking back at the stages of what an organization goes through in response to a disaster or a major trauma like a death, it's very similar to the stages of grief that a person goes through."

Still, Judd did lose herself in her work, trying to keep things together and finding a new clinical director, Dr. Scott Stacy, to replace her husband. "I had a job to do, and what that did was prolong my reaction or grief, while I quote-unquote 'crashed,'" says Judd. "It was probably a year after he passed away before I realized I also needed to start taking care of myself."

Judd's company lost revenue for a while, but in 2005 it's projected to bring in $1.25 million, the same level reached the year Irons died. "We're at a stage now of an acceptance of change and a realization that a fusion has taken place," says Judd. "I use the term 'fusion' for a reason. If a fracture heals properly, that point of fusion is even stronger than the rest of the bone."--G.W.

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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.

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This article was originally published in the September 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Real Deal.

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