On The Rise
The best part about starting small is that there's no limit to how far you can go. These entrepreneurs launched their businesses with less than $1,000, but now they're making millions--and so can you.
Rags-to-riches entrepreneurs don't usually brag about crashing on a friend's couch and eating cheap food. But John Vechey, 28, proudly recalls the early penny-pinching days of his Seattle gaming company, PopCap Games, which he co-founded with partners Brian Fiete, 29, and Jason Kapalka, 36, in 2000. After leaving their steady jobs at gaming companies, the trio pooled $100 to purchase business cards, used their own computers and convinced a friend who owned an ISP to give them server space for free. Working first from Fiete's condo, then from Vechey's apartment, they started with a simple business model--to make games and license them to websites.
Then the ad market crashed, rendering their model insufficient and teaching the partners the first lesson of bootstrap entrepreneurs: flexibility. In 2001, based on feedback on their first game, Bejeweled, they created an enhanced, downloadable version. Instead of charging sites like Yahoo! to host their games, they offer the web versions for free in exchange for having the sites direct people to PopCap's site to download full versions of the games. "At first, we were making $5,000 to $10,000 per month. Then it was $30,000 to $100,000," Vechey recalls.
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