Your old college roommate calls you up with a plan to start a business, so you up and quit your highly respected job, persuade your girlfriend you know what you're doing, pack all your belongings (including a futon) into your Nissan Sentra and drive 3,000 miles to meet up with him. Sounds kinda gutsy, doesn't it? That's exactly what Stuart MacFarlane, 31, did when his Harvard Business School roommate, Hunter Heaney, 30, called to pitch an idea for a teen-focused interactive magazine in which clothes and accessories could be ordered directly off the editorial pages.
"I knew it was fantastic idea," says MacFarlane. "And I realized good ideas don't come along every day."
That good idea formed in Heaney's head when, while shopping for a gift for his girlfriend, a department store clerk recommended a necklace worn by an actress from the popular sitcom Friends. After talking it over with pals' younger sisters, Heaney came to the conclusion that teens really look to entertainment when making decisions about purchases--especially for apparel.
With that in mind, the two business school grads reunited and moved into a "crummy" Hermosa Beach, California, hotel room with no phone and only staunch ambition leading the way. From dawn until dusk, they hogged a sidewalk pay phone, contacting every Harvard connection they knew, and raised $250,000. Moving on to more suitable accommodations, they pieced together a group of freelancers, hired a local Web site development company and started MXG Media Inc. in 1997. Their Web site, http://www.mxgonline.com (formerly http://www.moxiegirl.com), plays off their quarterly "magalog," MXG (formerly Moxie Girl), a fashion, sports and beauty-news interactive magazine that targets Generation Y girls.
Read by more than 3 million teen girls and boasting projected sales of $10 million this year, MXG distinguishes itself by the credible environment it has established through employing more than 20 teens to help edit and write. "We thought that was a more real way to do it," says Heaney. "You know when your dad tries to use the word `cool' and it makes you cringe? We just figured you can't fake it--kids know the difference."
Talking to Alicia Dargan-Kroner of Alicia's, a Green Bay, Wisconsin, gourmet dessert and sauce-mix products company, would make anyone's sweet tooth tingle. Just hearing the names of her all-natural dessert mixes, like Ginger Spice Torte with Butterscotch-Orange Sauce, causes any dessert lover's mouth to water.
An avid lover of cooking, Dargan-Kroner always dreamed of opening an upscale gourmet bakery. But that would be expensive, so the dissatisfied air-freight transportation sales rep investigated unfilled niches in the gourmet food-products industry. Discovering a lack of gourmet dessert mixes, and simultaneously getting laid off, Dargan-Kroner came face to face with the primary ingredients for her sweet success.
In 1996, Dargan-Kroner, 35, and her mother (now Alicia's on-staff home economist) took $1,000 worth of ingredients to the laundry-room-turned-assembly-room and whipped up 500 batches of three family recipes--including Grandma's killer Rustic Apple Cake with Butter Rum Soaking Sauce.
With limited funds and a knack for sewing, Dargan-Kroner crafted a linen bag with a gold bow and a tag to hold the concoctions. Sales of about $50,000 followed through gourmet food shows, sales to specialty food retailers and direct mail. Realizing the bags weren't easy to bar-code or ship, Dargan-Kroner decided to redesign the packaging. Seven months later, the entrepreneur finally produced the award-winning custom packaging she had envisioned: an elegant, striped box featuring enticing photographs of the gourmet desserts on either side. "It totally sets me apart," she beams.
Incorporated as AMK Specialty Gourmet Products Inc. in 1997, the company is expected to reach sales of $300,000 next year. And with her dessert mixes in more than 1,200 retail establishments, a government-issued food-processing license, plans to go online and a new gift food line on the horizon, she's successfully turned her ideas into realities. "A lot of people thought [my] idea was just a joke," Dargan-Kroner says. "I refused to give up. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers. If you don't take a chance, you'll never know."
AMK Specialty Gourmet Products Inc., (888) 317-2-MIX, firstname.lastname@example.org