Smart Ideas 05/05
What: A service that provides fun and cultural outings
for moms and children
Who: Molly Snyder of Metropolitan Moms
Where: New York City
When: Started in 2004
While typical "Mommy and Me" classes can be great fun, Molly Snyder, 30, decided to give the old format a spin when she started Metropolitan Moms. Instead of classes focusing solely on the children, Snyder's idea was to organize classes for moms who wanted to explore local New York City culture while taking their children along for the ride.
This former investment banker got the idea when, three months into her maternity leave, she realized she didn't want to leave her daughter for a full-time position. However, she thought it would be fun to explore the city's many museums and galleries--with her daughter in tow. "When I had this idea, so many people didn't understand what I was talking about," says Snyder. "They weren't [very] encouraging. But because I was a new mom, I knew there was a need for it."
Snyder soon learned that she was not alone, as there were many moms in her area who craved just that kind of cultural stimulation and adult inter-action while caring for their babies. Snyder organized her first class series (classes are once a week for seven weeks) in May 2004, and the response was overwhelming, she says. A mention in the Urban Baby daily e-newsletter got her serious buzz, and more than 300 people signed up for her e-mail list. Since then, in fact, Snyder notes she's done very little outside marketing--it's spread mostly by word-of-mouth.
At the request of her clients, she has even added a moms-only class where her customers can enjoy museums and culture without their kids (sort of a mom's night out), as well as classes for toddlers. Projecting 2005 sales of $115,000, this entrepreneur knows what cultured moms want.
-Nichole L. Torres
What: Manufacturer of Flavors2Go, calorie- and sugar-free
Who: Victoria Malmer and Paul Staunton of PAES Corp.
Where: Boynton Beach, Florida
When: Started in 2003
When Victoria Malmer went online to research different diets, she noticed a common thread among the many different discussion groups: the desire for water that didn't taste so plain. After discussing her findings with friend Paul Staunton, both felt a definite market existed for water flavorings. And by making them calorie- and sugar-free, they would appeal not only to diet-conscious individuals, but also to diabetics and anyone else mindful of their sugar intake. "We realized that whether it's low-carb, low-fat or no-bread, diets come and go," says Staunton. "We wanted to have something that would cross all borders. Everyone wants to drink more water."
Malmer, 42, and Staunton, 46, contacted different flavor manufacturers and conducted a double-blind taste test on their friends with fruit-flavored samples. Based on those results, the partners started with 16 fruit flavors, including peach, pineapple, raspberry and strawberry. Rather than sell flavored bottled water, they opted instead to package the concentrated flavors (available sweetened or unsweetened, but all calorie-free) in small, 1-ounce dropper bottles for $9.95 each. Their rationale: You don't have to lug around a bottled drink to a destination, the flavor can be added to any beverage or food, and you can adjust the intensity of the flavor to your liking.
Staunton, a database programmer, and Malmer, a newspaper editor, operate PAES in their off hours but have already won the 2004 Carb-Aware Consumer Choice Awards Product of the Year and received a good amount of media buzz. Sold through Flavors2Go.com and Castus Superstores, they currently have a distributor in Canada and the United Arab Emirates. With 2005 sales projections breaking $250,000, the co-founders have also introduced an imitation honey that is enticing even more customers to indulge their sweet tooths.
-April Y. Pennington
What: Reusable four-ply cloth around a foam liner
attached to a circular disk on an aluminum pole; used for
Who: Kurt Robinson of No Sweat Wipe
Where: Garden Grove, California
When: Started in 2002
An artist by trade, Kurt Robinson, 41, might not have made his riches through his artwork, but he did hit it big when he came up with a creative solution for a messy situation. His inspiration came when basketball player Shaquille O'Neal took a spill on the court. Riveted to the TV, it was not the fall that grabbed his attention but rather the mop that was used to clean the court afterwards. A stick with a towel taped to the end seemed ineffective, unsanitary and definitely something he could improve on.
Robinson immediately put his idea on paper and approached an engineer friend who created the perfect prototype after four attempts, complete with an adjustable pole and a detachable pad. With his final prototype in hand, Robinson approached Kevin Columbus, a friend and his current business partner, who had important basketball connections as well as the marketable idea of using the top of the circular disk for advertising space.
The innovative mop appealed to the Los Angeles Clippers, the first team to give the product a try. No Sweat Wipe currently has partnerships with 25 of the 30 NBA teams. Robinson offers them the product for free in exchange for a portion of the revenue generated from the advertising. Meanwhile, the company has developed No Sweat Mitts--smaller versions of the No Sweat Wipe which can be worn on the hands--and plans to make them available next year.
With 2005 sales expected to be at least $2 million, Robinson doesn't believe he's reached the top of his game yet. He hopes to make it big both on and off the court by donating profits to local charities and organizations dedicated to the education of inner-city kids. Says Robinson, "I've been blessed with this idea, and we're working on giving back."
What: Music booking agency that represents bands and
artists on a per-call basis
Who: Bud Anderson, founder of InHouseBooking.com
Where: San Carlos, California
When: Started in July 2004
How much: $250
In the music industry, competition isn't just for gigs but for agents as well. "Agents basically work for free until they get commissioned on a show," says Bud Anderson, founder of InHouseBooking.com. "So it's hard to invest in a brand-new artist."
Anderson, 34, created InHouseBooking.com as a sister company to Prince SF, the agency he already owned that couldn't handle all the talent coming its way. His new company takes a different approach, allowing artists to hire agents to make cold calls, pitching their acts for $1.50 per call. At the end of the minimum 100-call run, the artist gets a color-coded spreadsheet detailing each call and contact information. It's more than telemarketing, Anderson explains--bands still face a strict review process, but the shortened relationship allows more talent through the door.
Startup was simple. With the agency infrastructure already in place, Anderson paid $50 for a web domain and programmed the site himself. He opened separate phone lines and a bank account, and he hired three agents. As IHB's business jumped--from sales of $175,000 in 2004 to $500,000 projected for 2005--the agency expanded into larger offices and hired additional staff.
Anderson describes his marketing as "very grass roots." After an initial run with 10 artists, word spread like wildfire. Says Anderson, "I knew there was demand for representation but didn't realize it could be quite so high."