Who: Amilya Antonetti, 38, founder of Soapworks, a Los Angeles manufacturer of natural household cleansers
Year started: 1995
Startup debt: More than $100,000
Sales growth: 20 to 30 percent growth year over year
Antonetti says, "I applied for an SBA loan, but it took over eight months to [come through]. In the meantime, I maxed out every card I could get my hands on. And it's so easy to not pay them off [right away] and not realize how much money you're paying for that dollar that you borrowed. When I came up for air, I sat down with my debt and [planned] how I was going to get out of that hole. I realized it would take me years to pay it off. It affected me for 10 years. My net worth is more now, so yes, it was worth the risk, but it could absolutely have gone the opposite way."
Who: Robert Siciliano, 37, personal-security and identity-theft expert, and founder of Safety Minute Seminars in Boston
Year started: 2000
Startup debt: $80,000
2005 sales projections: $120,000
Siciliano says, "I funded every aspect of my security business with credit cards. I've paid for publicists, book printing [and more] to keep the business running. [One pro] was immediate financing. And when you start spending a lot of money using credit cards, the credit card companies start increasing your limits. Plus, the low minimum payments don't put pressure on you. As an entrepreneur, I needed flexibility and didn't want to burden friends or family for loans. [One con] is that if you're not paying attention, you can get some pretty high interest rates--that issue hit me, but I got it in check after a few months."
Who: Mike Nikolich, 47, and Susan Nikolich, 49, husband-and-wife founders of Tech Image Ltd., a technology PR firm in Buffalo Grove, Illinois
Year started: 1993
Startup debt: Secured $100,000 in credit, but only used $10,000
2005 sales projections: $2.5 million
Mike says, "I was not able to secure a commercial line of credit off the bat, [so] my wife and I applied for 10 different cards. When a commercial bank approved me for a line of credit [in our third month of operation], we cancelled all the credit cards. I completely forgot about [them] until a credit report revealed that two of the cards were still active [with no balances], and we quickly cancelled those cards. Since I'm uncomfortable with debt, it might seem out of character for me to use credit cards to finance a business. Quite honestly, those credit cards bailed me out at a time when banks wouldn't consider loaning me the money. I'd do it again, and I'd do it the same way."