Smart Ideas 02/06
Focus on the Positives
What: Online dating/networking service for the HIV/AIDS community
Who: Paul Graves and Brandon Koechlin, founders of PositivesDating.com
Where: Columbus, Ohio
When: Started in 2005
Paul Graves and Brandon Koechlin had always wanted to go into business together, but the 21-year-old best friends never expected to find something quite as fulfilling as the website they founded.
PositivesDating.com is a personal dating and networking service for the HIV/AIDS community that offers both free and paid memberships. Visitors can log in to the site's chat rooms, search available member profiles and communicate via IM with other members. Paid memberships allow users to keep in contact via e-mail and see who's been viewing their profiles.
The pair got the idea after Koechlin took a sociology class at his local community college. "I was talking to a professor about people who, once they contract HIV, start to become social outcasts," Koechlin says. He and Graves borrowed close to $50,000 from family members and turned to a family friend to help them construct the site, which they launched in January 2005.
For the first four months, Positives-Dating.com operated as a free site as the partners built their membership. They also sent out informational postcards to support groups all over the country, such as AIDS Project Los Angeles, and they conducted online surveys of their members to get feedback.
Since beginning to offer paid memberships last June, PositivesDating.com has generated $60,000 in 2005 sales, with close to 2,500 members. Monthly memberships start at $14.95, while yearly memberships are $89.95. The latest feature Graves and Koechlin have added to the site allows users to take a free personality profile survey, after which they receive an analysis of their personality type and what kind of partner would best suit them. They also receive a list of possible member matches based on their characteristics and personality.
Projected 2006 sales are $110,000, and the two hope to have 50,000 members by their two-year mark. But the business means more to them than just numbers. Says Graves, "It feels like we're giving back to society--helping people--not just selling something."
It's in the Bag, Baby
What: Fashionable diaper bags for moms on the go
Who: Christie Rein, founder of Diapees & Wipees
Where: Flower Mound, Texas
When: Started in 2004
Christie Rein was tired of carrying diapers around in a freezer bag. The 34-year-old mother of three found herself constantly stuffing dia-pers for her infant son into freezer bags to keep them from getting scrunched up in her purse. "One day, I just said, 'I'm not going to carry this around anymore,'" Rein says.
Rein wanted something that was compact, sleek and stylish, so in November 2004, she sat down with her husband, Marcus, 30, who helped her design a custom diaper bag that's big enough to hold a travel pack of wipes and two to four diapers. Since their sewing skills left a lot to be desired, the two came up with an unusual way to produce the first prototype: "The first day I came up with the idea, we bought fabric and stapled it together," says Christie, laughing.
Within two weeks of conceiving her idea, Christie found a manufacturer for the bags in nearby Dallas. After researching the potential market online, the Reins spent $5,000 of their savings on startup costs, including creating a website and working with designers.
The following May, Christie entered her product into the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association trade show in Orlando, Florida, and took orders for almost 800 bags from vendors across the country.
With more than $180,000 in sales for 2005, Christie's company, Diapees & Wipees, has bags in 22 different styles, available online and in 120 boutiques across the globe for $14.99. She has also created a more upscale line of diaper bags called Diaper Me Darling!, featuring a wider variety of fabrics lined in silk or satin, and ranging in price from $30 to $60.
Book Meets Girl
What: A book series encouraging self-esteem and career focus in preteen girls
Who: Ellen Langas Campbell of NouSoma Communications Inc.
Where: Downingtown, Pennsylvania
When: Started in 2004
Growing up, Ellen Langas Campbell says she was "groomed to be a secretary." It wasn't until college that she realized other options existed. Determined to help future generations of women buck this trend, Campbell, 47, decided to launch an inspirational book series for girls between the ages of 8 and 12.
Each book in the series, launched in 2004 and called "Girls Know How," tells the story of a preteen girl pursuing her career dreams with help from an industry role model based on a real-life person. To date, Campbell has penned two books: Will Stephanie Get the Story?, about the journalism field, and Raising the Roof, about the construction industry. A third book about education is due out this spring, after which Campbell hopes to publish four books per year.
Campbell's talents extend beyond writing. After receiving 28 rejections from publishers, this entrepreneur added publishing to the marketing and PR business she founded in 1994, NouSoma Communications Inc. She then found distributors and placed the books in major bookstores.
Campbell's attitude is inspiring for young girls and entrepreneurs alike: "I think what the girls-the readers- will get out of this is that, if I really roll up my sleeves and put some hard work into something, I'm going to reap some benefits."
Music to Your Ears
What: Custom-made, high-end earpieces for professional musicians and music lovers
Who: Mindy and Jerry Harvey, founders of Ultimate Ears
Where: Irvine, California
When: Started in 1995
How much: $0
In 1995, while on tour with Van Halen, Jerry Harvey designed a custom-made earpiece for drummer Alex Van Halen. When news of his work spread to other musicians, he found himself filling orders as favors.
As a sound engineer, Jerry, 44, knew many musicians were frustrated with clunky headphones or amplifiers that couldn't capture the sound on stage or in the recording studio. "I miniaturized the technology that was being used in big rock 'n' roll systems," says Jerry. He then designed an earpiece custom-made from an impression of the musician's ear.
Mindy Harvey, 41, loved everything about her husband's new creation, except the fact that he was making them for free. The couple began asking for payments upfront to keep startup costs at zero, and they relied on word-of-mouth within the music industry to gain new customers.
Ultimate Ears' current high-end custom pieces can cost in the $900 range, but the Harveys also began targeting the growing iPod audience in 2002 with their generic, lower-priced consumer line, Super.fi. Today, the company has almost 20 em-ployees, and 2005 sales are estimated at well over $5 million.