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Early to Rise

These entrepreneurs jumped at the chance to be franchisees while they were young--and their determination and drive are paying off.

This story appears in the August 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Gifted with the passion, drive and energy to go out on your own, yet told over and over again that you're just too young? Don't lose hope. Youthful naiveté and reckless abandon may well be the keys to your success--at least that's what we were told by three highly successful owners who are younger than 40 but already have a lifetime of experience.

With a lot of foresight but not much hindsight, Jerry Heath of Hungry Howie's , Steven Taylor and Chris Smith of Moe's Southwest Grill, and Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman of Ace Hardware embraced the unknown and successfully nurtured their respective businesses into fruition. The end result? More than $3 million in annual sales each and more locations than they ever dreamed possible. Young and naive? Sure! Down and out? Far from it. Wisdom might come with age, but sometimes it takes one huge leap of faith when you're just too young to know any better to create a legacy that will last well beyond your years.

Gina Schaefer, 37, and Marc Friedman, 35
Ace Hardware
Gina Schaefer doesn't exactly fit the profile of the average Ace Hardware owner. She's not a male, she's not in her 50s, and none of her stores are located in a suburban area. She didn't even have any hardware or retail experience when she decided to quit her job with a technology company and open her first Ace Hardware with her husband, Marc Friedman, in 2003. But there was logic to her reasoning. She lived in an up-and-coming neighborhood of Washington, DC, and knew that it was in need of a hardware store. And, although most Ace Hardware stores are 12,000 to 14,000 square feet, Schaefer couldn't find--or afford--that kind of space in the city, so she sized down and crammed as much as she could into a 6,500-square-foot space. "From the Ace perspective, we were certainly unique," says Schaefer.

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