I read lots of books and basically taught myself what I needed in about
three months. But it was hard and scary. The way I got through it was
to keep giving myself short-term goals -- goals that were easily
achievable in a short period of time. Every time I reached them, I was
that much closer to building a better life -- not only for myself and
my kids, but for my customers, too.
What happens when two "mad scientists" and a numbers guy get together?
For John Swartz, Aaron Lown and Carter Weiss, all 38 years old, it
resulted in building a better wine tote and, ultimately, an
award-winning accessories company in New York City called Built NY.
Lown, a former designer for handbag and accessories company Kate Spade,
and former furniture designer Swartz took the ubiquitous tote to new
heights with a curvaceous design using neoprene. Weiss saw the
product's potential, and all three took the leap by pooling their
savings and borrowing from friends to manufacture 10,000 wine totes.
Today, Built NY has 45 key products, including lunch totes, baby bibs
and laptop sleeves. Weiss and Swartz share what keeps them creative and
When we arrived at the final product, we had a "eureka" moment. Not
only was the product innovative, but the methodology was as well. We
realized that we could scale this one product into many, many other
products and that this was just the beginning.
We had 45 years of experience between the three of us, and it was finally culminating in this company.
So we continue to be motivated by the desire to innovate, to make more
great things. We chose the material [neoprene] before knowing what the
design was going to be. That is how we are motivated; we innovate by
finding a match between the material and a use for it.
Innovation means recognizing the opportunities in a crisis. Our first
crisis was a big one. After our initial run, we decided to manufacture
more than 10,000 additional units, but when we got them the material
was all wrong. It wasn't the firm rubber material we had chosen, but a
much softer, suppler one. We thought it was a disaster.
But when we examined it from an innovative point of view, we decided
that it was actually better. In the meantime, the factory gave us some
financial concessions for their mistake, which allowed us to do some
things we otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford.
All of our employees are innovators. We consider them designers, and
they submit design ideas. One of our staff loves to come up with names
for products, and he's really good at it (we're not). Sometimes an idea
will sit for a year and then we bring it back up, so everyone knows
that their creativity is very important. We're demanding in the sense
that we want them to give their absolute best and to work hard. We
don't care if they're here at 7 or at 10, or what they wear. We just
want them to care. And they do.
Taking on the Giant
Few people have the courage to create a business
that competes directly with a large competitor. But that's exactly what
Karl De Abrew did more than 10 years ago. The 33-year-old entrepreneur
built a successful business developing plug-in software for Adobe
Acrobat, the well-known PDF reading program, and created a top-rated
Web site called Planet PDF. Yet all along, he and his team were
plotting something even more ambitious.
In 2005, De Abrew's company,
Nitro PDF Software of Pleasanton, CA., launched a software product that
competes directly with Acrobat. The company's 2007 sales were about $5
million, and an infusion of angel investor cash will help Nitro PDF
pursue its next goal: to ensnare 10% of the $1 billion PDF software
market in about three years.
Just because a company is big doesn't mean its product is for everyone.
We've spoken with our customers, and they say that Acrobat is too
complex, too monolithic and too confusing for the average user.
On the flipside, our product is surgical in its focus; we've
specifically targeted the business user who wants to create or edit
PDFs without having to finish a computer
science degree first. I kept getting motivation from the knowledge that
there was this niche that I could fill if I surrounded myself with the
right people. We're a team of about 35 taking on a team of [thousands]
at Adobe, and we're winning.
The No.1 thing that will drive me to succeed is to tell me that I
can't do something. I guess that makes a lot of sense with our product.
In the beginning, we had no shortage of people saying to us, "Wow, you
guys have got a pretty serious job ahead of you;" now they're amazed
and very supportive.
During the dot-com crash in 2001, we all had to tighten our belts and get rid of some businesses
we had spent a lot of time and money building. But I never lost the
excitement of being able to play a pivotal role in creating something
larger than myself, and that kept me going.
Being a successful entrepreneur, in my opinion, is a function of how
well you deal with the setbacks. There's no shortage of great ideas and
no shortage of people willing to give it a go ... for a while. When the
going gets tough, that's when you need your motivation.
You've got to keep feeding and building it. Read books about other
successful people, see what they did, think about how you can
incorporate their ways of thinking into yours. There are a lot of
clever people out there -- why not put them to work for you,
Solving a Problem
Epiphanies often strike in the most unusual places -- in bed,
taking a shower or simply taking a power walk with the dog. For Puerto
Rico-born Lisa Rudes-Sandel, 44, her moment of truth came in the
dressing room of Barney's New York. Trying on one pair of low-rise
jeans after another, Rudes-Sandel couldn't find anything that fit her
Figuring that other women in their 40s had the same problem, in 2005
the daughter of a garment manufacturer created an ingenious line of
denims with hidden panels that trim and slim. Today, Tummy Tuck Jeans
is a $60 million company in Los Angeles. Written up everywhere from The New York Times to People magazine, Tummy Tuck Jeans is expanding everywhere but on the hips of its wearers.
I was alone, and I loved it. I was so motivated in the beginning
because it was clear to me that no one else was doing what I wanted to
do. I was determined to be different and to really offer women what
they needed in a well-fitting jean. The challenge was to figure out how
to do it, but the motivation never [faltered]. Once I launched the
product, women all over the country were sending in comments praising
me for the "invention" that changed their lives.
What gets me out of bed in the morning is the motivation of having a very clear-cut mission -- to use my skills in the garment business and what I have gained traveling all over the world in solving an
age-old problem: bringing sexiness and style to the average woman. I
never had to worry about analyzing markets and researching fashion
trends -- I knew that the void was there, and every waking moment was
spent figuring out how best to fill it.
I don't see how anyone
could succeed without being totally excited about their product. My
mission was so specific from the beginning; it was easy to keep my eye
on the goal. Sometimes if I'm losing creative steam, I leave the office
early so I can regroup and come back fresh the next day. Sacrificing
that little bit of work time can really pay off big in reigniting the
motivation to succeed even more.