Blog Posts by Barbara Quick

  • Solé Bicycles: turning a passion into a million-dollar business

    A few years ago, two undergrads at USC were walking home from class when they saw some kids riding fixies. Where’d they get them? the two friends wanted to know—and, more to the point, How much did they cost?

    The kids revealed that they’d made their bikes themselves, for what seemed like an astronomical sum (in the world of college students on a shoestring budget) of well over $1200 apiece.

    “This is really when the light bulb went off,” says 26-year-old Brian Ruben, who has the whimsical title of Chief Bicycle Officer, Partnership Marketing and Brand Ambassador for Solé Bicycles, now a multi-million-dollar company headquartered in Venice, California, L.A.’s capital of beachfront cool.

    Solé’s story—like the story of so many other successful entrepreneurial ventures—began with an envious desire. They wanted fixies of their own. And what better way, they figured, to get what they wanted than to make a whole bunch of those bikes, to make them even cooler and more beautiful-looking than

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  • Paint Nite: Startup gives masterclass in using social media and a smart online presence to grow very fast

    Here’s a small business success story whose beginning sounds deceptively like the first line of a joke: “Two guys walked into a bar.”

    Sean McGrail and Dan Hermann met at a trivia night at a Boston bar. McGrail, up and coming in the world of sales, had an arts background; Hermann had already co-founded an innovative Internet-based business. The two men riffed about how cool it would be to replace a drink-fueled trivia contest with a drink-fueled group painting session. Their first notes about a business plan for their idea—what became Paint Nite—were scribbled on the back of a paper napkin.

    Connecting with the Inner Artist

    The idea is beautifully simple. A Paint Nite event is scheduled at a bar or restaurant, usually on an “off” night, when the place will welcome a take-over by a large, organized crowd. Each participant is given a paint-proof apron and seated before a stretched canvas propped up on a table easel, alongside a collection of paints and brushes. Painters buy their own drinks

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  • Langston’s: A 100-year-old Online Store does E-commerce Right

     

    A lot of online entrepreneurs start at square one, hoping they’ve found a product or service uniquely well suited to Internet marketing. And then there are the grand centenarians of the retail world—companies with brick and mortar in their blood that nonetheless make a youthful, entrepreneurial leap into Cyberspace.

    A case in point is Langston’s, a 100-year-old, community-based Western boots and apparel company that lassoed the Internet in 1999 and now counts it as one of the favorite horses in its corporate stable. Headquartered in Oklahoma City, the company is still owned and run by members of its founding family, who established the first Langston’s store in 1913 to serve the ranchers and farmers of central Oklahoma.

    Back then, in the days before strip malls and way before Amazon.com, Langston’s served as a one-stop shopping destination for rural folk who would come in their farm wagons or on horseback from miles around to stock up on whatever goods they couldn’t grow or make for

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  • PartyPail: Having fun fixing up an ecommerce business

    Online there exists a virtual land of equal opportunity, where anyone with a good idea, tenacity and a will to succeed has the chance to make it big. This is the idea driving hundreds, if not thousands, of entrepreneurs pursuing the American dream on the Internet. It seems that most of the online titans who are selling things—from Amazon to Ebay—have a Cinderella (or Cinderfella) story to tell, starting out with nothing more than a lap-top and a garage as company headquarters.

    How does it happen, really? How does one take the opportunity that’s out there—and turn it into money, independence, personal satisfaction and all the other things we dream of when we dream our biggest dreams?

    I asked Edward Hechter, co-founder with his wife, Lisa Jacobson, of PartyPail.com (a party decorations and supplies company), which they launched as an online business in 2007 and successfully sold in 2012 to the Hoffmaster Group. The year before it was sold, PartyPail was ranked by the Puget Sound Business

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  • Raising the Curtain: The Custom Curtain Company uses online success to help children in need

    In 1997, James Butler—the owner of a couple of appliance stores in the sleepy town of Cocoa, on Florida’s eastern seaboard—was wracking his brains to come up with an idea for making some extra cash. Inspiration came in the form of a resourceful college student going door to door in his neighborhood with a cordless drill, a pocketful of brass peepholes and a sales pitch about enhanced security. Impressed by the student’s success—the peephole business was paying for his college education—Butler thought he could hire a crew of kids to sell and install front-door peepholes. “I just thought,” he told us, “if I had several door-knocking teenagers, I could have a volume business.”

    Like any sensible entrepreneur, Butler decided to do some market research. He drove 50 miles to Orlando, which had the potential of so many more residents who might be in need of a way to look out before they let someone into their homes. “I'll never forget how sad that day was. Why? Because nobody needed a peephole!

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  • Social Media, Bootstrapping, Doing Well—and Doing Good: The Doll Clothes Superstore

    Mary Ann Walsh, owner and founder of the Doll Clothes Superstore, is connected to the products she sells by bonds of love, loss and empathy.

    Raised from infancy by her father, Mary Ann played with dolls with a precocious desire to give her dad respite from the cares of single parenting. Dolls also allowed her to create an imaginary world in which her family was whole and she had siblings at whose side she could triumph over every adversity.

    “Those early promptings,” says Walsh, “helped develop my character and the ability to know what I wanted to do with my life.”

    What she wanted to do with her life was work with young children—and to that end, she became a kindergarten teacher. “I had empathy for the needs of children and an appreciation for the importance of their development.”

    In 1980, married with young children of her own, Walsh moved with her family to Jakarta, Indonesia. She started teaching kindergarten in a private school, set out to learn the language and made weekly visits to

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  • Averill’s Sharper Uniforms: A revamped website and SEO efforts helped this business change direction

    One of the most appealing aspects of the Internet is the opportunity it gives us to reinvent ourselves. The virtual world—unlike the brick-and-mortar world, or even the face-to-face world of daily life—is nonjudgmental and neutral. No preconceived notions about your age, training or past experience will bar you from getting a fresh new start as an Internet entrepreneur. If you notice a consumer need that isn’t being filled—and you have the tenacity to figure out how best to fill it—the tools are there to help you stake your claim and start panning for gold.

    Massachusetts resident Averill Bromfield had spent 25 years in the corporate world, managing voice and data networks, when the air went out of the Dot-com bubble, leaving him without a job. With a wife and three children, Bromfield couldn’t afford to sit around and sulk about the downturn in his fortunes. Thinking fast, and exhibiting the adaptability that seems to be characteristic of Web entrepreneurs, he started looking around for

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  • Ivy’s Garden: Growing a gluten-free Asian food business online.

    The niche market chosen by online marketing entrepreneurs Ivy Lau and Mark Ivey—gluten-free, home-style, fresh-frozen Asian food—seems to be, just like their shared first and last name, a matter of destiny.

    Niche markets are created, after all, by identifying consumer needs and desires that are being addressed inadequately—and developing and delivering the goods or services to fill that gap.

    Ivy and Ivey’s newly launched gluten-free food company, Ivy’s Garden Foods, was born of the couple’s joint expertise in marketing communications, Ivy’s life-long devotion to Asian cuisine—and her medical diagnosis, seven years ago, of gluten intolerance.

    Gluten-free food isn’t easy to find—and gluten can lurk in unexpected cooking ingredients, such as soy sauce, or even in nominally gluten-free foods that were processed with the same equipment as food items containing gluten. Ivy personally experienced the frustrations and dangers that face the home cook trying to protect a susceptible family member.

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  • SOS: Strategic Office Support’s Kathrine Farris helps out with advice for startup service businesses.

    Do you remember the day when the training wheels were removed from your two-wheeler and you made your first attempt to ride solo?

    Scary, exhilarating and momentous, wasn’t it?

    The same words are apt descriptors for what it’s like to quit a good salaried job with benefits and embark full time as an independent online entrepreneur.

    Just ask Kathrine Farris, owner of Strategic Office Support LLC, which the young mother and wife created as a part-time online enterprise (at first called Office Solutions ME) while working full-time as an assistant bank manager in Southern Maine.
     
    “My family, my faith, and my desperation gave me the courage I needed,” says Farris, whose husband wasn’t working at the time, making her leap into uncertainty even scarier. “I took three full months of maternity leave from my banking job, which gave me a little taste of what it would be like to become a full-time entrepreneur.”

    The idea of working from home and being her own boss was a bright beacon for Farris in her

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