Small biz startup: How I did it

Starting a data-backup service was the dream. Doing it on a bare-bones budget was the challenge.

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As told to Josh Hyatt, Money Magazine

Jennifer Walzer, CEO, Backup My Info
  • NAME: Jennifer Walzer, CEO
  • AGE: 34
  • BUSINESS: Backup My Info, a firm that provides businesses with automated online data-protection services
  • STARTED: 2002

HOW I GOT THE IDEA: "A colleague called in a panic because his organization lost its data, which was stored on magnetic tape.

"I started looking around for alternatives, and it took me two minutes to figure out that this was a massive opportunity."

MY GREATEST CHALLENGE: "When I started, I had a Small Business Administration loan for $50,000, and everything else was maxed out: I used all my credit cards, and I was margining my stock portfolio.

"I believed in what I was doing, so I jumped in with both feet. But it was stressful. There wasn't enough money.

"I realized I needed things - like an employee handbook and office space - and I couldn't afford them."

HOW I OVERCAME IT: "I was honest. I told people, 'I don't have the funds to pay right now, but I can take care of your data.'

I bartered with an employment lawyer to get his help; I made the same deal with a corporate lawyer.

"I paid half the monthly rent in backup services. Also, I cut a deal with big IT service providers, offering them a commission for helping find customers.

On a marketing budget of zero, I invited clients to bring other prospects to a nearby bar where the owner discounted the drinks.

"In this way I got the biggest bang for my buck - and was able to solidly position my company, cheaply."

ADVICE TO OTHERS: "Think creatively about every dime you spend. There's always a cheaper way."

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