Michael Mischer, 48
Lesson: You'll amaze yourself at how cheaply you can run a business when it's yours
You can get some start-ups moving with hardly any money. But Michael Mischer has been racing against high fixed costs from Day One. In 2004 he opened a store to sell chocolates he makes, and that 1,700-square-foot space, Michael Mischer Chocolates, came with an unavoidable rental price tag of $2,800 a month. That gave him 2,800 reasons to keep the rest of his expenses as low as possible. "I was very confident I could get this going with what I had," he says.
Mischer spent $75,000 to remake the former office space. About half went into electrical and plumbing systems, both of which had to be installed by professionals to meet local codes. Mischer did as much dirty work as he could, saving $2,000, for instance, by yanking out old carpeting. Fortunately for his budget, Mischer prefers "the lean look" in store design. Rather than shelling out for fancy glass cases, he displays his sweets on white plates. The one exception: He spent $12,000 on a showcase for gelato.
He's stayed stingy with his operating budget. He has yet to hire a full-time employee, although he's got three part-timers to mind the counter. He prefers to be in the back, where he makes the chocolates using machinery that is mostly left over from an earlier bakery venture. That business didn't last, but things look good for the former pastry chef's latest venture. It has annual revenue of about $250,000 and is already profitable.