Joanna Van Vleck
Founder of Trunk Club in Bend, Ore.
The Problem: Van Vleck knew that many guys hated shopping for clothes in retail stores, so she decided to create a line of personal shopping outlets. She recruited investors to open retail storefronts across the country where men could go for personal shopping sessions. But when the market crashed in late 2008, her funding disappeared.
The Moment: When a potential investor in San Francisco asked Van Vleck to meet with him via Webcam, she initially balked at the idea. "I don't do Webcams," says Van Vleck, 25.
But a lot of men she knew seemed to feel more comfortable talking on them, which suggested the Webcam as an ideal forum for personal shopping with men. Her consultants could select and mail clothes to a client based on his lifestyle, budget or career and then talk him through the garments as he modeled them on the Webcam. No retail stores or investors needed.
The Payoff: Van Vleck's 21 style consultants now work with 2,500 customers across the country. The company, Trunk Club, expects $2 million in sales this year.
Innovation Tip: Sometimes inexperience drives innovation. If Van Vleck had ever worked in the retail world, she would have known that merchandise is typically ordered in bulk up to six months in advance. By contrast, her business model is based on ordering small lots of clothing from wholesalers each week.
"I didn't fall into the trap of 'We can't do that,'" she says. "We broke all the rules." -Jennifer Alsever
NEXT: Following his nose