six who dared and won
(MONEY Magazine) – When God made entrepreneurs, He kept breaking the mold. That's why the ''I can do it better'' spirit shines through America's nearly 20 million small companies in so many varied and wonderful ways. It is that limitless variety that makes entrepreneurship so appealing. Sure, there's money to be made. But ask a company founder why he -- or, increasingly, she -- struck out alone, and 71% answer simply, ''To be my own boss,'' as a recent MONEY/Gallup poll showed. This special issue celebrates that entrepreneurial spirit -- the vigorous and irrepressible urge that gives birth to a new U.S. business every 30 seconds. One out of four of the enterprises fails; but that means the other three survive. And many entrepreneurs, like the six pictured on the following pages, thrive. Each of them epitomizes one facet of the entrepreneurial personality: confidence, creativity, flair, vision, tenacity or determination. And each succeeded beyond his or her wildest dreams. This MONEY Guide is dedicated to helping you do the same.
confidence brian sullivan
As a boy, Brian Sullivan wanted to be a captain of industry. He didn't have to look far for an example: his father Richard was chief executive officer of $600 million Easco Corp., a Baltimore hand-tool maker. So it was no surprise that in 1984, with the ink on his Harvard economics degree barely dry, Brian found himself supervising the successful turnaround of a small debt-ridden manufacturing firm for a New York City investment bank. ''That taught me what can go wrong with a business,'' says Sullivan, 29, ''and that it's no fun to fail.'' It also made him eager to run a company of his own. ''By 1985,'' he recalls, ''I was really chomping at the bit.'' That's when he met William Wanner Jr., a Minneapolis maker of industrial pumps. Wanner's retired father had worked out a new filtering technique for purifying water. Wanner was looking for somebody to turn his father's idea into a company and sought the advice of a family friend who happened to know Sullivan. Serendipity! ''I was just in the right place at the right time,'' Sullivan says. Within weeks, Sullivan -- then only 24 years old -- was in Minneapolis raising cash for Recovery Engineering, a new company that bought Wanner's ideas in exchange for a 40% stake in the firm. Using his investment banking know-how, Sullivan raised $400,000 from private investors that year and another $1.5 million in '86. He also brought in Richard Hembree, a Canadian engineer who had developed a comparable purification method. Today, their 30-person firm makes six sizes of water- desalination and purification pumps, including a $50 hand-powered device for travelers. Last year, profits were 10% on revenues of more than $3 million. Recovery pumps are now at work all around the world; they were even used by U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. Yet Sullivan's most satisfying moment so far came when one of the firm's $1,300 desalination kits (pictured at right) helped keep William and Simonne Butler of Miami alive on a raft for 66 days after their boat sank in the Pacific two years ago. ''As with any safety device, you never know if it's truly going to work in an emergency,'' says Sullivan. ''But we had confidence in our product. It was more than gratifying to see it come through.''
creativity sue scott
In 1985, Sue Scott, a successful sculptor for 10 years, had just completed her largest work ever -- a two-story light-filled house that took six months to build at Santa Fe's Center for Contemporary Arts. Unfortunately, however, the pillars of her life were crumbling: her grandfather and father died that year, and she was divorced from her husband of 13 years. By the time the massive sculpture was dismantled after a three-week showing, Scott's career as an artist seemed to have peaked, her emotions were in shambles and she needed money. ''I decided to move on before I got bitter,'' Scott, who is now 37, recalls. Move on she did. With no children to bind her, Scott fled west to San Francisco, where she slept on her mother's couch for six months and began work on her next artistic creation -- a business. Her plan was a gloriously wacky one: make a 20-inch-long dinosaur-shaped novelty lamp she dubbed Lumasaurus. How did she get the idea? ''I had used light a lot in my sculptures and some people said they were like dinosaurs -- large and out of their time.'' But two problems promptly arose: how to make the lamps and how to finance them. Plastic turned out to be the answer to both. Since no bank would lend her the $25,000 she needed, Scott acquired 25 credit cards, each one with a $1,000 credit limit, and took cash advances on the cards to fund her venture. She then hired a U.S. plastics manufacturer to make 1,000 of the lamps. True to its reptilian heritage, the $48 item lumbered sluggishly off gift- store shelves. That forced the nimble Scott to move quickly, hatching a new line of stringed animal-shaped lights (pictured at left) in time for the 1988 Christmas season. Made in Asia, and given catchy names like Flock-o-Flamingos, Herd-a-Herefords and Mess-o-Trout, the $21.95 lamps now sell at 2,500 stores nationwide, including Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Nordstrom. The items have boosted her company, Primal Lite, to nearly $2 million in annual sales. Yet the process of shaping a company remains her main reward. As Scott puts it, ''I see this business as an ongoing work of art.''
flair drew bernstein
In 1982, Drew Bernstein was just another 18-year-old North Hollywood high school dropout with blue hair who played lead guitar in a punk-rock band that went by the name America's Hardcore. When his parents suggested that he leave home, Bernstein seemed more like a candidate for reform school than the world of commerce. But beneath that unruly exterior beat the heart of an entrepreneur. ''To many people, I look like a freaky, drugged-out rocker from hell,'' explains Bernstein, now 28 and living in a luxury apartment off Sunset Boulevard. ''But I'm really anti-drug and pro-health.'' And, he might add, president of Lip Service -- a $2-million-a-year clothing firm that makes men's and women's styles for the pop music set. The inspiration for the company came in 1985 while Bernstein was working as a traveling salesman for other designers' shoes and belts. ''I designed a pair of skintight leggings with a skull and dagger motif,'' he says. ''I bought the material, cut it myself and had a factory in Los Angeles put them together -- 200 of them. I figured if they didn't sell, at least I'd have 200 pairs of pants to wear.'' Half of his $3,000 grubstake came from a partner who has since bailed out, while the other half came from his sales commissions. At $26 a pair, the leggings were an instant hit in several small Hollywood boutiques. Within a year, Bernstein was able to move his company out of his forgiving parents' garage and into a Los Angeles factory. The line now ranges from $20 cotton tops to the $120 Old Glory outfit that Bernstein models at left, and customers include such heroes of hard rock as Axl Rose of Guns 'n' Roses (ask your kids). These days, it's Bernstein's sales manager, by the way, who has the green hair. As for the boss, he's in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 5 a.m. to attend business classes at a community college before heading to work in his Jeep Cherokee. Despite an easygoing manner, Bernstein has learned to be a hardheaded manager to his 40 employees. His biggest lesson? ''Forget the nice people,'' he says. ''If they're not doing the job, get rid of them.'' But his business creed, like his style, remains pure flamboyance: ''Go for it. And count on yourself.''
vision doug gilberg
Five years ago, Doug Gilberg and his wife Cindy, both horticulture graduates of the University of Missouri, owned and ran a landscaping business in Glencoe, Mo., 35 miles southwest of St. Louis. The company was grossing about $100,000 a year and throwing off profits of roughly $20,000. But the Gilbergs thought they saw an opportunity for perennial growth -- literally. ''We discovered there was a dearth of farmers raising perennials, plants such as irises, peonies and daisies that bloom every year,'' says Gilberg, 36. ''So we started growing them, at first for ourselves and then for garden centers and nurseries.'' Gilberg Perennial Farms eventually expanded from the 10 acres that Doug's father had given him in 1985 to include 67 acres purchased from a neighboring farm for $400,000 last year. Today, the company grows some 1,500 varieties of potted plants and sells 750,000 to 1 million of them each year, mainly from March to November, at prices that range from $2 to $25 apiece. Its $1.2 million in sales last year made the firm one of the largest growers of perennials in the Midwest. Yet the business requires a steely willingness to believe in your own vision and to take chances. ''When we set up our entire farm to grow perennials,'' says Gilberg, ''local nurserymen called us the fools who live on the hill.'' In a way, he concedes, they were right: ''Everything we own is on the line every spring. We gamble it all.'' The first year, using money raised from landscaping and small bank loans at 10%, it was a $200,000 toss of the dice. Their return: $475,000 in gross sales. This year, says Gilberg, the father of daughter Rebecca, 4, and son Graham, 1 (pictured with his dad at right), it will be a $500,000 crapshoot, with the cash coming from a combination of last year's sales and loans. He hopes for a gross of around $1.5 million. ''We believe these troubled times may make people turn to the serenity of gardening,'' he explains. Adds Cindy, 36, who took time out from the business to care for the children: ''I come from a very conservative background, and at the beginning, I had a hard time accepting the risks that Doug would take. But I've learned that if you know what you're doing and have confidence in your own vision, things usually turn out fine.''
tenacity frank rider
To hear Frank Rider tell it, he does only the things he loves. It just happens that his hobbies -- balloons and blimps -- make money for the high-flying Colorado entrepreneur, who formed Boulder Blimp in 1980. ''The true entrepreneur is not concerned with risk or failure,'' observes Rider, whose 13-person company earned $68,000 on revenues of $554,000 last year. ''The nature of risk is that you will fail,'' he says. ''Tenacity is what turns risk into success.'' Rider, 45, first showed his entrepreneurial mettle when he founded a sign- painting business while in high school in Lake Placid, Fla. That experience served him well 10 years later when, after graduating from Florida State and two years in the Army, including one in Vietnam, he decided in 1972 to pursue a lifelong dream of learning to fly. ''I couldn't afford lessons,'' he says, ''but I found a school that would accept a painted sign as payment.'' No sooner did Rider have his flying license, however, than he saw a hot-air balloon demonstration and instantly fell in love. ''I bought a $6,000 Piccard balloon in 1973 and charged people $100 a ride,'' he says. ''I also sold balloons and taught people to pilot them.'' In 1980 came yet another career crossroads when a friend asked him for a giant-size inflatable bottle to use as an advertising gimmick for a hand lotion called Skin Trip. Rider built it in a friend's garage, joining four- foot-by-20-foot vinyl panels on an industrial sewing machine borrowed from yet another friend. More jobs followed: giant Pepsi cans, olive oil containers, even a 20-foot-tall ''cash cow'' (shown at left) for California's lottery. Rider's small Boulder factory makes the balloons to order at prices that range from $4,000 to $10,000. Now, after 10 years of stable profits, he has turned over the day-to-day operations to his wife Susan, 42, while he indulges his latest whimsy: selling and leasing British-made blimps. Concludes Rider: ''You'd be crazy to do the things I do, but you'd be crazier if you didn't try.''
determination maria crowley
When she was just eight years old, Maria Elena Perez picked cotton for $3 a ! day in the fields outside Kingsville, Texas to supplement her family's $50-a- week income. When her mother died five years later, Maria was left the oldest of five children living in the town's Mexican-American ghetto, and there might have seemed little hope that she would escape the cycle of poverty around her. But those who knew Maria knew differently -- among them the eighth-grade teacher who told her star student, ''You will always be the best at whatever you decide to do.'' Those words inspired her to formulate the motto that she has lived by since: !Si, se puede!, which means ''yes, you can'' in Spanish. It was !Si, se puede! that carried Maria into the Marine Corps at 21, where she saw the world and developed a talent for leadership. The Corps took her to Bainbridge, Md., where she met and married David Crowley, now a personnel manager for a telecommunications firm. And his job moves eventually took the family, now augmented by children David and Cyndi, back to Texas in 1983 (albeit to Dallas, this time), where Maria worked as an office temp. It didn't take her long, however, to figure out that there was more money in providing firms with temporaries than in being one herself. So scraping up $5,000 in capital -- $4,000 of it borrowed against her husband's life insurance -- she founded TDY Personnel Services (TDY is Pentagon lingo for temporary duty), which grew from a gross of $39,000 in 1986 to $1.5 million last year. Crowley, who has been named Hispanic Business Woman of the Year by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneur of the Year by the professional services firm Ernst & Young, is happy to serve as a role model for women, Spanish-speakers and the poor. In fact, the only time she has failed to live up to her !Si, se puede! motto came -- through no fault of her own -- last fall. The Persian Gulf war was on the horizon, and Maria, by now 47, tried to re-enlist for the duration. ''They wouldn't take me,'' she shrugs. ''They said I was too old.''