Michael Vien, 36
Lesson: Prep as much as you can while you're on someone else's payroll
On the surface Michael Vien's move sounds ridiculously impulsive: He walked away from a mid-six-figure job in product development at Fidelity Investments to make games for kids. "I got strange looks from everyone," admits Vien. And that was before he said he was intent on making board games - you know, the kind folks played before computer games.
Yet in a key way, the move was thoroughly calculated. By the time he left his job this past February to make Poppo Brands a full-time occupation, Vien had already designed the word games Poppo and Zotto and tested them on 500 children. He'd manufactured thousands in China and found free storage space in a friend's warehouse. And he was signed up for the Toy Fair, the industry trade show, and had stashed away $200,000 - half from savings, half from friends - enough for nearly two years, according to his budget. All while working full time.
Vien, who had toiled at a desk for 14 years, came up with his idea on New Year's Eve 2005 while playing a board game with his two kids. The next morning he grabbed 24 games from store shelves, then used the parts to make a prototype of a game that requires players to press a plastic "popper" to shake an eight-sided die covered with letters. Vien often worked from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. writing a business plan and finding suppliers in China. He even took night shifts at toy stores so he could gauge consumer interest, see which packaging worked and figure out how much to charge. Six months into his part-time venture, he told HR he had something on the side. Another six months later, "I opened the escape hatch and out I went," says Vien, who sold almost $50,000 in games within 90 days of leaving.