Sandy Ip, 28 New York City
Lesson: Do what makes you happy - because at first, happiness is likely to be your main reward
Sandy Ip is still a little stunned at what hard work it is to build a business. She sounds almost apologetic as she tallies up her first jewelry line's sales: $45,000 in eight months. "Not great, I know," she says. Then again, founding a jewelry firm was not what she expected to do or what was expected of her when she earned her M.B.A. "My parents are totally against this," says the Hong Kong native. (She has yet to tell them about the $30,000 mortgage she took out on her apartment for seed money.)
Two years ago she started importing jewelry from an Asian factory run by a business-school friend and selling it at crafts shows. Sensing she could do more, she quit her job at a real estate investment firm in 2006 and abandoned the Wall Street career she seemed destined to have. "I wasn't really happy," she says. "I had done what my family wanted."
But she knew zilch about the jewelry business. She began reading blogs and magazines, and she quizzed every sales rep she met. She soon realized that she wanted to design her own line, which took six months. Her factory-owning friend agreed to make samples. Ip used Google to track down every jewelry showroom in New York City, then called each. The few that returned her calls got photos; if they kept talking to her, she brought them sketches. Her persistence paid off when one eventually agreed to sell her work, and that break earned her the attention of Bloomingdales.com and Off Saks Fifth Avenue stores. (She also sells direct to consumers over her Web site, ippie.com.) "We're moving ahead," says Ip. "And I'm doing what makes me happy."