Kelly Berger, 38, Laura Ching, 34, Ed Han, 36
Mountain View, Calif.
Lesson: Picking the right partner can be as important as picking a product
Not every business kicks off with a breakthrough idea. Or any idea at all. This one grew out of a bond shared by three friends: Kelly Berger, Laura Ching and Ed Han. "We were always hanging out, always bantering over ideas," recalls Han, who brought them together. He'd met Ching at business school, Berger at the start-up he worked for after graduating in 2000.
Soon the three were meeting once a week. "We really got along great," says Han. "We thought, 'Why not work with people you like?' " Plus, their skills were complementary. Han would handle operations; Berger, technology; and Ching, with her eye for design, would head marketing. So they began exploring ideas. One notion, a social-networking site for college alumni, fizzled, but it taught them that they didn't want a business that would consume a lot of money and require outside help. "We didn't want pressure from investors," says Han. "We wanted a place where we could work together for 30 years."
That place began to take shape in 2003, when Han's wife got pregnant. Searching online for birth announcements, he couldn't find any modern designs. In 2004 the threesome pooled their combined savings of $10,000 to launch Tiny Prints (tinyprints.com), where customers personalize cards that go for about $2 apiece. They quickly expanded to other occasions and, in mid-2005, stopped working out of their homes and began renting office space. Two years later, the company's revenue has surpassed $10 million. Oh, and the three still like one another. "Day to day, we try to stay out of each other's business," says Ching. "And when we make joint decisions, like about pricing, we make sure the company doesn't get in the way of our friendship."