Startup dreams and startup realities are two very different things. Take office space as an example. While renting a spacious office in a downtown district may be ideal, many entrepreneurs spend their early days selling out of the back of a car.
Read on for the rags-to-riches stories of three entrepreneurs whose first office sat on four wheels.
Selling Shirts Out of Their Trunks
On March 17, 2008, Roberto Torres fired up his 2002 silver Nissan Altima with a specific mission in mind: to sell as many t-shirts as possible to retail stores in Florida. For the next six months, he and his business partner, Luis Montanez, traveled up and down the coast. They visited stores large and small, selling wares for their new business Black & Denim Apparel Company.
“No one thought we were working out of the bar of a car,” Torres remembers. “We had a post office box and a website. Everyone thought we had a building or warehouse and a distribution center.”
Over time the team collected enough money to open an office inside a warehouse in Tampa, Fla. Today, Torres, Montanez and their third business partner, Christopher Findeisin, sell shirts, denim and bags to more than 50 stores nationwide. The company is on par to hit $100,000 in revenue this year, says Torres.
Looking back, he feels sentimental about selling out of the Nissan.
“I miss it because it was really organic; we had opportunities to get feedback first-hand through shop owners,” he says.
Cupcakes to Go
A simple conversation at a high school reunion planning meeting changed the course of Reyne Hirsch’s life. It was 2010 and Hirsch was catching up with friends when she learned that two of them had the same dream she did: to open a cupcake business.
The three friends launched Icing Cupcakes in Houston in November 2010 by making cupcakes and giving them away to friends and family. Their business differentiator: cupcake delivery.
“We all had SUVs and every time someone put in an order on our website, we would bake the cupcakes and hand deliver them to customers' doors,” Hirsch says.
Although deliveries were only scheduled on Wednesdays and Fridays, the driving soon became too much for the trio. They opened a kitchen in May 2011 and invited customers to schedule cupcake pick-up times. The plan worked and their business blossomed. Today, Hirsch and her partners make select deliveries to large-order customers and focus on events.
Hirsch declines to reveal her revenue numbers, but says the company has been making money since its early days.
“We plan to open our anchor store this summer; we have two investors already,” she beams.
A Moving Business
About 10 years ago, Marty Metro hatched a new business idea, partly out of necessity. His longtime career as a business consultant had crashed when the Internet bubble burst and he was looking for a fresh start. Noticing the high volume of real estate activity in his hometown of Los Angeles, he devised a way to make money buying and selling moving boxes.
He and his wife printed flyers advertising moving box pick-up and plastered the notices everywhere. They then hopped in their 1995 red Audi and got to work. For the next several months, the pair picked up moving boxes and sorted them at home. They then printed flyers advertising the sale of used boxes and would drop off and pick up orders at all hours.
“I remember doing a delivery from Los Angeles to San Diego one day and then from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara the next day,” says Metro. “It was getting to be too much.”
Metro and his wife opened a retail store and named their business UsedCardboardBoxes.com. The store was a great move, allowing customers to drop off and pick up boxes without requiring Metro to log miles on his vehicle.
In 2006, Metro began raising money and the company has been growing ever since. Today, it is bringing in “almost $10 million in revenue,” he says. They buy boxes in bulk, turn them into packaged moving kits for individuals and work with large companies to supply shipping materials.
Backseat Business Advice
“Don’t fight the temptation to quit,” says Torres. “Tons of people work out of their cars. There is something humbling about it, knowing what it takes to prove a concept.”
Metro suggests car-based entrepreneurs establish a growth plan and check back with it often.
“What is your step-by-step process for getting out of the car?” he says. “Check off accomplishments day by day to stay on your path.”
Are you working out of the back of your car? What are your secrets to success?
Photo credit: Courtesy subject