I sit in the lucky position as an investor / shark on the popular ABC show Shark Tank and I’ve seen hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their businesses there. I’ve invested in a dozen, and a few have succeeded even beyond my expectations. I’ve learned that the most successful entrepreneurs all came up with their new business ideas the very same way: by turning their personal interest into a business while still maintaining a full-time job. Here are a few examples:
Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac, two young cousins from Maine, grew up loving fresh Maine lobster. After college Jim was working as a medical sales rep in Boston and Sabin in real estate in Southern California. When they decided to rehab an old food truck and sell lobster rolls on weekends, Cousins Maine Lobster was born! In their first month, they sold $30,000 in lobster rolls. They both quit their jobs, Jim moved to LA, and they charged full-time into their new lobster truck business. One year later Sabin and Jim have three trucks, an on-line distribution business, and a brick-and-mortar lobster restaurant in LA. This year they’ll roll out their first Cousins Maine Lobster food truck franchise! A weekend job that exploded into a lucrative business.
Tiffany Krumins was working as a full-time nanny in Auburn, Georgia, and volunteering at a local AIDS clinic for children on weekends. Medicine time at the clinic was eight times a day and the worst time for the kids. It broke Tiffany’s heart to watch the children cry, so she invented a clay model of an elephant with a medicine dispenser hidden inside along with a recording of her own sweet voice cheering the kids on. “Ready? … One, two, three! … Good job!” and the kids happily swallowed their medicine. That was four years ago and now “Ava the Elephant” is sold in almost every large pharmacy in America and is distributed at clinics across the nation. A part-time job and an obsession that turned into a full-fledged business.
Kim Daisy of Auburn, Georgia, loved baking cakes, just like her mother and grandmother before her. She was a full-time mom making cakes to help raise funds for the local junior league and quickly found she couldn’t keep up with the orders as the popularity of her cakes spread beyond Georgia. So Daisy designed an old-fashioned cake tin, packed her well-loved cakes inside and started freezing and shipping them to customers outside the state. “Daisy Cakes” was born just as her kids were heading off to college. The business is now in its fourth year selling thousands of cakes online direct to customers nationwide. Sales last year were $1.2 million and this year she will double her volume. And her secret sauce was she started her business as a happy sideline.
Darryl Lenz, pictured above and on the left, was a full-time flight attendant and mother of two working for the same airline for more than twenty years. As a flight attendant, she watched parents struggling through airport security every day, trying to manage the foldable stroller, plus their hand luggage, plus their children – no easy feat. Voila! Darryl had an idea and invented the “Ride-on-Carry-On” travel chair.
It’s a small, sturdy chair with an adjustable front tray. When the chair is opened it slips comfortably into the front pocket of the parents’ rolling luggage and gives the kids a free, secure ride through the airport. At the gate the chair folds flat to slip easily into the plane’s overhead luggage compartment. Today the Ride-On-Carry-On sells like hot cakes, and Darryl manages the business while still keeping her full-time job as a flight attendant.
Often the secret to starting a successful business is doing it while you’re busy doing your everyday job and following a hunch that what you love might be just what a lot of customers out there are willing to pay for.
Barbara Corcoran is an entrepreneur, a Shark on ABC’s hit TV show, Shark Tank, and the author of “Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.”
Photos: Darryl Lenz of “Ride-on-Carry-On.”