Eleven great companies that were launched for less

The Company: CrossCountry Courier, Bismarck, N. Dak.; founded 1979. Provides courier and delivery services

Winner of... The Tom Arnold Piggyback Award (for best use of other companies' coattails)

The Founder(s): Dewey Tietz. Formerly a manager at an equipment manufacturer

$$ Started With: $1,500

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $4.8 million in sales, $240,000 in pretax profits, 104 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): Instead of using pay phones to call his office when alerted by beeper that a delivery was needed, Tietz located 10 businesses around the city whose phones he could use. Savings were about $2,000 a year.

Key Early Capital Sources: Personal savings

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 12; first salary, $8,400/year

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: First delivery truck. Had 100,000 miles and cost $650. Covered another 175,000 miles without major repairs.

Stretched Cash By... dressing the way I do. "I've got the money now, but I don't spend it on clothes. When I ask more of employees, I'm not squeezing them so I can look better. I'm squeezing them so they can look better."

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): Would take any job -- even floral deliveries. One Halloween Tietz crammed the van with 45 arrangements and a roly-poly five-gallon pumpkin. The flowers survived -- sort of.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 225. "It was more of a closet, really."

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Stayed the same; menu included hot dogs four times a week. At first, total personal budget was $14 a day.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... for lack of warehouse space, using a Kmart parking lot to sort packages.

* * *

The Company: Buckeye Beans & Herbs, Spokane, Wash.; founded 1983. Manufactures specialty foods

Winner of... The Mickey Rooney Hey-Kids-Let's-Put-on-a-Show Award (for savviest impromptu use of local talent)

The Founder(s): Jill and Doug Smith. She's a potter who started Buckeye as a Christmas project; he formerly sold real estate.

$$ Started With: $1,000

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $6.3 million in sales, $800,000 in pretax profits, 32 employees

Key Early Capital Sources: Suppliers

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 36 (Doug) and 60 (Jill); Jill kept her pottery business on the side.

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Makeshift bean-packaging machine. It was an old semiautomated rig from a candy manufacturer; the Smiths gave the owner "a few dollars," rebuilt it, and use it still.

Stretched Cash By... using local suppliers, including summering professionals from big cities and the nearby USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, which distributed 45,000 Buckeye samples nationwide, free, just to spread the leguminous word.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): To get the most from independent sales reps, Doug travels with them and does presentations to set the tone. "We don't send out a broker and say, 'Good luck."

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 120, in a house basement. Later used a 300-square-foot renovated schoolhouse

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Doug lost an unspecified amount; now gaining on a diet of fancy food eaten at shows.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... their banker won't let them take much salary -- $75,000 for both of them.

The Company: Civco Medical Instruments, Kalona, Iowa; founded 1982. Manufactures medical accessories

Winner of... The Jane Fonda Feel-the-Burn Award (for most weight loss and greatest diet improvement during start-up)

The Founder(s): Victor J. Wedel. Formerly chief technologist, University of Iowa

$$ Started With: $100

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $3.2 million in sales, $800,000 in pretax profits, 35 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): With $25 of the start-up money, bought plastic pieces to assemble (with the family's help) peripheral medical items (mostly related to delivering babies).

Key Early Capital Sources: Bank loan

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 36; his wife worked full-time, he worked part-time on the side. First salary, $8,000/year

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Endorsement by former colleagues at the University of Iowa. They tested Civco's ultrasound needle guide and published a paper on its safety and accuracy.

Stretched Cash By... a (well-timed) three-way deal. A big ultrasound company gave Civco a $140,000 purchase order, which "induced" a local machine shop to produce the guides on 60 days' credit -- during which the big company paid up.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): Agreed to sell Civco needle guides to an ultrasound manufacturer at a huge discount if the manufacturer could get its sales force to sell the guides along with ultrasounds.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 90, in his son's bedroom. Moved to an Amish washroom (100 square feet) on his property after a year

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Lost 15; became a "health nut." Also made a tape recording of positive thoughts and affirmations.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... sometimes losing customers. Cheap, unreliable fax machine cost Civco some orders.

* * *

The Company: Clear Image, Orem, Utah; founded 1980. Produces and duplicates videos

Winner of... The Ronald Reagan Most-Unlikely-Career-Change Award (for succeeding despite inappropriate prior job experience)

The Founder(s): Kelly M. Thayer. Formerly a shoe salesman

$$ Started With: $600

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $9 million in sales, $810,000 in pretax profits, 90 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): Videotaped local baseball games and screened them in the pizza parlor where players unwound after the game. Players would come to watch themselves, and Thayer would sell copies.

Key Early Capital Sources: Unemployment check after being laid off from a department store

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 36; lived off his wife's income from the same store that fired him. First salary, $900/month

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Business plan produced by an M.B.A. class at Brigham Young University. Class analyzed Thayer's company and concluded it would fail. He used the plan anyway.

Stretched Cash By... paying only for space actually used in the old Osmond Studios (remember "The Donny and Marie Show"?), despite having access to all 100,000 square feet. "I have to explain to clients that they aren't paying for all of it."

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): Thayer put $45,000 on credit cards to produce a recruitment video for a multilevel marketer, whose members ordered 100,000 the first month. Clear Image made $280,000.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 300, in the living room of his apartment

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Stayed the same.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... flying coach while clients (on the same plane) fly first class.

* * *

The Company: ExecuTrain, Atlanta; founded 1984. Provides and franchises software training

Winner of... The Bo Jackson They-Said-It Couldn't-Be-Done Award (for flouting the prognostications of experts)

The Founder(s): David and Kim Deutsch (with Mike Addison and Mike Moss). David had an M.B.A.; Kim, working toward hers, submitted the ExecuTrain business plan for a course. The class gave it an F.

$$ Started With: $500

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $15 million in sales, $3.5 million in pretax profits, 101 employees, (not including franchises)

Key Early Capital Sources: 20 credit cards, small loans from family, customer financing

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 12; two of the partners kept day jobs. Took expenses in year two.

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Six months of free rent in the company's first real office. "That was our number one criterion for office space -- how many months of free rent?"

Stretched Cash By... offering annual "memberships" in lieu of per-class pricing. By paying $1,000 up front, a customer could send one employee to an unlimited number of classes during the year. Also offered discount "coupons" to prepayers.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): Conducted gratis workshops for Georgia Tech University; got free advertising, credibility, and repeat business.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 30, on the back porch of an apartment. First classroom: 375 square feet in back of a computer store

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Both lost an unspecified amount because they ran more to reduce stress.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... ...making the mistake of taking on nonactive minority shareholders.

* * *

The Company: Daydots Label, Fort Worth; founded 1985. Manufactures self-adhesive labels

Winner of... The Maria Von Trapp Family-Fun Award (for best use of homegrown labor)

The Founder(s): Mike Milliorn. Formerly a salesman for a printing company. "I didn't intend to leave my job. I was just trying to bring in a couple hundred bucks a month to make the house payment."

$$ Started With: $0

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $4.6 million in sales, $690,000 in pretax profits, 42 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): David formed a lunch club with one of his partners, who paid him $1 to make peanut-butter sandwiches.

Key Early Capital Sources: Bank loan

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 60, but kept his printing job while running the business. First salary, $40,000/year

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Used a press from a defunct label company. Wasn't free but saved $20,000.

Stretched Cash By... using multiple vendors. Three paper vendors, for instance, get 70%, 20%, and 10% of Daydots' business, respectively. Each knows where it stands relative to the others. "It keeps them looking for ways to save me money."

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): For his initial mailing, Milliorn bought a list of 5,000 names from a trade magazine with $6,000 borrowed against the family car.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 300, in the kitchen and the game room of his home, where the entire family sorted and stuffed envelopes

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Gained 15. "I got a lot less exercise when I had to give up coaching soccer, and the family ate out more."

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... ...cleaning your own restrooms.

* * *

The Company: Spectrum Associates, Woburn, Mass.; founded 1987. Provides software products and services

Winner of... The Bob Vila Do-It-Yourself-Enterprise-Zone Award (for best entrepreneurial use of a condemned structure)

The Founder(s): John Nugent and Tony Baudanza. Formerly customer-service managers at a venture-backed software company

$$ Started With: $0

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $38 million in sales, $5.7 million in pretax profits, 115 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): When the staff numbered five, employees complained about not having a receptionist. OK, the founders said, we'll take $25,000 from the bonus pool to hire one. "They were right back on the phones."

Key Early Capital Sources: Customers who prepaid

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 4; first salary, $30,000/year each

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Office space in a building that had actually been condemned. "We knew at any moment we could get a call that the wrecking ball was coming." Cost: $200 a month

Stretched Cash By... asking employees to buy their own tools. Rather than providing the "586 machine with color monitor and trackball" most tech workers want, Spectrum offers to finance the purchase -- but the employee pays for and owns it.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): To keep sales costs down, the founders persuaded six salespeople to put up $10,000 to $40,000 each to start their own sales-rep organizations to peddle Spectrum products.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 300

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Stayed the same.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... image problems. Woburn location is on the "wrong" side of Route 128, but rent is cheap.

* * *

The Company: Bruno Independent Living Aids, Oconomowoc, Wis.; founded 1983. Manufactures wheelchairs, scooters, and scooter lifts for cars

Winner of... The Ross Perot Infomercial-Waiting-to-Happen Award (for accepting -- not to say basking in -- the necessity of self-promotion)

The Founder(s): Michael Bruno. Former food broker and marketing manager for medical companies; also started now-defunct mail-order catalog. Got last employer to agree to let him do market research for his current company while still on the payroll.

$$ Started With: $8,500

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $9 million in sales, $600,000-plus, in pretax profits, 72 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): With no money for brochures, found 24-hour photo place to print 100 color copies from a negative. "That worked for the first couple of years."

Key Early Capital Sources: Two friends, four credit cards, countless suppliers. "When you're bootstrapping, you've got to be great at selling suppliers on yourself."

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 12; first salary, $25,000/year. Salary in prior job: $70,000

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: A trade-show booth -- free the first year, half price the second.

Stretched Cash By... outsourcing manufacturing to his old employer.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): "Presold" for dealers, including making Saturday calls on prospects who responded to ads.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 600, in a garage. Next, an unfinished space in an insurance office. Later moved into an 1,800-square-foot storage building, with just 500 square feet for manufacturing.

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Lost 15, despite a diet of casseroles, bratwurst, and burgers. On a low-fat diet now.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... "I had to pass up a $500,000 deal two years into business because the bank wouldn't lend me $20,000."

* * *

The Company: Victorian Papers, Kansas City, Mo.; founded 1987. Sells greeting cards and gifts wholesale, retail, and through catalogs

Winner of... The Madonna Ciccone Today-Is-the-First-Day-of-the-Rest-of-Your-Life Award (for most skillful reinvention of self for new markets)

The Founder(s): Melissa and Randy Rolston. Randy worked for an ad agency and then started one. Melissa, a former free-lance illustrator and at-home mom, created a birth announcement that led to the birth of the company.

$$ Started With: $0

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $3.5 million in sales, $420,000 in pretax profits, 56 employees

Key Early Capital Sources: Savings, suppliers, credit cards

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: Almost 0; drew cash for expenses. Salary still is not fixed; comes from profits, varies from month to month.

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Steel desks bought at auction, 10 for $50. "It cost more to haul them away."

Stretched Cash By... reviewing cash and inventory reports twice a week, and budgets once a month rather than once a year.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): Continue to buy premium magazine ads at the last minute for a quarter of the regular price; now magazines call them with deals. "If they're not getting full price, they'd rather call someone they know."

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 300, in an attic

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Stayed the same.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... always underestimating growth. Before they buy anything major, they ask, "What if sales stay flat?"

* * *

The Company: Metrographics Printing & Computer Services, Fairfield, N.J.; founded 1987. Distributes printing and computer services

Winner of... The Kyle McLachlan Dream-Headquarters-Commissary Award (for best coffee and doughnuts at first start-up office)

The Founder(s): Andrew Duke, Jeff Bernstein, and Patrick Veltri. Duke was a big-company veteran who got sick of hearing, "Don't worry about the customers. There'll always be plenty of them."

$$ Started With: $100 each

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $2.5 million in sales, $200,000 in pretax profits, 12 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): To appear bigger, rented a suite number that was really a post-office box. Gambit backfired when delivery of 15 boxes came to said "address."

Key Early Capital Sources: Suppliers

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: 6; then expenses only for the next 6. Partners still work on commission.

Best Free (or Nearly Free) Stuff: Office furniture, worth $5,000, from outgoing tenant. Bartered a year of free printing services to get it. Old tenant is still a customer.

Stretched Cash By... not paying salespeople's expenses, which forces them to think like entrepreneurs and use money wisely. No ceiling on pay and no territories -- salespeople call the shots.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: 9, at the coffee counter of the Dunkin' Donuts halfway between the partners' homes. Asked suppliers to meet at their offices.

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Stayed the same. Ate lots of fast food but didn't starve because their wives worked.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... "We use all of our vendors' 800 numbers, and if they don't have one, we ask them to get one."

The Company: NorthWord Press, Minocqua, Wis.; founded 1984. Publishes nature books and tapes

Winner of... The Energizer Bunny Still-Going Award (for refusing to take no for an answer)

The Founder(s): Tom and Pat Klein. He was a nonprofit administrator; she quit her job in a frame shop to start the company.

$$ Started With: $600

Numbers Now (1993 projections): $7.6 million in sales, $700,000-plus in pretax profits, 45 employees

Most Shameless Ploy for Getting off the Ground (or Surviving While Stuck There): To simulate a real office environment, played a tape of typing when anyone called.

Key Early Capital Sources: Prepaying customers; cash flow from first book, Loon Magic; one angel

Number of Months Before First Paycheck: Almost 0; drew $12,000 in each of the first two years, $24,000 in the following two.

Stretched Cash By... chasing those accounts receivable, dammit. To collect $20,000 from a major distributor, Pat visited the company personally. Comptroller claimed to be unable to do anything without the president's approval, so Pat found the president -- who claimed the check-writing machine was broken. "I said, 'I'll accept a handwritten check." She got it. Distributor is still a customer.

What Selling Cycle? (or How I Cut Corners and Reached Customers Fast): Guerrilla marketing 101: told every acquaintance to call Waldenbooks and B. Dalton and ask for Loon Magic. After a few months, orders arrived. Also assembled "market advisory committee" of outside professionals instead of building their own marketing department.

Square Footage of Start-up Headquarters: Uncertain; ramshackle country home doubled as a warehouse. "We'd get into bed surrounded by books."

# of Pounds Gained/Lost During Start-up: Tom gained 20; Pat stayed the same. Tom is now back to normal.

Life in the Cheap Lane Means... "I call people at noon hours, when they're out, so they'll call me back."