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HOW I DID IT

14 Tales of Unexpected Success

Fourteen company builders talk about their successes, their failures, and the lessons they learned along the way.
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Two were fired from the companies they formed. Another worked 20 years for his overnight success. Another silenced her critics with a $120 million payday. These and other company founders talk about the emotional roller coaster that is entrepreneurship.

Out of the Coma. Back to the Office.

Rob McGovern took his first business, CareerBuilder, public, then was part of a group that took it private, at a cost of $250 million, in 2000. Four years later, he founded the online job-search site Jobfox, which last year had revenue of $15 million to $20 million. Read More

How to Raise $1.2 Million in Venture Capital

Drew Houston is the co-founder of the cloud-based file storage service Dropbox, which recently signed up its 25 millionth user. Read More

How to Handle Crazy Demand

Robert Croak founded Brainchild Products in 2003. In 2006, the Toledo, Ohio-based company started a national fashion phenomenon with the introduction of colorful, shaped rubber-band bracelets called Silly Bandz. Read More

Breaking Through Stereotypes

Bethenny Frankel rose to stardom as a cast member of Bravo's Real Housewives of New York. She then wrote two New York Times bestsellers and launched the Skinnygirl liquor brand, which she recently sold to Beam Global Spirits & Wine for a reported $120 million. Read More

How to Stay at No. 1

Niklas Hed is co-founder of Rovio Mobile, the Finnish company behind the hit smartphone app Angry Birds. The game, released in December 2009, has been downloaded more than 200 million times. Read More

What to Do When You're Fired From the Company You Started

In 1988, Jeffrey Hollender co-founded Seventh Generation, a Burlington, Vermont-based manufacturer of eco-friendly household products. He stepped down as CEO of the $150 million company in 2009 but remained on the board of directors and became the company's so-called chief inspired protagonist. In October of last year, he was fired. Read More

Learning to Communicate With Employees

Cal McAllister is founder and creative director, with Ian Cohen (also founder, also creative director), of Wexley School for Girls, a very nontraditional advertising agency based in Seattle. Read More

Coping With a Natural Disaster

Corey Russ is a former combat medic for the U.S. Army Special Forces. In 2008, he founded Combat Medical Systems, which sells and develops medical supplies for the military. Read More

Surviving a Really Bad Year

In 2009, Greg Nemeth, along with co-founder Arun Gupta, dropped out of college to work full time on a start-up company, WakeMate. The company's eponymous product, a mobile-connected wristband that would track users' sleep patterns and wake them up at an optimal time, had already generated buzz on tech blogs, and Nemeth presold thousands of units. He was confident they would be ready for shipping soon. But a series of technical issues delayed the WakeMate's release for nearly a year. Read More

Confessions of a Former Entrepreneur

Sam Yagan started his first company, SparkNotes, as a Harvard senior in 1999 and sold it the next year for $30 million. In January, he sold his third company, dating website OkCupid, to IAC for $50 million. Read More

How One Company Got Very Hot, Very Briefly

In November 2009, an anonymous solitary entrepreneur hacked together a service that randomly paired up strangers in video chats. The phenomenon, known as Chatroulette, was bizarre, often sexually explicit, and always fascinating. Within a matter of months, Chatroulette had tens of thousands of daily users and was a media sensation in the U.S. What no one knew was that its founder was a 17-year-old video game aficionado named Andrey Ternovskiy, who lived with his parents in Moscow. Read More

Buying Back the Company

For years, Garrett Camp ran StumbleUpon, a service for discovering and sharing webpages, part time while finishing his master's thesis at the University of Calgary. In 2007, within a year of moving the company to San Francisco, he sold it to eBay. In 2009, he organized an investor group to buy the company back. Read More

Dealing With an IPO Nightmare

Dale Ball started Ball Products in 1984. It became one of the largest manufacturers and sellers of tennis-court products in the U.S., and Ball took the company public in 2003. Less than two years later, the man whose name was on the door was out. Read More

Staying Dedicated to His Mission

Demetrius Walker founded dN|Be Apparel with six friends from college in 2005. The company's shirts, featuring messages of black empowerment, became popular with hip-hop fans and have been worn by musicians such as Common and Wyclef Jean. They also drew the attention of Rhymefest, who won a Grammy for co-writing Kanye West's hit "Jesus Walks." After leaving his record label in 2009, the rapper approached Walker and his co-founders about starting their own music venture. Read More

From the July/August 2011 issue of Inc. magazine




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