Editor's Note: This article is part of a series profiling companies that started up for less than $10,000.

 

Company: Hendrick & Co.
Initial investment: $250
How he spent it: Used silk-screening machine, screenprinting supplies, blank T-shirts, website. Ten dollars from every sale goes to animal rescues.
2014 revenue: $2.35 million

 

Four years ago, David Hendrickson was a 23-year-old college dropout with a sick puppy. Hendrickson, who lived in a studio in Anaheim, California, was working three jobs and had $20,000 in debt from veterinarian bills; William, his Chihuahua-terrier mix, had been poisoned in the womb when his mother ingested household chemicals. While skateboarding one day, Hendrickson got an idea: Why not make T-shirts and skateboards to help rescue animals like William?

He's hardly the first entrepreneur to start a socially conscious apparel business. But unlike predecessor Life Is Good, Hendrick & Co. has relied on modern technology from its inception: Hendrickson even got his startup capital by selling an old iPhone for $250 on Craigs­list. That was enough to buy a used silk-screening machine and some white T-shirts onto which he screened William's silhouette. Using coffee-shop Wi-Fi, Hendrickson found online tutorials about building a website, and soon launched his company. From the beginning, he pledged to give a chunk of each sale to animal rescue groups, and now donates $10 per shirt (which he sells for around $25) and all other items.

Hendrickson was amazed that he could create a company for just $250 (and, yes, tons of sweat equity), but sales were slow for the first few months--until the Orange County Register published a front-page story about him. That day, he got 80 T-shirt orders. Soon he began pitching more reporters and using social media to recruit animal-loving customers.

But posting pictures of T-shirts on his Facebook page had zero effect on sales. Better was teaming up with animal rescue groups, which often used Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to send their donors to his website. The saga of Sammy, a blue-nosed pit bull torn up by dog fighting, raised $3,000 from Hendrick & Co. sales. His company even helps monkeys, turtles, and skunks. "You name it, we save it," he says.

Facebook in particular provided the customer base Hendrickson needed. The company now gets 90 percent of its revenue from social media, and it has given nearly $500,000 to save animals. Hendrick & Co. has expanded into pet products like apparel and toys, but gave up skateboards at the end of 2013 because it was selling only a handful of them each month.

Best of all, the pet who inspired it all is alive and well; two surgeries and more trips to the vet pulled William out of danger. "If you just focus on the product, people will tune out," Hendrickson says. "You have to share stories."

From the February 2015 issue of Inc. magazine