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The Risk Takers: These Entrepreneurs' Leaps of Faith Pay Off Big

The new book The Risk Takers is about ordinary people who started with very little, took a leap of faith, and started their own businesses.  They persevered through disappointment and failure and ultimately built multimillion-dollar companies.

When it comes to entrepreneurial success, the best teachers are the people who have achieved it.  In fields as diverse as fashion, food, tech support and real estate, entrepreneurs like Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea,

Curves founder Gary Heavin, Spanx founder Sara Blakely, and Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens have built flourishing enterprises by starting with a good idea, trusting their guts and overcoming adversity.

Their inspiring stories, captured through candid, in-depth, interviews by Renee and Don Martin, themselves millionaire entrepreneurs, are presented in the Martins’ new book, The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies for Success.

Seeking to identify the strategies that create rags-to-riches success, the Martins spoke with some of the country’s most high-profile entrepreneurs – including those mentioned above – as well as Barbara Corcoran of the Corcoran Group, John Paul DeJoria of John Paul Mitchell Systems, Liz Lange of Liz Lange Maternity, Linda Alvarado of Alvarado Construction and Andy Berliner of Amy’s Kitchen, among others.  As the Martins conducted their interviews, they discovered patterns in the ways that these entrepreneurs created and built their businesses.  In The Risk Takers, the authors not only reveal the behind-the-scenes personal stories of each entrepreneur, but also share the common traits and strategies that led to their successes, providing inspiration for anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations.

Buck the Conventional Wisdom

The entrepreneurs featured in The Risk Takers ignored those who said, “It won’t work” or “It’s never been done before.”  They succeeded in large part because they veered away from established formulas and ways of thinking.  For example, when Sara Blakely cut off the feet of a pair of pantyhose and created a new body-shaping undergarment that eliminated unsightly panty lines, she knew she had found a solution to a problem most women faced.  For an entire year, hosiery mills dismissed her concept as a bad idea doomed for failure.  But that didn’t stop Sara from trusting her gut and persevering.  She wasn’t afraid to shatter standard hosiery-industry practices; she knew she was onto something new.  Today, Spanx generates $350 million in annual sales.

Gary Heavin ignored the conventional wisdom that profitable gyms must be sprawling, multiroom facilities offering a host of services and filled with pricey (and complicated) fitness equipment.  He built his Curves franchise system around sparse, 600-square-foot facilities that have no saunas, no tanning beds, no juice bars and no pools.  And the business catered to middle-aged and older women. Today, Curves has more than 10,000 franchises in 69 countries.

Go on a Treasure Hunt and Find an Underserved Niche

In the business world, there’s nothing more exciting than finding an underserved niche representing a lucrative market that everyone else has failed to spot and target.  Even a huge, multibillion-dollar company can’t offer something for everyone.  The authors advise entrepreneurs to look for ways to fill a niche – a road even start-ups can take.  Many niches are too small for giant corporations to consider. In the early ‘90s, for example, Robert Stephens recognized that more and more people were using computers at home.  But most of these home computer users had limited technical knowledge.  If their hard drives crashed, they were thrown into a state of panic. Stephens saw opportunity in this underserved niche.  He started making computer-repair house calls. That marked the beginning of Geek Squad.

Liz Lange launched her own maternity-clothing line, Liz Lange Maternity, after discovering that her pregnant friends were frustrated by the frumpy and ill-fitting maternity clothes available on the market.  Using newly developed stretch fabrics, Liz designed her own chic maternity line and targeted a customer niche ignored by others: pregnant fashionistas.  Her company changed the face of the maternity-wear industry.

Never Let Adversity or Failure Defeat You

The entrepreneurs featured in The Risk Takers also stayed strong and remained optimistic despite adversity or others’ lack of faith.  The authors describe how, as a child, Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea was a perpetually poor student because of his undiagnosed ADHD and dyslexia – but he never gave up on himself.  He launched Kinko’s while still in college. And here’s an anecdote that new college grads may take to heart.  Between the time David Steward graduated from college and landed his first full-time permanent job, he sent out about four hundred resumes and averaged two to three job interviews a week for three years.  Ultimately, he launched World Wide Technology, the nation’s highest-grossing industrial service company owned by a black American.  In 2008, sales reached $2.5 billion.

The Martins reveal other business strategies as well, including these:

Trust Your Gut (tapping the power of intuition)
Just Start! (a challenge to procrastinators)
Spot a New Trend and Pounce
Hit ‘em Where They Ain’t (an old baseball adage that also applies in business)
Save Your Bucks and Get Noticed Without Expensive Advertising (the potentially goofiest but most-fun strategy)
Exploit Your Competitor’s Weakness and Make It Your Strength
Never Stop Reinventing Your Company

The Risk Takers is designed to illustrate that starting and expanding a business has never been easy, in any era or any economy.  However, an entrepreneur’s level of commitment and willingness to buck convention often outweigh all other factors in determining whether a business flourishes.  As the authors explain, “We wrote this book because we want to remind readers about the power of the entrepreneurial spirit, the promise of the American Dream.”

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