How a Father of 3 Built a Million-Dollar Business Around Craft Supplies

Brett Haugen’s million-dollar screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-2-47-52-pmbusiness idea hatched eight years ago when his wife, Mary, asked for a favor. She wanted him to use his design and woodworking skills to build storage units that could hold all of her crafting materials—ink pads, markers, paper punches—in one place.

Mary loved the custom cabinets he made for her, and her friends did too. Haugen, a mechanical engineer and manager at a computer-parts manufacturing company, sensed a business opportunity. “The only thing being sold in stores were generic storage units,” he says.

To test the market, Haugen built a few dozen products in his garage and posted them on eBay in early 2009. It was a good proving ground. Units that hold 48 ink pads, for instance, took 15 minutes to assemble, cost $5 in materials, and quickly sold out at $35 apiece, he says. But a display shelf was a dud. “It was generic,” he says in hindsight.

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Picturing the Way to a New Career

James Oliver can thank HGTVjames-oliver for his business idea. In June 2011 his wife, Ayana, called him upstairs to watch a couple decorating their living room. “They were hanging wallpaper that had a collage of their family photos,” recalls Oliver, a father of twins. “They said anyone could do it, but I couldn’t find how to do it anywhere.”

Oliver, a self-employed small-business strategist, saw an opportunity. Without giving up his consulting work, Oliver found printing and distribution companies and created WeMontage’s sample product: a photo collage printed on removable wallpaper.

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How Two Friends Teamed Up to Sell Robots to Kids

When Marina Bers and Mitch Rosenberg Kinderlabmet at a 9-year-old’s birthday party in May 2011, they discussed a business idea, fittingly, for children. They arrived with their kids, who went to school together, and Bers buttonholed Rosenberg—who had a background in engineering and marketing—to discuss a prototype she was developing: A robotic toy that teaches problem-solving skills to 4- to 7-year-olds using computer science principles.

Bers, a child study and human development professor at Tufts University, wanted a startup veteran to help build her toy into a viable business. Rosenberg liked the product but wasn’t ready to leave his $190,000 paycheck. The following year, however, Amazon acquired Rosenberg’s company—a robotics manufacturer—and the payout on his equity stake was enough to let him forgo a salary, for a while at least, and take a risk.

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A Sound Proposition

Six years of working at a nonprofit 150609_pac_john-bialkoffering rental housing to low-income families taught John Bialk just how precious quiet can be. He frequently fielded noise complaints from tenants—from late-night parties to loud TVs. And these issues often led to nasty feuds between neighbors. “I’d see cars keyed, tires flattened, physical threats,” says the Neshkoro, Wis., resident. “As a property manager, you sit at your desk waiting for bad things to happen.” In the meantime, he came up with a solution: a noise-monitoring system that works on a wireless network to alert landlords to problems.

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Putting a Face to Your Startup’s Website

What better place to connect online AboutUswith customers, investors, media, job seekers and the like than through your business’s “about us” section?

While naturally, plugs for products or services are best kept separate from this precious piece of real estate, the opportunity to connect with customers on a personal level is yours for the taking. Still, many young entrepreneurs struggle to utilize the space to its full potential.

So, what’s the best way to show who you are, where you started, where you’re going and what makes your company tick? Click here for tips on personalizing your “about us” page to help your company stand out from the crowd:

MONEY: Investing With Friends And Family

Last year more than one in 10 entrepreneurs
borrowed from friends and family, according to the National Small Business Association. Think you’ll need to go this route? Tap your support system the right way.

For a story for MONEY magazine’s April issue, I spoke to family business consultants to uncover three strategies for “keeping up relations when your brother is the banker.” Click here to read the piece.