Unicycle.com and Banjo.com

Marietta, Ga

“After working for IBM nearly 23 years, I told my father-in-law that I planned to open a website to sell unicycles” explains John Drummond in an email to FoxBusiness.com. His father-in-law’s response: "How many clowns do you know?" But, like most entrepreneurs who run into critics of their out-of-the-box thinking, Drummond was not fazed.  In 1999, at the height of the dot.com bust and without any connections to clowns, he launched Unicycle.com as a fun side business. Within seven months, Drummond says he was making more from his unicycle retail site than from his full-time salary with IBM. Today, according to Drummond, the website exceeds $1 million in revenues from its sales of unicycle equipment, accessories and apparel. Keeping the product line diverse and innovative has helped the company weather the economic climate.

Drummond’s entrepreneurial wheels continue to spin. He also runs Banjo.com, a 7-year-old retail site catering to the bluegrass musical instrument industry.  “Riding a unicycle and playing the banjo, though not at the same time, have been my hobbies since childhood” writes Drummond. “We've been fortunate to earn a living with these two product lines.  We employ nine people, and our ‘little engine’ keeps chugging along year after year.”

Ace Tax Services ; Ena’s Driving School

Queens, NY

There are many things one can learn in the Marine Corps, but Rajendra Hariprashad relied on one unlikely skill when he was deployed: income tax preparation. After serving as a Marine for four years, Hariprashad used the tax knowledge he picked-up to start a preparation and planning business in his parents’ house, Ace Tax Services. But once tax season ended, he was out of work. Hariprashad got a job at a local driving school to make ends meet during the off-season and soon learned enough about that industry to launch his second entrepreneurial venture, Ena’s Driving School. It took the New Yorker some time to get his training school off the ground. 

“When I finally opened for business there was no business for a while,” Hariprashad recalls in an email to FoxBusiness.com. “On Fridays, my mom would come to pay my secretary because I didn't make enough money.  It was embarrassing.”  Today, he says, his companies are trucking along. Ace Tax Services and Ena’s Driving School each have two locations in New York City and attract clients within and beyond the big city limits.

Adventurous Muse Store

Hiawassee, Ga

Don Rickert has been fiddling around with musical instrument design since he was a teenager. The industrial designer finally turned his passion into a full-time job four years ago when he started selling his own professional-level custom string instruments through his web site Adventurous Muse Store. One of his most popular products is a travel-sized violin that can be packed and transported by everyone from the casual commuter to the venturesome backpacker. As his company’s only full-time employee, Rickert finds it tough to balance his time between handcrafting his products and overseeing business development. To help his instrument business grow, the entrepreneur is planning to invest in machinery to help accelerate parts of the production process. 

Rickert hopes this will allow him to fill orders faster, sell more instruments, and eventually lower his prices. He is also focused on building brand recognition through viral marketing strategies, including YouTube videos demonstrating the sound capabilities of his products. Rickert still occasionally picks up consulting jobs to help pay the bills and support his company, but a return to the full-time corporate world does not seem to be in his future. “I think a lot about doing something else,” says Rickert, who believes many of his industrial design colleagues think he’s crazy for trying to make a living off building his American-made instruments. “But, whenever that happens I get a bunch of sales and get distracted building things.”

Golden Paws

Houston, Texas

Sisters Mitzi Parrish and Rianne Morgan have been in the pet grooming industry for more than 40 years. They learned the ins-and-outs of the business from their mother and now run Golden Paws, a nationwide training school for current and aspiring pet stylists with 7 locations, two more scheduled to open soon, and an online learning program that allows groomers to enroll from anywhere in the country.  “The pet grooming business is booming,” writes Parrish in her email to FoxBusiness.com. And, according to her, it’s worth keeping your eyes on. She is currently developing a pilot TV show focused on the bond between people and their pets.

Griffin Cyber-Security

California, Md

As William Mesmer explains in an email to FoxBusiness.com, he is setting out to tackle what he believes to be a major “security problem that faces every person who holds a banking check card, credit card, and more.” The start-up he’s launching, Griffin Cyber-Security, claims to have developed a proprietary server program and mobile application software that can put a halt to fraudulent online financial activity. But the company’s biggest hurdle may be managing their own cash flow. Mesmer is looking for $500,000 in seed money to launch his prototype and cover advertising and initial operating costs. Venture capitalists and investors are hesitant to pay the entrepreneurial venture much attention until they are able to see his web site and test the security service. Despite the “wild ride” that may lie ahead of this fledgling start-up, Mesmer remains driven and hopes to get his web site up this year. “We are very optimistic and excited about the growth and profit potential here.”

Are you, or do you know, a well-established mom-and-pop and/or thriving startup that started out at the bottom of the barrel? How did they dig out and climb up? FOX Business wants to hear from you about your from-roadblock-to-success stories, and those of your entrepreneurial heroes. They are the little engines that could and today keep chugging and pushing our economy back on better footing, and for that they deserve the spotlight. Send us details at smbs@foxbusiness.com about those in your neighborhood or city, and we’ll feature some in upcoming articles in the FOX Small Business Center special series, “Determined.”