We’ve all heard the stories about ordinary people who one day magically turn their passion projects or side ventures into successful multifaceted businesses. What does it take for these self-made moguls to turn their interests into moneymaking companies? While no definitive how-to guide exists, there’s definitely a set of skills and a certain mind-set that can lead to success. Eager to learn from some of the most successful business leaders around, we turned to seven entrepreneurs to share their wisdom.
Scroll down for major career inspiration.
Josh Zad’s idea for Alfred Coffee, the stylish L.A.-based coffee company, came from what he saw as a lack in the community. “When I worked in real estate development, we had a hard time convincing more retailers to come to the area because it was missing a place of respite from shopping,” explains Zad. “Here was Melrose Place, a lovely tree-lined street with world-class retailers—but nowhere to grab a juice, some coffee, or a bite to eat.”
The Big Idea: “I have no formal training in food and beverages (and still can’t make coffee!), so I approach the business from a customer’s point of view,” explains Zad. “I look at what the vibe is, how the baristas greet you, how delicious the coffee is, and, of course, how memorable the overall experience is.” He adds: “We’re always innovating. Whether by collaborating with cool, fun companies on my patented coffee sleeves; designing each new bar layout to complement the neighborhood; or, of course, switching up the game and opening a tea room!”
Work Wisdom: “Go headfirst,” Zad says. “I spent six months longer opening the first Alfred because I was paralyzed by anxiety and indecision. In the end, you can’t plan for 80% of the issues that will come up.”
Ashley Ragovin applied her experience as a sommelier and restaurant general manager to open Pour This, a wine subscription service and e-shop that curates hard-to-find, high-quality wines. “I had this ‘aha!’ moment because most of the wines were just not available to the guests I loved hosting in restaurants,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to reach more people than a single retail storefront would allow.”
The Big Idea: “The wine industry lags a little behind in how it treats its patrons and in its business approach in general," Ragovin says. "I think people responded quickly to Pour This because they felt they could finally access something that has been historically very guarded."
Work Wisdom: “Surround yourself with smarter people than yourself; listen to those with the experience you don’t yet have,” Ragovin says, adding, “You cannot do everything alone, so know when to apply your best assets and when to rely on a network of support.”
Sugar Paper, an L.A.-based stationer focusing on high-quality handmade stationery, “was a happy accident,” according to co-founders Chelsea Shukov and Jamie Grobecker. Growing up with mothers who taught them the value of a handwritten note, the duo started making stationery for friends. “Before we knew it, we had a business on our hands,” they say.
The Big Idea: “We pride ourselves in the quality of our products,” they explain. "We make stationery that is designed to be treasured and saved.”
Work Wisdom: “Make sure you want the lifestyle owning a business requires,” say Shukov and Grobecker. “It’s an ongoing journey, and with success comes a lot of failure.”
Barrett Prendergast’s idea for Valleybrink Road—a boutique catering, gift, and floral design company—came during a time of transition. “My husband and I were always having people over, cooking for friends, and sharing our love of food with people around us,” she says. “Then I started a food blog called Valleybrink Road, and the rest is history.”
The Big Idea: “I really wanted the catering experience to feel like a good friend was coming over to cook you a delicious meal,” Prendergast shares.
Work Wisdom: “Take whatever you’re interested in and make it your own,” Prendergast says. “Don’t just copy someone else’s idea. Make it unique to you.”
Kelsey Harper had been visiting the L.A. flower market for years before starting Flower Girl Los Angeles. “I decided that this was the path for me because it didn’t necessarily feel like a job,” she says. “Aside from the physical labor and early mornings, of course.”
The Big Idea: “I wanted an easy way to bring flowers to the public,” explains Harper. “I dreamed of having a vintage mobile flower truck I could park wherever I wanted and literally sell flowers to people. Though as my business started to evolve, I decided that being a ‘studio florist’ was a better route for me.”
Work Wisdom: “There are a lot of distractions, but if you set aside a few hours each day where you strictly focus on your business, you can get a lot done in a little time,” she says.
Steve Schwartz founded Art of Tea in the comfort of his living room. He started delivering some of his blends to local L.A. restaurants, but he initially wasn’t sure he should turn his passion project into a full-time business. “I wrote down 21 reasons why I should start a company and landed on one reason: I had a kid on the way,” says Schwartz.
The Big Idea: “I’d always been interested in wellness and healing, as well as the alchemy of blending and combining unique herbs and botanicals,” he says. “Also, I wanted to find a way to help people on a broader scale, and tea was a way that I could do that.”
Work Wisdom: “Get out of your own way,” Schwartz says. “Believe in your idea, and have confidence in your ability to execute it. Then surround yourself with people who believe in it as well.”
Alex Matthews remembers the exact moment the idea for his juice bar came to be: “It was January 2012, and I was standing outside of a juice bar in Hollywood when it occurred to me that I could reimagine the look and feel of the juice experience to be more clean and sophisticated,” he says.
The Big Idea: “My personal motivation with cold-pressed juices comes from being a long-term psoriasis sufferer,” explains Matthews. “Juice Served Here is focused on providing an elevated health experience.”
Work Wisdom: “Refine your message,” Matthews says. “Take something that exists and find another need that hasn’t been addressed.”
Whose work wisdom did you find most inspiring? Tell us in the comments below.