Successful start-up stories

Four New Yorkers who took the plunge to start their own companies---and aren't turning back.

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  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Camelia Negoita, 30, Long Island City, Queens
    Founder and editor of I Love the Weekends
    (ilovetheweekends.com) and Juliet Marries Romeo (julietmarriesromeo.com)

    The company: Negoita's first blog, I Love the Weekends, focuses on a streamlined selection of relaxing, romantic, foodie and cultural excursions near New York City. Her second endeavor, Juliet Marries Romeo, offers wedding-planning tips and ideas.

    How she made it: "After I got laid off from my job as the PR/online-media manager at the Romanian Tourist Office, I thought about how I could make a living [doing what I] loved," says the travel-industry vet. Her passion for excursions and her Web-development background led to the launch of I Love the Weekends.

    Best tip: Without a big promotional budget, Negoita had to devise a creative marketing campaign: "I used Facebook for paid advertising because it helped target my ads to a specific audience and control my daily budget," she says. "I [focus my SEO through my] blog posts. That way, when people search for a specific topic, my articles come up first." She also credits her success to maintaining a consistent writing schedule, which helped build her readership and generate traffic.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Rachael Chong, 29, Tribeca
    Founder and CEO of Catchafire
    (catchafire.org)

    The company: Catchafire aims to match busy professionals with nonprofits and social enterprises in search of volunteers. Participating companies pay an annual membership fee, which grants them access to an extensive database of pro bono help.

    How she made it: Chong was frustrated by her inability to serve the greater good while keeping her day job as an investment banker. In the fall of 2005, she helped kick off BRAC USA, the U.S. foundation of the world's largest nonprofit. To grow the company at no cost, she called on friends with a variety of skills and backgrounds. Not only did she raise $40 million for BRAC in its first nine months, the experience inspired her to start Catchafire in 2009.

    Best tip: Chong recommends working at a company similar to the one you're interested in launching, preferably a start-up: "If you want to create a social-good fashion company, choose [a place ] like GreenSoul Shoes, so that you can learn more about the ups and downs of beginning something new," she explains. Chong may create an apprenticeship at Catchafire, so that impassioned entrepreneurs can benefit from observing her company's progress.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Libby Diament, 27, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
    Owner of Diament Jewelry
    (etsy.com/shop/diamentdesigns)

    The company: Diament's line of handmade and vintage baubles began as a small Etsy shop and is now sold at 13 stores around the country, including Urban Outfitters, plus local boutiques like Honey & Hazel in Williamsburg and Eponymy in Park Slope.

    How she made it: While working as an assistant to the VP of operations at MAC Cosmetics, Diament realized her benefits included tuition reimbursement for continuing education, which would pay for a jewelry program she wanted to attend. "I began selling [my pieces] to coworkers and at small craft fairs, and soon was having trouble keeping up with the orders," says Diament. She brought in an accountant and a lawyer to help get the corporation afloat, and as soon as her accountant confirmed she could stay solvent, she quit her job to work on Diament full-time.

    Best tip: "Take baby steps that will get you closer to your goal---but keep debt and inventory under control," Diament advises. "Obtain a tax ID, form your corporation, get business cards, set up a Facebook page and blog and sell your ideas or products to friends and family who will provide feedback." She also recommends networking with other small-business owners.

  • Photograph: Krista Schlueter

    Mike LaValle, 31, Chelsea
    Cofounder and CEO of Gojee.com
    (gojee.com)

    The company: LaValle and his staff curate recipes from food writers around the world and compile them in a database. Home cooks can type in an ingredient, note anything they dislike or are allergic to, then scroll through beautiful photos of different dishes.

    How he made it: A former Army officer, LaValle left his job at Morgan Stanley to launch the site in July 2010. "My cofounder and I were tired of building things that weren't personal or exciting for us," he says. "[Working with] food writers enabled us to get to know their personal stories, which really brought the entire project to a more meaningful level for us." The site got 50,000 sign-ups within the first ten days of launch, and shoppers can now link directly to their D'Agostino club card to upload recent purchases into their "I have" ingredient lists. Plans to expand to additional grocers are in the works.

    Best tip: "Learn how to fail," LaValle says. "In the military, we called it managing chaos. There should be a conscious action to continually place yourself in situations outside your comfort zone, so you become adept at operating in [a turbulent] environment."

Photograph: Krista Schlueter

Camelia Negoita, 30, Long Island City, Queens
Founder and editor of I Love the Weekends
(ilovetheweekends.com) and Juliet Marries Romeo (julietmarriesromeo.com)

The company: Negoita's first blog, I Love the Weekends, focuses on a streamlined selection of relaxing, romantic, foodie and cultural excursions near New York City. Her second endeavor, Juliet Marries Romeo, offers wedding-planning tips and ideas.

How she made it: "After I got laid off from my job as the PR/online-media manager at the Romanian Tourist Office, I thought about how I could make a living [doing what I] loved," says the travel-industry vet. Her passion for excursions and her Web-development background led to the launch of I Love the Weekends.

Best tip: Without a big promotional budget, Negoita had to devise a creative marketing campaign: "I used Facebook for paid advertising because it helped target my ads to a specific audience and control my daily budget," she says. "I [focus my SEO through my] blog posts. That way, when people search for a specific topic, my articles come up first." She also credits her success to maintaining a consistent writing schedule, which helped build her readership and generate traffic.

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