Recession start-ups

Meet five strivers who found success during the slump.

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  • Alexa von Tobel

  • Andres Blank, Alberto Sheinfeld and Inaki Berenguer

  • Rathan Haran

  • Lisa Green

  • Danielle Snyder and Jodie Snyder

Alexa von Tobel

Alexa von Tobel, 26, founder and CEO of LearnVest (learnvest.com), which offers financial tools for women
November 2008: "The economy crashed during my first term at business school, and I realized it was the perfect time to launch LearnVest," says Von Tobel. "I spent so many hours working on [the site] on the side that I landed in the hospital with the flu. In January, 2009, I left school to work on the company full-time.."
September 2009: "After we were selected as a TechCrunch50 company, we got the opportunity to launch LearnVest live on stage in front of thousands of people."
December 2009: "DailyCandy picked up our 'Financial Resolution Bootcamp' e-mail program, and within minutes 5,000 people signed up. Then our site crashed due to high demand."
April 2010: "We secured $4.5 million in funding from Accel Partners, which allowed us to move to a larger office to accommodate our new tech team."
July 2010: "We've educated 500,000 women since we launched."
Tips: "Dive in headfirst. You won't regret building something you are passionate about. But you have to be dedicated and prepared for long hours."
Wanna work here? LearnVest is hiring personal-finance writers, financial planners and Java developers. See its Careers page, and follow its hiring updates at twitter.com/learnvest.

 

Andres Blank, 28, Alberto Sheinfeld, 29, and Inaki Berenguer, 33, cofounders of Pixable (pixable.com), which aggregates and prints photos from social-media sites like Facebook and Flickr
March 2009: "We launched Pixable because we noticed that no one was doing anything with the 40 billion photos on Facebook, the largest photo repository in the world," says Berenguer. Both Blank and Berenguer were in the process of getting M.B.A.'s at MIT. "Three months later we turned down lucrative job offers [from other tech companies]and committed to Pixable full-time."
October 2009: "We were written up in The New York Times about how to [create photo books out of digital albums online]," says Blank.
January 2010: "The U.S. Postal Service let us down, and some international orders didn't make it on time for Christmas," says Blank. "We've since changed to more reliable shipping methods."
April 2010: "The weekend after an article about us appeared in a major blog, our site had serious bugs," says Berenguer. "It took two days to fix."
June 2010: "Personalized photo printing is on the rise, and now over a million people have used our application," says Blank.
Tips: "There are so many uncertainties and choices that you are never going to be 100 percent prepared," says Berenguer. The only way to learn is by starting."
Wanna work here? Pixable is hiring front-end and back-end developers, a product manager and fall interns. Send a rsum and cover letter to jobs@pixable.com.

 

Rathan Haran, 30, cofounder of Wixity (wixity.com), an events search engine, described as "an Amazon for events"
April 2008: "My cofounder, Neil Mody and I started Wixity, negotiating four-day workweeks with our employers at the time," says Haran.
December 2008: "We successfully built our first recommendation framework, a modified version of Amazon's model that can uniquely suggest events to individual users," says Haran.
April 2009: "After spending seven months in the NYU Stern Business Plan Competition for a $75,000 grant toward the business, Wixity was eliminated in the semifinals," says Haran.
August 2009: "Wixity received its first outside investment, though we're still mostly self-funded," says Haran. "That same month my cofounder, our technology expert, left the company. I did everything from data entry to writing business plans and programming; I only hired my first employee this June."
April 2010: "Wixity launched its first live application for New York," says Haran.
Tips: "Generate revenue, however small, as soon as possible so you can start covering costs and stay in business longer," says Haran. "There's a good chance the first few iterations on your idea will fall short, which is fine. Just aim to fail as quickly and cheaply as possible so you still have time to try another angle."
Wanna work here? Wixity is always looking for interns, especially software engineers. E-mail rathan@wixity.com.

 

Lisa Green, 29, founder of Anderson Green Events (andersongreenevents.com), a wedding-planning business
August 2007: "I decided to launch my own company after getting hired to coordinate a wedding; being an entrepreneur is a lot more exciting than my former job in finance," says Green. "I did two weddings in 2007, and ten the next year."
August 2008: "New York magazine contacted me for their wedding vendor directory."
December 2008: "Feeling nervous in the bleak economic times, I decided to start a wedding-related blog. The crash forced me to cultivate my niche and project that to clients."
December 2009: "I planned 14 weddings in 2009. You wouldn't expect this business to do well in a down economy, but strapped couples often find that planners help them budget wisely."
April 2010: "No clients yet for 2011. Weddings get booked 12 months out, so this gave me jitters until my calendar started filling up in May."
Tips: "Outsource. There is always someone who can do a job better and more efficiently than you can. Also, trust yourself and respect your company—then others will too." Wanna work here? Green is looking for event assistants, interns and a graphic designer. Check her website for details; graphic designers only can e-mail lisadee@andersonevents.com.

 

Danielle Snyder, 25, and Jodie Snyder, 28, founders of Dannijo (dannijo.com), a jewelry line
January 2008: "We sent images of our first collection to the buyer at Bergdorf Goodman and received a standard rejection e-mail," says Jodie.
March 2008: "It wasn't until we mustered up the courage to call and say that we were in the area and wanted to 'pop by to get feedback on the collection' that we were able to get our foot in the door so the buyer could see the jewelry in person and meet the creative minds behind the collection," says Danielle. "We landed the Bergdorf account, which launched our business."
June 2008: "We found a production company to make the jewelry to our standards," says Jodie. "Until then we made it all ourselves by hand."
June 2009: "Beyonc bought our necklace at Bergdorf's and wore it on tour around the world," says Danielle.
September 2009: "We were featured on the Today show," says Jodie. The next month, Inc. magazine recognized us in their feature as '30 Under 30: America's Coolest Young Entrepreneurs.'"
Tips: "It's important to find a partner whom you can trust and who balances out your weaknesses—and shares your goals and stamina," says Danielle. "And make sure you build an online presence."
Wanna work here? Dannijo is hiring an assistant designer, office manager and interns. E-mail rsums julia@dannijo.com.

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