By Sramana Mitra (Founder, One Million By One Million)
Parisian-born Valerie Holstein had a difficult time finding a place where she felt she belonged from the time she first came to the U.S. to attend college in 1993. Though she settled domestically in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and married her fiancé, she continuously searched for the professional opportunity that would allow her to travel home for a month at a time each year, and for a place that would provide her with comfortable work despite the fact that English was her second language.
In 2002, when Valerie was pregnant with the couple’s first child, she was actively searching for work-from-home opportunities; as a result, she and her husband were in the process of renovating their home office. It came to Valerie’s attention that a beautiful room was largely cluttered by the ugly electrical cables required to run the office equipment, and so she and her husband set up an informational page explaining where others might find storage and organizational solutions for such cables. Overwhelming interest soon lead to the couple selling the products online, and CableOrganizer was born.
In the first year, business scaled surprisingly well as Valerie fielded an average of 20 customers per day. She was able to make a profit by purchasing in bulk at retail price and incorporating a 20% markup – that is until business began to really grow, and product referrals began to flow in along with inquiries. Valerie began to reach out to large-scale vendors in the cable management industry, who lent their support and offered special bulk pricing for their products. All revenue was reinvested to purchase additional inventory.
Google, word of mouth, and SEO combined to increase the company’s customer base. Eventually, a mention in the Wall Street Journal provided a major boost. It was then that business truly took off, and both Valerie and her husband had to jump into running the business full time – often working up to 19-hour days simply to field increasing customer demand.
While Valerie’s husband brings his background in finance to the table, with past experience as a CPA, Valerie herself studied graphic design and does not hold an MBA. Valerie is and was in charge of the website, hiring, bookkeeping, supply chain management, logistics, inventory management, inventory control, and much more – all while raising her child.
The company serves primarily local contractors, but is also popular within the marine industry, especially boat manufacturers. A subsidiary in France assists by handling all sales in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Since its inception, CableOrganizer has grown from a grassroots, garage-based operation to a thriving organization comprising 47 employees. Fully bootstrapped, CableOrganizer has reached close to the $16 million mark with Valerie as CEO.
Women 2.0 readers: How has customer development pivoted your business model into a successful one? Let us know in the comments!
About the guest blogger: Sramana Mitra is Founder of One Million By One Million, an educational business development and incubation program that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. Follow her on Twitter at @sramana.