How Some New Yorkers Became Entrepreneurs Starting From Nothing

New Yorkers believing a new business venture in the dreary economy is impossible should look no further than themselves. According to everyday business owners who made it happen, personal finance doesn’t end with a 401k discussion before breakfast. Investing in yourself like you are a stock contains the road map to achieving your own success.

The first secret: study your past performance, taking advantage of your previous career’s assets. TasteBuds owner Jessi Walter said, “Wall Street and a financial background trained me very well. You learn what clients want.”

A Harvard economics major, Walter, worked at Bear Stearns for six years, never expecting her side catering income would lead to another lifestyle. “I was in debt capital markets and credit strategy. I had started Cupcake Kids in 2007 as a hobby. A hobby, not a career. Fast forward a year. JP Morgan buys out Bear Stearns. I said, ‘Oh my gosh. What am I going to do with my life?’”

In 2008, on the brink of the weakest economy in recent national history, using about $25,000 of her savings, Walters renamed her business, hired two employees and began renting restaurant kitchen space. Soon, Tastebuds opened its own location in Chelsea. Now, she regularly conducts parent-child cooking classes, hosts cooking parties and sells children’s chef products for ages 2 to 14.

The second rule: presenting yourself as who you really are pays off. “I market myself as I used to be fat I lost weight and I became a male model,” said Stefan Pinto.

“I was deeply entrenched in corporate America. I was building websites for a lot of startup dot coms that went out of business. I am a normal everyday guy, but something incredible happened to me. I learned as my own lab rat.”

Pinto frequently travels nowadays for a mixture of work – he models in Los Angeles, personally trains people by one-on-one grocery shopping and cooking lessons and just returned from Colorado shooting a skincare ad – but half of his work is online. Pinto programmed his own blog in 2008, where he promotes his book. With the interest generated in his fitness, he approaches brand name companies for work deals. Case in point: a free gym membership and subscribers to his new Facebook C Diet receiving top notch health food products in their mailbox.

The third trick: strike when the iron is hot, even if you don’t have any money. “My startup fees were $7.50 for the domain name and $19.99 for the first month of web hosting. I had $100 AdWords credit,” said Zachary Rose.

Rose had a Master’s in Architecture serving a useless purpose when he found himself fired in 2008, alone in Miami and living on a friend’s couch. Through conversations with people, he learned that due to new rules, anyone becoming certified in environmentally friendly construction via the LEED exam was required to have worked on a LEED project. To make his company have a broader audience, Rose, then 27, used stock photography of middle-aged businessmen on his website.

“I got my first sale after 24 hours of putting my website live. I still remember that e-mail. I still remember the woman’s name,” he said. “The best feeling in the universe is when you wake up in the morning and you know you’re not gonna answer to anybody else.”

Today, not only does Rose have more than a couch in his downtown Layfayette Street office, he works with two additional companies, one of which he created, as a consultant. “Age is not an issue, as long as you play the part and know what you’re talking about.”

Budding entrepreneurs can take free classes through the New York City Department of Small Business Services held at the SUNY Levin Institute. “The class is truly a melting pot, people of all ages, from all walks of life, with all kinds of ideas, but one thing brings them all together and that’s passion,” said Patricia Lapinski, FastTrac Program Manager.

Classes are broken down according to experience and are open to anyone regardless of education requirements. “Through sharing their own stories and the stories of other entrepreneurs that have been in the seats of the new class, a connection is built and it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People that normally wouldn’t look at one another twice on a subway now are having lunch together.”

“People become personas of their circumstances. You become the image of what you feel you are supposed to be,” Pinto said.

Class registration and application info:


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