MONEY Small Business

Startup Makes Money By Giving Away Free Stuff

Claim It! lets users win prizes just for watching a 15-second ad.

When Ali Abdullah was homeless a few years ago, he was struck with the brilliant idea that would lead to his current, thriving company, Claim It! Free stuff makes people happy, so he would build a business around giving away free products that people actually want. By watching a 15-second advertisement on the Claim It! app, users are eligible to win prizes ranging from lip balm to pricey headphones. Investors understood the power of this business model, and he’s raised millions, including a six-figure contribution from just one investor.

MONEY Small Business

Entrepreneur Cooks Up Profits With His Grilling Invention

Brad Barrett was working in the chemical industry. Then he found his true calling.

MONEY small businesses

Immigrant Entrepreneur Launches High-Tech Mailbox Business

Nigel Thomas' American Dream was to start his own business. This is it.

Nigel Thomas and his family moved to America from the Caribbean when he was just seven years old. Education and having a thriving career were always important in his culture, but Thomas yearned for something bigger than that security. When his employer offered a severance package to employees, he saw his opportunity to fulfill his dream of owning his own company. The venture Thomas founded is GoLocker, a service that allows customers to get their packages at their convenience from lockers inside 24-hour grocery stores. With five sites in Brooklyn currently, he hopes to expand to as many as 15 locations before the end of the year.

MONEY Travel

Richard Branson’s Dream Project Comes Closer to Being a Reality

Virgin Atlantic President Sir Richard Branson
Rex Features via AP Images Sir Richard Branson

Virgin Group founder strikes again.

Richard Branson, the iconic, eccentric entrepreneur at the helm of the Virgin Group, seems to do pretty much whatever he wants. If he wants to give his employees unlimited vacation or a full year of paternity leave, he’ll do it. Heck, he’ll even give the greenlight to putting the Sex Pistols on credit cards because … why not?

At a press event on Tuesday in Miami, the man who has already helped launch successful airlines on multiple continents and is even venturing into space travel offered details about his latest travel operation. “It’s no secret that I’ve dreamed of starting a cruise line for a very long time,” Branson said.

But before Branson spoke to the press, he had to make an appropriately Bransonesque entrance at the event, held at Miami’s Perez Art Museum. “With characteristic flair, Branson arrived at the event in a helicopter that took off in a cloud of bright red smoke,” the industry publication Cruise Critic reported. “When he landed, Branson emerged wearing red shorts, a white shirt and a red captain’s hat while waving a Virgin Cruises flag.”

This week’s event was actually the second time Branson has introduced the forthcoming launch of Virgin Cruises. Last December, the Virgin Group said it would soon be “making waves” in the cruise industry with the new line. “We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday that customers will absolutely love,” Branson said at the time. “They’ll be sailing on the latest ships offering great quality, a real sense of fun, and many exciting activities all delivered with the famed Virgin service.”

On Tuesday, Branson and Virgin Cruises President Tom McAlpin offered more details about the operation. The plan calls for three newly built Virgin Cruises ships to be deployed by around 2020, with the first based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale for weeklong itineraries exploring the Caribbean.

Many of the specifics haven’t been announced—and apparently, quite a few haven’t been decided upon. Branson is asking interested travelers to visit VirginCruises.com to offer input on anything and everything they want in a cruise line.

MONEY

8 Epic Business Failures with Donald Trump’s Name on Them

Donald Trump
Ian MacNicol—Getty Images Donald Trump

If the Trump presidential campaign fails, it won't be the Donald's first misfire.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump threw his name into the ring as an official candidate for president in 2016. “I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors,” Trump explained of his candidacy, before adding a heaping dose of trademark bluster: “I don’t care. I’m really rich.”

As for why he’s running, Trump pointed to his business sense and declared, “We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.”

Yet time and again over the years, the Trump brand has been featured in many embarrassing high-profile flops in the business world. Here are some of the misfires attached to the “Trump” name.

Trump Shuttle
In 1989 the Eastern Air Shuttle was reborn as the Trump Shuttle, complete with a large “T” on the tails of the planes and—no joke—”gold lavatory fixtures.” The goal was to create a top-notch luxury flight service—they even paired with a company that rented laptops, which was cutting edge at the time—but the operation was hemorrhaging cash within weeks and was completely out of business by 1992.

Trump: The Game
The original catchphrase for the Monopoly-like Trump board game introduced in 1989 was the Trumpism “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!” Sales were underwhelming, to put it mildly. But after Trump became a cultural phenomenon in the reality TV show “The Apprentice,” the game was back on the market featuring a new expression: “You’re fired!”

Trump Magazine
“The Trump Brand evokes elegance and TRUMP Magazine will reflect the passions of its affluent readership by tapping into a rich cultural tapestry,” explained a 2007 press release introducing Trump Magazine. A year and a half later, the quarterly periodical, billed as a “highly anticipated ‘must read’ among VIPs and influencers,” had ceased publication.

GoTrump.com
Billed as his “biggest venture to date in the $80 billion online travel industry,” Donald Trump introduced this travel search engine powered by Travelocity in 2006. The site was supposed to host “Trump Picks” and “Trump Deals,” and it was accompanied by the introduction of The Donald’s “first-ever email address” (MrTrump@GoTrump.com) which he would be using to “offer travel tips and advice.” The site was shut down a year later.

Trump Casinos
The Atlantic City casino Trump Plaza, which was built in the 1980s at a cost of $210 million, was sold off at the “fire sale price” of $20 million in 2013, not long before several casinos shut down in the fading gambling destination. Trump insists that he cashed out the vast majority of his interests in the Trump Plaza and nearby Trump Taj Mahal long before Atlantic City property values tanked, but earlier this year he reached an agreement to keep his name on them.

Trump Mortgage
“Donald Trump is putting the suit and tie back in the mortgage business,” a 2006 press release explained of his brand new venture, Trump Mortgage. Whatever that means. Less than two years later, the suit and tie were back in the closet, or perhaps up for sale at the consignment store, so to speak, as Trump Mortgage closed up shop. Trump speedily downplayed the venture as well, saying, “The mortgage business is not a business I particularly liked or wanted to be part of in a very big way.”

Trump Steaks
AdAge described Trump Steaks, featured on the June 2007 cover of the Sharper Image catalogue, as like “a ‘Saturday Night Live’ spoof, but it’s not.”

Trump Vodka
Donald Trump made no secret of the fact that he doesn’t drink. Nonetheless, a decade ago he rolled out Trump Vodka and promised it would be “a major player in the vodka arena” because “it’s a superb product and it’s beautifully packaged,” and “there’s nobody who markets better in the luxury category than Donald Trump.” This is one “major player” that disappeared from the marketplace several years ago.

MONEY Startups

This One-Man Business Sells Millions Worth of Swag Out of a Garage

"Your Logo Here" written on canvas tote bag
Tony Garcia—Getty Images

One key lesson: Outsourcing.

Need a jumbo canvas shopping bag printed with your company’s logo? What about a twist-action ballpoint pen with your company’s name and web address on it?

Harry Ein is your man.

Since July 2010, Ein has run his one-person business, Perfection Promo, from the three-car garage at his house in Walnut Creek, Calif., providing swag to clients from corporations to sports teams. He started his business after departing a former employer in the same industry.

Since then, he says he has won business from clients including Microsoft, Safeway, Benefit Cosmetics and the NBA. This year, he projects revenue of $4 million at the profitable firm. In 2015, Advantages Magazine, a trade publication, named him the #1 sales rep of the year for promotional products.

Ein is one of the growing number of Americans who are creating businesses that are breaking $1 million in revenue with no employees other than the owners. U.S. Census Bureau counted 30,174 “nonemployer” firms that had revenues of $1 million to $2,499,999 in 2013, up from 23,176 in 2009—a 30% increase.

So how does Ein do it all as a one-man band? Well, he doesn’t, not exactly.

His not-so-secret strategy to keeping his firm ultra-lean is outsourcing. By reading industry publications and networking in his industry, he found out about a company called iPROMOTEu, in Wayland, Mass. It provides back-office services such as trafficking orders and collecting money from customers to independent firms like his. By affiliating with iPROMOTEu, he says he has been able to free his time to focus on sales. And it costs him less than maintaining his own staff. “If I didn’t have a billing company and all of that back end stuff, I’d have to have three to five employees,” he says.

Here’s how Ein built his profitable business to $4 million in annual revenue since starting it in July 2010.

Make the most of what you already know. When Ein was getting started, he picked a business in which he could use his natural gift for selling. In his late teens, Ein used the food money his parents left him while they were on vacation to buy a few Tickle Me Elmo dolls when the craze for them was in full swing and they were selling out. He brought the toys to a local mall and sold them to frantic shoppers who couldn’t find them in stores. “I was able to sell them for double and triple the cost,” he says.

After college, Ein worked as a sales executive at The Ad Solution, a provider of branded merchandise such as office gifts, getting crash course in his industry. He worked there nearly nine years before making the leap into his own firm. The knowledge and connections he built paid off. He says he hit $700,000 in sales his first year.

Live lean. Now that Ein is married and has a two-year-old son, he has the type of financial responsibilities that drive many people into the seeming security of a W-2 job. By working from home, he is able to reduce financial pressure on himself, keeping overhead at his business down and his commuting costs to zero. If he needs to meet with customers face to face, he goes to see them.

There’s an added bonus. Working from his home office gives him more time to play with his toddler. “We have a park that’s 20 yards from our house,” says Ein. “At 5 pm, I’ll try to take him over.”

Do the math. Ein decided on his current outsourcing model after talking with owners of other promotional products companies about how they were running their firms. One owner said that his company—which brought in $20 million in sales with 25 employees—had been better off when it was just one or two people, because of the costs and issues that arose when hiring employees. “Sometimes we’re not profitable,” the owner told him. That helped Ein settle on his own, outsourced business model. “You should do as much research as you can on what others in your industry are doing, and how you can streamline your business the best way,” he says.

While Ein isn’t averse to hiring employees, he finds he has the help he needs right now from iPROMOTEu. Meanwhile, he likes knowing he is keeping the people who make items like silk-screen T-shirts for him at other firms busy. “It might not be employees under my business name, but I know we’re putting people to work,” he says.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your competitors. Ein finds it more beneficial to share information freely than to play things close to the vest with rivals. “They are going through the same experiences as you,” he says. For instance, he’s never hesitated to recommend good factories to other firms. They, in turn, have suggested other plants to him. “People who don’t want to share anything hurt themselves,” says Ein. “When you can share ideas you can find resolutions that will help you, as well.”

MONEY Small Business

Brooklyn Entrepreneur Happily Works 7 Days a Week

Artist Sigal de-Mayo explains how she launched her business and opened her first store.

Sigal de-Mayo is the creative force behind Insiders1, a Brooklyn-based small business that creates wearable and usable art out of photo collages she shoots, designs and prints. After 16 years selling at street fairs and holidays markets, Insiders1 has just opened its first brick-and-mortar location in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Wares range from leather gloves, bags, and wallets to silk scarves, clocks and puzzles. Her advice to other entrepreneurs: Make sure you have the passion necessary to dedicate all your time and energy to your company.

MONEY Startups

5 Ways to Tackle the Problem That Kills One of Every Four Small Businesses

Getty Images/Hero Images

Smart strategies for managing your cash flow.

It’s a phenomenon that most people who have never run a business have a hard time understanding: That a seemingly healthy business—even one that is both profitable and growing—can go bankrupt.

The explanation comes down to what’s known to accountants and business people as a cash flow problem. Your company might have a contract to deliver a gazillion widgets in December at a fantastically profitable price. But it’s July now, and in the meantime you need to buy the raw materials needed to produce those widgets and pay people to assemble them—and if you don’t have enough cash on hand to make it until December, well, let’s just say the holidays are going to be kind of bleak this year.

That’s why, for example, Chris Carey, CEO of Modern Automotive Performance, works hard to keep his cash flow as smooth as the rides his customers crave in their souped-up cars. Carey’s 40-employee company, based in Cottage Grove, Minn., provides auto and truck parts to owners of vehicles like the Mitsubishi Evo X and Dodge Neon SRT-4, allowing them to do things like handle better and accelerate faster.

It’s a seasonal business that peaks in the spring, when drivers get ready to hit the roads—and sometimes the racetrack. One way Carey avoids running short of cash to pay his bills during the frigid winter months is by charging all of his customers in advance. “We’re being paid for the products before we have to pay our vendors,” he says.

By keeping a close eye on cash flow, Carey has enough available cash and access to credit to keep Modern Automotive Peformance well stocked with the type of inventory that keeps customers flocking. He has grown the business to $11 million in revenue annually since 2006.

Unfortunately, his attention to cash-flow is rare among entrepreneurs. “It’s not something most small business owners think about,” says Dave Kurrasch, a former senior vice president of Wells Fargo who is now vice president and general manager of Small Business Payments Company, a financial technology provider.

That can be a fatal mistake. Recent data compiled by the research firm CB Insights found that 29% of startups fail because of a cash crisis. It was the second highest cause. (The number one factor, at 42%? A lack of a need for their product in the marketplace.)

So how can you make sure your business beats the odds? Here are five strategies to keep your cash flow healthy.

Strategy #1: Choose a lower-overhead business. It may seem obvious—and for some businesses, simply too late—but the fact is that certain enterprises require much more or less cash to launch and grow than others. If you don’t have much access to startup funding, your best bet may be business you can fund mostly through the revenue you receive from customers.

“Consultants, if they’re good at what they do and are well known, can be instantly cash-flow positive,” says Kurrasch. That’s because they tend not to have a lot of inventory and if they hire people, the team members often contribute directly to producing revenue. “Most businesses that have inventory—restaurants, retail outlets, manufacturers—tend to be negative cash flow producers, at least for the first three to four months, if not longer.” Which leads us to our next point….

Strategy #2: Secure credit before you need it. By talking with experienced business owners in your intended industry before you open your doors, you can find out how much cash you’ll likely need to survive until revenue starts coming in the door—and finance your operations accordingly.

Start by being realistic about it. “If you own a restaurant or a Hallmark card shop, a real traditional small business, [venture capital giant] Kleiner, Perkins isn’t going to come along and put a bunch of money into your company,” says Kurrasch. “Either you have cash reserves or you have friends and family you can call on.”

Start your money hunt long before there’s any chance you’ll run short of cash. “Try to get as much credit as you can before you enter the business,” advises Nat Wasserstein, managing director of Lindenwood Associates in Upper Nyack, N.Y., a provider of services such as crisis management. If you wait until you’re in a jam, you’ll find it hard to get anyone to lend to you.

Strategy #3: Find your ideal dashboard. By keeping keep close tabs on the money coming in and out of your business, you’ll reduce the chance of getting caught short when it’s time to meet payroll or pay a key supplier. “A lot of entrepreneurs don’t even understand that they could be profitable and strapped for cash at the same time,” says Wasserstein. If you need money now to pay your bills and don’t expect customers to pay you in the immediate future, you’ll find yourself in a crunch where you need to borrow.

Fortunately, there are simple tools to help you keep on top of cash flow without spending a lot of time on it. You can get a free excel worksheet to figure out your cash flow through from the CCH Business Owner’s Toolkit. Or, if you want a more automated solution, you can use inexpensive accounting software such as QuickBooks to create a “statement of cash flows.” Kurrasch’s company offers a cash forecasting app, called Small Business Workbench, that costs $6 a month for the basic plan.

Strategy #4. Put your credit card to work for you. Carey has found that one of his most valuable tools in managing his cash flow is his business credit card. He happens to use the American Express Plum card, which offered him 2% cash back if he paid the balance in full when he signed up in 2006, and now offers users 1.5% back. Carey will often spend as much as $750,000 a month on his card to pay for inventory and other expenses, enabling him to get anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 a month once he pays the bill on time. That gives him a big incentive to keep on top of the money coming in and out of his business. “Everything in our cash flow revolves around making that payment for the American Express card,” he says. The American Express Plum card is one of many cards offering cash back, so shop around for a good deal.

Strategy #5. Know when to say no. It’s easy to get excited if a big retailer offers to carry your product or a big contract drops in your lap at a professional services firm. But before you say yes, make sure you understand how quickly a client will pay you—and figure out if you can manage the outlay to fulfill the deal in the meantime. If you won’t be seeing any cash for 120 days, it’s very possible to run out of money and find your company on life support. “Not every sale is worth taking,” says Wasserstein.

Of course, before you turn down business, it’s worth exploring creative ways to get customers to pay you more quickly. For instance, some small vendors offer early-payment discounts to big suppliers to get them to cut checks more quickly and sign up for direct-deposit payments to their bank accounts, which may speed payments by a few days. These approaches are often a lot cheaper than borrowing.

TIME Innovation

How a Little Bribery Could Be a Good Thing

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. A little bribery might actually be a good thing.

By Jan Hanousek and Anna Kochanova at the Centre for Economic Policy Research

2. Remember the rover that was supposed to last three months on Mars? It just logged day 4,000.

By A. J. S. Rayl at the Planetary Society

3. What if there was a step between renting and owning?

By Brett Theodos and Rob Pitingolo at the Urban Institute

4. Here’s the unexpected reason college tuition has skyrocketed.

By Paul F. Campos in the New York Times

5. Are small businesses being overlooked in the fight against poverty?

By Randall Kempner in the Guardian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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