Consumer IQ

People Who Quit Their Jobs and Made Millions

Have you ever wished you could just quit your job and follow your dream? While reality gets in the way for many, there are some who have taken the chance and ditched their steady paychecks in order to turn their business ideas into reality.

Success is by no means guaranteed, but for the lucky ones the decision to say “I quit” has been handsomely rewarded. With hard work and determination, they’ve been able to turn their ideas into booming businesses.

Here are 10 people who quit their jobs and went on to make millions, whether it was creating personal wealth or revenue for their company.

Shep and Ian Murray, Vineyard Vines

Brothers Shep and Ian Murray were miserable sitting behind desks at their corporate jobs in Manhattan. So in 1998, Shep Murray, an advertising account executive, and Ian Murray, who worked at a small public relations firm, quit their jobs within 10 minutes of each other. They took cash advances on their credit cards and, despite being told how “dumb” their idea was, started Vineyard Vines — a tie company based on Martha’s Vineyard. Or, as the brothers like to say, they decided to trade in their business suits for bathing suits by selling ties so they wouldn’t have to wear them.

At first they sold their ties one at a time out of their backpacks, on the beach, on boats and in bars. They sold out of 800 ties within the first week. They quickly re-ordered, paid off their debt and moved into their first office. More than a decade later, the business is now an entire clothing line.

There are now 18 freestanding Vineyard Vine retail stores around the country, and the line can be found in about 500 stores. The company is projecting about $100 million in sales for 2011.

 

Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps, Wetzel’s Pretzels

Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps were working for Nestle when the concept for Wetzel’s Pretzels was born. The two were on a business trip when Wetzel told Phelps about an idea his wife had — to make big, soft pretzels to sell at the mall. That night, they sat at a bar and drew out their business plan on napkin.

Wetzel sold his Harley Davidson to help raise funds for the fledgling business, which they started in their spare time. They brought in a partner to help create the recipe in Phelps’ kitchen, and when it came time to open shop they persuaded a mall landlord to come to the house to try their creation. The landlord liked what he tasted and rented Wetzel’s Pretzels its first store.

That was 1994. About a year later, Wetzel and Phelps got their lucky break when they were offered a severance package from Nestle. They opened up several more stores before deciding to franchise in 1996. There are now 250 stores nationwide, with locations set to open in Japan and India this year. System-wide sales are more than $100 million and same-store sales were up 9 percent in 2011.

Terry Finley, West Point Thoroughbreds

Terry Finley was finishing his military service in 1990 when he and his wife, Debbie, bought a $5,000 horse. The horse, named Sunbelt, won its first race, and Finley was hooked. He quit his insurance job and took a chance on his passion. Armed with credit cards and personal savings, he started West Point Thoroughbreds with his wife.

“Taking what you love to do and making a profession out of it is so much better than just working to make a living,” Finley says.

West Point Thoroughbreds now buys 20 to 25 horses a year, forming groups of investors who can profit when the horses win, breed and sell. Since 2007, its horses have won more than 20 percent of their races, with purses totaling more than $16 million and counting. Annual sales are near $7 million.

Dana Sinkler and Alex Dzieduszycki, Terra Chip

Dana Sinkler and Alex Dzieduszycki were working for star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his four-star restaurant, Lafayette, in New York when they decided to strike out on their own and start a catering business. They were looking to create a signature dish to serve at the bar, since it’s the place people first visit at a party. But they wanted something different from the elaborate crudité platters that were popular at the time. So in 1990, they experimented with frying different vegetable roots in the kitchen of Sinkler’s tiny apartment and struck gold.

The vegetable chips were a hit, and soon the pair  brought Terra Chips into stores. In 1995, a private equity group bought 51 percent of the company, and in 1998 Hain Celestial bought Terra Chips as part of an $80 million bundle deal that included three other companies. At the time, Dzieduszycki says, Terra Chips had $23 million in annual sales.

Sinkler and Dzieduszycki have moved on to new ventures. Sinkler has started a new restaurant called Hubee D’s. Dzieduszycki began Julian’s Recipe, a frozen waffle line.

Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, Method

Adam Lowry was working as a climate scientist and Eric Ryan was in advertising when they decided to leave their jobs to develop the environmentally friendly cleaning product company, Method. At the time there weren’t many choices when it came to cleaning products that didn’t contain harsh chemicals. So the two childhood friends did their research, and Lowry even mixed chemicals in the sink of their apartment. They maxed out their credit cards, scrounged together $200,000 from family and friends and started Method in 2000.

Method has become one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, with over 100 products — from hand soaps to dish soaps to bathroom cleaners. The company has gross revenue north of $100 million.

Rod Johnstone, J/Boat

Rod Johnstone was 38 years old and working as an ad salesman for a boating publication when he decided to design his dream sailboat — one his family of five could enjoy but would still be fast enough to race. His parents donated a few hundred dollars’ worth of lumber and Johnstone started building the boat in his garage. A year and a half later, his dreamboat was complete, and he started entering it in races. Buoyed by his success, Johnstone decided to quit his job and turn his dream into his career.

That was 1977. Since then, J/Boats has built more than 13,000 boats, from small crafts to yachts, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue. And Johnstone’s original design, the J/24, is now in the Sailboat Hall of Fame.

Andy Schamisso, Inko’s White Tea

In 2002, Andy Schamisso was working in public relations but wasn’t satisfied. One day, when  his wife couldn’t find the rare, white tea she used for her iced tea, Schamisso found his calling. While searching to buy the tea on the Internet, he discovered its health benefits and decided to bring his wife’s recipe to others.

So after 13 years in public relations, Schamisso quit his job to start Inko’s White Tea, naming it after his dog. After raising enough money to make 6,000 cases, Schamisso went up and down the streets of New York selling his product. He eventually branched out into specialty shops. In about a year, orders went from cases to truckloads.

There are now 14 varieties of Inko’s White Tea on the market. In recent years, the company has had annual sales of $3 million.

Kim and Beaver Raymond, Marshmallow Fun Company

Kim and Beaver Raymond both said “I quit” after a homemade toy they dreamed up for their son turned into a big hit. The Raymonds were working in the fashion industry in 2002 when they made marshmallow “shooters” out of PVC pipe for their son’s birthday party. Stunned by the success of the food fight they witnessed, the couple and some friends figured out how to construct and market a new toy marshmallow shooter…and the Marshmallow Fun Company was born.

In 2010, the Marshmallow Fun Company sold more than $7 million worth of shooters.

Rocky Patel, Rocky Patel Cigars

Rocky Patel was a Hollywood entertainment lawyer when he developed a passion for cigars. After being approached with an opportunity to manufacture his own brand of cigar, Patel decided to turn his love into a career. Though friends and colleagues warned him against leaving his lucrative practice for an industry he didn’t know, Patel saw an opportunity to create a product he thought was missing from the market. So he left the law business behind and began manufacturing cigars in 1996, turning his California home into a humidor.

After a rocky start, Patel decided to move his business to Florida, where most cigar companies keep a U.S. presence. He had his first big success in 2003 with “The Rocky Patel Vintage Series,” which earned high ratings and accolades.

Rocky Patel Cigars now produces 20,000,000 cigars annually and had sales in excess of $40 million in 2011.

Paul English, Kayak

Paul English was working at the venture capital firm Greylock in 2004 when Steve Hafner, who had founded Orbitz, told him about his idea for a different kind of travel company. After a one-hour meeting and three drinks, English and Hafner formed Kayak, an online travel search engine. English quit his job at Greylock and started working as chief technology officer for the new website.

Kayak, which searches hundreds of travel sites at once to find deals on airfare, hotels and rental cars, is now one of the top travel sites in the market, and claims to have the number one travel app. The company, which filed documents for an initial public offering in 2010 but has yet to go public, reported it generated $170.6 million in revenue for the nine months ending Sept. 30, 2011. It processed 670 million user queries for travel information and had 5 million downloads of its mobile applications during the period.

“People Who Quit Their Jobs and Made Millions” was provided by CNBC.com.