Like the quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” Boca Raton millennial entrepreneur Ankit Jain is discovering fashion retailers knocking on his door for the line of tech accessories he developed and launched through TheAnkit.com.
Simply put, his small business success started when he couldn’t find a pair of earbuds to listen to music and matched his fashion sense.
“I enjoy listening to music and I was looking for a high quality, fashionable pair of earbuds. Bose earbuds were high quality but rather boring. Novelty earbuds I found in other stores lacked the quality I sought. And that was the inspiration for my business,” said Jain.
Jain never started or ran a business before. In fact, Ankit had only arrived in America less than a decade earlier from his native home in India. After graduating from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, he was hired as a software engineer for Motorola, earning a six-figure salary. By many measures, he was “living the dream” his parents always wanted for their son.
But living in the cubicle world of corporate America wasn’t Jain’s dream. He wanted to build his own business empire. He asked himself: “how tough could it be?”
“I jumped head-on into my business, researching manufacturers and seeking free business advice wherever I went. Eventually I stumbled across SCORE and made an appointment with them. I needed help with my financials and distribution in my plan and I hoped they could help,” said Jain.
Jain worked with several counselors at Palm Beach SCORE Chapter 412 but one became interested in what Ankit did on his own and the progress he was making. Former Brooklyn business executive Herb Douglas recognized the potential in Ankit and his small business idea and became his business mentor. Douglas had mentored other area entrepreneur’s including SBA’s 2012 Florida Small Business Person of the Year, Steve Miller.
“Of the entrepreneurs who come to us for help, we can do something for 50-60 percent of them to make their business ideas a reality. But it’s very difficult to get capital for start-up companies and that’s why the other 40% don’t get started. We are not a source of cash,” said Douglas. But Ankit’s business idea was something I was familiar with. He showed a lot of promise and was driven to make his business a reality.”
According to Douglas, SCORE counselors work as a team and with their own personal business contacts, Ankit found someone who had contacts with fashion retailers to answer his distribution questions. One resource opened the door to other business resources. Three local businessmen in the Boca Raton area provided $45,000 in private venture capital. And unlike traditional financing programs, the terms were more demanding.
“Ankit was required to pay his investors back in 12 months with 20% return,” said Douglas.
By his own admission, the software engineer was comfortable with those terms because he believed you had to prove yourself with results. So after working his software engineering job, he returned home and launched his real job from the kitchen table in his apartment.
“I know what I wanted to create but I didn’t have the creative mindset to make my designs fashionable. I took my concept to a local tattoo artist who helped me with one concept. A graphic designer I worked with helped me with packaging.”
Ankit’s business dreams were not without its detractors.
“My family wasn’t happy with my decision to start a business. My father told me to stop what I was doing and go back to work as an engineer. The job was predictable and paid well. Why risk that for something as risky as a small business?”
Ironically, Jain’s father was a small business owner himself.
Prototypes of earbud designs were shared at a trade show. Contacts made through SCORE counseling started to pay off. Three years after launching TheAnkit.com, his business grew and more accessories were developed. TheAnkit.com fashion accessories are now carried in more than 8000 stores nationwide including recognizable stores as Anthropologie, and Forever 21. He created jobs for six people including one overseas position in Hong Kong.
And that private venture loan for $45,000? Jain paid that back a month early.
“If I can give any advice to entrepreneurs is that passion is more important than anything else. If you’re passionate with what you are doing, it will help you stay the course. “