Success Stories

UPDATED: June 1, 2009
PUBLISHED: June 1, 2009

Eight-months pregnant with her first child, Valerie Holstein
began the task of baby-proofing her home. The most frustrating
challenge: What to do with all those unwieldy cables,
wiring and connections to and from her office equipment. Her
husband, Paul, worked with her in trying to find a solution,
but nothing on the market seemed to answer the need. They
decided to experiment with creating a homegrown remedy
using Velcro strips, cable ties and a wire loom kit.

When their cable organizers worked, the
Holsteins knew they had a solution—to more
than one dilemma, in fact. Valerie also had
been looking for an idea for a home-based business
that would allow her more freedom to care
for the new baby. So with an initial investment
of about $30, they launched their new business,
a Web site called
where they would sell products to organize
cables. They started by selling the very same
three items they used to baby-proof their own
computer cables.

Fast-forward to today: Baby Emma recently turned 6 and has
a 4-year-old sister named Mallory. As for that little home-based
business, it has grown also, logging revenue in excess of $13
million, with 2009 projections of $15.2 million. The product
line has expanded, too, now spanning industrial, automotive,
network, aerospace and military segments, and the company
became an electrical distributor last year, as well. With almost 50
employees, has expanded into four office
suites with an additional 16,000 square feet of warehouse space.
At the helm is Valerie as CEO, with Paul serving as COO.

So how did the mom-and-pop morph into a multimillion-dollar
business? After creating a solution to a problem, the
Holsteins strategically utilized their limited resources. That
initial $30 investment went toward registering the obvious Web
site name, The Holsteins capitalized on
their expertise—hers in graphic and Web design and his as a
CPA working in the tech industry—as they sought inexpensive
online business resources, such as free Web hosting and a
revenue sharing system with PayPal in exchange for her online
shopping cart system.

Paul also took care of the back-office work while teaching
Valerie to handle it on her own. “When we first started out, the
entire business was run from our home garage, and I was the
sole employee,” she recalls. “Every day I juggled all the facets
of the business with new motherhood—managing phone calls
between feedings, maintaining inventory, packing orders,
making daily post office runs, meeting with
vendors and balancing the books at night.”

She now admits running her own business
took far more effort than she anticipated.
“The amount of time required for accounting,
shipping and customer service took me
completely by surprise,” she says.

change is
not a luxury,
but rather a

How did she overcome the challenges?
“Elbow grease,” she says, plus continued
attention to learning as much as possible from
her husband and other business strategists,
through business and management classes,
trade and business publications, and reading
about other great businesspeople throughout history to learn how
they handled challenges in their companies.

Along the way, Valerie realized the importance of building relationships.
Despite her initial assumption that vendors would be eager to
sell their products through any channel available to them, she found
many of them were wary of selling online. “A large part of my job is
demystifying the dot-com to manufacturers who are hesitant to grant
distributorship to an Internet-based retailer,” she says. “In order to
land distribution rights to many of the major product lines we carry,
I’ve had to invest a lot of time into cultivating rapport with the upper
management of those companies and convincing them of the benefi ts
of selling through our Web site.”

Some early successes helped fuel the Holsteins. “A great memory
from the early days of the company is the first time that Boeing placed
an order with us,” Valerie recalls. “The order came in on Christmas
Day of 2002, only 10 months into our journey, and really helped us to
recognize the potential that lay in”

As the company grew, so did competition and the need for additional
employees such as marketing specialists, analysts, writers and
Web designers who could deliver a higher-quality Web site. In addition
to talent, Valerie focused on hiring employees who would be a
good fit for the work environment and company culture. “While many
people have what it takes to do a job, it’s harder to come by someone
who possesses both ability and a compatible personality/attitude,”
Valerie says. “The last thing we want to do is hire an individual who
may drag down everyone else or otherwise lower morale.”

As in the beginning, when they bartered and sought freebies to get
the business off the ground, Valerie says they have remained thrifty
and conservative. “I try to save every penny for future investments in
the company and to be ready for a rainy day. I believe in planning and
Plan Bs. I try to leave as little as possible out of my control. If competition
is lurking, I react; I keep a very close eye on the competition.”

And the game of staying ahead never ends. “Nowadays, change is
not a luxury, but rather a necessity. We try to be proactive rather than
reactive, especially in our business strategies and our budgets,” Valerie
says. “We invest in continuing education to keep everyone in the
company on the cutting edge of both our industry and their respective
fields. I also watch our competitors like a hawk to gauge industry
changes and market trends.”

Despite early successes, Valerie admits it took years before she
finally felt the company was a success. That moment happened in
2007 when she was a finalist for the Stevie Award for Women in
Business. “As I stood on that stage in New York, in front of a group
of such accomplished and exceptional peers, I not only felt like I was
going to fall over from shock, but I also had the sense, for the very first
time, that I had actually made it. It’s amazing how a single moment
can become the ultimate payoff for years of hard work.”