Author Archive for Kirsten O'Steen


Justin Wetherill built a multi-million dollar business out of his bedroom in Orlando, FL. What started out as a simple problem – a broken iPhone screen – turned into an idea that Justin developed into uBreakiFix, which is now an international franchise operation.

After working as a staff accountant for a few months out of college, Justin quickly realized that he didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk for the rest of his life. He and his friend David Reiff tried their hand at a few different business ideas, including an online custom t-shirt business and a custom gaming computer business. Neither of them picked up much traction though. It wasn’t until Justin dropped his iPhone 3G and broke the screen that the idea for uBreakiFix was born. Not wanting to pay $200 to have the phone fixed by Apple, Justin ordered some parts online and decided to learn how to do it himself – and proceeded to break his phone even worse. But that didn’t stop him. He went on to buy a bunch of broken phones on eBay and learned how to fix them through trial and error. David built a website to advertise their services. For $79.99 you could mail in your phone and they would fix it and mail it back. The business took off, and they quickly realized that customers wanted same-day repairs, so they opened up a storefront. In the first month, they made $18,000 in revenue and $28,000 the second month – Justin quit his job in the third month.

The business expanded from one store to two quickly. Justin would hire and train his friends and paid them $10 an hour with a deal that if they worked hard for six months, they could own a store. Within three years, uBreakiFix went from zero to 47 corporate stores and a revenue of $27 million. Currently about 15% of the stores are owned by former employees.

Justin’s story shows that entrepreneurship is a lot of trial and error and learning to get back on your feet when something goes wrong. It’s also about accepting risk – the reason why his company was able to grow so fast was because they put almost all the revenue back into the company, betting on the fact that their idea would be successful.

To read more about Justin’s story, see this interview with him in Forbes.

Meghan Markle, Global Citizen

Many people might have heard of Meghan Markle from her role as Rachel Zane in Suits, or for more recently being known as Prince Harry’s new girlfriend. That description alone might lead you to form assumptions about her character – Hollywood glam, famous celebrity, future royalty, etc., etc. However, Meghan is also a passionate political activist and entrepreneur. She is the founder of fashion/self-empowerment site The Tig. Her site features her own clothing line, articles on travel, food, fashion, and fitness as well as interviews with powerful women and blogs on issues like civil rights and empowerment. “I knew that girls were checking the site to see fashion tips or how to get a stellar blow dry,” Meghan writes about The Tig, “but in reframing the beauty content to include think pieces about self-empowerment, or feature dynamic women such as Fatima Bhutto, I was hoping to integrate social consciousness and subjects of higher value than, let’s say…selfies. A subtle means to pepper in what really matters.”

Meghan Markle, courtesy of The Tig

Meghan Markle, courtesy of The Tig

In addition to running a successful brand website, Meghan is also a global ambassador for World Vision as well as an advocate for UN Women. She writes frequently about the struggle of balancing her two worlds – the stark contrast between her glamourous celebrity lifestyle of excess and her humanitarian work with those who have nothing. She writes, “With fame comes opportunity, but in my opinion, it also includes responsibility – to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings, and if I’m lucky enough – then to inspire.” Meghan Markle is truly an inspiration – for entrepreneurs, women, anybody. She has shown how you can successfully take a luxurious life and use it to bless others through an entrepreneurial spirit.

Unlimited Tomorrow – Easton LaChapelle

Easton LaChapelle was just 14 when he made his first robotic hand. It was made from Legos and fishing wire and put together in his bedroom. His creation took home third place at the 2011 Colorado state science fair, but an encounter at that fair sparked an idea for Easton. He met a 7 year old girl with a prosthetic limb. He said, “[It had] one motion — open, close — and one sensor, and just this alone was $80,000.” This pricetag shocked Easton, and he vowed to invent a prosthetic for under $1,000. And he did just that.

Easton developed a prototype using 3D printing that costs just $350 to produce, and made the designs for it open source. He wants to work toward changing the world but recognized that one person alone can’t do that – it takes multiple people to make a difference, and by making his designs open source and letting other people benefit from his ideas, he’s expanding his reach and impacting more lives than he ever could have done on his own. He said, “Our hope is that all developments made from this project can go back into improving the lives of everyone who inspired our work.”

Check out his robotics start-up and watch this video for more about his story:

Dan and Phil: Content Entrepreneurs

If you would have asked Dan Howell and Phil Lester 10 years ago if they expected to become international YouTube celebrities, they likely would have laughed and responded with a quippy sarcastic comment. These British YouTubers have been producing videos as early as 2006, when YouTube vlogging was a relatively new trend and MySpace was still in full swing. Somewhere between 2006 and now, Dan and Phil have gained millions of followers and built an audience unlike any other YouTuber. Their quirky videos span from gaming challenges and question and answers to daily vlogs and stories. They have become icons in the YouTube content world, creating new ideas for videos and challenges – even building their own app to accompany a challenge video. This year, they launched two huge projects – a book written by them and a live tour in the UK, Australia, and America. They are some of the first YouTube stars to extend their content production into the physical, non-Internet realm. Both the book and the tour have been widely successful, proving that Dan and Phil know more about content creation than just YouTube videos.

Dan and Phil are the perfect example of true Internet entrepreneurs. What started as a hobby or a way of expressing themselves has turned into their careers. They are constantly having to come up with innovative new ways to gain and keep followers. As their audience grew, they had to find new ways to connect with them beyond the boundaries of the YouTube platform. As first movers in their industry, Dan and Phil were able to carve out their own niche and set themselves apart from the millions of other YouTube videos in existance. They are truly an example of successful millennial entrepreneurs who started with nothing but a webcam won from a cereal box sweepstakes and ended up as Internet .

Vivy Yusof, the Malaysian Fashion Entrepreneur

Young Vivy Yusof built a Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce site from nothing but a frustrating shopping experience and a personal blog. After returning from studying in London, Vivy and her husband had the idea to bring online shopping to Malaysia after driving in heavy traffic from shop to shop in the rain. They started Fashion Valet in 2010 with a capital of MYR100,000 (about $24,000), 10 designers and 20 staff. In just six years, the business grew to include over 500 brands and hundreds of staff with offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta.

Vivy attributes the business’ success to her thousands of followers on her personal blog and social media accounts. “They were my only customers when we first started,” she said. This gave them an edge against their competition once big competitors moved into Malaysia. However, no startup is perfect – Fashion Valet tried to beat their competition at their own game and made the crucial mistake of lowering their standards of what they sold. This affected their brand identity, but Vivy and her husband went back to their roots and rebounded from the mistake. Their focus is on a direct and affordable connection to local designers and personal connections with their customers. Recently, they’ve opened up a retail location, specializing in offering fashionable hijabs. Fashion Valet has had some major investments from Malaysian internet company MY EG and Silicon Valley’s Elixir Capital, enabling Vivy to search for more collaborations with designers and celebrities to continue to grow their business.

Want to learn more about Vivy’s journey as an entrepreneur? Check out her personal blog where it all began.

Madeleine Kulab – The Fisherwoman of Gaza

On the shore of Gaza, 1.8 million people are stranded under an Israeli military blockade reinforced by Egypt’s border closure. Gaza is known to many as one of the hardest places to live, and even harder to start a business. The United Nations has said that under the current conditions, Gaza could be uninhabitable by 2020. That didn’t stop Madeleine Kulab from defying the cultural norms and starting a fishing and tourism business a decade ago, when she was only 13 years old. She now gives work to five men and owns two boats, which she uses for fishing and offering tours aimed at women and children. Madeleine saw an opportunity created by the conservative Gazan society – women alone might not feel comfortable on a man’s boat. She took out a loan from the Bank of Palestine, participated in a mini-MBA program, and hired a local artist to paint Disney characters on her touring boat as a marketing strategy. Madeleine now makes between 800 and 1,000 shekels a month – about $250. A typical Gazan family on aid gets only 400 shekels a month.

Madeleine Kulab

Madeleine Kulab Credit: Elizabeth MacBride

Madeleine Kulab has a remarkable story of courage and perseverance. She gets plenty of harassment for her entrepreneurial decision – Gazan culture certainly doesn’t welcome women entrepreneurs with open arms. Many young people are itching to leave Gaza – but the permits and visas needed make it nearly impossible. Madeleine is a wonderful example of learning to make the most of the current situation, pushing the limits of society and economy. Her life isn’t easy, by any means, but her bravery and determination enables her to provide for her family and give work to others in her community. Madeleine hopes to see other women joining her in her efforts. “I’m just as ordinary as anybody else,” she said. “I don’t want to be the only fisherwoman in Gaza.”

For more on Madeleine Kulab, read her story here.