Dana Ostomel was a casualty of the first round of layoffs at Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages in November 2007. She took a few months off, got married as planned, and thought about starting a business. Then, in February 2008 she took the plunge.
In her bright Midtown Manhattan apartment, Ostomel started Deposit a Gift, an online cash gift registry service that lets friends and family contribute cash toward honeymoons, home down payments, cribs, college funds, and anything in between.
"The idea had been percolating for a while," said 33-year-old Ostomel, who has a background in advertising. "But my own experience getting married informed my decision."
As with most start-ups, the beginning was exciting but rough. For the first time Ostomel didn't have anyone giving her feedback or complimenting her when she did something good. She also no longer had a title, something with which she identified herself for so long. Sometimes, while sitting at her living room desk, building her own website from scratch with no previous programming knowledge, she wondered whether she would actually pull it off.
"One of my biggest concerns was, 'Am I going to finish? Is this a reality? Can I actually take this idea in my mind and make it into a website that actually works?'" she wondered. "You have to get up in the morning and make your own to-do list, and you have to make yourself do those things thinking that it's actually going to result in something."
Besides these general worries, she had to learn how to do her finances and legal work and to decide when to hire people to take on specific tasks and when to do things herself.
"Every single day you're making a decision that feels crucial to you but in the scheme of the world is just not really that important, because you don't really exist [as a company yet]," she said.
But less than a year after the official launch, Ostomel is pleased about how the business is doing, although it is not making money yet. The self-funded site has had close to 1,500 users; it grows by 15% every month; gifts are being given every day. It's becoming a well-oiled machine, Ostomel said.
Ostomel hopes that the site will become profitable at some point next year. The site charges a 7.5% service fee on gifts, which includes the credit card fee. For now she is fortunate enough to have a husband who is very supportive of the business, both financially and emotionally. The entrepreneur appreciates that, after her husband has had a long day of work, he is still willing to take the time to hash out an idea with her and give her constructive feedback.
"It's extremely hard to live with an entrepreneur," Ostomel said with a laugh. "You are doing a business but you feel like your life is on the line, and it makes you a little crazy, sometimes."
Despite all the frustrating trouble-shooting that an online start-up entails, Ostomel would never go back to a corporate job. She is quite happy that she turned a lay-off into a great opportunity for herself and her family.