Ana Gavia, 26, never intended to become a full-time entrepreneur. Looking for a way to make money while studying podiatric medicine at La Trobe University in Australia, she decided to start a side hustle selling a bathing suit she designed on the internet. She’d grown up on a coastal beach town and had always had trouble finding affordable swimsuits she loved.
Self-taught in design, she sketched a bikini, found a factory in China that would create a single, medium-sized sample, put up a photo of it on her website and ran a few ads promoting it on Facebook with a budget of $5. A week later, she made her first sale. She ran more ads, offering the swimsuit for pre-order. With pre-orders coming in, Gavia flew to China to check the plant was manufacturing the bathing suits properly. She used the money to manufacture her first batch of 100 bikinis. That was in 2017. The bikini design was an immediate hit.
Today, the design is still a best seller, and the profitable business, Pinkcolada, now brings in over USD$1.25 million per year. With the one-woman business growing rapidly, Gavia has put her studies on hold to work on it full time.
Gavia is part of a fast-growing trend, in which solo founders and partners are creating million-dollar businesses prior to hiring a team of traditional employees. In the U.S., there are nearly 40,000 firms with no paid employees except the owners—bringing in $1 million plus a year.
Here’s how Gavia launched her ultra-lean business.
Stretch your startup money. With only $200 in her bank account, she brainstormed about products that would be affordable for her to manufacture, and arrived at bikinis, She focused on creating stylish but durable styles.
Find a creative approach to manufacturing. Most factories don’t want to do small runs, but Gavia discovered a plant in China that filled orders less than $1,000.
Build on what works. Empowered by early sales success, she designed three more styles and put photos of the samples on her website. She advertised on Facebook to gauge the response and reduce the risk. For consistency in her comparisons, she targeted the same audience with each ad.
Let go of preconceptions. Originally, Gavia thought teens would be her main customers and advertised the swimsuits to them. Then she realized there was interest beyond this demographic. Now she focuses on women ages 18 to 45 and has, in addition to tiny bikinis, offered a variety of styles. She shares photos of real women of all body types wearing her suits on Instagram.
Take a stand when it comes to quality. She won’t sell anything she wouldn’t wear herself.
Learn from pricing mistakes. Originally, she underpriced her bathing suits, unaware of what she needed to charge to be profitable. But, it was important for people to get to know the brand and get that brand out there somehow. Fortunately, many customers came back and purchased other styles she introduced. Now that she understands the full cost of making the suits, she has updated her pricing.
Know when to invest in growth. Gavia initially ran her business from home but, as it grew, she rented an office and warehouse. She is still the only employee but is now looking at hiring a customer service team. Expanding into the U.S. market via a new site called Pinkcolada.us three months ago, she has seen rapid growth. Running a business, however successful, is “1,000 times harder,” than going to medical school. Business ownership “can be a dark and hard place to be—especially when you do it with no experience”. If you don’t adapt, you are going to fail,” she says. “You have to have that self-motivation to keep going. You have to remain logical at the same time.” Importantly, her parents’ taught her discipline, drive and motivation. You could never go to a business school and learn what you get from actually living it,” Gavia says.
The creator of Corn Pops also invented Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, and Apple JacksHe was a cereal entrepreneur