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The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
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GeniusBabies.com: Turning Passion into a Successful Business 
Michelle Donahue-Arpas pursued her two passions on the Web -- staying at home with her baby and pre-natal or infant stimulation.  She proves that you can make it big on the Web even with little cash and limited technical expertise, as long as you have the guts and determination.

by Isabel M. Isidro
Managing Editor

Like many first-time moms, Michelle Donahue-Arpas was so excited with her pregnancy that she vowed to find opportunities to work at home. Above anything else, when baby Trisha was born, she wanted to be with her rather than return to her career as a social worker.

Looking for opportunities online, she came across the idea of selling gift boxes composed of infant development products. On July 2, 1998, she started GeniusBabies.com (http://www.geniusbabies.com )

With little cash and limited technical expertise, Michelle defied the odds and built GenuisBabies.com as a premier online baby boutique, featuring developmental and educational baby products, toys and gifts, prenatal through pre-K.

There is so much to learn from reading Michelle's story - from dealing with web designers to patience in working out deals with manufacturers. She shows that the route to success in e-commerce is no different from that of a traditional business: hard work and determination are still important ingredients.

How Did Your Business Start?

As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention." And it is! From the moment I learned that I was pregnant; I knew that I wanted to stay at home and take care of my baby. I did not want to return to work full-time as a Social Work Supervisor, yet I wanted to provide a supplemental income to our household.

I absolutely wanted to stay home. Every time I thought about leaving home and putting this infant in some caregiver's arms, the more I wanted to stay at home.

I was online all the time looking for jobs, posting on the different job boards for things that I can work from home. However, I discovered that there is not a great amount of legitimate work-at-home opportunities. I even responded to those work-at-home ads advertised at the back of a baby magazine, only to find that those were scams.

How did you come up with this idea?

I was expecting my first child, and I was very interested in prenatal and infant stimulation - particularly utero learning and classical music effects in baby development. I was spending a great deal of time researching pregnancy, prenatal care and baby development on the Internet.

I was on an expecting moms board and they were talking about "Oh, I'm using classical music for stimulation for my baby." Then the light bulb went on that I combine my two passions: the desire to stay home with my baby, and my interest and belief in infant development and stimulation.

During that time, I was living in Atlanta and the Governor started a program distributing classical music CDs to all the babies born in Atlanta hospitals. It caused quite a stir, but it gave the idea of prenatal and infant stimulation more promotion. It was great timing for me, as there was a lot of buzz on how important the first twelve months to three years of a baby's development.

I began looking at different infant stimulation and pre-natal products. I started thinking of those junky baby gift baskets - and there is nothing worthwhile in them, just little tubes of lotion and powder -- that people pay about $60 to send to family and friends. Everyone in my family received them every time they had a baby, so we had tons of those. People spent good money to send them, and they were things that they couldn't use.

I thought I could combine some things that would be beneficial to a baby, preferably those that could have long lasting positive effects. My idea was to put together classical music CD, infants still video - there were some in the market that had just come out that I love like Baby Einstein, and Baby Mozart - and they are wonderful. Then throw in an infant development toy. I made them more affordable, starting with $19.95 to $99.95.

The entire business started with those gift packages. There were 5 for babies and 5 for fun birthday gifts. The products increased as the business grew.

 

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