Brett Haugen’s million-dollar business idea hatched eight years ago when his wife, Mary, asked for a favor. She wanted him to use his design and woodworking skills to build storage units that could hold all of her crafting materials—ink pads, markers, paper punches—in one place.
Mary loved the custom cabinets he made for her, and her friends did too. Haugen, a mechanical engineer and manager at a computer-parts manufacturing company, sensed a business opportunity. “The only thing being sold in stores were generic storage units,” he says.
To test the market, Haugen built a few dozen products in his garage and posted them on eBay in early 2009. It was a good proving ground. Units that hold 48 ink pads, for instance, took 15 minutes to assemble, cost $5 in materials, and quickly sold out at $35 apiece, he says. But a display shelf was a dud. “It was generic,” he says in hindsight.