When patent drafting firm RDK Designs closed its doors in 2003, it did not take Melissa Ulrich, national sales manager at the firm, long to find another job.
"The doors were locked and the closed sign was up and I didn't have a job anymore," said Ulrich, who is now chief executive officer and founder of J&M Patent Design, a firm specializing in drafting sketches that illustrate ideas or inventions that people wish to patent. "I really had nothing to lose, and that is what motivated me. I decided I can do this and started that day."
Ulrich’s path toward entrepreneurship, however, started many years before that.
"I went to SMU [Southern Methodist University] and studied business," said Ulrich. "After school, I held various positions in sales and operations management.
"Those prior jobs led Ulrich to the field of patent drafting and the firm RDK Designs. The company, however, became the victim of a bitter personal dispute between the two owners and closed its doors in 2003. Seeing the failure of that business did not discourage Ulrich because she saw an opportunity where others did not.
"They went out of business, but they did not close down for a lack of sales or a lack of business," said Ulrich. "They closed down for personal differences within the actual ownership and so there was a huge opportunity there, because it was a good business."
Ulrich knew she had what it took to run her own firm.
"A definite opportunity existed there," said Ulrich. "I knew how to run a company. I had run multimillion dollar companies and I knew the sales side of things. From my experience in running other companies, I knew how to manage cost and make a profit doing it."
Ulrich wasted no time in taking advantage of that opportunity and her prior business experiences.
"I made sure that I was in a position that if they [RDK Designs] closed the doors, that I would be able to start," said Ulrich. "I had lined up what needed to be done and made sure I knew every project that was in queue." The same day the company closed, Ulrich started calling clients to let them know she was starting a new firm that could pick up where the old one left off.
Don't be afraid to partner up
Despite seeing a bitter business divorce tear apart her former company, Ulrich feels the success of her business is a result of a successful partnership.
"I have a business partner and you really need to have the same values as that person [in a partnership]," said Ulrich. "If you aren't on the same page from a business standpoint, it is not going to work out."
Ulrich, however, credits her partnership with helping to make J&M Patent Design a success.
"You have to know the strengths and weaknesses that you both bring to the table," said Ulrich. "My business partner has his domain and I have mine and they are completely different, but that is what makes it work."
Take fear out of the equation
"'Don't be afraid to fail' was the biggest piece of advice I received," said Ulrich. "I thought I could easily have failed in the first year like so many other businesses do."
Ulrich, however, was able to persevere where many others failed due to a simple commitment to hard work.
"A lot of people think that if you are a small business owner you have it easy and that you are not working as hard, and that is completely not true," said Ulrich. "You are working more hours than you would with someone else. It takes a lot of work to get it going in the right direction. You may have perks like a flexible schedule, but overall you are putting in a lot more hours than what you would for someone else, but it is a lot more rewarding."