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September 12, 2008

I Am the Boss of Me

You've always dreamed of busting out of the cubicle and doing your own thing. These five women actually did it. Easy? No. Worth it? Totally. Listen and learn.

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chic female business owners

Wild life: Marta Teegen in her own "edible garden" at her Los Angeles home.

Photo Credit: Williams + Hirakawa

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The Green Genius
Marta Teegen, 36, owner of urban-garden company Homegrown, Los Angeles

MY INSPIRATION: I grew up on a farm in the Caribbean, and I've always loved gardening and cooking with fresh ingredients. So I got the idea to combine my two loves into a business: I would help people grow their own "edible gardens," chock-full of organic vegetables and yummy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. I could plant the gardens in raised beds in the yard or in window-boxes in the kitchen for apartment dwellers.

HOW I GOT STARTED: I ditched my job in the nonprofit sector, gathered up my savings, and launched Homegrown in 2007. I worked with high-end chefs at first, then branched out to people who had never grown anything in their lives. Customers began hearing about me through word of mouth. Thankfully, my overhead was low since I worked out of my home in Los Angeles.

THE PAYOFF: Today I have several hundred clients; I talk with them about what they want and provide all the materials and hands-on training. My fees range from a few hundred bucks to thousands of dollars, depending on the project. The timing is right because people are struggling with rising food prices and environmental concerns - they're getting increasingly interested in growing their own food.

THE BUMMER: Heavy traffic through my home. It's the downside of giving demos in my own backyard.

MAJOR MISHAPS: I get the most emergency calls from clients who planted a garden so that their kids could see where their food comes from. Sounds like a good idea, right? But guess what: The toddlers tend to rip out half the plants!

WHAT'S NEXT: I'd like to set up a nursery where I could teach more classes to green-thumbers year-round. I'm also interested in starting a franchise so people could buy the Homegrown brand and have a customizable list of services around the country.

WORD TO THE WISE: Know when to say no. People who launch start-ups are often go-getters who take on more and more work. But you can burn out really fast that way. While I love what I do, I'm not in business for myself to work seven days a week, 15 hours a day. I remind myself to set limits.

>> NEXT PAGE: THE BOWLING QUEEN


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