Entrepreneur Todd Gabel started Toddy Gear to sell microfiber screen-cleaners.Entrepreneur Todd Gabel's eighth-grade teacher had told his mom, "Don't waste your money sending this kid to college." Teacher might have been right. Lured by the money he earned in corporate computer sales, Gabel dropped out of college and started his first company while only in his mid-20s.

Gabel, now 44, runs Toddy Gear, which has created the Toddy, a stylish microfiber cloth sold nationwide that's designed to rid the screens of iPads, iPhones and Droids of fingerprint smudges. A four-time entrepreneur, Gabel has used the lessons learned from each experience to help grow his next venture. Here are his four tips for students looking to start their first business.1. Stay Focused

Gabel's first company was a product to help people fix their credit. "I saw this sign on a pole that said, 'clean your credit,' " he said. "I called the guy and figured out how they did it." Though he learned how to create the product from someone else, he followed his own entrepreneurial intuition in marketing the company's product. He toured the country doing radio and television shows to promote it. "You just think about: How do I connect the dots? How can I get this product in front of as many people as possible?" he said. "At that point, it was through traditional media."

Though Gabel said that starting his own business was intuitive for him, he said he didn't know how to work through all the snags. "If things weren't going well and I wasn't selling that day, I absolutely panicked," he said. "I totally lost focus of what I wanted to do with this product."

2. Add Value

Despite one failed company and no college degree, Gabel persevered with a jobs in sales at IBM and McAfee, but he knew his calling was in entrepreneurship. After working with McAfee, Gabel created a second company as a McAfee reseller, making a 30% commission - which turned Gabel's efforts into a $6 million company.

Gabel's responsibility was to help McAfee close deals, but he said that its downfall was not creating additional value or services. "You really have to identify what value you can bring to a client and hone in on that and do it better than anyone else," said Gabel.

3. Choose Partners Wisely

Gabel said his third company is where he really added value by educating clients on products and installing complex corporate solutions. Though this company reached monetary success, Gabel cites the company's structure as the reason why he sold it to his partner this past April.

He advises never to go into a business relationship with equal shares. "A business partnership is no different than a marriage," he said. "It can be ugly and it can be wonderful too."

4. Be Confident

After selling his third company, Gabel doubted whether he wanted to take on another entrepreneurial effort; however, it was at an entrepreneurship conference that he got the inspiration for his current project, The Toddy.

As he watched "hotshots" play around on their newly released iPads, he noticed fingerprints clouding the screens of their gadgets. He did a little research and found that microfiber is preferred to napkins, tissues and pant legs for cleaning touch screen devices. "I want to have a product that people can keep with them," said Gabel. "It has an anti-microbial coating on it so when germs end up on the product, they dissolve."

Though he had no experience in the realm of tech accessories, Gabel's "smart cloth" is now being mass-produced in eight patterns and sold in Verizon Wireless stores across the country.

As a serial entrepreneur, Gabel advises those launching business to learn not only from mistakes but also from successes.

"When you see something works, you just keep repeating it over and over again," he said. "If you do something that people like and want, they'll continue to buy, and more and more customers will come your way."

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Doug Tally

Ironically, I know Todd Gabel. There are as many pitfalls starting a business as Chicago pot holes in March. My company (1st) like the one Todd sold (different industry) had operations, field staff, payroll, accounting, marketing, website and access features, 24/7 on call emergency, partners, proposals, new business, transitions, long term clients and all the unanticipated challenges. I had the focus, added new value every year, confidence is unshakable, but I can see how the partner issue can be a problem.
My challenge was trying to do it all myself, if there was one thing I would change, it would be engaging strong bookkeeping and accounting. If you think accounting rates are high, you won't believe what it's going to cost you if it's not the top priority and solid as a rock. The distraction and involvment of my time has been the single biggest thief in the company.

December 11 2011 at 6:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply