New York District Office Contact: John J. Miller (212) 264-7770
Release Number: 06-18
Brooklyn, NYC: Thanks to Caylin Sanders and her Internet-based business, New Yorkers and others have an easier and cheaper way to take trips and vacations throughout the northeast by way of public transportation and car.
A transplant from Los Angeles, Sanders had moved to the east coast to obtain a degree in theater arts at Drew University in New Jersey, and then pursue her ambition to work in stage and set lighting. Settling in Brooklyn, Sanders found jobs in her field to be far and few between, so she took jobs first as a marketer with DC Comics and then as a designer at JP Morgan Chase. After developing a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome she was forced to leave work for two years, give up her dreams as a designer, and rely on minimal worker’s compensation payments and family help while rehabilitating in physical therapy. Wanting to get back to some kind of productive work, she devised a way she could re-enter the workforce.
She decided to establish EscapeMaker.com, an online guide to places accessible within a day’s drive or train ride. Her previous frustrations in trying to plan weekend getaway trips by public transportation had given her the idea for such a service. EscapeMaker.com is not a travel agency. Rather, it promotes other organization’s vacation packages, weekend getaways, restaurants, lodging, visits to historic and cultural sites, events and outdoor activities such as biking and camping.
Clients include private companies, non-profits and local governments throughout 12 northeast states. In fact, the company recently landed a contract with New York State to market its world-renowned “I Love NY” campaign. Sanders fired up her brainchild on the Web in 2000 with the help of a $100,000 loan from Community Capital Bank that was guarantied by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The loan was highly unusual at the time, because lenders and investors were leery to extend funding to Internet-based companies so soon after the dot.com bust, particularly to a one-woman business start-up. But Sanders took advantage of a business class offered by the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation as well as ongoing, in-depth business counseling from Bruce Director, a counselor with the SBA’s SCORE organization. SCORE provides free counseling by experienced and successful executives. With that help Sanders put together an extensive business plan, loan application and sales pitch that Community Capital banker, John Tear, could not deny.
From her initial idea to the point of securing the loan took Sanders about six months. She hired someone to handle computer-related work and because she was now considered working again, decided to settle her worker’s compensation case and rely solely on family help. “I didn’t have much of a future so I decided to risk going without an income for something I believed in,” said Sanders. “The loan covered my overhead and expenses, and allowed the business to happen. The SBA and Community Capital Bank believed in me.”
Sanders also received a small grant from VESID, an organization that helps those with disabilities re-enter the workforce to start service-based businesses. Sanders originally marketed her company at hotel and tourism trade shows and that continues to be her primary sales vehicle. She is frequently featured on television entertainment segments and recently participated at the New York Times’ Travel and Tourism Show where she was a featured panelist at a seminar.
The company took almost three years to become profitable but has now grown to employ one full-timer, one-part-timer and several freelancers. Sanders is also in a position now to give back to the community and has plans to connect with the Fresh Air Fund, the organization that takes children from the inner city to the countryside for vacations, because she sees it as a natural fit with her company. Sanders has advice for other entrepreneurial risk-takers. “Don’t give up. And look under every rock for help because there are a number of organizations and people out there ready to help. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit for what you need.”
Far from being an escapist, this successful business owner gives her business plan tweaks throughout the year and a thorough revision once a year to continue to grow her business.
All of the SBA’s programs and services are provided to the public on a non-discriminatory basis. For more information about the SBA please visit www.sba.gov/ny/ny.