and proclaim himself an expert, there are too many
people holding fish out as far as their arms can go.
But, by any standard, not the Sloans. Here’s why.
Lights out, light on
Typical business experts love to cite their MBAs
and lengthy curricula vitae. Not Jeff and Rich Sloan.
“We are about as far away from textbook information as you can get,” says Rich. “We’ve never taken a
business class in our lives, let alone have [business]
degrees.” (In fact, Jeff was an English major; Rich
studied Asian history.)
What they do have starts with a smart little
device called the Battery Buddy. On a rainy night in
1987, Jeff Sloan was sitting in his car near Flint,
Michigan, when he saw a guy leave a restaurant and
go to start his car. Thanks to leaving the lights on,
the battery had died. The man went from car to car
in the pouring rain, looking for somebody with battery cables, but ended up calling a tow truck.
Wouldn’t it be nice, Jeff thought, if cars had
some kind of “battery saver”? Three years later, after
countless hours of developing a prototype and pounding on doors, Jeff and
Rich, 28 and 21 at the time, stood in
the boardroom of a company that
made accessories for Detroit’s automak-ers and got a thumbs-up for the Battery
Buddy. Sloan Products, a division of Sloan Corp.,
was on its way.
The brothers made enough money off the
Battery Buddy to expand into other areas, most
notably a venture-capital firm in the 1990s. Sloan
Ventures would look for a promising tech start-up,
write the business plan, find the management team,
attract outside investors and launch the company.
The firm backed 15 businesses in all, totaling nearly
$70 million in financing.
But then came the market crash of April 14,
2000, and the pool of angel investors dried up
overnight. The Sloans had another idea. Why not
create a multimedia company that tapped all the
things they had learned about starting and running
businesses for other entrepreneurs? They called it
StartupNation, and in 2002 found themselves in the
business of giving small-business advice.
Their résumé is built on street smarts, but it’s
complemented by some deeper personal history.
“We are a couple of guys who grew up in Flint,
Michigan, watching the early-’70s version of Flint,
where the unemployment lines were about as
depressing as you can imagine,” says Rich. “And we
decided, ‘We ain’t working for the man. We’re going
to go do something for ourselves.’”
SAN TA FABIO
sonal anecdotes and effortlessly bouncing ideas off
each other. They answer a few questions from the
audience without missing a beat.
They also throw occasional friendly barbs at
each other. Jeff cautions the audience that many new
businesses fail because they haven’t organized
plans and operations properly. Rich breaks
in, “Of course, maybe another hidden
reason businesses fail is because they
don’t have a younger brother to take up
the slack for the older brother.”
“Right,” Jeff allows.
It’s a 45-minute session that
showcases what sets the Sloan
brothers apart: sound advice,
enthusiasm and chemistry—a
Tony Robbins message with a Rowan
and Martin delivery. Certainly other
small-business experts out there have
comparable experiences of life in the
trenches. And other Web sites, including
one that we all pay for—the federal
Small Business Administration’s
site—are loaded with A-to-Z information on how to start, finance
Among many of their early
Jeff, left, and Rich Sloan
imported juggling sets.
Method to the madness
The makeup artist applies the finishing
touches on their faces, and Jeff and Rich Sloan
turn toward the cameras. The lights go on, the
taping begins and, as though some kind of
internal switch has been flicked—click!—the
brothers begin talking about small business.
On this day the topic is organizational
strategies, taped for a Microsoft small-business
summit last March. The Sloans adeptly cover the
topic, cramming in helpful bits about cash flow,
insurance and business plans, interjecting a few per-
Jeff and Rich Sloan
430 N. Old Woodward Ave.
Birmingham, MI 48009
Comments about Costco:
“Our kitchen is stocked full of
Costco stuff. And then our
office manager uses Costco
frequently for basic supplies.
In business, you don’t have
much time. You want to get
stuff done, you want to get it
efficiently, you want a good
value. That’s what the Costco
membership is all about.”