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Safety First! Launching a Biz With a Mission

After decades as a financial planner, “car nut” Anthony Nestora found new purpose, selling mirrors to prevent backover accidents

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by Elaine Pofeldt

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Anthony Nestora stumbled across the idea for his business in his local hardware store – the last place he expected inspiration. When the longtime “car nut” came across an inexpensive lens that adheres to the back window of vans and SUVs to give drivers a better rear view—and began giving it to friends to prevent accidents—he realized he’d found a product the world needed. “I had friends saying, `I had such limited vision beforehand. Now I can see what’s behind my car,’” recalls Nestora, now 66, a resident of Redding, Connecticut. Doing some research, Nestora was horrified to discover how many children are hurt and killed each year in their own driveways, often by family members in backover accidents – in 2011, 203 children died in such “nontraffic” settings.

Many automakers have started installing back-up cameras in new vehicles, but Nestora worried about the millions of older minivans and SUVS that don’t have them. It costs several hundred dollars to install such a camera—an investment many owners weren’t likely to make. What if, he wondered, he were able to start an online store where soccer moms and other drivers could order the lenses and other inexpensive products to make driving safer, he wondered. Bingo! He had the idea for a business. At the time, Nestora was working as a financial planner, a career he had pursued since he was 25—but he wanted to get out. When the global financial crisis hit, it became harder to advise clients on where they could invest their money without substantial risk of losing it. Meanwhile, his clients were getting older and he wasn’t eager to start marketing himself to new prospects. “I reached the point where I was burned out,” he says. At the same time, he wasn’t ready to stop working and he wanted a few more years to build his retirement savings. He could have taken the safe route and ridden out his long-time career to retirement, but he knew he wouldn’t look forward to work. “After 40 years, I had enough.”

Nestora took the first step to establish his online store by forming an LLC in 2008, but then he got stuck. He wasn’t tech-savvy enough to set up the website. And he was hesitant to leave his old career without really understanding how to launch one that required a whole new set of skills. “I didn’t know how to get it off the ground,” Nestora says. Several years later, at a tire store, he began chatting with another customer about his business idea. Joe Feigenbaum turned out to be the owner of TDO Communications, a design and marketing firm in Irvington, New York. Nestora was excited to learn that Feigenbaum had experience creating web stores, plus a great track record serving corporate clients. Soon after that, the two men met for lunch. Confident that Feigenbaum had the technical know-how he needed, Nestora offered to partner with him. “On a handshake, I gave him 40% of the business,” says Nestora. In turn, Feigenbaum agreed to handle all of the company’s technology needs. Nestora’s gut instinct about bringing on his new partner was right on target. Feigenbaum quickly built the online store, arranged to receive payments via PayPal and created pages on Facebook and Twitter to market it—all tasks that Nestora couldn’t handle on his own.

Back Up Better LLC opened for business in October, 2011, funded with about $12,000 from Nestora’s savings. It sells vehicle safety products, like an 8 x 10” flexible PVC “Fresnel” lens for a better rear view at $14.99 and add-on “blind spot mirrors” for $6.99. “It’s kind of nice to have an altruistic mission,” says Nestora. “Every person who puts one of these in their vehicle is now a safer driver.” It was the right moment for Nestora. Before launching the store, he sold a younger financial planner the client list from his wealth management practice. “I really never looked back,” Nestora says. He had reached a point in his personal life where he had freedom try something new. He and his wife, who divorced last year, had raised their two children, and he was getting ready to downsize from his 3,500-square-foot home to a townhouse.

Today, Back Up Better is gradually picking up traction, thanks to promotions through venues like “mommy blogs.” Nestora’s goal is to build his online store to the point where it’s valuable enough to sell in three years. Nestora still thrives on working. He loves the freedom to run his business from home in an old flannel shirt instead of a suit and tie, and to put in 30 hours a week instead of the 50 he logged as a financial planner. Still, he thinks he may be ready for another change in a few years. “At age 70, I would probably feel comfortable retiring,” he says.

What Anthony Nostera Learned About Building a Business The Most Important Thing I Did Right: “It was finding the right person to partner with,” says Nestora. “I had no idea how to start an online business and what was entailed with websites, Twitter and Facebook…or how to market.” The One Thing I Wish I Could Get a Do-Over On: Nestora and Feigenbaum have realized that wholesaling their lenses and mirrors to big box stores and automotive chains would be more profitable than marketing online to individual consumers. “I think we would be better served by becoming less retail and more wholesale,” says Nestora. “That’s phase two -- something we’re going to probably start in the next month or so.”

The One Piece of Advice I'd Give to Someone Else Reimagining Their Work: “The key to succeeding in a new enterprise is to realize there’s going to be a lot of adversity,” Nestora says. “Unless you truly believe in what you’re doing, eventually the adversity is going to cause you to fail and give up. You have to believe you’re bringing value to the world. That’s how I feel.”

Photo credit: Christopher Capozziello