In 1985, after two decades of running and then owning 20,000-head cattle feedlots in Kansas and Oklahoma, Lee Bowen sold everything and moved his family to Omaha. The youngest of his five kids, 18-month-old Katy, was deaf—she’d had meningitis—and Bowen wanted to get her into the Boys Town National Research Hospital program on childhood hearing loss.
So the family pulled up stakes, planning to live off the proceeds of the sale of Bowen’s business and focus on taking care of Katy. At 47, Bowen was tired of the cattle business. He was looking for a gig that would surprise him. “I wanted to do something that I would enjoy, that would be fun and had no debt and no overhead,” he says.
Not that he was slowing down. Bowen threw himself into a new job that tapped into his entrepreneurial streak: fund-raising chairman for the local YMCA. He soon found himself prowling the booths at a trade show in Chicago, on the hunt for cheap, effective advertising tactics that he might put to use for th...