THE BLOG

People Who Have Made Life-Changing Deals and Why It Pays to Take a Risk

04/30/2015 04:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

It is always inspiring to hear stories about people who take risks to make life-changing deals. Wasn't it Donald Trump who once said, "Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks"?

Consider George Foreman. The boxing champion returned to boxing after being away from the ring for a decade. In the early 1990s, in the midst of his big comeback, he was approached to promote an indoor, electrically-heated grill. The gadget had been marketed at industry trade shows but without much success. George Foreman agreed to lend his name to the product and became its spokesperson. And what a deal it was. Dubbed The George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine (aka "George Foreman Grill"), it is said that the boxer/entrepreneur has earned more than $200 million endorsing it.

The George Foreman grill was unlike any other grill on the market but what also sent it into the stratosphere was that it was an "As Seen on TV" product. And who could resist the charm of George Foreman. As noted in www.carolwrightgifts.com, "the beauty of the As Seen on TV products is that they bring the marketing and shopping directly to you in the comfort of your own home."

So thinking about great deals, I asked some people about some of their best ones. Here's what they shared:

Mario Batali, award-winning celebrity chef, author, restaurateur and television personality:

"The best deal I ever made was opening my first restaurant Po in New York City in 1993 for $35,000. I had borrowed my share of the money from friends. So my business partner and I had to make the restaurant work within our small budget. We took over the lease of an Indian restaurant that had already been there, but thankfully, we didn't have to pay any key money. The restaurant was kind of a dreamy hole-in-the-wall. The bar was covered in tin ceiling tile that I found on the Lower East Side for $40. I managed to put in a new ice cream freezer and refrigerator. I went shopping at the green market for food. I created a six-course tasting menu for $29. The pasta dishes like the white bean ravioli were $10. It was wonderful planning menus and taught me how much adored every aspect of restaurant ownership. I was the only chef. It was a risky venture, but I loved it. After a slow few months, Eric Asimov with The New York Times reviewed us and that changed everything. The restaurant suddenly became very successful. The word of mouth was incredible. In 2000, I sold my share in Po and made many, many, many times more than what I originally put into it. Having that restaurant made me realize that this was my calling and how much passion I have for my craft. My dream of owning restaurants was put into play."

Dan Myrick, co-director of the blockbuster independent film, The Blair Witch Project:

"Just a few years after we graduated from film school, my classmate, Eduardo Sanchez and I co-directed a movie called The Blair Witch Project. We made the entire film for $35,000, which we scraped together, so we were ecstatic when Artisan Entertainment bought the movie at Sundance for $1 million. As a bone, they threw in a percentage of the box office if the movie made more than $10 million. No one in his or her right mind thought it would make that much. The first weekend, the film made $29 million (and has since grossed more than $240 million worldwide). To this day, I'm still flabbergasted that Blair Witch was so successful and became part of the culture and was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. In fact, my phone was turned off while I was selling the movie at Sundance and I was able to pay off a lot of bills. It helped me create my own production company, Gear Head Pictures. And I was able to buy a house for my mother in Florida, purchase my own house and get married. The best part is being able to take care of all the people who you love."

David Heyman, producer of the entire Harry Potter film series, which has grossed billions of dollars worldwide:

"I was a struggling film producer and had moved back to London from New York. I had produced a small independent film called, The Daytrippers, and miraculously, Warner Bros. set me up with an office and staff for two years. (In fact, once the deal ended with Warner Bros. I was so broke that I had to pay for the office myself with my credit cards. And I was living in my sister's spare room. I love to read, so I decided to make books a focus of my business and read them before they were published to see if they would make good films. In early 1997, one of my employees read in a trade paper about an upcoming novel in which a boy goes to wizard school. I got the manuscript, but I thought the title was silly, so I placed it firmly on the low-priority shelf. Every weekend my staff and I took books home to read and discussed them on Monday. One Monday, a few weeks later, my secretary, who had loved the book, suggested I take it home over the weekend. As soon as I read the first paragraph, I was hooked. I stayed up all night reading it. I had no idea that it would become a phenomenon, but I related to the theme of being an outsider, and looking for a place where you belong. I felt a bit like Harry. I immediately called my friend at Warner Bros. telling him about this book. About a month later we began negotiating the film. I bought the movie rights to the entire Harry Potter series. I can't say what I paid for them, but I can say that I'm no longer living with my sister."