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TheStreet Open House

Three Unlikely Small Business Success Stories

Stocks in this article: WEBM

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Some of the best business ideas are borne of the notion that "it's so crazy, it just might work."

Who would have predicted the success of Zhu Zhu Pets? These hot toys of the 2009 holiday season, created by the small toymaker Cepia, have their own application on Apple's (AAPL) iPhone. A Zhu Zhu Pets game for the Nintendo DS is due out this spring.

Cookies
Dr. Sanford Siegal pioneered a diet based on special cookies.

Here are three of our favorite success stories from entrepreneurs who took a chance on seemingly strange ideas.

Mediabistro.com

The average salary in journalism is $41,000, according to Simplyhired.com. This may be why it may sound nuts to target journalists as a potential source of revenue. But that's what Laurel Touby did with Mediabistro.com, which hosts parties and offers job-hunting services, classes and advice to more than 850,000 media professionals. In 2007, she sold the company to Jupitermedia (now WebMediaBrands (WEBM)) for $23 million.

What began in 1994 as a series of informal gatherings for Touby's writer friends quickly bloomed into a word-of-mouth community. In 1996 she launched the Web site after forming focus groups to find out what the community wanted in an industry resource center.

"I basically listened to the customer, and in that way extracted money out of people who you would think had no money," she says.

The organization still relies on a model of "party marketing," a term Touby coined. "Nobody's going to open an e-mail that says, 'buy my product,'" Touby says, which is why Mediabistro.com sends e-mails with "Come to our party" in the subject line. The messages lead with party information but end with a plug for upcoming classes, which cost up to $499.

Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet

"It was quite clear to me that hunger could be controlled by foods, but specific foods were more effective than others," says Dr. Sanford Siegal, who in the 1970s pioneered his seemingly contradictory diet in which patients lose weight by eating specially formulated cookies. "Cookies are popular, people like them, and they're also portable."

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