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Three Unlikely Small Business Success Stories

Siegal saw immediate success in the diet, which consists of six cookies and a lean dinner, for a total of 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day. "If you stick to 1,200 calories a day, you'll lose weight. I don't care who you are," he says.

He kept the diet confined to South Florida, where he practices, for close to 30 years. "I'm 81 years old now, and I'm from the old school where doctors don't advertise," he says. "I felt it would damage my reputation rather than enhance it because inevitably this product would be misused and someone would make false claims that it was magic."

It took his son, Matthew Siegal, a former software entrepreneur, to persuade Dr. Siegal that he should sell the cookies to the masses. The Web site launched in 2007. The cookies are now available at Walgreens (WAG) and GNC (GNC), as well as a Dr. Siegal's store in Beverly Hills, Calif., where actress Denise Richards has been spotted buying cookies. The company made $20 million in 2009, Matthew Siegal says. He expects revenue of $100 million this year.

Although the cookies are now mass-produced, Dr. Siegal still mixes the cookie's secret formula of amino acids by hand. While wary of copycats, the company has made a conscious decision not to patent the formula. "The reason it isn't patented is that one of the things you do when you apply for a patent is give out all the details," Matthew Siegal says. "Better just to keep it a secret."

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

According to, this odd success was born in 1983, when Kevin Eastman (then a short-order cook) and Peter Laird (an advertising artist) were hanging out at Laird's house, riffing on a sketchpad. Eastman drew a bipedal turtle with nunchucks on its arms, Laird suggested upping the ante by turning it into a mutant teenager as well, and the two of them pooled $1,200 to create the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book in 1984.

By the end of the century, the Ninja Turtle franchise included a cartoon series, a breakfast cereal and action figures. So far, the turtles have starred in four feature films - the last of which grossed more than $95 million for Time Warner's (TWX) Warner Bros. studio. And of course there's a game for the Nintendo (NTDOY) Wii.

-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in

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