This small-business story begins with a very large balloon. In 2010, Jihan Zencirli was working as a creative director for a children's educational company in Seattle when she found herself in possession of oversize (but uninflated) inflatables. "They were from an old project," says Zencirli, 30, "so I took some home." About six months later, she came up with a way to put one to good use: "I was going to a friend's birthday party at a restaurant and thought, Why bring flowers when I have a ginormous balloon?" It made such a splash—"I blew it up at a nearby grocery store and added orange and purple frills"—that strangers inquired about it and friends asked whether she could bring similar decorations to their celebrations. Says Zencirli, "I became the eccentric lady who shows up with big balloons!"

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Photo: Casa De Perrin
Festive decorations strung up for a birthday party in a Boston home.

In 2011, Zencirli moved to Los Angeles, where she began delivering her inflatable wares to events across the city—on her moped, no less—and selling them online. After a friend posted about the company on her lifestyle blog, the business really took flight. "Suddenly I had about $30,000 in my PayPal account," says Zencirli. "I thought I'd mistakenly embezzled money!" It wasn't long before her company, Geronimo (a play on her nickname Jihanimo), caught on with high-end clients like Chanel, which asked her to create balloon invitations for a Paris runway show in 2012.

Today the self-described "master balloon trooper" and her staff spend their days designing intricate installations and creating signature party kits, which come with 36-inch balloons in colors like turquoise, lime and lavender, and custom frills. "I recently worked on a Kanye West concert," says Zencirli, "where my team and I attached some 2,000 balloons to a scaffold to make them look like clouds."

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Photo: Marcello Ambriz
Zencirli perfects a small-scale prototype for a recent Kanye West concert.

While her projects may seem high-and-mighty, Zencirli's success doesn't go to her head. In fact, the work can be pretty humbling. "I remember one event where the organizer asked for the balloons to be in the pool," she says, "so I got in the pool! I was wearing trousers and a silk shirt, but I figured it out—and drip-dried all the way back to the office."

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Photo: Courtesy of Jihan Zencirli

With her group the Nefarious Frillers, the "secret club" of Geronimo Balloons, Zencirli covertly sets up delightful public balloon art installations, like a chain encircling an old motel on Sunset Boulevard.


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