From the February 1999 issue of Startups

Stoy by your favorite breakfast spot for an invigorating espresso, and you may hear the gentle strains of Charles Rough's clever ode to coffee playing over the speaker--thanks to Rough's entrepreneurial savvy. Back in 1997, the career musician took matters into his own hands after the recording contract of his dreams had eluded him for more than a decade. "I had searched for the Holy Grail for many years but never made it to the dotted line," says Rough, 35. "Finally, I said `Why do I need a major record label when I can do it myself?' "

So the musician-turned-entrepreneur (known as Chaz to his fans) recorded "Black Coffee," a song he penned while touring coffeehouses nationwide, then shopped the single (complete with an acoustic-only "decaf remix") under his own label, Louisville, Kentucky-based Primitive Entertainment. Sold to coffee companies as corporate giveaways for their clients, "Black Coffee" has since found its way to radio stations across the state.

After the success of his coffee "cassingle," Rough went on to produce a CD recording of "Journey," a wedding song he'd written for his own nuptials. He marketed it with an innovative twist: Packaged inside a wedding greeting card, the CD contained advertising spots Rough solicited from 11 local wedding-related businesses. Rough then struck a deal with Bride & Groom magazine, a Louisville monthly, to distribute the card/CD inside 1,000 issues.

And the hits just keep on coming. Rough's Unitywear, a line of multicultural-themed T-shirts he designed, is worn these days by the likes of President Clinton and Muhammed Ali. The shirts sell at such retailers as JC Penney and Mercantile, as well as on the Web. Expanding on that theme, Rough recently wrote and self-published a children's book, The Book of Unity, that's caught the attention of major publishers.

He's also recently produced his first children's multimedia CD-ROM, which contains 14 songs, a full-length music video and Internet account-setup software for Unityworld.com (the ISP that's his latest business venture). "It all connects," explains Rough. "The music sells the books and T-shirts."

Looking forward to a breakout year, the one-man conglomerate says, "I'm having fun--and I'm doing it on my own. The Holy Grail was always in my hand."

Meal Ticket

From selling bubble gum in grade school to throwing parties in college--for a fee--Wendy Diamond, 27, has always been entrepreneurial. After graduating from Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, she moved to London for several years to export designer fashions to Russia. Upon returning to the States in 1993 "very comfortable" financially, "I was looking for the next big thing," she says. On Thanksgiving Day 1993, when Diamond volunteered at a New York City homeless shelter, she found her answer.

"I saw people in horrible situations," recalls Diamond. "I felt so grateful and realized I wanted to give back." The question was how.

A light bulb came on when Diamond read the family cookbook a friend had created. "I thought `What a great idea for a fund-raiser,' " she remembers. So the lifetime entrepreneur kicked into high gear and formed Global Liaisons Inc.

The results? A Musical Feast, a collection of favorite recipes Diamond charmed, begged and pleaded out of recording artists ranging from Madonna to Frank Sinatra. Published in December 1995 and sold at Bloomingdale's and Pier 1 Imports, as well as through a toll-free number, the book has raised $300,000 (70 percent of the proceeds) for the homeless. Diamond's second book, The All-Star Feast, published in December 1997, features favorite recipes from international sports figures such as Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Monica Seles and has raised more than $200,000 for the homeless. Corporate sponsors, such as Coca-Cola and Nabisco, underwrote the costs of the books, but only after Diamond's diligence prevailed.

Next on Diamond's agenda is a coffee-table book, Celebrities and Their Pets, and in the long term, a nonprofit lifestyle magazine. "I've always felt lucky," she says. "For me, the best feeling is when I can give back."

Contact Sources

Global Liaisons Inc., wendydiamond@prodigy.net

Charles Rough, (502) 425-8746, http://www.unityworld.com