In the old days--anywhere from centuries ago to even the 1980s--the word "entrepreneur" often conjured up images of money-grubbing men like railroad barons, bankers or the famed character Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. Nowadays, however, we know better. Entrepreneurs are like everyone else. We have hopes, dreams, mortgages and responsibilities, too.
Some entrepreneurs are even hopeless romantics. While they want to be rich like anyone else, romance is also on their minds. Their mission is to bring people together, and year round, their offices look like the inside of a Valentine's Day card.
Get in the mood for romance--and prepare to blush a little--as we honor 10 entrepreneurs who have full wallets and full hearts.
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Joshua Levs, 34
Name of Business: MagicProposals.com
What the business does: Helps bachelors come up with the most magical marriage proposal possible
Founded: August 2006
Employees: 0, but he has numerous contractors with whom he works, including videographers and editors who capture the proposals on film
There's something about this business: Levs was a reporter before he began MagicProposals, and he'd had his fill of covering bad news. "Bombings, terrorism, war, Katrina, political divisiveness. They're important stories, but they do eat away at your soul," he says. "Doing this is soul-restoring work. It's about the best in people." Of course, this begs the question: Has anyone turned down one of these magical proposals? "No," says Levs, "but I did have one guy who started to work with me, and we met and started planning. Then he and his girlfriend broke up. He talked to me about how difficult and painful it was." Levs concedes that someday, a "no" is almost inevitable, but until then, he's going to keep helping create magical moments for couples. "Love is life's greatest experience, the reason to live," says Levs, who, yes, is happily married.
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Alexi Faucher, 47
Name of Business: Seduction and Spice
What the business does: Caters romantic dinners
Founded: 2003, though it wasn't a full-time business until last year
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Employees: 0, but she occasionally uses contractors
There's something about this business: Faucher's business is still in the startup phase, but with projections of $70,000 by the end of this year, she's making a living--and racking up a lifetime of interesting memories. She has catered meals in the back of a limousine for a surprise birthday, as well as in someone's hot tub and another person's hammock. The best part of the business, though, is knowing that she's helping create memories for her clients. "After the stage is set, I take one last look to make sure everything's as perfect as it can be," says Faucher, who then generally disappears, since after all--John Ritter's classic sitcom excepted--two is company, but three's a crowd.
The hardest thing about running her business isn't setting the mood or the table; it's marketing. Faucher has to convince couples that romantic dinners aren't just for Valentine's Day or a birthday or anniversary. Sometimes, "just because" is a good enough reason to give that special someone a romantic dinner.
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneurs: Nicole Matthias, 28, and Catherine Nutt, 37
Name of Business: BadFun.com
What the business does: Sells romantic and slightly naughty gift baskets. Their tag line is, "It's fun to be bad."
Location: Hoboken, New Jersey
There's something about this business: Given that BadFun is projected to hit $1.2 million in revenue before the year is up, there's no question that there's revenue to be found in selling items like the "On Fire Seduction Basket," which comes with edible underwear, sex position manuals and other unmentionables one normally doesn't find in a business article. And then there are the other gift collections like the Ultimate Bondage Basket and Advanced Submission Basket. Still, Matthias notes, "There is absolutely no nudity or potentially offensive content on BadFun.com, which is what sets our shopping experience apart from other sites." She says that their store allows "women and couples to purchase relationship enhancers in a tasteful, mainstream environment."
While the revenue stream is surely nice, Matthias says that one of the most satisfying aspects of owning the company is "when our customers follow up with us and let us know that BadFun helped them to bring the spark back into their relationship."
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Jani Zubkovs, 51
Name of Business: Bonnie's Gang (named after his wife . awww)
What the business does: Sells the trademarked Tonight's the Night "love kit"
Location: Long Island, New York
Employees: 0; Zubkovs outsources everything
There's something about this business: Eleven years ago, Zubkovs began selling his "love kit," which consists of aspirin, a shot glass, a moist towelette, love gel, a candle and a condom. So far, he's sold more than 100,000 units of the product. And since then, Zubkovs has expanded into publishing, writing Tonight's the Night . No More Excuses and other books with titles that we'll just leave to the imagination. Zubkovs also is a speaker and a sex workshop facilitator. Interesting.
So we asked how he responds when, say, his conservative Aunt Esther asks him about his job. "Many of my relatives, especially the older ones, think I don't work," says an amused Zubkovs. "Even my mom used to say to me, 'What do you do all day? Sleep?'" He admits, "Sometimes I tell people I work in Home Depot. It's a lot easier."
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Amy Graybeal, 25
Name of Business: Magic of Romance Inc.
What the business does: Arranges romantic travel for couples
There's something about this business: Graybeal's business began as an assignment at Georgia Tech in 2004. An overachiever, she turned the full-fledged business plan into an actual business. Now the growing startup tailors each client's trip to his or her own tastes and interests, much like a luxury travel concierge. For instance, if you want to waltz the night away at a Viennese ball, be serenaded in a gondola in Venice, or have a romantic evening out in Atlanta or Albany, Graybeal and her executive director will plan and plot every detail.
"I'll have to tell my husband about that," is the comment Graybeal most often hears from prospective female clients. So far, only one planned trip hit a snag that "no amount of romance could fix. The client ended up catching the stomach flu," says Graybeal, who had a room waiting for the couple in Las Vegas decorated with rose petals and candles, among other surprises. But there was a happy ending; the couple was able to postpone the trip until they were both healthy.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.