Making Their Mark

Joseph's Lite Cookies, World Packaging & Clubplanet.com

Joseph Semprevivo, 34
Joseph's Lite Cookies
Deming, New Mexico, and Sebastian, Florida
Projected 2005 Sales:
Over $100 million
Description: Sugar-free and fat-free cookies and food products

Kid Confection : Life can be tough for a diabetic 12-year-old. But in 1983, with a little help from his father, Joseph Semprevivo created a rich, sugar-free ice cream in his parents' restaurant that he could indulge in without harming his health. He and his parents began offering the ice cream to their customers, and the enthusiastic response led them to re-brand their business as a sandwich and ice-cream shop. Within three years, Semprevivo--with Dad as a chauffeur--had stocked the freezers of 197 grocery stores and ice cream shops in New Mexico.

Fortune Cookie: Though his parents have long since retired from their business (and from helping Semprevivo with his), back when he was 15, his parents created a sugar-free oatmeal cookie that changed the course of Semprevivo's company. The logistical nightmare of keeping the ice cream frozen, combined with the success of the oatmeal cookies, led Semprevivo to leave ice cream behind in favor of sugar-free baked goods.

Proving Ground: Concocting cookie recipes was one thing, but handling sales calls and meetings as a teen and young adult proved to be more difficult. "When you're pitching a 50-year-old Harvard MBA and you're 17, he's not amused," says Semprevivo. "Extra preparation for presentations was key." His hard work paid off--the business has since expanded to 13 flavors of cookies, bite-size cakes, brownies, pancake syrup and peanut butter. Introducing almost 40 new items this year, the line is now in 37 countries, and will reach 125,000 U.S. stores by year's end.

Singular Sensation: Semprevivo's original intention was to help fellow diabetics, but his line's loyal followers also include hypoglycemics, cancer patients, and diet and health enthusiasts who shun sugar. Using all-natural ingredients, "we've set ourselves apart through quality and taste," says Semprevivo. Whether through Joseph's Lite or his fat-free food company, Santa Fe Farms, which he started in 1989, the goal, says Semprevivo, is "helping others live active, healthy lives." --April Y. Pennington

Amy Katz, 39, & Donna Slavitt, 38
World Packaging Corp.
New York City
Projected 2005 Sales:
$9 million
Description: Manufacturer and distributor of promotional, private-label and licensed items--most notably the Clik Clak line of mint- and candy-filled tins

Side Project: Donna Slavitt worked in both the hospitality and retail arenas early in her career, but it was a job in Old Navy's prototype coffee and candy division that led her to her passion--creating fun candy and mint tins. Wanting to branch out with her own specialty retail creations full time, she enlisted the help of college friend Amy Katz, who also works as a corporate lawyer.

Explosive Growth: The pair's first success came in 1997 with a retail product called WebFuel--a mint tin in the shape of a computer mouse that was designed to market websites. WebFuel attracted the attention of big names like AT&T, IBM and Microsoft at the beginning of the internet boom. Says Slavitt, "We started getting calls [saying], 'What can you make for us?'" That launched the company into the private-label arena, creating promotional tins for other companies. Their pivotal moment, however, came in 1999, when they signed an exclusive agreement to distribute candy- or mint-filled Clik Clak tins in the U.S. (the Clik Clak tins were being manufactured and distributed by a French company primarily to European outlets). Named for the sounds the tins make upon opening and closing, the Clik Clak line became a staple of World Packaging Corp. and quadrupled the company's revenue.

Success on the Street: Slavitt and Katz have created specialty candy-filled tins and other items with official Major League Baseball, NBA and NFL licenses, and have worked with clients like Henri Bendel and Kate Spade. Next on the list: an organic confection line to complement their already-yummy candy offerings. The actual "we've arrived" moment for the pair? "I saw one of our Clik Clak tops melted into the tar of a New York City street," says Slavitt. "I thought, 'When you start seeing your own brand as litter, you know you've really made it.'" --Nichole L. Torres

Andrew Fox, 33
Clubplanet.com
New York City
Projected 2005 Sales:
$22 million, including Fox's other businesses
Description: Online nightlife destination service

All Access: In 1995, this oft-rejected newcomer to New York City's club scene found a way to get past the doorman of every hot club he longed to enter--start a website offering club-goers free club reviews and information. The now-savvy Fox recalls his earlier, awkward days: "I showed up at a club wearing green shorts, and everyone was in black. The bouncer looked at me and said, 'There's no way.'"

A-Lister: Working on the website in his off hours at first, Fox chucked his investment banking job in 1997 to give Clubplanet.com (then ClubNYC.com) his all. Volunteers provided early club reviews, until Fox hired a full-time editorial staff in 1999. Then he came up with a new idea: Start a guest list on his site for access to otherwise hard-to-get-into clubs. By offering a discounted cover charge to those who both signed up on the site and arrived at the club before midnight, Fox helped enhance the exclusivity of the clubs as well as increase revenue. Club owners were dubious about Fox's concept at first, but when hundreds of club-goers who signed up showed up at their doors, the owners gladly forged relationships with the innovator and paid him a "bounty" for every head he brought in.

Fight Club: Fox installed a management team for Clubplanet.com so he could focus on two other businesses he was involved in, but he admits giving up control was a mistake. Upon learning of Clubplanet.com's mismanagement and financial woes, Fox engaged in a bitter struggle to regain control. He ultimately won, but the battle took its toll on the company. He was forced to lay off employees he had never met. With only two employees, Fox started back at square one, selling his other companies to refocus on his "baby."

The Party Syndicate: Clubplanet.com has grown to include thousands of club listings around the United States and the United Kingdom, and now syndicates its content to Citysearch, newspapers, Yahoo! and other third-party clients. Fox also recently launched NocheLatino.com, an upscale, urban Latino version of Clubplanet.com, and is working on a version for the gay community. He's since expanded his empire to include a New Year's Eve event ticketing site, NewYears.com; an exclusive club access site, CoolJunkie.com; a ticketing company, WantTickets.com; and an offline event and marketing company, Track Entertainment. --April Y. Pennington

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This article was originally published in the November 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Making Their Mark.

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