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.
Businesses 6 - 10
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway, 50
Name of Business: WeddingGoddess.com
What the business does: Romance coaching and wedding preparation/officiating. Brockway also has written numerous books, including Wedding Goddess: A Divine Guide to Transforming Wedding Stress into Wedding Bliss
Location: New York City
Employees: 0, unless we count a part-time cyber assistant
There's something about this business: "Since I specialize in marrying couples of different faiths and cultural backgrounds, I feel like a cheerleader for love," Brockway says. "People who are meant to be together are not always from the same religion or culture. I celebrate the common denominator between them--love--and try to help them blend their families and traditions as they blend their lives."
Brockway, who says it's "very happy work," has married hundreds of couples, each with "such unique and amazing stories." She adds that weddings between people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds are touching and often healing for the couples and their families. One of the most memorable weddings for her was marrying a Hindu groom and a Jewish bride in a ceremony that she had written for them that included many rituals from both faiths. "Both of their moms were so religious and so concerned about the marriage," Brockway recalls. "However, when they witnessed the ceremony, they realized the two faiths had many similarities and that this couple had found a way to blend their faiths, their lives, their families."
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Kathy M. Newbern, 51, and J.S. Fletcher, 56
Name of Business: YourNovel.com
What the business does: Writes romance books, starring you, the paying customer, as the intrepid hero or heroine
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Employees: One office manager, who works full-time during their busy seasons and part-time during the down times
There's something about this business: Once upon a time, or more precisely, 15 years ago, Newbern was on a panel at a public relations conference, and the ice-breaker question was, "What would people be surprised to find out about you?" She answered that she had written a yet-to-be published romance novel. Later, at the PR luncheon with her then-boyfriend, Fletcher, accompanying her, Newbern was wistfully asked by a woman at the table, "Wouldn't it be great to read about yourself in one of those romance novels?" Driving home, Fletcher and Newbern looked at each other and said, "You know, we could do that." And they did. Now you can order 21 different books from them.
Customers submit personal details about their lives--everything from occupations, pet names, perfume and so on--and for anywhere from $50 to $120, depending on whether you want a hardcover or paperback, or a photo of you and your beloved on the cover, you and yours can star in a romance novel. Meanwhile, Fletcher and Newbern--whose books are written under the pseudonym, Fletcher Newbern--have been living happily ever after since starting their business. Fletcher has been working on YourNovel.com full-time since 1992, and Newbern has since 2001. And they've long since married. "Writing about love with the one I love and promoting love to the world--what better job descriptions could you ask for?" Newbern says.
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Mary Loomis-Shrier, 40
Name of Business: Trashy.com
What the business does: Sells lingerie, shoes, hosiery and alluring costumes
Location: Los Angeles
Employees: 50, including employees from the company she runs with her husband, Trashy Lingerie
There's something about this business: Surprisingly, Loomis-Shrier's business has nothing to do with sanitation issues, unless you count the fact that what some think is trashy may be another's treasure. Her husband, Mitch Shrier, began Trashy Lingerie in 1974. Eighteen years later, Mitch met Mary, who quickly had ideas for a sister company: Trashy.com. Eventually, the couple married and had a son, and as their small family unit expanded, so did their business.
Mary created Trashy Girls five years ago, which is the entertainment side of their company. "I hire models to do television appearances for us, host massive parties all over the country," she says. "I have my own channel on broadband and cable networks. There is no limit to what you can do with a brand image." But as glamorous or as trashy as her brand's image may seem, Mary concedes that she has plenty in common with other enterprising entrepreneurs: "Beautiful clothes, beautiful models, photo shoots--it's all sexy. But where the real work takes place is downtown L.A. in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse with hand sewers and pattern makers and bolts of fabric, people pulling from bins, and paperwork up to the ceiling, [all] to make sure the customer gets their lingerie on time and is looking great."
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Delmond R. Newton, 33
Name of Business: Fever Beverage International
What the business does: Sells an all-natural libido stimulation beverage and is in the process of marketing the product at nightclubs and other hotspots across the country
Location: West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
There's something about this business: Just as an apple once fell on another Newton's head and inspired him to come up with the concept of gravity, Delmond Newton had his epiphany when considering all of the energy drinks on the market. What if, he thought, there was a drink to enhance one's sexual energy? Pretty soon, he was contacting an herbalist and looking into creating a beverage and a company around it. Newton relishes his new life. "We live for challenges," he says. "Because we are pioneering a new category, everyone tells us it won't work, and we are constantly proving them wrong." And, of course, we had to ask what Newton tells his friends and family when they ask him about his new business. "Everyone wants to enhance their sex life, but when grandmom asks me," admits Newton, "I just tell her I have a fun company."
Romantic-Minded Entrepreneur: Andrea Miller, 35
Name of Business: Tango
What the business does: Produces a magazine all about romance. Tango's subtitle is, "Smart talk about love."
Location: New York City
Employees: 10 full-time; 15 part-timers
There's something about this business: Miller was reading a book about relationships called Soulmates with her now-fiancé, Sanjay Bhatnagar, when she suddenly had a realization. "This type of smart, practical relationship content would be invaluable to other young, educated professionals," she says. "I knew that creating a multimedia brand, which catered to women who were seeking to build a life with someone--something like Sex and the City meets Oprah--we could become the premier media brand for women 25 to 45." Whether that happens or not, Miller is having the time of her life being immersed in love and relationship issues, and you have to like the title of her magazine. She admits she's always pleased when people she meets suddenly "get" the name. After all, this is a magazine about love, and it takes two to tango.