Forever Young

Even a reluctant economy can't curb the drive and ambition of these young millionaires.
Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the November 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

For 13 years, we've hunted for the best and brightest business owners so we could bring your our annual list of young, successful entrepreneurs. What does it take to make the list? Entrepreneurs have to be under 40, own a company that makes more than $1 million in sales and have that something extra that causes them to shine amongst their peers-it might be a groundbreaking idea, an inspiring story or simply the all-out determination to make it big. This year, as in years past, our young millionaires run the gamut, but whether they're selling meat or maternity clothes, offering online marketing or real estate brokering services, their stories will inspire and invigorate your own entrepreneurial spirit.

Young Millionaires 2001
Want to know who made the cut last year? And the year before that? And the year before-well, you get the picture. Visit Young Millionaires of years past for even more inspirational profiles.

Andy Stenzler, 32

Xando Cosi
Year Started: 1994
Based in: New York City
2001 Projections: $100 million

In 1994, Andy Stenzler was your typical Gen X poster boy: hip, educated, with no clue what to do with his life. The then-25-year-old had just graduated from NYU business school when he saw the slacker classic Reality Bites with best friend Nick Marsh. After watching the film's characters skulk around coffee shops by day and pine at home by night, Stenzler and Marsh saw an opportunity. "We figured those people needed a better place to hang out," jokes Stenzler.

In less than a year, Stenzler and Marsh created that place-and, eventually, a chain of places. The two scoured the East Coast and raised $400,000 to open their first day/night coffee bar in Hartford, Connecticut. The concept soon caught on with the same young hipsters that the Reality Bites characters were based on, and within a few years, Xando Coffee Bars became the hot spot for the East Coast in crowd. While Stenzler doesn't like to name drop (ahem . . . ), regular patrons wouldn't be surprised to bump into Ethan Hawke lounging in an overstuffed chair, Uma Thurman perched on a bar stool, Allen Iverson swinging to R&B music or Julia Roberts roasting s'mores. S'mores?

"We serve them to you in a Chinese poo-poo platter with hibachi sticks and a heater," says Stenzler. "You roast the s'mores yourself right at the table. It's a good icebreaker. Nobody can stay straight-laced while they're roasting s'mores.

"I want each location to be a comfortable place that takes on its neighborhood's feel and personality," says Stenzler. "I walked into one location and saw two 70-year-old women drinking Bass ales and roasting s'mores."

Xando Cosi's motto is "From wake-up call to last call," and it's not unusual for the same businesspeople who grab cappuccinos and "squagles" (square bagels) in the morning to come back at lunch for Cosi's signature sandwiches or unwind after work with a Chai Lullaby or Mocha Kiss.

"The concept changes throughout the day," says Stenzler. "We're unique because you order at the counter during the day, but after 5 o'clock, we unveil our liquor bar and have full table service."

In 1999, Xando acquired Cosi Sandwich Co., and the marriage has been a perfect fit. This year, the New York City-based company will open 21 new locations, with sales for all 60 stores approaching $100 million. Plans include West Coast expansion next year. -Peter Kooiman

Entrepreneur: What's with the s'mores?
Andy Stenzler: You roast the s'mores yourself right at your table. Our menu explains how to make them because so many people only sort of remember. It's the best first-date product in America because it breaks the ice. It's messy. It's an ice breaker. I highly recommend it.

Entrepreneur: How did you handle the merger with Cosi Sandwich Co.?
Stenzler: Whenever you have a merger, certainly there's an overlap, a consolidation of functions. We found that overcommunication was the key to our success-letting people know where they stood, what was going to happen to the concepts, to the name. Early on, people were very worried about what would happen to their jobs and what would happen with the concept going forward. Would it maintain the same culture? We also read case studies on how to do an acquisition.

Entrepreneur: Why is Xando Cosi so popular with famous people?
Stenzler: The thing about Xando Cosi is people feel comfortable there. Celebrities are attracted to them because they're neighborhood places where people feel comfortable. It's the same reason why more of our customers are women than men.

Entrepreneur: What's the most satisfying aspect of your job?
Stenzler: The reason I'm in the hospitality business is because there's immediate gratification. There's no better feeling than walking into one of the cafes and seeing people smile because they're enjoying our products. We love the idea that we're a little part of making somebody's day better. A lot of our customers come more than 10 to 15 times a month. That's what gets us excited.

Eileen Spitalny, 35 & David Kravetz, 35

Fairytale Brownies
Year Started: 1992
Based in: Chandler, Arizona
2001 Projections: $3.75 million

As fairy tales go, Eileen Spitalny and David Kravetz's story has all the ingredients of a classic. Armed with just one secret family recipe and a high school promise, Spitalny and Kravetz founded Chandler, Arizona-based Fairytale Brownies Inc. in 1992.

The two childhood friends grew up savoring the brownies Kravetz's mother made from scratch. Years later, both dissatisfied with their jobs, Kravetz and Spitalny remembered a promise they'd made in high school to start a business together someday and decided those beloved brownies were the ticket.

With no baking, manufacturing or direct-marketing experience, Kravetz and Spitalny moonlighted from a friend's catering kitchen for the first year, selling mostly through catalogs. In 1993, they moved into their own bakery and soon after went online with their Web site, where they receive 25 percent of their orders today.

The summer of '94 taught the two an important lesson about getting the word out about their company. "We got a great write-up in The New York Times that changed that summer season forever," says Spitalny. "And it made us become very proactive in sending brownies with our press releases because of the phenomenal results we saw from [the story]."

Once people receive the company's gift-boxed gourmet brownies (now in 12 flavors), they often come back for their next gift-giving occasion-helping Fairytale Brownies sales reach $3.75 million this year.

So what's Spitalny and Kravetz's recipe for success? "Well, most everybody loves chocolate, so that helps," Kravetz jokes. "But we know that we don't know everything, so we're not afraid to ask for help or advice. You've got to be humble." -P. Kelly Smith

Entrepreneur: Would you like Fairytale Brownies to be a household name?
David Kravetz: Absolutely. We're very conscious of our brand identity and our little elf. When you see the McDonald's arches, all you have to see is that "M" and you know what it is. Same thing with our elf. We'd like one day for people to look at that elf without any text and go, "Ah, Fairytale Brownies. Those are the best brownies in the world."

Entrepreneur: Do you feel the company has been successful because of the uniqueness of the product and the mission behind it?
Kravetz: The customer service is really important. A lot of our customers are surprised at our service. We have an unconditional guarantee that if a customer or recipient is unsatisfied for any reason, we reship fresh brownies; we refund the person's purchase price if that's what's necessary. We have what we call internally our $100 empowerment policy, which gives any employee the authority to spend up to $100 of the company's money to solve a person's problem.

Entrepreneur: Do you think younger millionaires possess more energy, ambition or drive than older ones do? Do you think that's related to success?
Stenzler: Eileen and I are both very happy coming to work, and we have a lot of energy. We've learned over time that when you start a business, you tend to think more about yourself and what's in it for you. But as you grow, all of a sudden you start to think more about the employees and what's in it for them because you realize you just can't do it yourself. It's all about the employees.
Eileen Spitalny: [My] advice to young entrepreneurs is if you feel like it's inside of you, do it. There's no reason to wait. There are always going to be obstacles. Waiting for the perfect time is like waiting for the perfect time to have a baby. There is no perfect time.

Liz Lange, 35

Liz Lange Maternity
Year Started: 1996
Based in: New York City
2001 Projections: $3 million

Celebrity moms like Cindy Crawford and Catherine Zeta-Jones know about fashion. And when the stork starts circling the neighborhood, these ultra-chic ladies know to head to the maven of maternity wear-Liz Lange. On her store's shelves, a superstylish expectant mom will find slim pants, cashmere sweaters and fitted slinky dresses-just a few of the treasures offered by Liz Lange Maternity.

"I was almost offended by what was being offered for pregnant women," says Lange. Traditional maternity fashions mostly consist of oversized baby-doll dresses or pants with a hole cut in the front-and a lycra panel to accommodate their growing bellies. "[Nine months] is a fairly long period of time, and women are just too active today, too much a part of life to have to sit out nine months wearing a big tent, not feeling good about themselves."

Lange's passion was ignited while working as a designer's assistant in 1996. At the time, all her pregnant friends were clamoring for sophisticated maternity wear. Lange rose to the challenge and designed a few basic pieces to peddle to retailers-very skeptic retailers. "They told me, 'Pregnant women will not spend money. It's a category that we have no interest in. If you want to go ahead, be prepared to do it on your own because we won't be selling any maternity clothing.' "

Ignoring the naysayers, Lange borrowed $50,000 in seed money from family and friends and opened a small office in New York City where she sold her made-to-order clothes to women by appointment. Word-of-mouth business was booming when, in 1997, The New York Times Style section did an article on Liz Lange's revolutionary look for moms. Lange's business exploded-and she realized how wrong those skeptic retailers had been. Even now, Lange chooses not to wholesale her line to department stores, only to a select few boutiques.

With business bursting at the seams, Lange moved to a larger location in 1998 and still didn't have enough room for all of her customers. She's now running stores on New York's Madison Avenue and in Beverly Hills, California, as well as producing an online catalog.

This mother of two isn't close to finished yet. Plans include possible stores in London and Paris as well as more U.S. shops to increase her $3 million-plus in sales. -Nichole L. Torres

Entrepreneur: You seem so much a part of the shift in women showing off their bodies when they're pregnant.
Liz Lange: It was designers like me, but it was the celebrities, too. The celebrities [such as Elle McPherson and Kelly Preston] have been so amazing.

Entrepreneur: Is there anything you wish you would've done differently?
Lange: Maybe I grew it a little too slowly. Maybe the skepticism I encountered, even though I still plowed ahead, scared me more than it needed to. I say to young entrepreneurs, Of course you're going to encounter a lot of skepticism, but if you really believe in the idea, trust your instincts.

Elizabeth Martin, 38

E.L. Martin Co.
Year Started: 1992
Based in: New York City
2001 Projections: $6 million

She's brokered prime real estate deals for Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. She found a hip new space for Ms. magazine. She's got plans to take her real estate firm national. Still, Elizabeth Martin can well remember the struggling early days of E.L. Martin & Co. Inc.

With a master's degree in real estate investment and development, she was working at a New York City real estate brokerage when she found her entrepreneurial inspiration: Women and minorities were being underserved and underrepresented by real estate professionals. "I could see there was a niche to be filled," she says. So, in 1992, Martin struck out on her own with $25,000 from family and friends-in the middle of a real estate slump. Capital and customers were hard to find, but Martin made it through, focusing on entrepreneurial and nonprofit minority clients.

Those hard days well behind her, Martin has branched out into corporate clientele and expects company sales to hit $6 million this year. She remains passionate about her niche. "All of [my clients] are unique, which is why it's so important to understand their businesses to get a sense of where the best place is for them." -Nichole L. Torres

Entrepreneur: When you started your company, what was going on in the marketplace that made you think that this was the right time?
Elizabeth Martin: I primarily work with African-American- and women-owned businesses. There was definitely a niche to be filled. There wasn't much representation at all in either of those categories. I don't think there's a perfect time to start a business-if you have a business idea, you just need to go do it.

Entrepreneur: When did you feel your business was a success?
Martin: It's a market that changes so drastically, I think that success is in many different forms. For example, [I've] been very happy to have been recognized in a number of trade publications, which was always extremely important to me. When you're recognized in regard to your market, and in regard to the industry, that makes a big difference in terms of long-term relationships and in relationships with both owners and your colleagues. Those things really kind of validate what you're doing every day.

Steve Krein, 31, & Daniel Feldman, 31
Year Started: 1996
Based in: New York City
2001 Projections: $26.6 million

Fate wanted to happen. Steve Krein and Daniel Feldman were born one week apart, grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and went to the same high school. They met in ninth grade when both were dating the same girl. "We have no idea where the girl is," says Krein, "but we're together."

The Internet promotions and marketing services company had its origins on a high school class trip to Walt Disney World in 1988. The two seniors were at the Space Mountain ride contemplating graduating and going off to different colleges. "We talked about one day we'd have to do something fun together and maybe even start a business," chair and CEO Krein remembers.

After meeting up again while working for a legal Web site, the pair collaborated on a successful sweepstakes-style promotion for their employer. In 1996, they took the idea, a computer and $30,000 from a friend and launched "We got to the Internet very early, pre-gold-rush mentality," says president and COO Feldman.

Funding from an angel investor and mentor got the budding company through the next few years, but in 1999, at the height of the Web boom, the pair needed more capital-lots more. "We raised $90 million between June and September," says Krein.

In 2000, the partners renamed their New York City company to reflect their expanding services. They now list Kraft Foods and NBC among their clients and plan to roll out services for small businesses later this year.

The dotcom world has become more lottery than sure bet, but Krein is confident that the integration of online and offline marketing points to a bright future for "We know we will not only be a survivor, but be a dominant brand and company," says Krein. Sales for the publicly traded business reached $26.6 million in 2000, up from $10.5 million in 1999.

These young millionaires aren't resting on their laurels. "I'd rather be called a young billionaire," says Krein. We'll check back in a couple years. -Amanda C. Kooser

Entrepreneur: When did you realize the potential of the Internet?
Steve Krein: I knew the potential of the Internet back in '85. You just saw the power in the ability to communicate without paper in a way that allows you to almost instantly have dialog back and forth, which ended up becoming the foundation for our technology.

Entrepreneur: What sets apart from the competition?
Daniel Feldman: You can go to dinner and get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or you can go eat at the Four Seasons. And we're the Four Seasons. We're a total experience.

Rod Hill, 30, & John Calhoun, 39

Integrated Management Services
Year Started: 1996
Based in: Jackson, Mississippi
2001 Projections: $10 million

Although Rod Hill and John Calhoun met in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Mississippi's Jackson State University in 1990, the two were never your typical frat boys. Instead of going to beer bashes, Hill and Calhoun spent weekends studying engineering design and mathematics.

"Education was my only ticket," says Hill (below, second from left), who in 1995 became the first member of his immediate family to get a college degree. After graduation, he and Calhoun (below, third from left) decided to start their own civil engineering firm. But there was just one problem: Neither of them had much money, and banks wouldn't give them loans. So Hill and Calhoun maxed out their credit cards and founded Integrated Management Services (IMS) in 1996, one of only a handful of minority-owned engineering firms in the country, and the first of its kind in Jackson.

IMS built up an impressive list of clients, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as government agencies throughout Mississippi. This year, IMS projects revenue of $10 million and plans to become a regional firm within five years, with hopes of going national in the next decade.

But even with such heady plans, Hill and Calhoun haven't abandoned their inner-city roots. IMS sponsors an outreach program in Jackson for at-risk 10-to-18-year-olds, teaching them how to succeed both in business and in life. "Looking where I'm at today, I wouldn't trade places with anybody," says Hill. "At the end of the day, you see how your hard work benefits the public." -Peter Kooiman

Entrepreneur: When did you decide to go into business together?
John Calhoun: Rod told me one evening he wanted to be an engineer. That piqued my interest because I knew [from] where I sat [as a city administrator] that there was a need for people of color in that particular position.

Entrepreneur: What challenges did you face early on?
Calhoun: With clients, being a young civil engineer was an obstacle because most of the owners in this industry are older white males. They had to get used to doing business with younger people.

Entrepreneur: What's your advice to other entrepreneurs considering starting a business?
Calhoun: Prepare yourself, and be willing to take risks. Make sure you have a higher power watching over what you do and supporting you.

Michael Rubin, 28

Global Sports Interactive
Year Started: 1991
Based in: New York City
2001 Projections: $42.8 million

Michael Rubin doesn't know the meaning of the word "typical." At age 13, when most budding entrepreneurs are opening lemonade stands, he started a ski repair shop in his parents' basement. The operation had expanded to five retail stores by the time his high school graduation rolled around. And that was just the opening volley.

In 1991, after selling his ski shops, Rubin founded KPR Sports International, an off-price athletic wear company. KPR evolved into a diversified company under the name Global Sports Inc.

In 1999, Rubin hit on a new game plan and a new tag line. "I heard the Internet calling," says Rubin. Global Sports Interactive was started later that year. Based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Global Sports Interactive creates and runs e-commerce sporting goods sites for companies like The Athlete's Foot and Rubin's business handles everything from technology development to order fulfillment.

The B2B approach to B2C is certainly helping Global Sports to thrive on the shaky Web playing field. "The retailers are happy because they're immediately profitable in e-commerce, and unlike other dotcoms, we don't have to spend millions of dollars promoting our online business [to consumers]," Rubin says.

Rubin, an avid sports fan, describes his workdays as "business adventures." "Global Sports is a lifelong passion for me," he says, "and I think it's that passion that keeps everything from getting stale." With $42.8 million in 2000 sales and deals to handle e-commerce fulfillment for Kmart's and Northeast retailer Modell's Sporting Goods, think of him as the Tiger Woods of the sports e-commerce world. -Amanda C. Kooser

Entrepreneur: What is the biggest challenge you've faced?
Michael Rubin: Executing the business model. In the beginning, we had to develop a technology platform, purchase sufficient inventory, design our first sites and create a quality customer service center--all from scratch and in a limited time frame.

Entrepreneur: What do you see in the future for Global Sports?
Rubin: My goal is to make Global Sports into a business that is sensible for not only myself but also my investors, partners, customers and employees.

Entrepreneur: What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
Rubin: The best part about being an entrepreneur is watching this business that I've created and nurtured for the last 15 years grow and change into something that is truly shaping the way e-commerce is done.

Richard Owen, 32, & Todd Wichmann, 31

Redox Brands
Year Started: 2000
Based in: Cincinnati
2001 Projections: $60 million

When Procter & Gamble gave up on Oxydol detergent last year, it looked like one of the industry's oldest brands was dead. But P&G execs Richard Owen (below, left) and Todd Wichmann saw opportunity where their bosses only saw failure. Last year, the two pals quit their jobs and persuaded P&G to sell Oxydol to their fledgling company, Cincinnati-based Redox Brands.

Initially, Owen and Wichmann thought Oxydol would strike a chord with nostalgic baby boomers, but they soon discovered their target demographic had high brand loyalty to other detergents. Fortunately, research also showed that Gen X women weren't loyal to any particular brand. Owen and Wichmann saw their niche.

"Everyone in the laundry category is focused on the same user: women ages 35 and older with kids," says Wichmann. "Oxydol is speaking to younger women. We realized there's a market for a brand that speaks their language and understands their high-energy, active lifestyle."

Oxydol's marketing campaigns feature mud-stained dirt bikers and tag lines such as "Get Dirty. We Dare You." Its label reads "Don't freak. Help conquer your most extreme dirt, not to mention laundrophobia."

Owen and Wichmann have no plans to ditch their strategy of relaunching brands with heavy name recognition (the company also bought Biz bleach from P&G last year). "We want brands that have lived and thrived with high consumer awareness," says Wichmann, who projects 2001 sales of $60 million. "This allows us to focus on relaunching the brand [without] spending tens of millions of dollars just getting it known in the first place." -Peter Kooiman

Entrepreneur: What kind of advice would you give to others looking to revive an old brand?
Todd Wichmann: Make sure you are buying a brand that can actually be revived in the first place and doesn't have a fatal flaw that will prevent it from growing again under new management. There are many reasons why a brand might die or slowly fade away. The trick is knowing the difference between a classic antique car that might have some dust on it vs. an old rusted piece of junk. It takes the right kind of mechanic to know the difference!

Entrepreneur: Why Oxydol?
Wichmann: Because we knew the brand had a much larger potential under our ownership vs. the current sales it was generating. Oxydol has some of the strongest equity and history in the laundry category, but when we bought it, P&G [Procter & Gamble] had milked the brand down to only $5 million in annual sales. However, just a few years ago, Oxydol had $80 million in sales before P&G decided to start harvesting the brand because it was not a global brand. Those sales were without the benefit of having a liquid form as well.

Entrepreneur: What kinds of things do you do in your ad campaigns to attract Gen X?
Wichmann: We market to this audience using a variety of national media programs, such as print ads, billboards, radio ads, etc., targeted to our desired demographic. We also use several grass-roots or word-of-mouth campaigns. For example, we just signed a contract with a promotion company to sponsor Oxydol Suds parties at dance clubs across the country. This is a great way to reach our demographic of under 35 in age and a great way for us to distinguish ourselves [from] the competition in the laundry category.

John Jacobs, 33, & Bert Jacobs, 36

Life Is Good
Year Started: 1994
Based in: Boston
2001 Projections: $3.1 million

It's not always easy to focus on the positive. For John Jacobs (below, left) and Bert Jacobs, however, positivity is a way of life. In 1989, the brothers began designing and hawking T-shirts on the streets of Boston, eventually quitting their substitute teaching jobs to take a five-year trek through the East Coast college scene to peddle their shirts. Although they slept in their van and only made enough to eat and travel to the next destination, their adventures would make for a perfect philosophy for their company.

Back at home in Boston and searching for a brand they could build a business on, John and Bert took a tip from friends who loved two of the sketches strewn about the designers' apartment-the phrase "Life is good" and a smiley character, Jake. When their new shirts bearing Jake and the phrase sold out at a street fair within two hours, the Jacobs brothers knew they were on to something exceptional.

"Throughout society, so much negativity is shown through the media," says Bert. "[We thought] it would be refreshing to hit people with something positive without being preachy."

Their insight paid off. Expanding rapidly with 2000 sales totaling
$3.1 million, Life Is Good Inc. offers an assortment of T-shirts, sweatshirts and headwear. With a celebrity following including Matthew McConaughey, Drew Carey, Stephen King and Survivor 2's Keith, Jake's become quite a popular guy. "We stumbled into the business," Bert says. "[But] if you have energy, enthusiasm and good people behind it, anything can happen." -April Pennington

Shawn Buchanan, 32

All American Meats
Year Started: 1996
Based in: Omaha, Nebraska
2001 Projections: $35 million

Back in his professional baseball days, Shawn Buchanan earned his pay on the field. But he made his millions in the locker. The meat locker.

After six years on the diamond, Buchanan made a 180-degree turn straight into the meat business. "As far as being an entrepreneur, it's in my blood-my dad had a machine shop," says Buchanan, who, at 28, decided to change careers. "The funny thing is the only thing I knew about meat or beef was that I enjoyed a good steak."

It all started when Buchanan met Bill Hughes, CEO of Nebraska Beef and the father of one of the players Buchanan coached in youth baseball. Intrigued by Hughes' business, Buchanan took a job selling Hughes' product in 1995.

Buchanan took no salary as a management trainee at Nebraska Beef in return for Hughes' teaching him about the business, and continued working for no salary when he started his own company, All American Meats in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1996. The money Buchanan saved up from his baseball career helped him through thin times when his only income was from youth coaching. "I learned how to operate and survive in a lean and mean situation," he says.

Buchanan now takes in about $35 million in annual sales, and his education, on and off the field, is paying off. So, how's the meat business different from baseball?

"It's a lot harder, but even more fulfilling, because it's not just about me and my family," he says of wife Kelli and his two daughters. "I'm accountable for a minimum of 40 families now. That's what gives me the desire to continue and grow." -Mike Besack

Entrepreneur: Are you surprised about your chosen career path?
Shawn Buchanan: I'm not really surprised. Normally when I go after something, I'm totally committed to it. It's not about me; it's the people I've been able to associate with in the industry that have allowed me to grow.

Entrepreneur: Can you divulge your secret on how you got so big so fast, after starting basically from scratch?
Buchanan: I'd have to say persistence first of all, and lots of patience. I know the two may seem like they don't go together, but they do. Most people need instant gratification these days. I'm a firm believer in the work ethic and that you have to earn your stripes.

Entrepreneur: In what other ways does your background help your business approach?
Buchanan: I really feel that my sports background enhances my business activity, as far as a teamwork atmosphere and having everyone committed to a goal. We don't have any superstars, just a lot of people who make the routine plays.

Contact Sources

  • All American Meats
    (402) 734-6901

More from Entrepreneur

We created the SYOB course to help you get started on your entrepreneurial journey. You can now sign up for just $99, plus receive a 7-day free trial. Just use promo code SYOB99 to claim your offer.
Jumpstart Your Business. Entrepreneur Insider is your all-access pass to the skills, experts, and network you need to get your business off the ground—or take it to the next level.
Entrepreneur Store scours the web for the newest software, gadgets & web services. Explore our giveaways, bundles, "Pay What You Want" deals & more.

Latest on Entrepreneur