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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.
- Andy Stenzler, Xando Cosi, coffee bar/restaurants
- Eileen Spitalny & David Kravetz, Fairytale Brownies, gourmet brownies
- Liz Lange, Liz Lange Maternity, pregnant women's apparel
- Elizabeth Martin, E.L. Martin & Co., real estate brokerage
- Steve Krein & Daniel Feldman, Promotions.com, Internet marketing and promotions
- Rod Hill & John Calhoun, Integrated Management Services, engineering firm
- Michael Rubin, Global Sports Interactive, e-commerce solutions
- Richard Owen & Todd Wichmann, Redox Brands, cleaning products relauncher
- John Jacobs & Bert Jacobs, Life Is Good, licensed apparel
- Shawn Buchanan, All American Meats, meat products
Andy Stenzler, 32
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
Eileen Spitalny, 35 & David Kravetz, 35
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
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
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
Steve Krein, 31, & Daniel Feldman, 31
Year Started: 1996
Based in: New York City
2001 Projections: $26.6 million
Fate wanted Promotions.com 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 WebStakes.com. "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 Promotions.com 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 Promotions.com. "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
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
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 FoxSports.com. 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 Bluelight.com and Northeast retailer Modell's Sporting Goods, think of him as the Tiger Woods of the sports e-commerce world. -Amanda C. Kooser
Richard Owen, 32, & Todd Wichmann, 31
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
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
- All American Meats
- E.L. Martin & Co Inc.
(212) 317-1212, www.elmartin.com
- Global Sports Interactive
(610) 491-7012, www.globalsports.com
- Integrated Management Services
(601) 968-9194, www.imsengineers.com
- Life Is Good Inc.
- Liz Lange Maternity
(212) 439-9978, ext. 22, www.lizlange.com
- Xando Cosi
(212) 653-1600, www.getcosi.com