Patti Stanger wasn't always a reality television star. Before she landed The Millionaire Matchmaker series on Bravo, which recently wrapped up its third, and highest-rated season to date, she was just an entrepreneur with a great idea.
She founded the Los Angeles-based Millionaire's Club in 2000, an exclusive and private matchmaking service that introduces busy, successful (and rich) entrepreneurs and CEOs to men and women handpicked by Stanger and her staff. The show, which debuted in 2008, chronicles the personal transformations each millionaire receives to help them succeed in love. In some cases, that means giving the love-starved participant a wardrobe makeover, but in others, the transformation could call for psychological therapy. It's not unusual, says Stanger, for those who are used to being in control to buck these changes. That's when they meet Stanger's characteristic loud mouth and hard-line attitude.
As the fourth season begins shooting in New York City in June, Stanger took a moment to speak with Inc.com reporter Peter Vanden Bos about her biggest challenges, carving out a niche in a crowded market, and whipping millionaires into shape.
How did you decide to focus your personal matchmaking service exclusively to millionaires?
There are 110 million people that are single in the United States. Then you've got the top one or two percent who are really single -- these high-wealth individuals who are always exchanging wives -- and they really need someone to help them because they basically don't have any [service] to turn to. A lot of people wanted me to do "Goldiggers R Us," and I wouldn't do it. It's okay to fall in love with someone who's rich, but the key words are to fall in love. If you're out of a job, your spouse stands by you at the end of the day, and goes to work because he or she has to support the family.
How did you appeal to that niche market?
You have to find things that nobody has and that they need. Stop ripping everybody else off. Look at the market and see where it's going. Read your magazines. I'm a magazine whore. I sat down and said, "What are they missing here?" With sites like Match.com, there was no personal attention, and you weren't even guaranteed a date. Who would join a service that didn't guarantee you a date? And then I asked myself, "What's the market I want to work with the most?" That was millionaires. I knew I could slap them into shape. I kind of enjoy beating them down every now and then. It's better than kick boxing, trust me.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My first year in business, I made a million dollars out of my house. But, the more success you have, the more business gets thrown at you. You really have to learn how to say no. That's probably the hardest thing I've ever learned, because I'm a people pleaser. It's in my DNA; that's why I'm a matchmaker.
Did you ever want to quit?
Everyday, I really become Yoda. It is hard work, and it'll suck the life out of you, because you're dealing with people's feelings and problems. Sometimes, you cry yourself to sleep, asking, "Do I really want to do this tomorrow?" Other days, you get a call saying, "You're invited to my wedding," or, "I just had my first baby because of you." [Pauses] I'm going to start crying right now. I don't think there can be any greater joy or any greater high.
How'd you get your own TV show?
Once I started the Millionaire's Club and Marie Claire magazine did a feature on me, then everybody came to me. But at the same time, I [did my homework]. I got involved with a lot of producers. I pitched [my story]. I learned every development person's name and who made final decisions. I sent flowers and candy and took them to lunch. I checked in once a week to learn what they needed, because it changes everyday in television. I really learned the business and how to navigate the waters. I learned all these things that most people on TV don't care about, because if I'm going to spend X number of hours a day doing this then I can't afford to lose my clients. My bread and butter is always going to be the Millionaire's Club. I never let my clients fall by the wayside because I was trying to get on TV. TV is a way to get the brand out there and to develop more products.
Juggling a TV show and a business must be hard. What's your philosophy about delegating?
I'm not a micromanager, but if you make a mistake and you don't come to me to fix it, then I micromanage you or I fire you. I do scream. I'm a screamer. If you're not honest, you're done. I don't work well with evasive people. But I do give you a chance. I'm a fair manager.
The person who answers the phone is the most important person in any company, and you better pay that person well because she can screw up delegating the most important call to the wrong person. I see this everywhere. Even with my billionaires and their businesses, I say, "Who answers your phone? She sounds like a moron. Why have you not called me back in three days?"
We get to see a lot of interesting people on the show. Who are your worst clients?
I get millionaires who call me and want me to work for them for free. I'm sorry, but do you charge for your services? Well, so do I. I have hung up the phone and said, "There's nothing worse than a cheap millionaire." And believe me, they're out there.
I have it in my contract that I'll throw you out if you break the rules. I rarely throw people out. But, you know, when you bring a girlfriend on a date I've set you up on, that's ridiculous. You've got a girlfriend, what are you calling me for? And if you're married, I will find you and I will throw you out. I had a situation like that before; just once.
I can't tell you how many people I've interviewed who don't send me a thank you note after a meeting. That's my unwritten rule—if you don't write me or e-mail thanking me, then buh-bye! I don't care if you went to Harvard.
Your clients focus a lot of their time on getting rich. How do you advise them to balance their work lives with their love lives?
You have to prioritize. You have to have a date night once a week. And you do not have your secretary call the girl to ask her out. I've seen that before. It's disgusting, and I'll put you on probation for that. You are to call her with your phone. A woman falls in love between her ears, not between texts or by sexting. You have to make personal contact, and if you can't do that because your work is God, then you can't get in a relationship.
If you have kids, do homework with them once a week, or take them to a movie or to dinner, or sit in their bedroom and read with them. It's about quality time. If you don't have those moments, I feel sorry for you. You're going to die alone, with no one at your bed side. All you're going to have is your money, and you can't take it with you.