INC.: What does the good life mean to you?
Danny O'Neill, 43. President, founder, and owner of the Roasterie Inc. ($3.4 million annual revenue; 16 employees), a specialty coffee-roasting company in Kansas City, Mo.
Monique Greenwood, 44. Founder, CEO, and president of Akwaaba Enterprises Inc. ($1 million; 5 employees) in Brooklyn, N.Y., which includes three bed-and-breakfast inns and rental properties. She is the former editor in chief of Essence magazine.
Harley Cross, 25. President and CEO of Hint Mint Inc. ($1.7 million; 8 employees), which makes designer mints and is based in Los Angeles. He is also an actor currently filming Kinsey with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney.
Kenin Spivak, 46. Chairman, president, and CEO of Telemac (under $50 million; 58 employees), a Los Angeles billing company for the wireless industry. He is also vice chairman of hair care company John Paul Mitchell Systems.
Monique Rivas, 35. CEO and co-founder of Luz Inc. ($4 million; 18 employees), which translates technical documents for health industries and is based in San Francisco.
H.C.: Trying to have as few double standards between the good business life and the good personal life. If your business is your life, it's the idea of doing something you really want to do. It's self-determination, freedom, and not feeling stuck--to be able to say, "Okay, move on because I don't want to do this anymore."
D.O.: For the last seven or eight years I've focused on freedom and balance. Balance is elusive when you start a business and work extraordinary hours. As for freedom--it doesn't make any difference how much you have if you can't feel relaxed when you do have time. If you have a castle but you can't relax in it, that's not freedom.
M.G.: I'm passionate about a lot of things, but probably none more than trying to empower African American people; so a lot of my businesses are within the black community, where I can employ people who haven't had the opportunity to work in businesses that service people who are like them. I can't have a good life unless the people I care about are having a good life too.
K.S.: Part of my enjoying the good life is not so much the word freedom as security. It is important to me to have the financial security to know that should something go wrong, the consequences won't be terribly severe. Maybe it's selfish compared with Monique's point because although I do have some charitable endeavors, I don't think I'm really looking to make the world a better place.
M.G.: The good life means having options. It's subjective, and I celebrate that because what rocks in my world doesn't rock in another's. It's critical that everyone define success on their own terms. When you're younger, you think of it as the corner office and a fine car. Those things are important, but it's also important to have great family and friends, and time to stall.
M.R.: Some entrepreneurs have this mindset that they want a lot of money--they want to push from a $10 million company to $20 million, and I think, "Why isn't it feeling good enough, especially if we got a big return on investment?" There's another way to do this, which is make sure that you're living the life that you want to lead but help people along the way. For example, [my company is] able to translate museum exhibits for free or provide translations for nonprofit health care programs.
INC.: It sounds as if part of the good life is creating a business out of a passion.
D.O.: I was an exchange student in Costa Rica, which is where I became a coffee fanatic. I started the company to eke out a living loving what I do.
M.R.: My passions are people and travel. We have offices in Buenos Aires and soon, Tokyo, plus we contract with 3,000 linguists worldwide, so I can combine both.
INC.: Is the good life in a corporation different from the good life with your own company?
K.S.: I was an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, where there were five ranks above me and five ranks below me and 44,000 employees. I had an employee code with 300 digits, and there were policies for everything. If I tried to do something that was too innovative or too different, somebody would say, "Someone in another department has to do that." They'd either shift it over or add more people so that instead of ever doing anything by myself, there were 20 people doing it. I enjoy being able to get things done on my own or in a small team.
M.G.: I feel completely in control of my own destiny. When you have your own business, you can say, "I have my own goals," and, "This is where I want to be," and work toward that. Having flexible time is the biggest benefit of being an entrepreneur. I have a young daughter. If I take off time to go on a class trip or to a school play, I can make up work in my pajamas at 2 in the morning if I want.
INC.: How has your idea of the good life changed since you started the company?
M.R.: I was 25 when I started the company, and I used to think that I had to work really hard--I'd work 12-hour days six days a week and not think twice about it--to get to the destination. And it paid off--I have the financial mobility and lifestyle to do just about anything that captures my imagination. But over the past couple of years I've had a small, but intriguing, change in one context, which is you have to have fun all along because otherwise, what's the point?
INC.: So what changes have you made?
M.R.: I joined an organization called YEO [Young Entrepreneurs Organization]. I travel and network--this year we went to the America's Cup in New Zealand and spent a week in Australia. I'm a big believer in personal growth. I have a business coach, professional mentors, and a personal trainer. I take on average a week off each month to get away and think.
D.O.: I thought I needed [to add] more structure to the balance, so I got into a program called Strategic Coach that helps you focus on the things that are important to you and helps you get to where you want to be. I'd work too much if I let myself.
INC.: Isn't the good life also fast cars and other stuff? What do you have?
D.O.: BMW K 1200 RS and R 1150 GS Adventure motorcycles.
H.C.: I have the K 1200 RS too!
D.O.: I have a tree house with an espresso bar and bathroom in it. I wanted a place to escape. I can walk out the door and feel as if I'm in Brazil or Switzerland or any place I want to be.
M.G.: I've combined the things that I want with my business. I've always wanted to have beautiful homes, and I love to decorate, so to help me afford that, I started the B&Bs. I calculated I would need the income from four rooms to pay the mortgage. I have an 18-room mansion in Brooklyn, and I use four of those rooms for the guests. I also want to open a spa because that's my other indulgence--a massage every Tuesday.
K.S.: My car is a Mercedes E55 AMG. In L.A. you can see 10 or 20 of these in a row. Sometimes I can't find my car. My other extravagance is music and media, so I have a media room in my house with a full-blown home theater and an all-out audio system.
M.R.: Buying things has never excited me. I grew up in a Latino barrio and the fact that I made it out was probably very extravagant. I have a Blackberry phone so I can stay in touch with my office--I really don't ever need to go into the office, so that is my biggest extravagance. I get more pleasure from investing in people and am a big supporter of issues near to my heart, such as women's health care and educational funding for minorities.
H.C.: I had a BMW M3, a Land Rover Defender 90, an Audi allroad, but stuff has become less important to me. Now I have a diesel Volkswagen Golf. I also have an 11,000-square-foot apartment. I don't go out and party, but I like having dinners at my house. And if I want to shoot a film, I can do it downstairs. I'm very interested in people, and I like to be able to say, "Stay with me. I have room."
INC.: Do you keep your companies at a certain size because the good life is easier lived at that size?
D.O.: We've limited ourselves. The more staff we have, the more problems we have. I will take financial or accounting or marketing struggles any day of the week over HR. Ninety-five percent of our stress is human resources. We love and want to keep everybody we have, but we don't want a great big company.
INC.: Is family something that's hard to fit in?
D.O.: I don't know if I could have done it with a family. I shut everything out of my life at the beginning. Every day the money I'd saved up was worth a little less, so I had this incredible sense of urgency. Now I'm engaged, so working toward more balance is a good thing.
M.G.: I'm the only one in this group who is married with a child. I often get asked, "How do you balance family and work?" and I don't attempt it. People make a mistake when they do, and if I put my family and my businesses on a scale, I certainly expect my family to outweigh my businesses. I also don't make a distinction between a personal and a professional life. I have one life, and it must come together. I could not be doing what I'm doing now without my family's support.
Continue Reading The Good Life
- "I have one life and it must come together."
- "I need to be able to go anywhere and do anything."
- "My focus is my children."
- "Material things aren't about money, but lifestyle."