Being an entrepreneur, to these rockstars, is a calling like no other.
One was an U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Another spliced cables. Another? High school history teacher and juvenile probation counselor.
Those three people, at some point in their lives, decided to give up a steady paycheck to become an entrepreneur.
Some consider that choice frightful, filled with peril.
But this trio, and six more honored in this edition, the Business Observer’s annual Top Entrepreneurs issue, consider it almost a call of duty to seize the entrepreneurial opportunity — not let it sink away. The risk, they believe, would be to not do it.
They share other traits, too, a list that includes a relentless belief in themselves; a willingness to sacrifice where others bend; a visionary mind that thinks a step differently than the pack; and a farmer’s like short-term memory and combination confidence/optimism that no matter what, next season will be better.
Amy Martinez-Monfort is a great example of the original choice: to be on the payroll or to be responsible for it. She picked the latter.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” says Martinez-Monfort, 43, a former attorney, with Carlton Fields in Tampa, and pharmaceutical sales rep, with Lilly. “I just wasn’t sure what type.”
Martinez-Monfort dove into the opportunity — opening the Tampa Laundry Co. in South Tampa in 2015. This is a high-end operation, with cashless equipment that runs on preloaded cards and flat-screen TVs to pass the laundry time. And it’s clean and customer-friendly — disruptive for the Laundromat industry.
Like several of her fellow top entrepreneurs in this issue, Martinez-Monfort invested a significant chunk of time, money and both to make the business dream a reality. (Martinez-Monfort spent about $1.2 million to buy the land and assets of a shuttered Laundromat facility.)
In addition to seeing the need and acting on it, Martinez-Monfort fits another theme for these standout entrepreneurs: taking on an industry and making it better.
Michael Saunders is one entrepreneur who did that so well that 40 years later she runs one of the largest independently owned real estate brokerages in Florida. That firm, Sarasota-based Michael Saunders & Co., goes back to 1976, when Saunders — the onetime high school teacher — knew there had to be a better way to sell real estate. The male-dominated industry was then known more for mismatched chairs and photographs of properties yellowing in the sun than customer service, trust and accountability.
Saunders flipped the industry around. She left her stamp all over it, from creating elegant advertising campaigns to high-touch customer service to raising the level of trust between client and agent.
Another key theme of these accomplished entrepreneurs is they have built, or are building, a company culture that will outlast them. For Sunshine Ace Hardware President Michael Wynn, a culture where employees are like family, devoted to the cause of serving customers, means more than a bumper sticker. At the family-run hardware store chain, culture is oxygen.
“A lot of businesses put the customers first, and that’s important,” Wynn says. “We put our team members first…if you have happy employees who are engaged and love to come to work, they will pass it on to their customers and the company will reap the rewards as well.”
Happy employees? Happy customers? Sounds like a happy entrepreneur.
Read the stories behind the Business Observer's 2019 Top Entrepreneurs: