An unconventional approach to starting a company doing what you love.
5 min read
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For Johnathan Ruggiero and Michelle Luchese, the road to success was anything but conventional. One month, they were both unsatisfied with their careers and looking for a change. The next, they left their jobs, moved across the country, got married, and started Manly Bands, a men’s wedding ring business. Three years later, the business has grown to over eight-figures.
Now Advisors in The Oracles, Ruggiero and Luchese took financial risks, hired friends and family, and otherwise ignored average advice along the way. Here are their tips for carving your own path to success.
“In 2016, we felt stuck but wanted more in life. So, we took a risk that massively changed everything,” says Manly Bands CEO Ruggiero. “Throwing caution to the wind and jumping in was our best ever decision.”
“If you want to start something, trust your gut and go for it,” says Luchese, Manly Bands chief product officer. “Resist the temptation to hit the brakes. Just keep your foot on the gas and make it work.”
Luchese adds that this risk-taking approach worked because they supported each other. “Find a trustworthy business partner with complementary skills,” she says. “John is the visionary, I’m the doer. We stay in our lanes because we trust each other.”
“We took a real financial risk by leaving our jobs and starting the company without a backup plan,” says Ruggiero. They used credit cards to fund the business initially, which he admits isn’t great advice, but it meant they had no room to fail.
“Failure wasn’t an option,” says Luchese. “We gave ourselves no choice but to figure it out, so we had to be passionate, persistent, and confident in what we were doing.”
Although the couple took on debt, they’d learned the importance of validating your idea before going all in, thanks to a previous venture. So, when they started Manly Bands, they moved slowly.
Instead of hiring a developer, Ruggiero built their first website and ran their Facebook advertising, starting with $20 a day before gradually increasing. “We didn’t spend money unless we knew it would come back,” he says. “We tested everything, iterated, and learned to be conservative and understand all aspects of the business before delegating anything.”
They also knew there was demand because they were solving a personal problem. “We had a terrible time finding John’s wedding ring,” says Luchese. “We didn’t know anything about starting a ring business, but we knew we could do better, so we decided to figure it out and create a better experience.”
“You don’t have to be an expert to start,” adds Ruggiero. “As you grow, just realize when it’s time to hire an expert.”
Though their previous work experience wasn’t specific to their new industry, the couple leveraged their unique backgrounds like acting and video editing. For example, Luchese’s acting experience helped her craft the irreverent tone that’s critical to their marketing strategy.
“An actor must identify their ‘type’ to appeal for the right roles, so I applied those skills to creating our voice,” she says. “I would sit down and start writing — usually around 2 a.m. because that’s when I’m sharpest — and create this guy in my head. It wasn’t perfect initially, but we weren’t hung up on perfection. We just kept working on it until it felt right.”
“For the first time in our lives, we decided to put ourselves first,” says Ruggiero. “We asked ourselves what we wanted and how we could achieve it, which meant becoming entrepreneurs instead of finding new jobs. Then we made our world work around that.”
“We realized that putting yourself first isn’t selfish,” says Luchese. “When you take care of yourself, it impacts your relationships and you can create opportunities for those around you. Everyone wins.”
The couple initially hired over half a dozen friends and family members to help them. “It goes against every rulebook, but it worked,” laughs Ruggiero.
While that particular approach won’t work for everyone, the point is this: Figure out whatever works for you and be discerning about the advice you take on. “Don’t just listen to what others tell you to do,” says Luchese. “Feel confident that you know what to do, and you will.”
The co-founders met on Match.com, which they each joke was the best $60 they ever spent. There are several lessons in this anecdote. First: “Have fun and don’t take life too seriously,” says Ruggiero.
“But also, be open to opportunities and invite others who know more than you to help,” he adds, citing how the company just hired their first president. “We weren’t looking for anyone, but a friend suggested we meet this guy, and he had an incredible experience in line with what we needed. Three weeks later, he’s diving in and helping us grow the business.”
“As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to put your head down all the time, but that can prevent you from recognizing these kinds of opportunities,” adds Luchese.
Their final word of advice? Don’t underestimate the importance of a little luck.
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