There are people that say they’re going to do something, and then there are the people that say and actually DO it. Maneesh has always been an inspiration to me for that. From his humble beginnings, to his hustle, to his resilience, passion and attention to detail – the guy is unstoppable. When you think he’s done, you realize he’s just begun.
We met while I was working on Belvedere Vodka and were throwing an event at the Palms Hotel in Vegas for the MTV VMAs (remember the year Britney Spears trainwrecked…). As fun as the party was, I remember watching him check every last detail, run errands and ensure that the event went off without a hitch. You don’t often see the President of a company do that in our industry. The rest is history. He threw my Caliche Rum Launch parties in NY, LA, Miami and Puerto Rico and has helped with other smaller projects.
Over the years, he went from a business associate, to friend, to mentor. I feel blessed to have him in my life to not only serve as an inspiration but remind me that hard work DOES pay off.
He took the time to write for 3QT. I thought it was fitting to post it on his birthday! Enjoy.
I never had a lemonade stand or mowed lawns as a little kid. Never wrote code or cured an infectious disease as a precocious teenager. I didn’t even start a company in college, the way so many students have done in recent years that it now seems like practically a prerequisite for entrepreneurial success later in life.
The truth is, becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t something I necessarily planned for or aspired to, but, like most of the best things in life, it just kind of a happened—through a fortuitous combination of hard work, constant hustle, and a little bit of luck.
After earning a Master’s in Public Health at Yale, I moved to New York, got a job at a non-profit foundation focused on health care, and set out to make a difference in people’s lives. And we were making a difference; it was everything I could have wanted, but I wasn’t happy. Part of it was the job itself. While the people were friendly and the work was substantive, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing and that, if I wasn’t careful, I would spend the rest of my life with a job that just wasn’t meant for who I was. Part of it was also personal. I knew very few people in New York. I lived in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment with slanted floors, too many roommates, and only one bathroom. My student loan bill was bigger than my rent. And as each successive weekend came to a close and Monday mornings loomed increasingly larger, I could feel the ‘Sunday Night Blues’ gradually taking over my life. I had to make a change. A big one. And fast.
What I know now that I didn’t know then, is that this is not at all unusual. One recent study found that 87 percent of workers worldwide are “emotionally disengaged with their jobs”—which is really incredible if you think about it—and the problem will only worsen with the large influx of millennial workers into a corporate world dominated by aging leaders in senior management. Of course I wasn’t thinking about any of this at the time, I just knew that I needed to find something I loved doing that didn’t feel like work—and still get paid to do it.
So I made a list. I thought about all the things I could possibly do that wouldn’t trap me in a midtown cubicle for the rest of my days. I started to realize that I love logistics & details. I love organizing a lot of small, disparate pieces and fusing them together to create a larger whole, in the process bringing people together to create powerful shared experiences. I decided I’d better learn everything I could about the “events industry,” whatever that was.
I started to meet people. Anyone and everyone who might be able to help me learn more about this mysterious industry, and maybe help get a foot in the door. I picked up freelance event work with a few small companies, which turned into a few more jobs. I worked harder than I’ve ever worked before, said “Yes” to every opportunity, and tried to be nice to—and impress—everyone I met. You never know where your next opportunity will come from. I also swallowed a little pride: here I was, a graduate of Duke and Yale, running boxes for event load-ins.
The week before 9/11, I got my first break. I got a call asking me to work on Sean “Puffy” Combs’ MTV Video Music Awards party, back when Puff was at the top of his game (that’s how you know this was a long time ago). I only made a few hundred bucks for the gig, but I’ll never forget being in that room and thinking about how big and important it felt. I was hooked.
And then 9/11 happened. Everything changed for all of us. I was living in SoHo, and there was a curfew below 14th street, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted my life to look like. If anything, that time gave me the confidence to turn my back on non-profit work and immerse myself in the event world full-time.
A few months later, I got my second big break. I got a phone call from Puff’s office asking if we could talk about doing a New Year’s Eve party in Miami. I kindly informed them that they had most definitely contacted the wrong person, and that I hadn’t been in charge, but they insisted: “no, no, no, we know who you were at the event, and we want you.” And that’s how I found myself in Miami, with a suitcase full of woefully out of place turtlenecks and sweaters (I’d never been anywhere warm in the winter!), planning a New Year’s Eve party at the Shore Club for a hip-hop mogul.
The rest, as they say, is history.
It was tough in those first few years. My apartment was my office. I hustled constantly for clients. I used to answer the phone in one voice, put the call on hold, and come back on as myself. But I loved every minute of it; we not only survived, but have thrived through the years. Today, that little agency I founded, MKG, now has over 70 employees and offices in New York and Los Angeles. We count some of the world’s largest brands as clients, including Delta, Audi, Heineken, and Google. I’m sometimes amazed at what has grown out of this simple idea I had, way back when—that I wanted to love my work and be as excited to go to work on Monday as I was on Friday.
Of course I didn’t stop there. In recent years, I’ve also spun off two additional companies from MKG: Pink Sparrow, a Brooklyn-based design and fabrication shop that builds custom pieces and sets for brands and agencies, and 214, a boutique marketing and branding agency that works primarily with startups and small-to-midsize companies to develop comprehensive brand identities & marketing plans.
In 2013, I also founded Live in the Grey, a movement that challenges the work/life divide and encourages authentic living in and out of the workplace. Living a “grey” life is a philosophy that has guided me to where I am today. My work is my life and my life is my work. My friends are my clients and my clients are my friends. I draw no boundaries, and it makes my life all the more cohesive and fulfilling.
Last fall, I took the next major step in my entrepreneurial career by stepping away from day-to-day activities at MKG and founding Pineapple Co, a new parent company for MKG, Pink Sparrow, Live in the Grey, and 2014. Creating this platform is the logical evolution of my entrepreneurial interests, and it allows me to continue to pursue my great passion: coming up with new ideas and building and growing companies in service of them.
My new role also affords me more time to explore other interests, including politics, getting back to my roots with non-profit involvement, and angel investing. Just the other day I was thinking maybe I should invest in a new upscale lemonade stand. After all, there are very few lawns to mow in New York City.