It was the lure of a challenge that prompted Russell residents Toby and Melanie Maloney to walk away from corporate jobs and embrace what would become an even greater mission in their retirement.
That mission took root when they were in their 50s in 2001 and decided to jump head first into entrepreneurialism.
The Maloneys would not only invest financially in a promising start-up, helping two young professionals over a decade bring their idea to life, but would serve as sounding boards and business advisers along the way.
They would help build national and international brand recognition for Mental Floss magazine, based in New York City, all from around their kitchen table, strategizing, trouble shooting and building and sharing ideas.
The Maloneys, each of whom hold master’s degrees in the areas of teaching, arts, English and industrial psychology, nurtured and grew the business, leading to their retirement, and have been committed for the last several years to helping others do the same.
Mr. Maloney calls it their “labor of love.”
“The fun is in the helping,” Ms. Maloney said.
The couple act as mentors, using their wealth of expertise and knowledge of what makes businesses work, while coupling lifelong lessons they gleaned while growing up in a small business family.
“Dinnertime conversations as a child were around how to keep customers happy, go the extra mile and all of those kinds of business basics,” Mr. Maloney, 74, recalled.
He would also learn the complexity of running a small business at a young age and the idea of having to do it all, which is not a simple undertaking, he said.
From her father, a small-town builder, Ms. Maloney, 68, said she learned the value of hard work and that balancing a passion for what you love and the time-consuming pressures of a business is not always an easy task.
These lessons and others are what they offer pro bono to businesses of all sizes and types. While they may invest in some, for others, they simply give sound guidance and advice benefiting entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
“The biggest thing is, we are helping people succeed with their business,” Mr. Maloney said.
Everything from strategizing to the importance of attention to detail, the Maloneys instruct. They even serve as a friendly audience to vent or test ideas.
“We’re not a company,” Ms. Maloney said, “just a couple people who help.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as coffee, to lend an ear or to bounce ideas. For others, they dig deeper, helping develop business plans.
“There have been countless people who have sat at that table, and they have an idea,” said Mr. Maloney, gesturing toward their kitchen table. “It’s not like we have all the answers, but we have the experience,” he said.
They also have the time and flexibility.
“We don’t have children, but many of our friends do. If in one small way we can help Cleveland and Northeast Ohio create more jobs here so that their children don’t have to go to Boston, New York or San Francisco,” then they have made a difference, Mr. Maloney said.
The couple have worked with dozens of businesses, including bakeries, tech companies, food-delivery outfits, men’s grooming and more.
“When we think about working with people, we determine if we can add value,” Ms. Maloney said. “There are some businesses we know nothing about and couldn’t add value, but businesses are businesses, and you need a good product, you need to market that product and produce that product.”
The Maloneys, who are involved with various entrepreneurial consortiums, have formed through the years an informal network of people in the business world and eventually developed a document they share, detailing the basics of what is needed by all types of business owners.
“It’s no genius work,” Mr. Maloney said, but it’s several pages of what can be considered a recipe for success.
“One of the key things to me is pivoting their business,” said Mr. Maloney, who once worked in organizational development at Key Bank and his wife in the same capacity at Eaton Corp. “You have this start-up, but maybe that isn’t what the business is (really) about.”
They also describe the importance of working on the business, not just in it.
“It’s not a novel concept,” Ms. Maloney said, “but we find people get so busy making and selling their product, they forget aspects of the business.”
They have advised business owners to carve out time taking care of their businesses to actually growing it, suggesting getting up earlier or some small change in habit.
It’s about the importance of thinking of all aspects of one’s business, the Maloneys said, not just the part you love.
“Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone,” Mr. Maloney said. “To be successful requires an enormous commitment. You have to be all in.”
Successful entrepreneurs are those who are driven and who possess an inner commitment, Mr. Maloney added. “I don’t mean to make it mysterious, but it isn’t just for everyone.”
The couple said they believe in the importance of small businesses for the economy and find satisfaction in fostering that.
“Small businesses are really the backbone of America,” Ms. Maloney said. “We feel we are contributing to that.”
In meeting with entrepreneurs wishing to perhaps turn their hobby into a business, the Maloneys help in creating at least a rudimentary budget, they said, because any business needs to make money.
The couple, married 31 years, stay busy in these endeavors. They also have fun. It’s about the joy of working with engaged people, their intelligence, desire and passion, whether their idea ultimately can be successful or not, Mr. Maloney said.
“We can’t wait to be working on the next project,” Ms. Maloney said. “For me, it’s this incredible intellectual stimulation of figuring things out.
“I call it dessert for the brain,” she said. “It’s so important for people to continue that in their lifetime.”
And if the Maloney’s can help those people who possess a spark, then it is all in a day’s work.
“We both get back far more than we give,” Ms. Maloney said.
“We have chosen consciously to help in some small way,” Mr. Maloney said. “It’s a wonderful place to be.”