I Turned A Crazy Joke Into A Crazy-Successful Business

The week a rush of major news sites — NBC, The Huffington Post, Adweek, The Skimm, Mashable, and Fast Company, to name a few — covered my company, I spent a full 24 hours breathing into a brown paper bag and staring at my inbox.
See, I hadn't yet told my sweet, traditional Arab parents about my new profession, and a write-up on Time.com meant I had to finally break the news. Let me explain: I’m from Kuwait and came to the states for what was supposed to be four years of university. The fact that I didn’t immediately return to the Middle East after graduation, instead staying in San Francisco to pursue copywriting, already made me something of a “wild thing” in the eyes of my family. Then, in 2014, I started a company called ManServants, which lets women hire swoon-worthy gentlemen to serve as party entertainment. Wild-thing status, cemented.
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The company started out as a joke that Jo, my then colleague and future cofounder, and I took too far. We were discussing an upcoming bachelorette party, and after laughing and recounting a few horror stories, we agreed that male strippers were out of the question. Years back, I hired a “firefighter” for a friend’s birthday. Five minutes into his routine, it sank in that we had to endure him for another 55 minutes. Besides a fire-secure room, no one was living out any major fantasies that night. Jo had once hired a stripper from TaskRabbit to be her friend’s male assistant for the day at the office. He was very confused when she insisted he opt for a business-casual look and abstain from any stripping. In fact, upon completing his assistant duties, his white-collared shirt was revealed to be a tear-away, and a striptease commenced in the middle of the office. Luckily, HR was too amused to issue a reprimand.

It became clear that neither I nor most of my female friends actually enjoyed male strippers — it felt to us like a hand-me-down fantasy from men.

It became clear that neither I nor most of my female friends actually enjoyed male strippers — it felt to us like a hand-me-down fantasy from men. Still, there wasn’t an equivalent option for female-centered parties. We decided that our dream men existed predominantly in fiction (or way back in the days of Queen Victoria), and it was up to us to bring them back to life. Hence a ManServant — a pay-by-the-hour gentleman tasked with treating women like queens. Never without a drink in hand, he’d anticipate and cater to our needs, lend an ear, make my friends the stars of the show, take photos, and serve compliments, all with a wink and a sexy smile. Our fantasy game could have ended there, but the very idea continued to entertain us. Plus, both Jo and I worked in advertising, so executing ridiculous ideas was our forte.
So, we spent every moment of our spare time building ManServants. Within a year, we had launched a website, written the ManServants Code of Chivalry, and created a promo video to introduce the concept to women everywhere. We sent the video to two blogs and crossed our fingers that people would like it.
And then it went viral. Really viral. Producers started calling my office — I was still working as a copywriter — to inquire about giving us our own reality show. It was clearly time to call my parents.
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It took an hour to convince my Baba that the sentence, “He’ll make all your fantasies come true,” referred to a man delivering a cheese plate, not a penis. It took another six months to persuade him that I wasn’t giving up my future for a life as a pimp. In time and with the help of continued accolades from the media and our clients, both of my parents became comfortable with the fact that they didn’t have to fully get it, because other people did. They even stopped referring to my business as “the project.”
Still, the support of my parents — and the curiosity of the internet — didn’t mean ManServants had made it. Jo and I had both quit our jobs to devote ourselves full-time to ManServants, but we needed reinforcements. I convinced my friend Annie, who was studying to be a diplomat at the time, to pause her studies in order to head up client operations and join me in San Francisco, where we made my tiny studio apartment our office. We put our lives — professional and personal — on hold as we figured out what bootstrapping meant. For three girls — Jo, Annie, and myself — who were running a supposedly glamorous company, our lives could not have been further from it. The Steve Harvey Show invited us to be on a special segment about millionaire entrepreneurs during a time when we thought daily iced lattes were too much of a luxury. Plus, we didn’t exactly fit in in Silicon Valley, which isn’t the most playful place in the world. We took our laptops to coffee shops filled with tech bros, and then there’d be us with ManServant abs on full display saying things like, “She wants a man who’s assertive and kind, with sales-force capabilities. Bilingual is a plus.”

More than anything, our clients want to feel special, to make their friends feel special, and not to have to do any heavy lifting at their parties or events.

Despite these obstacles, we persevered, and we did it in large part because of our mission. We knew that we were giving women a service they wanted, rather than something men thought they wanted. One client wanted a hot guy to hold her parasol as she strutted down the street. Another wanted to experience the Dirty Dancing lift (she felt so empowered after the fact that she asked her own boyfriend to replicate the experience, which she called “man-ifesting her desires”). More than anything, our clients want to feel special, to make their friends feel special, and not to have to do any heavy lifting at their parties or events. We pay attention, and as a result, we’ve built a huge database of women’s nonsexual fantasies. I haven’t stopped laughing or having fun since we began.
Three years in, ManServants is available for private parties and event staffing in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, CA, and New York City. Daily iced lattes have earned a place in our budget, and my parents now introduce me to their friends as the daughter who “entertains women with men,” which actually sounds way worse, but what can you do? My cofounders and I are even working on a manual book that will enlighten men about what it takes to become a swoon-worthy gentleman. Our hope is that we’ll do such a good job of showing them how to treat a woman right that our business will someday be obsolete. That’s true success.
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