Owning your own business is a balance of risk and reward. It takes time, patience and commitment. While it’s not for the faint of heart, for those who endure, starting your own business can be one of the single most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Meet five Cincinnati-area entrepreneurs who have defied the odds by providing goods and services that make Cincinnati thrive.

Ian Budd

Ian Budd

Ian founded ICB Audio & Video in 1976. The company’s original focus was designing and building recording studios. Since then, the company has grown tremendously, having installed “hundreds of millions of dollars worth of professional sound, recording, video, control, and lighting equipment into thousands of facilities.” ICB has installed A/V presentation systems at Fountain Square, Cintas Center, Bank of Kentucky Arena, and numerous worship facilities and education centers.

Josh Sneed

Josh Sneed

Josh Sneed is a nationally-known performer and comedian. He left a comfortable gig as a systems analyst for Proctor and Gamble to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. He has performed at comedy clubs all across the country, appeared on Comedy Central (including his own 30-minute special, “Comedy Central Presents: Josh Sneed”) and has released two comedy CDs; his most recent release is “Unsung Hero,” available on CD or on iTunes. Josh is also founded CincyShirts.com – a website that sells Cincinnati-themed t-shirts featuring once-famous Cincinnati names like VanLeunen’s, Caddy’s and more.

Lee Krombholz

Lee Krombholz

Lee is the proud third generation owner of Krombholz Jewelers in Montgomery. In business for more than 70 years, Krombholz is known for its beautiful and unique jewelry designs, as well as vintage and antique jewelry. Lee is uniquely skilled in not only repurposing older pieces, but in designing and building jewelry that is, as he likes to say, “just like you.”

Bertie Ray III

Bertie Ray III

Along with his partner, Drew Dearwester, Bertie opened Switch Lighting and Design in downtown Cincinnati in 2008. A Washington, D.C. native who came to Cincinnati by way of New York City, Bertie “thrives on bringing the big idea to life.” Switch caters to both residential and commercial clients across the country. Notable customers include Estelle’s Lounge in Chicago and the FAA’s Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey.

Matthew Dooley

Matthew Dooley

Matthew’s name should be familiar to Cincinnati Profile readers. A contributing technology writer, Matthew and his partner Mike Sarow founded Kapture – a wrist-worn audio capture device; Matthew also runs his own social media strategy business, Dooley Media, and is professor of social media at Xavier University.

Cincinnati Profile: What’s the best thing about owning your own business? The most rewarding?

Ian Budd: Having the freedom to set policies and conduct business in the way that I feel most benefits my customers. The most rewarding part of owning my business is being able to do a wonderful job for our customers and help them solve problems that other people can’t. On the employee side of the company, I enjoy providing jobs and a good work environment for those who work with me.

Josh Sneed: Hands down it’s being my own boss. I make decisions for my businesses based one what I believe will help them reach their highest potential, and good ideas aren’t shot down by people who don’t share my vision.

Lee Krombholz: The best part about owning your own business is the autonomy. Making the choices and decisions that make sense to you.

Bertie Ray: The best thing about having my own business is the total opportunity to take my ideas and make them real.  The most rewarding is when we make dumb mistakes and then I learn from them and do it better the next time. I like being able to build a secure future for my family.

Matthew Dooley: I think any entrepreneur would tell you there’s not just one thing. We have the best job in the world. As long as we excel in it, we have the opportunity to wake up everyday and work on whatever and with whoever we want. The autonomy and variety that comes with that is really gratifying.

CP: What’s the worst (or most challenging) aspect of it?

IB: Keeping on top of everything that needs to be done to keep up quality standards for our customers and take care of our employees.

JS: The most challenging thing about it is actually one of the best things about it: Your success lies in your hands. The sky is truly the limit based on how much work you want to put into it. But, also, your success is determined by how much work you put into it. It can be great motivation knowing that your blood, sweat, and tears can make you successful versus making someone else look good or get rich.

LK: The worst part is that you never really leave your business life at work. No matter how hard you try, you are always thinking and planning about work.

BR: The most challenging thing about starting a business is timing and financing. Despite their TV commercials, financial institutions do not fund start-up luxury retail brands on the cusp of the greatest recession since the Great Depression.

MD: Like everything with this type of career, there’s a good and bad to everything. So while I enjoy running the show, a huge everyday challenge is always being held accountable. There’s no slack, and there’s no pointing fingers. Expectations are always high, and they’re always on me. The way I’ve dealt with this is by surrounding myself with people who are a lot smarter, and more capable and experienced.

CP: Why did you do it?

IB: I wanted the freedom to be able to set my own direction and the opportunity to make a difference for others.

JS: It’s very simple…I hate hindsight. I didn’t want to look back many years from now with a pocket full of good ideas and wonder “what if” I’d tried to pursue any of them.

BR: My entrepreneurial spirit kicked into full gear after coming to Cincinnati as a “husband in tow.” Faced with a sour job market, I had to make my own way. I dug deep, prayed, then began to apply the skills I acquired while in graduate school at NYU. Switch Lighting & Design, a fresh retail approach to modern architectural lighting and interior design located in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine is the result!

MD: I’d argue it’s not something I do. I truly believe it’s who I am. It stretches me in ways that are mostly uncomfortable. But I gain a lot of fulfillment from the growth that comes from it.

CP: How important is it to find the right partners/employees?

IB: Exceedingly important. With the right partners and employees, business flows smoothly and goals are achievable.

JS: This is the most important thing you’ll do in starting a business with partners. It’s not just about compatibility, it’s about vision. Friends are nice to have around the office, but you have to think long term from a high level. If everything goes the way you think it will, do you all have the same vision for the company’s future? These are discussions that need to happen before you even sign the papers to register your company.

LK: It is absolutely critical to find the right employees or partners. I truly believe in the advice of hiring slow and firing fast. Life is too short to not have the right people surrounding you.

BR: I can’t overstate the importance of building a team of partners and employees whom you trust. Each partner should bring a unique skill or interest to the enterprise: money, talent, energy, creativity, sales, and network – assets that build the business and strengthen the team.

MD: I believe it’s the most essential aspect of running a successful company. Even if you start a company on your own, you’ll only thrive if you’ve developed the self-awareness to lead in areas you excel and partner in those you don’t. In business and in life, relationships are everything. There’s that saying “It’s not about what you know. It’s who you know.” I’d actually argue it’s how you know them that really matters.

CP: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start his/her own business?

IB: Start a business in an area of activity that provides products or a service that have a relatively unique value for your customers. Don’t over-leverage. Understand that the majority of business generally comes from word of mouth and reputation built over a period of time. This means, provide a quality service that will cause customers to return to you and recommend you to others.

JS: Give it time. That’s the most important thing. Have a plan, and give it time to unfold. I PROMISE that a steak tastes ten times better when you can remember eating ramen noodles for a year.

LK: Think about it carefully. Put a pencil to paper and make sure that the effort will be financially worth it. Even someone who is running a business as a hobby should consider it carefully. Often the effort it takes to start a business is radically underestimated. It is like building a house. Take the estimated effort and double it. Also be persistent. Don’t give up on your vision too easily.

BR: Learn from every thing you do. Mistakes are opportunities toward your next greatest success. Don’t be an impediment to your own success. Get a good coffee maker and enjoy the ride!

MD: Beyond the business basics of a great product or service that meets a real market need, I’d suggest that wanting is not enough. It takes a serious amount of commitment and sacrifice. It also requires patience – in waiting for the right opportunities, and perseverance – to carry through when odds are stacked against you. My business partner Mike put it this way when speaking to some students at Xavier University: He asked them to keep their hands raised if they wanted the “dream job” he was describing – you’ll be told no at every corner, you won’t get a regular paycheck, you’ll work more hours than you care to count, and there’s a very low chance of succeeding. There were just a couple of half-hands raised by the end. You have to be anchored to something really meaningful – a long-term vision – in order to stay at it.

CP: What’s the most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur?

IB: Having the ability to get out there in the marketplace and test new ideas and concepts.

JS: When you finally start to reap the rewards of your labor, you can look back and know that you did it. You don’t have to wonder “what if,”  and you can grow as much or as little as you want. For my comedy, I love the fact that I’ve reached a point where I decide how often I want to work instead of having to take every gig that comes along. It affords me more time at home now, because 11 years ago I agreed to be on the road 50 out of 52 weeks. But if you’ve always wanted a job where you can takes 20 weeks of vacation a year, then start a company and grow it.

LK: When it works, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Hard work with success is a really great thing. Hard work with failure is painful.

BR: I am most energized by the privilege of controlling my own destiny while enjoying the freedom to live outside the proverbial box.