Way, way out of the box

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2005


Finding the perfect romantic match at the top of the corporate ladder can be difficult. Your tastes are more discriminating, your finances are more complicated, and, well, let's face it, the air is rarefied up there among the fabulously successful and well to do.

At least that's what the members of the brand-new company are banking on. Soulsearch's high-class online matchmaking service is launching this month in Boca Raton. Sarasota ophthalmologist and Soulsearch founder and CEO David Shoemaker tapped into the expertise of two Stanford computer whizzes (his son Austin Shoemaker, the company's chief information officer, and Varun Ganapathi, Soulsearch's chief technology officer) as well as Harvard psychologists to make the process of matching more scientific. For starters, the online questionnaire uses proprietary software that personalizes the questions, depending on the client's responses.

Sarasota attorney Jennie Lascelle, the company's chief development officer, says the most elite users (other participants can sign up for free services or a $29.95 per month package) will pay $26,000 a year. Although she wouldn't name names, Lascelle says Soulsearch already has signed up "a unique collection of some of the highly successful, well-known men, women and corporations in the world." Such clients will undergo background checks, meet with relationship managers and, once Soulsearch's database is plumbed for ideal matches, attend invitation-only parties where they can meet prospective matches. They'll also be able to tap into image consultants; concierge, entertainment and travel services; and relationship coaches. Sounds like serious business. Soulsearch's clients have "no interest in games, just results," says Lascelle.


Never underestimate the appeal-and the infinite marketable uses-of a soft and adorable stuffed toy. Two Cardinal Mooney High School grads and a college roommate of one of them run a Sarasota company called Fun Friends (, which specializes in colorful furry animal covers for cell phones. And while selling a $9.99 cute cover for a phone might not sound like big business, Fun Friends sold 500,000 covers last year online and in Verizon showrooms and Hallmark stores across the country. The company pulled in $1.5 million in 2005 with 2006 sales projected at $4 million. The animals, ranging from pink monkeys, black-and-white cows, koala bears, lobsters, frogs, piglets and about 60 other characters are a hit with 'tween girls, and have been picked up as an accessory by celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson and even Usher.

Fun Friends began in the garage of Julian Parry, who graduated from Cardinal Mooney in 1988 and who had formerly worked in the healthcare business and for McDonald's. Parry was working in South Africa when he saw a fisherman carrying a cell phone adorned with a homemade furry lobster cover. The entrepreneur in Parry took note: "Hmmm," he thought, "I could do that on a large scale." He had a factory in China do some samples and in 1998 launched his product. At that point, cell phones were primarily used by businesspeople and Parry struggled to keep Fun Friends afloat. Then the cell phone became the indispensable accessory of 'tweens and teens.

Sales took off and Parry added high school chum Tim Mihm, a former a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, and college roommate Charles Larson, who worked for the American Power Boat Association, and the partners cleverly spread the word. They attend events such as the Radio Music Awards and Sundance Film Festival, passing out Fun Friends to celebrities; and they've managed to get Fun Friends in Oprah Winfrey's holiday gift baskets, in the Golden Globes' gift baskets and in Hilary Duff's birthday party gift bags. When supermodel Heidi Klum was seen with a Fun Friend on her cell phone in In Touch magazine, "sales when through the roof," says Mihm.

Now the partners are concentrating on getting the licensing to manufacture college mascot Fun Friends, which opens up the market to the college age group and, hopefully, the male fan, who wouldn't shrink from carrying a cell phone with a fuzzy orange and blue Florida gator on the cover.

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