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Johnathan Ruggiero & Michelle Luchese: “Hero is someone who stands up selflessly”

To me, a hero is someone who stands up selflessly for those who are vulnerable and in need. In my opinion, the best examples of heroes in our society are first responders, hospital workers, and our active duty service members and veterans. They put their lives on the line every day to protect and take […]

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To me, a hero is someone who stands up selflessly for those who are vulnerable and in need. In my opinion, the best examples of heroes in our society are first responders, hospital workers, and our active duty service members and veterans. They put their lives on the line every day to protect and take care of others. Those are the heroes we should all look up to.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnathan Ruggiero & Michelle Luchese, co-founders, and co-CEOs of Manly Bands.

Johnathan Ruggiero knows about taking risks and reaping the benefits. One of his biggest gambles: meeting a woman on an online dating service. That decision paid off, and that woman, Michelle Luchese, is now his wife and business partner. The duo is co-founders of Manly Bands, the eight-figure DTC company that is shaking up the wedding industry with its unique rings, great customer service, and overall fun experience. But the road to success wasn’t exactly smooth. Ruggiero had a career in Hollywood, going from freelance cameraman to supervising producer, but after ten years at the same job, he felt stagnant. He also had entrepreneurial pursuits, starting a few companies — some thrived, others did okay, and a few outright failed as often happens in the entrepreneurial learning phase. Ruggiero’s desire to run his own business never went away and became stronger than ever. After Luchese lost her job in Los Angeles, he put in his two-weeks and the two moved to Florida where they got married and made yet another big decision: what to do next. Inspiration struck when they discussed his horrible experience buying a wedding ring and they decided to start Manly Bands. They started slow, running the business out of their rented garage. With help from friends and family, Ruggiero built the website and started advertising on Facebook with just $20 a day. In only a few short years, under Ruggiero’s direction, the company is now an eight-figure powerhouse in the men’s jewelry industry. Having moved the business to Utah, they are always adding new rings, new staff, and new goals for the future of Manly Bands. John is constantly innovating to see how far Manly Bands can grow and how else Manly Bands can reach its customers in unique ways.

Actress, musician, and entrepreneur — it’s safe to say that Michelle Luchese is a woman of many talents. Alongside husband Johnathan Ruggiero, she is co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Manly Bands, the eight-figure DTC company that is shaking up the wedding industry with its unique rings, great customer service, and overall fun experience. But that wasn’t always the plan: Luchese’s background lies in the entertainment world where she performed in several bands and took roles in movies, television, and even stepped behind the camera to produce before needing a break from the industry. She and then-fiancé, Ruggiero, left their LA lives and moved cross-country to Florida, got married a week later, and then faced the dreaded question of what to do next. A bad experience shopping for Ruggiero’s wedding ring inspired them to come up with Manly Bands. They funded the venture with Michelle’s credit card (the thing everyone tells you NOT to do) and started small and slow, working out of their rented garage. Luchese oversaw the creative side of things, designing and developing the rings. She also created the brand’s unique voice. Using her skills as an actress, Luchese tapped into her ability to take on many roles and applied it to each ring sold on the site. Her goal was to create a great shopping experience for men — where a guy can find a ring he actually wants to wear. They aren’t just pieces of metal — they are people too, that a lot of guys will relate to… or at least want to party with. This branding has transformed into a website that connects with the audience at every stage of the shopping experience. Her determination, creativity, and commitment to the customer experience has led Manly Bands to be the successful business that it is today.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

As a young boy, I grew up in a suburb of Boston, where I got my first taste for technology and entrepreneurship in the small town of Norwell, MA. I remember turning on my first computer, a used IBM AT that I spent days trying to figure out. Through some sheer luck, I figured out how to get the thing working and began tinkering with it in my free time. Technology always fascinated me and I knew I wanted to do something that involved computers when I grew up.

My parents were both entrepreneurs as well and I learned a great deal about how to treat customers, creating an amazing product or service, and saw the hard work that was required to succeed. I got the entrepreneurial bug at a young age and I wanted to create something of great value that also integrated technology once my career got off the ground.

Years later, I used my experience and passion for websites, marketing, and entrepreneurship to solve my own problem — finding a wedding band that I could get excited about — and so Manly Bands was born.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Tim Ferris’ “Four Hour Work Week” had a huge impact on how I began to think about the internet in terms of how it could help my business. That and also learning that it’s okay to delegate and really focus on the areas that you provide value resonated with me. I learned that it’s okay to not do everything yourself and to surround yourself with an amazing team. That’s one of the things we’ve done well at Manly Bands and take real pride in.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

One of my favorite quotes is “None of us is as smart as all of us” by Ken Blanchard. To me, that embodies the spirit of teamwork at its core. We all bring something to the table, but when we pool our resources and talent, we really can accomplish anything. I didn’t realize this at the beginning of my career and would often take on challenges alone. This made finding success very difficult because it’s really hard to be an expert in every aspect of your business. It wasn’t until I was able to let go and trust in my team that we truly began to succeed.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

One of our core values is to be stewards of our community. When COVID initially hit, we knew we had a responsibility to protect not only our team members but also help out our community in any way that we could. It was incredible to see so many other businesses coming together as well during that time. Pivoting to making face masks and other PPE.

We didn’t have the ability to manufacture PPE, but we knew we could still help. We initially partnered with Team Rubicon, an amazing veteran and first responder run organization that helped get PPE to first responders and hospitals, as well as provided meals and other support to those who were too vulnerable to go out in public. We immediately started donating a large percentage of our profits to them and were able to donate over $65,000 in the first few months of the pandemic.

In addition to raising money, we wanted to do something to directly impact the PPE effort. We were able to leverage our network of manufacturers to get PPE. We worked with the State of Utah and were able to purchase 10,000 face shields, which we donated directly to local hospitals here in Utah.

We continue to help in other ways that we can, whether it’s by providing meals to first responders locally or raising money for other charities. We believe that successful businesses have a moral duty to help their communities in a time of need.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

To me, a hero is someone who stands up selflessly for those who are vulnerable and in need. In my opinion, the best examples of heroes in our society are first responders, hospital workers, and our active duty service members and veterans. They put their lives on the line every day to protect and take care of others. Those are the heroes we should all look up to.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Empathy — to understand and connect with the vulnerable among us.
  2. Commitment — ‚the dedication to upholding our values and purpose.
  3. Selflessness — our willingness to put others well being before ourselves.
  4. Conviction — a strong belief in our purpose and ability to effect change.
  5. Integrity — to uphold our values, no matter the circumstances.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I believe that ordinary people are driven to become heroes when they see their values challenged. Having empathy for the vulnerable is also a driving force as well. When one can connect with and understand how another person feels in a vulnerable situation, they are more likely to act and be of assistance.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

We never thought of it as heroic action — but rather the necessary action. We had the ability and the responsibility to help our community. It’s a core value. We simply did what needed to be done.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

I believe first responders and any individual that puts themselves second to helping the most vulnerable are heroes. They often put themselves at risk for the betterment of others. That, to me, is the definition of a hero.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

When it comes to the pandemic, I’m most frightened not only by the virus itself but by how we are handling it as a society. It seems that we are so polarized and divided politically that half of our nation is willing to put the wellbeing of their fellow citizens at risk to support their political beliefs. I find this very dangerous, not only because it will cause the virus to continue to spread and cause deaths, but also because it shows that as a society, a large number of our fellow citizens lack many of our core values, such as empathy, selflessness, and integrity. We could beat this virus if we all came together and followed our medical guidelines as other countries have. Unfortunately, many of our citizens are unwilling to do that.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain why?

The young and educated people, moms and dads, first responders, and those that believe in science. Just as there is half of our society that refuses to show empathy to others, there are many on the other side that does. They choose to recognize the inhumanity of not supporting each other. Go out of their way to show empathy and care for fellow citizens. I have much hope for them and for their future. Hopefully, they can bring us together and make us all better people.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

The lack of empathy and conviction to one’s own moral compass is the most disappointing. People who otherwise have shown great morals and care for others have chosen to push those values aside to support a political ideology. It’s very dangerous and disappointing.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

I think I’ve come to realize that society is much more fragile than perhaps we have historically believed. Many of us never understood how Hitler and Natzi Germany could ever have occurred. People are free thinkers! How could they possibly have believed such evil things towards each other? Through recent events and polarization, I’m beginning to realize that it’s much easier to manipulate and divide ideologies than I had previously thought. This division is incredibly dangerous.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

I think we could start by limiting propaganda by all sides. The truth can be difficult to prove, but I think it’s one of the few guiding principles that we have as a society. Once that breaks down, our belief systems and ideology crumbles. I think we must try to uphold facts and the truth at all costs.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We must all strive to make the world a better place. It’s our world, all of us. It takes commitment and hard work to keep things going in the right direction and protect our society. Once we lose focus of that, it’s very easy to see it fall apart. Do it for your family, do it for the vulnerable and do it for the future. Humanity depends on it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is a difficult question — I think one way, of many, that would help society to move in a more positive direction would be to help people see how amazing humanity is. Our diversity, cultures, communities, and personalities are truly unique and amazing gifts to each other. We need to learn to appreciate and most importantly, respect, how different we all are. From our appearance to our beliefs, we all have so much beauty to bring to this world. I’ve found that people who’ve traveled and met people from other cultures and walks of life generally have more compassion, empathy, and tolerance than folks who have not. Perhaps we can create some sort of “mission” or other shared experience that brings a diverse group of people together to learn from each other while helping the most vulnerable. Make it a right of passage in life. More compassionate, empathetic, and caring people will make this world a better place.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’m inspired by so many people from all walks of life. I think Bill Gates has brought so much value to the world, not only by revolutionizing the world with computers and software but also in his philanthropic efforts with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They’ve dedicated themselves to improving lives around the world. Their impact has been enormous. I cannot think of someone better to strive to learn from.

How can our readers follow you online?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @johnathanr or on linked in at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnathanr/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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