Owning It: 17 Red Hot Entrepreneurs

photo by Sophia Hantzes
Kelli O'Donnell Founder
R Family Vacations

When driven entertainment-marketing executive Kelli O’Donnell found herself a (famous) married mother of four, she discovered a gap in the travel industry. Noticeably absent at Club Med were gay families like hers, so O'Donnell and her co-owner Gregg Kaminsky smartly filled that niche. Five years later, their R Family Vacations is the best-known travel option for lesbians and gays with kids.

With famous guest performers—the O'Donnells' friends Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Estefan, and of course, Rosie—the biannual cruises draw up to 800 kids each time, and they bring along their parents. Call it a fun, filled holiday.

O'Donnell has managed to reach capacity time and again, while still operating as a small business run comfortably out of her home in Nyack, NY. "The kids (Parker, 12, Chelsea, 9, Blake, 7 and Vivi, 4) are behind me doing homework, and I pay them 5 dollars an hour to stuff envelopes. It's great for them to see that it's not just about showing up. You also have to do some work," says O'Donnell, 40.

When customers asked for a less costly alternative to the cruise, O'Donnell came through with land-based vacations- one to Philadelphia, PA and another to Provincetown's famed Family Week this summer, which R Family helped run with the Family Pride Coalition.

Business is good, but with growth comes complexity. O'Donnell wants to keep that to a minimum. Valuing her personal relationships with her customers, she won't be outsourcing customer service anytime soon.

"There are four of us here, and we talk to every single passenger that's booked on our ship," O'Donnell says. "When I stand up before that crowd on the first night of the cruise, I know everybody's unique story. There's something nice and intimate about that. So as long as I can hold onto that, I will." –MW

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