Originally from Ohio, Luke Vossen moved to New York to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Individualized Study from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. While pursuing his post-secondary education, he found part-time work at a New York City ballroom as a doorman and receptionist. Thanks to his growing interest in the hospitality industry, he rose rapidly within the company, taking over as ballroom manager after only a few years on the job. Over the next six years, Luke took on several prominent roles including a management position at the Waldorf Astoria resort in Key West, Florida. He was also hired on as the Director of Catering for The River Cafe in Brooklyn, NY – a Michelin accredited eatery, a position he held for the next decade.
In 2020, Luke left his position to pursue a venture in real estate and interior design. During this time, he earned a profit from flipping condos, despite the challenging conditions of that year. He took the lessons he learned from his career in high-end hospitality and successfully applied that knowledge to his interior design projects.
Today, Luke Vossen is open to opportunities in both the hospitality industry and the interior design landscape.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
When I was at NYU, I needed a part-time job, so a friend of mine who was in hospitality knew of an opening for part-time front desk work. I had never been a front desk attendant before, but I was smart and savvy at nineteen. I was hired on the spot, and I enjoyed the job. I had never seen such high-end events before. I was just this kid from Ohio working the front desk, and I would see these fabulous events going on in the evenings with crazy lighting schemes and such. At one of the first parties I worked, they had a fish theme with all sorts of aquariums installed, just for this one party that lasted a couple of hours. It was gorgeous. It was so tasteful, and beautifully lit, and just about the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life. I think they could tell I was interested because they started teaching me more, taking me on sales appointments, and asking me for help in the setup. Eventually, within a couple of years, I was managing the place myself.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In hospitality, in sales, it always starts with the emails. I’d check my phone even before I came into the office, to see what emails came in overnight and respond to the immediate ones. Once I was in the office, I’d play the email game and try to get back to everyone as quickly as possible. I always, always keep a to-do list, and I was lucky enough to have some fabulous assistants to help me with that. So I’d always keep that running to-do list, and I tried to get as many items off that list as I could in a day. If I could keep up with my emails and keep up with my to-do list, I knew I was doing okay.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It all starts with inspiration. I’m always inspired by visual things. I’m a person who goes to museums and botanical gardens to see things and be inspired by them.
The other thing is having great vendor partners. I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic florists who had great vision, some lighting people and DJs who were fantastic, and also some great linen companies. That’s how you get something done and transform a space to make it beautiful.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Everyone’s doing sort of a romantic jungle theme right now, with lots of plants and greenery. I’m a person who grew up watching lots of Golden Girls, so if you can get as many palm leaves and banana leaves as you can get into a space, I’m living for it. I’m hoping that jungle greenery isn’t just a trend, and that it sticks around for a long time.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The to-do list. I always keep a to-do list, and crossing things off of it is such a happy feeling. And when there’s nothing left on the list, I can relax. Sometimes it’s really good as well to make the next day’s to-do list before you leave the office, so that you can keep a clearer mind and relax overnight, knowing that you have a plan of attack for the next morning.
That, and always keep up on your emails!
What advice would you give your younger self?
That’s an interesting question. I think, when I was younger, I would try to force things to an end that I wanted. If I wanted something, I would just push and push to make something happen. Which in some ways is a good quality. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that sometimes when something doesn’t fit or when you have to try extraordinarily hard, it’s perhaps not meant to be. It’s not necessarily that everything that happens is meant to happen. Rather, it’s that sometimes things won’t necessarily go to plan, and that’s okay. That’s a lesson that I think has come with age.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Try to stay clear of taking all of your advice from others. It’s important to trust your own judgement and have confidence in your decision making skills.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’m a meticulous note keeper. When I go into a meeting or into any sort of learning environment, writing things down helps me to remember them. Having a record of it later is very helpful as well. I love to take notes, and that ties in to my to-do lists as well. After all, what is a to-do list if not a note reminding you to do something?
If possible, I like to have a physical notebook. I’m kind of old school in that way – I prefer to have a pen and paper in hand. But I’ve adjusted to taking notes on my phone when I need to.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It came really naturally to me, I think. I wasn’t one of those people that had to try so hard to make it work. When I was working the front desk at the ballroom, I was always curious and looking to know more about what was going on elsewhere. I think that natural curiosity took me a long way. Also, just being in hospitality for seventeen years and really loving it, I kept finding new aspects of the job that kept me interested. At first I wasn’t so into the design aspect of it – that was more for the vendors and other people – but as I went further and further along, I got much more involved in the design aspects and creating themes for people, and that’s what kept me interested. In hospitality, there are so many facets and aspects to what gets done that there was enough leeway for me to stay curious and interested, and redirect my attention and learn more. And when I’m learning more and satisfying my curiosity, I’m staying happy and continuing to grow.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I had a very hands-on owner at my last job who was very old-school. We did all types of events including weddings, and at weddings, people want to dance and go a bit wild. The owner didn’t want to have any overly loud music at his venue, purely down to his personal preferences. So it was a balancing act between the real clients – the brides and grooms and parents and whomever – and the owner coming in and wanting things his way, which often conflicted with what the clients wanted. With the music issue, I finally found a fantastic DJ who didn’t have as much ego, so he was able to play great music, but play it at a medium-loud level that kept the clients happy while keeping the owner happy as well. And I know that sounds like a simple thing, but getting people to choose the DJ that you want them to choose, to keep them happy while keeping the owner happy, was one of the hardest parts of that job. It was a very stressful situation until I found that solution, but it made a night and day difference.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have this sort of romantic idea of opening up a store that’s part flower shop, part secondhand furniture store. You could decorate the shop and make it really cute with second hand furniture, and sell it, while also having live plants, and do some design services out of it as well. So, that’s my dream for having three businesses in one. I don’t know how many people are going to relate to that, but it would just be really cute to have this storefront with really pretty flowers and plants, and have it really cute with second hand furniture, and then offer events and design services out of this one storefront as well. It’s a fantasy of mine.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Honestly, just going out to a nice dinner with friends. I’m a person who loves dining out and the food and beverage experience, but also the time spent with friends. I love a house party, but there’s something nice about going out to dinner where nobody’s stressed out, nobody has to worry about preparing, and everyone can just sit down and relax and have a nice bottle of wine and enjoy themselves. And I’m a hospitality nerd, so I’ll pick going out to dinner every time.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I was obsessed with Outlook in the early 2000s. Then I was in New York during Hurricane Sandy, and for some reason I couldn’t sign in to Outlook at the time, so I had to sign in through Google to get to my email. I didn’t like it – nobody likes change at first – but now I’m obsessed with Google Calendar, because it’s so integrated. It’s right there on your phone where and when you need it. I’m a big tennis player, and when you make a tennis appointment, you think you’re going to remember it, but you often won’t unless you note it down somewhere. Google Calendar is great for that. And I use it professionally as well. It’s everything – it helps you leave notes, keep track of meetings, and you can copy and paste your notes from other things into Calendar so it’s all there. So, Google Calendar is my jam.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell is a great book that dives deep into the fundamentals of success.
What is your favorite quote?
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville.
- If you want to move up, the best way to do it is to show initiative and express curiosity toward things outside your immediate position.
- Learn to recognize when something simply isn’t going to happen, so that you can refocus your efforts on more promising pursuits.
- If you find yourself stuck between the conflicting demands of two clients, think outside the box to find a solution that can satisfy both.
- Maintaining a to-do list is an immensely helpful habit, no matter what your goals are.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.