Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Category - Sustainability

Linking the physical and digital worlds: A conversation with Sce Pike of IoT startup IOTAS

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Recently we chatted with Sce Pike, CEO and founder of Portland tech company IOTAS, an Internet of Things (IoT) application designed to deliver the smart home experience to renters and the smart building experience to property owners. Pike caught the entrepreneurial bug in college and since then has started 4 companies, all leveraging her vision of IoT as a transformational technology with societal and environmental impacts that go well beyond profit. To that end, Pike will be a panelist talking about the New Clean Tech Economy at the upcoming GoGreen Conference in Portland on October 5th (Built Oregon is a sponsor – tickets available here).

I always like to ask about that particular moment in an entrepreneur’s career when the light goes on and they take the leap? What was that moment for you, and can you expand a bit on how your career journey brought you to that inflection point?

rtemagicc_iotas_sce_pike_web-jpgI’ve always been entrepreneurial. Perhaps it’s because my parents were immigrants and ‘owning a business’ was the only way they knew to provide for the family and also believed that was the American dream. They borrowed money from their family and friends to start a business, this was the only way they knew how to work. I suppose they instilled in me similar values. In my Senior year in college, 1997, I started a web development company. I started another company in 2000, then again in 2007, which was very successful, and IOTAS in 2014. I guess I have the 7 year itch for starting businesses.

Why such an interest in IoT?   You saw this as a “next big thing” well before most of us nearly 10 years ago.

Good question. My interest with IoT peaked when I was in the mobile telecom industry with Palm back in 2000. I saw mobile, specifically smart phones, as the next big thing and I knew that software, (applications and services) for mobile devices would be so much more valuable than just selling the hardware. In 2007 the iPhone showed everybody how to do that well. Seeing that change in the telecom world: from selling hardware to selling services to generate revenue, I wanted to take that same change to the real estate industry. The shift from selling only hardware to hardware + software yields exponential value. This is true for the real estate industry as well, instead of selling just 4 walls and a roof, if they can digitize their homes they can sell services and software that would generate limitless revenue. IoT is the only way to digitize buildings. It’s a way to create that layer of interaction between the physical and the digital worlds, and that’s where it becomes really interesting.

What role has Oregon (and Portland) played in developing your ventures ?

Portland has been great because it’s a place where people really care to experiment and connect, and they’re not financially motivated as long as it makes a valuable difference in people’s lives. It makes for a really good environment to innovate; you can find people who are passionate and willing to connect with you, and they’re willing to take a risk and do something different. We were lucky that Capstone Partners was willing to do this with us, and experiment with their building. It’s the people, they make a bigger difference than capital ever could.

Let’s talk about IOTAS – what led you to start this IoT venture, and what problem are you solving with this service for apartment developers and owners?

The typical age group for early adopters is 18-35, which fits the Millennial demographic. With this group, home ownership was only at 35%, since most of them were renting. They also live in the ‘Subscription Economy,’ where access to value is more important to them than ownership – e.g. the death of CDs and DVDs and rise of Netflix and Spotify. So what would be the perfect product for these Millennial early adopters?

I believed that the perfect product for early adopters would be an elegant Smart Home product which would be the gateway drug for IoT. It would not cost them thousands of dollars and should not be DIY. This product shouldn’t require them to install bunch of hardware, set it up, and then when they move next, force them to uninstall it, pack it, move it, reinstall it, and set it up again in their new rental.

A true Smart Home would also be a complete home. Rather than just one thermostat, a couple of lights, random devices, or outlets, a smart home would be 100% of lights, 100% of outlets and thermostats, with sensors throughout.

Luckily for me, at the same time that this was going through my head, Capstone Partners, an innovative Real Estate Developer in the Pacific Northwest, reached out to me to ask about a technology differentiation that they could market to their residents in an upcoming building. They made me realize that the Multi-Family-Home (MFH) industry is ready for a radical tech overhaul.

The next step was evaluating the MFH market size and understanding trends in the market. Based on my research, there is a trend towards Urbanization, where cities are the next big deal because resources are limited, and it’s more effective to share resources in cities versus a spread-out inefficient infrastructure like suburbs. This urbanization is a global trend and that means that Multi-Family-Homes will be growing in volume.

For developers and owners we hope to accomplish four things: 1) Get more people to the buildings. 2) Use the technology to show units faster and spend less time between showings. 3) Rent apartments for more because of the value added by our technology. 4) Make buildings cheaper to manage by automating tasks that are currently done by walking around the properties.

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There’s a big “green” piece of IOTAS – the electricity savings. Have you scoped the potential impact in reduced energy use as your company scales and its use is more widespread among the 24 Million apartments in the US? I bet that number is pretty big.

We actually only count 18 million apartments as our target market, because we focus on buildings with 5 dwellings or more. In our testing, we’ve found that our technology will save a minimum of 1.36kwh per sq. ft. per year, up to 6.74kwh per sq.ft. per year. On average, those apartments are 982 sq.ft. which totals 17.7 billion sq. ft. That comes to a potential energy savings of 119,000 gigawatt hours every year, which is enough to power all of New York City over that same period of time. That’s also $7.3 billion dollars of potential savings at 8 cents per kilowatt hour, the going rate for the northwest.

What does this social impact factor (the energy savings) mean to you relative to the “making money” side of the business? In other words, how will you personally define “success” for IOTAS?

aaeaaqaaaaaaaao5aaaajdnlmtnhmdvmltnjnzgtndjmyi04njdhlwexzjvhymvkmdy4oqFortunately for us, the two are completely linked. The more success we have, the more energy we save, and the more money we make. Personally, the more social impact we have the greater my satisfaction will be with IOTAS and what the team has created.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur you can pass along to our readers?

People. Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical to success, not just in business but in all aspects of life.

Look into your crystal ball and give us your prediction as to when what you’ve called the “huge promise of IoT “ will finally be fulfilled? What needs to happen?

I predict that this will only take about five years to happen. But before the promise of IoT can be realized, there needs to be a standardization of IoT protocols across different industries. That is to say, once industry standards have been established for every step of the way from design, to manufacturing, to sales, to installation and implementation. For example: most smart technology companies have no idea that installation is even an issue because most of their products are currently only being installed one or two at a time. Technology moves fast, and our culture is so entwined now with technology that our acceptance rate for technology is moving just as fast.

You can find out more about IOTAS on their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Lumencor shines a transcendent light on a sustainable path to success

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Back in 2007, a fledgling company took the leap and relocated to Oregon from California, bringing with them a revolutionary product idea and a desire to live and work in a state that could provide them with the best chance to see that idea blossom and thrive.

Today, nine years later that company Lumencor Inc. manufactures its innovative light engine in a 30,000 square foot facility in Beaverton, turning the long dominant, mercury-based lamp world on its head, with not only a superior light source, but one that is significantly more energy efficient and better for the environment, because it doesn’t use mercury (or a bunch of other toxic materials) at all.

To fully conceptualize this you need to erase the image of a traditional light bulb out of your mind, because this light engine is not remotely like a bulb. The light engine features “instant on/off excitation” via electronic control so that energy is consumed (and this is the really cool part) only when illumination is needed.

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Lumencor Inc co-founder Claudia Jaffe

Recently we visited Lumencor for a chat with one of its co-founders, Claudia Jaffe, to find out more about the company, its technology, and its exciting potential as an enabler for even more impactful discoveries and breakthroughs in the bio-tech and manufacturing arenas.

Jaffe, who earned her doctorate in Bioanalytical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, is an inventor in nearly all of Lumencor’s patents. She is Lumencor’s Executive Vice President and oversees new business development as well as sales and marketing.

Her husband Steve Jaffe is her fellow co-founder and CEO, so the company retains many of the close knit and humanized characteristics of a family-run business, despite its growth to 60 employees (and still growing) scattered around this large facility.

A better match of business, place and capital

We started by asking Jaffe about their move from California to Oregon in 2007, and their subsequent investment by the Oregon Angel Fund (OAF). It was the very first investment by the then fledgling fund.

“We made a conscious decision to leave California and move to Portland. It is recognized as one of three or four top optics centers in the country and it was an entrée to a whole network of talent in the technical community as well as in finance, legal, marketing, all kinds of services that you need to foster and grow your business. (It’s) a place where we could develop hardware with access to optics, electronics, software and mechanics expertise.

(In Oregon) there’s a desire to build the biotech industry and that’s the market we serve. The investment community was a better match for our initial need than in Silicon Valley. That’s how we found Oregon Angel Fund, and Eric Rosenfeld (the co-founder and manager) has been a tremendous supporter since day one, since we first came scouting and met with him.”

Armed with that initial financing, Jaffe and her team went about developing and selling the technology in suburban Portland. But as with any startup and with any new technology, there had to be an underlying problem they were trying to solve. How did they approach this question, and the even more intriguing question – why hadn’t it been solved before?

“We build lighting that solves certain problems that are just fundamental to LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), but we came to this problem with an integrator’s approach to a solution. We said, ‘We’ll build a modular product so that if the customer needs only red and green light, we can satisfy that. Essentially we have a tool box and can pick and choose aspects of the lighting that specifically suit a given application.’

As a business proposition, there has been a big obstacle to solving this problem. Lighting manufacturers like to build a single product, for example a lamp based on a bulb. Then they just find many, many wall sockets in which to plug. That’s not our approach; we’re integrators.

What we do is talk to the customer, typically an equipment manufacturer, like a microscope company. We ask, ‘What are you trying to solve? What is the technical obstacle? What does the instrument look like? What does it need in terms of the color spectrum, spectral purity, brightness, fast switching time?’ It’s all of these technical performance traits that go into tailoring the light to suit the need. We call it “Tailored Illumination” because we offer control over the spectral, spatial and temporal aspects of the light. In the past lighting couldn’t be so carefully controlled in large part because it was mostly in the form of a simple bulb.

87725-5506057So when you say, ‘Why wasn’t this problem solved before?’, I have to answer because there were so many different aspects, both business and technical, that needed a customized solution, one tailored to the equipment manufacturers’ needs; and those needs vary. Today we have over 100 customers – equipment manufacturers, many individual researchers, labs, hospitals, universities. We offer off-the-shelf products for a larger group of customers but for the smaller group with large volume needs, like the equipment manufacturers, we build a unique product for every one of them. Not a lot of manufacturers of hardware want to do that.”

That begged the question – why don’t they?

“They want to build one kind of lamp. Again, I think our novelty is that we’re very solutions-oriented. You hear it all the time, but we truly are. We tailor our products for the equipment needs, the equipment specifications, and we’re very nimble in manufacturing, very modular in manufacturing and we’ve always had that posture. It’s one thing to impose that after you’ve built the first product, but it’s another thing to envision product with that in mind first.”

Jaffe then spoke about this “old” technology, the good old light bulb, and why Lumencor’s solution is better.

“Lamp manufacturers think about a bulb, and that bulb provides white light. It provides a lot of light in spectral regions that aren’t useful.

(So we said), let’s build white light not from one bulb, one source, but from six different colors as six unique sources, as an example. And if you only need three different colors, we’ll just give you those. There’s no wasted light, because the spectrum that is provided is based on the instrument need or the analysis need as the customer defines it.

Further, it’s electronically controlled so it runs off a DC power supply, not (traditional) AC, much quieter. And it’s electronically pulsed, so you can trigger it on or gate it on and off. When it’s off, it’s because the lights are truly off, not because it’s blocked. All that savings in energy and heat and spectral purity, it’s just a completely different posture for how to provide the light.”

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An enabler of transformative discoveries and inventions

With this better light source, Lumencor becomes an enabler of some grander discoveries and inventions. Jaffe elaborated on this, and those things that have made her sit back in her chair and say, “If it wasn’t for us, this wouldn’t have happened”.

“Well, if it wasn’t for us, some of the kinds of experiments that you can do today wouldn’t be happening. We are truly enabling drug discovery, as one example. Let’s say you want to identify drugs that interact with cells in a certain way. What’s the best way to do that? Watch the cells. But for the most part, the biology hasn’t been done that way – historically you would have a sample of tissue and put it on a microscope slide or create a milkshake literally of cells and add things to it and then test that.

But with our products, the light is kinder, gentler, less disruptive to actual real-time cellular function. Because the light can actually probe at video rates, real-time events in cells, you can literally watch cellular events that you didn’t use to be able to. Tumors are cells gone wild, and with our lighting, you can actually watch the cells replicate in real time and do so in the presence and absence of some potential drug. You cannot do that with a simple lamp.

It’s really interrogating the cell of a tissue in a way that allows you to optically discriminate what you couldn’t see just with the naked eye. This is enabled by the process of fluorescence. Its possible to impose fluorescence in cells or in tissues, to label them if you will with light reactive tags, that allow you to discriminate at a molecular level what’s happening to that biology. The quality of the light very much influences how well you can detect those cellular events.”

A commitment to sustainability

The other side benefit of the technology is its sustainability and environmental friendliness, attributes that Jaffe and Lumencor have leveraged into an overall “green” approach that extends all the way to the packing materials and the building it occupies. Jaffe explains,

lumencor“We built this company, used solid-state components and never used mercury in anything that we ever built. We’re lucky, in that our light engines are relatively low power consuming, they don’t generate heat, and they’re all clean tech. We’ve only ever shipped in recyclable materials and it’s a green kind of process and philosophy we use throughout our organization. It’s a value that we have, a value that the whole organization has, and we just are always thinking about that when we start new processes, ‘How can we do it in a way that is consistent with that value?’

But what about the higher costs to live up to this philosophy?

“The money proposition is very short-sighted. I don’t think there’s any question that, in the long term, it is cheaper to do with a “green” solution. Yes, for the initial investment it may be a little more expensive to buy “sustainable” product. But the overall impact has to include costly waste disposal, long term energy consumption, instrument down-time during maintenance, replacement parts. Plus it goes back to how passionate are you about (being green) – is it really a value for you? I have to believe the scientific community that supports life sciences values this too.“

Following your passion

Lastly, nine years on in Oregon, Jaffe offered advice to those folks that that are thinking about taking the kind of big technological leaps that they took, but perhaps are reluctant because it just seems too hard, even though they have a great idea.

“Isn’t that where all the joy and value comes from, doing something that’s hard? And I also think you have got to follow your passion. I have two little girls, they’re 12 and 14, and I tell them that all the time. ‘Figure out what you love to do and then just do a lot of it. Whether it’s mathematics, arts, music or history, whatever it is, if you have passion and volume, you just discover things more deeply and do them more thoroughly. Do it intensely for a long period of time and expertise will come.’ And that’s what brings you to good work, right?

Before this job, I hadn’t worked for any organization, (I had many different jobs), for longer than two years. I’ve been here nine years and I can’t wait to get to work. We have a very respectful work environment, the people are all great and we know we’re doing valuable work. That makes it much easier to be committed.”

The story of Lumencor epitomizes the promise of Oregon entrepreneurship and its unique take on the role of people, place and the environment, as well as the important role of angel funds like OAF, and the other Oregonians who are willing to invest risk capital to help turn that promise into many successes.

It’s a story that shines an altogether different light than what comes out of their Beaverton factory, but it’s a very bright and illuminating light nonetheless.

To learn more about Lumencor, visit its website at lumencor.com.

Cracking the entrepreneurial code: an interview with Augusto Carneiro, co-founder of Nossa Familia

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When you walk into Nossa Familia’s espresso bar and roasting facility in Northwest Portland’s Pearl District, the atmosphere is thick with an intoxicating aroma. It’s the farm-to-roaster-to-espresso machine-to table cycle in full display, punctuated by the smiling and friendly faces of the employees there. But there is more than just delicious coffee to be found.

Behind the coffee shop is the roastery, distribution center, and corporate offices. Partnering with Community Vision, a local organization that finds meaningful employment for adults with disabilities, Nossa Familia hires their clients on a daily basis to stamp bags needed for bulk distribution and do other tasks.

IMG_7311 (1)In addition, Nossa Familia has an entire classroom set up with brewing equipment and espresso makers. They teach classes so that anyone can learn to be an expert barista in their own home (see nossacoffee.com for more info on all the services they offer).

It’s a grounded, sustainable and growing business that has been 11 years in the making, led by co-founder and CEO Augusto Carneiro.

Carneiro was raised in Rio de Janeiro, but came to Oregon in 1996 where he attended the University of Portland and earned a degree in engineering. He also met his wife in college. Soon after graduation they were married and became a successful professional couple with good jobs. They bought their own home and started a family. Carneiro was achieving what many of us hope to secure—an education, a career, a home, and family.

And yet for Carneiro, something was amiss.

We recently had a chance to chat with Carneiro at his facility over some fresh brewed espresso; here is a condensed and edited account of a fascinating and engaging founder story and interview.

Winging it in a competitive market

Built Oregon: Thanks for joining us today. So why on earth were you thinking about going off on your own and leaving that secure situation? What was it all about?

Carneiro: I’d wake up in the morning, and it was so hard to get out of bed to go to my engineering job. The company was a fine company. They had good educational programs. I just wasn’t built for it.

Nobody likes to be disappointed with where they are in life. But my advice is, if you are really dreading your day job, just start smiling and figuring out that you have an opportunity to say, “okay, this sucks”. So you’ve already tried something in life that you know you don’t like. Start thinking about other things that you would like.

Built Oregon: Oregon has an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is creative and inspiring, where many people decide to take on established verticals, business sectors that most everyone would perceive to be very, very hard to get into – like coffee, for instance. (There are more than 60 roasters in Portland.)

So why in the world did you get into coffee?

Carneiro: Ignorance is bliss. I think part of it is “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

One of my traits is not to worry about the details. So it’s surprising that I made it through engineering school. And it’s not surprising that I didn’t enjoy being an engineer.

IMG_2541I was already seeing that being an engineer was not, perhaps, the path, and so I talked to a cousin, who had started a roasting company in Brazil. He already had a very successful export company exporting green coffee beans, and (during a trip to Brazil in 2004) we sat down to talk about potentially selling coffee in the U.S.

He was very supportive and sent me to the U.S. with a box. I had a box of 70 pounds of coffee, and it was roasted and vacuum packed. I gave most of it away to family and friends and neighbors, sold some of it, and got really great reviews.

Built Oregon: So it was really just, “Here, take this back with you. See what you can do with it.”

Carneiro: Yes.

Built Oregon: So at the time you were, like, “Okay. I’ll try.” It wasn’t like the passion really hit you yet?

Carneiro: I sat down and I wrote what I thought was a business plan. Again, I went to engineering school, so we don’t have to write business plans. What I wrote was really a marketing plan, listing all the bike shops that I knew, and the bike races and promoters.

I thought, “We’re going to show up to bike events with coffee.” Essentially, that’s what we started doing.

A lot of people come into an industry because they have a passion for the product. Most of the other coffee roasters in town, they became coffee geeks, and then they start a coffee company.

I was not a coffee geek beforehand, and I tell people, if my family had been growing cacao, I’d have a chocolate company. For me, it has always been about the people, the people growing it and our customers, and now our employees.

In the beginning, I didn’t even know how to brew coffee. I just winged it.

We bought this $250 little home espresso machine at a trade show, and we took that to some bike events. At the beginning we showed up to bike races, and I have a friend, he was a big home barista. I had him come over and teach me how to make espressos.

Built Oregon: What happened after you sold that first batch?

Carneiro: We didn’t start it right away. I came back…and then started talking to different people about coffee and how you do this.

I met with a colleague from college. He had a bunch of good questions. I’m, like, “You know what? Do you want to just be a business partner?”

He said “Okay”, so we each put $400 in, and opened the first bank account. This was August 2004.

He had studied business. He knew a thing or two more, knew the right questions to ask. I was sold.

But we still had no clue. Looking back, if I was going to start a business I would have this whole process I’d follow, and we’d be going in three months instead of a year and a half. But again, I was about to have my second child, and had a full time job.

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Making connections and finding a vision

Built Oregon: You were still in your engineering job at this point, correct?

Carneiro: Yes. We started phone calls and meeting for lunch, and meeting in the evening, and going to a few spots and events with our coffee.

We were selling it to neighbors and friends. I was selling it to coworkers at work. We started our first website, and we did some small web sales. But it was really slow. It’s a lot of steps to start a brand. Even picking the name.

Built Oregon: How did you come up with the name Nossa Familia?

Carneiro: We did a naming exercise where we came up with a bunch of names, and then we sent it out to a bunch of people. It included everything from Volcano Coffee to Brazilian Coffee to Copacabana Coffee, a bunch of stuff.

We were having a really hard time, and then I went to a meeting (with his partner). He was, like, “I decided on a name- Nossa Familia” (translates to “our family” in English).

I said “Awesome, let’s go.”

Eventually somebody has to put a foot down.  And it was funny, because all of the feedback we got, one of the people that liked Nossa Familia said, “I like Nossa Familia. It kind of sounds like the mafia.”

fullcycleI’m, like, “Yeah.” But it describes who we are, and it describes our uniqueness.

Looking back now, what really happened is we were shooting from the hip. We both had full time jobs.

Built Oregon: When did you finally quit your job?

Carneiro: May of 2005.  But I still took no paycheck from the company. My first paycheck from the company was in 2007, so it took a long time.

(In late 2005) we went to U.S. Bank, and got a line of credit for $35,000.

Built Oregon: By late 2005, what were your sales like, and where were you selling?

Carneiro: If I look at my 2005 sales total, it was probably $40,000. That included sales from my cycling connections, and I got introduced to the people that run Cycle Oregon.

Built Oregon: Cycle Oregon – that’s an interesting connection.

Carneiro: I showed up with a BOB trailer and rode a couple of days, and promoted our coffee. Then we did one day where we sold bags of coffee, and in September 2005, we had one day where we sold $1,000 worth.

I still remember thinking, “A thousand dollars of sales in one day!”

Then the other cool thing is, the director of the ride, every time we’d meet he’d say “When are we going to go mountain biking in Brazil?”

I said “Okay, let’s go.”, and he said “Okay. I’ll get a few people together.”

IMG_2325I then put together our first mountain biking coffee tour (in Brazil) in November 2005. It was eight people (including the director of Cycle Oregon). It was our first coffee tour.

We didn’t really make that much money out of it, but it was so fun. This is why I started the business. One, to bring the farm to the people, but also to bring people to the farm and really showcase the transparency. And when people come back from there, they are huge advocates for the company.

They really see just how beautiful the farm is, and how well it’s run, and how happy everybody is there.

Built Oregon: So on that trip in 2005 you really made a very personal connection between your family past, and then this business.

Carneiro: It took three years for me. Sometimes things just take longer for you to realize your “why”.

I grew up in Rio. My dad was an electrical engineering professor, but we would spend all of the holidays at the farm. Three months out of the year, we’re at the farm. My grandma has a lot of cattle as well.

We would learn how to ride horses at five or six, but he was pretty protective. He wouldn’t let us go out on our own. But then, when I turned eight, he started having me going out with the cowboys. I was the second oldest grandchild. Now they have 27 grandkids. My mom is the oldest of ten.

Going to the farm, it’s this beautiful, big house. You imagine, as a kid, you have loads of aunts and uncles and you have loads of cousins running around. It’s super fun.

But I was one of the only grandkids that really enjoyed horseback riding, and when I was eight my grandpa started waking me up at 5:30 a.m. He’s the father of ten. He’s old school. It wasn’t like, “Okay, dear. Let’s get up.”

It was more like, “Time to go! Get up!”

Then I would have breakfast with them and my uncles. Now I realize they were doing their daily huddle. They were talking about who is doing what that day, and what the tasks were, and what needed to be done. Then I would go off with cowboys.

IMG_3614We would go herd cattle, and I vividly remember, especially in the winter. It’s pretty cold up there. I had wool mittens and a bunch of layers, and the sun is rising at 6:30 a.m., and I vividly remember riding my horse and thinking desperately that I really wanted all my friends to Rio to come and ride horses with me in the farm.

I wanted to bring everybody to the farm because it was so cool and so beautiful.

I think that’s the analogy.

Built Oregon: That’s where the connection came.

Carneiro: I really want to share that feeling and emotion with everybody. In November (2015) we’re going for our sixth coffee tour.

Everybody has their path

Built Oregon: What happened once you found your vision?

Carneiro: We came back and we said “We need to get our ducks in a row.” So we really launched the company in May of 2006.

This might be something that other entrepreneurs relate with. For a while I couldn’t tell people when we started. If we were talking to banks, we’d say, “Oh, we’ve been in business since 2004,” because we wanted to appear more established.

IMG_7373If we’re talking to other people, I don’t know. You’re in America and we hear about multi-millionaires, the overnight millionaires, the overnight successes.

So here we are in 2006, and we’re still slogging. I’m still not getting paid, and it just felt wrong to say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been at this for two years now.”

It didn’t feel successful.

Only two years ago did we claim, or say, “We’ve been in business since 2004” This is when we started.

It was because of Cycle Oregon, because I realized, “Holy cow, this is our 10th Cycle Oregon. I need to own up to the fact that we’re a ten year-old company, and who cares if it has taken ten years to get there. Everybody has their path.”

Built Oregon:  You hadn’t yet started to roast your coffee locally- when did that happen?

Carneiro: In 2005, most of our shipments were FedEx. Then, in 2006, we brought a few palettes by boat. It took awhile to get here. I’m thinking “This is going to be tough competing with roasters (in Portland) that are claiming that, if your coffee is not roasted the day before, it’s bad.”

But really, we wanted to be that premium, high end, local coffee. We knew that selling coffee that was six weeks after roast date was going to be tough.

Sometime in 2006 I convinced my grandpa to let me bring in a container consignment. Essentially, my grandpa financed a container, and a container is 40,000 pounds of raw coffee.

So what we did is, that container was two thirds to three quarters green beans, and one third to one quarter was roasted coffee.

Again, the coffee wasn’t old. It just wasn’t as fresh as the competition.

Espresso BeansWe realized the coffee we had was very nice and drinkable, but not as fresh as Portlanders wanted it. I have all this coffee. Let’s just have Kobos (a coffee roaster in Northwest Portland) roast it for us, so we’d have locally roasted coffee.

So that’s what we did.

My thought was, my family (in Brazil) has the cultural know-how. We’re going to buy the cream of the crop. It comes in to Kobos. Then, they roast it based on the roast levels that we have, and we do all of the sales, marketing, and distribution.

So that was 2006, and we had a pretty good year. We went from $40,000 (in sales) to $75,000 in 2006, and to $290,000 in 2007. Then $600,000 in 2008 – (that year) we got into the University of Portland and New Seasons.

Built Oregon: And this was under the same sort of arrangement, where you had someone doing the roasting for you?

Carneiro: Yes. We only started roasting ourselves in 2012.

Built Oregon: When you opened this facility, right?

Carneiro: Yes.

Built Oregon:  So you just kept hustling, trying to get into more stores?

Carneiro: Grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries.

Built Oregon: And you had a sales staff, or was it this you?

Carneiro: Me and my partner.

Built Oregon: Just knocking on doors, using your charm?

Carneiro: That’s right {smiling}

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Shoving up the ceiling (with an innovative roaster)

Built Oregon: Because of the logistics involved of counting on these palettes of coffee to come from Brazil, and the potential bad weather, was there ever a moment where you had to just say, “I can’t deliver. I can’t get it done”?

Carneiro: Product was never a problem. The farms are very successful.

They started in the 1890s, those four brothers. They did really well. They bought more land. So now there’s five different coffee farms in the family. My cousin owns an export company.

Combined, the family probably produces four million pounds of coffee. We buy maybe 10% of one of the farm’s production.

Built Oregon: And you still worked out of your house at that time (2007), yes?

Carneiro: 2007 was the year that, essentially, my wife was tired of us being in the house. Here she had this new baby, and it was a one bathroom house that we had to share.

So we bought the first official company vehicle, and we went to an actual warehouse.

Built Oregon: And then the recession hit, and you leveled off a little bit?

Carneiro: The minimum growth we’ve ever had is 11%.

Built Oregon: So you still kept growing?

Carneiro: We still kept growing, but at $600,000, we were projecting bigger growth because we had been growing 100%. “Of course we can grow 100% every year.” We just thought it was that easy. It was only a couple of years later, looking back, we said, “Oh, that was ceiling number one.”

Photo Oct 16, 12 44 22 PMEssentially, from the $600,000 to $1.2 million, was us pushing the ceiling up, and only last year did we crack through the ceiling again. And we didn’t break it. We just kept shoving it up.

2009 was rough, because it was also the buyout year (Carneiro bought out his original partner). 2010 and 2011 were still rough years. I was by myself. We started losing some of our corporate accounts, because of corporate changes. But even with losing $100,000 of business, we were still growing overall.

Then in 2012, our numbers were a little bit better. We were able to get financing to buy the roaster. We secured this location and moved here in November.

Built Oregon: And that financing was from U.S. Bank?

Carneiro: Yes. U.S. Bank gave us the $75,000 to buy the roaster. It was a great deal.

Built Oregon: How much do they usually cost?

Carneiro: They’re $130,000 new.

Built Oregon:  And it adds all this energy efficiency.

Carneiro: Yes. That’s where the engineering background came in.

It was the engineering know-how without the coffee “geekiness”.

What happened is, this was a new technology (a Loring Coffee Roaster, which has an embedded afterburner and is able to recirculate the heat, saving 80% of energy compared to a conventional roaster).

Photo Oct 16, 11 11 01 AMIt’s a company out of Santa Rosa that started in the early 2000s. They hadn’t yet really proved themselves. There are a few people that like them, because it’s not a traditional drum roaster. The drum is fixed. Hot air roasters have a bad name, but this is a hybrid.

It wasn’t a proven technology, and I ask, “Well, how does the coffee taste?” The only other one in Oregon was in Eugene, so I stopped by over there and I called them, and they really liked it. Then I heard about this guy who won Roaster of the Year award, best coffee at this trade show, and he roasted on a Loring.

I think, “If this guy can win this award (using it), the other people are just talking without experience.”

We bought roaster number six (the sixth one ever built, purchased from another roaster who didn’t like it), and it has been really great.

The Oregon community lends a hand

Built Oregon:  Tell us about some of the help you’ve had along the way from state agencies and recourses, like the Oregon Small Business Development Center (OSBDC) and Grow Oregon (www.bizcenter.org).

Carneiro:  Early on I took a class from the OSBDC (around the time he bought out his partner and went forward on his own). I realized, you know what, I need to own it. I need to learn it. I need to learn it for myself. I took one of their business management classes, and it was really good.

And then recently Grow Oregon got in touch, saying, “Hey, we help companies.”

At that point, this was a year and a half ago. We were starting to look at expanding. We had an initial meeting with them to talk about the company and what it is that they could potentially help us with, and we said, “Well, there’s one, market research. We think we know who our demographic is, but we don’t know, and we are interested in expanding (beyond Portland)”.

To us, that was the highest value they provided, is by sitting down with us and helping us think it through.

By working with them (in conjunction with The Southern Oregon University Market Research Institute, funded in part by a donation from U.S. Bank), it forced us, internally, to look at who our demographic was. They have access to studies. They call it the “tapestry” (ESRI Tapestry Segmentation). There are 67 tapestry segments (in the U.S) of suburbanites, soccer moms and different types of people, at different income levels.

We had a few monthly meetings with them, and they worked with the group that does the research.

Built Oregon: So it’s helping you define those out-of-Portland markets without having to go there and make the mistake of them not working?

Carneiro: Yes. A lot of us like to think we have these great gut instincts. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they are a stomach ache.

Built Oregon: It sounds like they approached you to offer their help at just the right time, when you were thinking about expanding, and they had the reach and research capability to really provide you with some valuable help.

Carneiro: Yeah. I would have had no idea to really do market research. Do we pay somebody thousands of dollars? Do we do multiple trips? I think the fact that we specifically wanted to use the research to expand out of Oregon was an ideal fit.

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The future (and cracking the code)

Built Oregon: Paint us a picture a year from now, two years from now. You’ve invested your heart, your soul, into this. So where do you want it to be?

Carneiro: There’s a lot of ways to answer this.

Our goal, since opening the roastery and the espresso bar, has been to be one of the top in Portland. One of our core values is confidence with humility. So we never say we want to be ‘the’ best in Portland. We want to be known among the best in Portland, because there are some great roasters out there.

IMG_4714But we also want to be the friendliest. One of the acronyms and motives for the company that I created is ABMF, Always Be Making Friends, and we use that a lot. Even my kids are getting tired of me saying it, and it works.

Where we want to be business-wise? Two years ago we set the goal of doubling in size in two years, and we’re almost there. I want to crack through the ceiling again. We want to be in new markets.

What has happened in my entrepreneurial journey is, I’m just now getting ambitious. We just now cracked the entrepreneurial code.

I realize, why not me? These other companies did it. Why can’t we become a national player? Why can’t we become one of the 100 best companies to work for in Oregon?

We’re going be the first B Corp. coffee company in Portland. We’re at 79 points (just under the required minimum of 80 points).

Built Oregon: That’s awesome. This has really been great, we can’t thank you enough.

Carneiro: Yes. It was really fun.

To find out more about Nossa Familia, find them at their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Postscript: For more information about Oregon Small Business Development Center and Grow Oregon, contact The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, www.bizcenter.org. The OSBDCN provides advising, training, online courses, and resources for businesses. The 19 conveniently-located centers throughout Oregon offer assistance for every aspect of business development and management.

Kickstarting sustainable seafood

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From the Flying Fish shack on Hawthorne, Lyf Gildersleeve passion about seafood is palpable. Maybe because it’s a passion that can be traced back to his upbringing in northern Idaho.

“My dad used to be a flight instructor for small planes. And trips from Sandpoint, Idaho, to Seattle were very common. During those trips, he would bring back fish to sell inland. That’s how Flying Fish got started in 1979, before I was even born.”

The business idea permeated the entire family, and in 2007, Lyf’s aunt opened the second Flying Fish in Durango, Colorado. That entrepreneurial gene found its way to Lyf, and in 2009 he and his wife, Natalie, opened up the third location in Park City, Utah — but two years later they sold that location and moved to Portland.

lyf holding two salmon in front of shack (2)In Portland, Lyf saw an opportunity to work with a community that resonated with him, leveraging its unique geographic location to create more of an impact.

“Portland has an amazing resource for food production. both farmed and wild. Being only 90 minutes from the ocean is awesome. It allows for sustainable seafood direct from the fishermen. There are no flights required to get you to this natural resource. Oregonians are lucky.

“In addition, the farms around portland are into raising their animals differently — not in confined feedlots. Portland residents are into living a more sustainable lifestyle. And it’s been awesome to see how we can move forward as a culture… and ultimately be a role model for the nation to follow.”

Starting at the source

Fresh and sustainable seafood is only one part of the equation Lyf is trying to address through Flying Fish. The other focuses on the fishermen, and how his simple process is looking to affect the supply chain to make it more fair to them. To that end, he took his knowledge of the industry and spent a lot of time building up the fishermen he engages.

“Since I grew up with my family owning a fish market, I knew what to look for and how to handle fish. When I moved to Oregon four-and-a-half years ago, I started with a clean slate so I had to build all my relationships one by one. I started by driving up and down the coasts, talking to fishermen on the docks and eventually building relationships which are still in place today.

“Currently, I have direct relationships with fishermen throughout Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and a few on the east coast. I go out fishing with some of my commercial fishermen to see how they handle the fish after being caught.”

Controlling costs

With relationships in hand, the business of bringing fresh and sustainable fish to customers in Portland began. While costs are always a concern in a retail environment, Lyf worked with these initial partners on equitable pricing for everyone.

Equitable pay for fresh and sustainable seafood are parts of the equation Lyf is trying to address through Flying Fish, and by focusing on the fishermen first,  his simple process is looking to affect the supply chain in very impactful ways.

“We pay the fishermen more money for their catch, and we also try to buy their bi-catch so they can get more value for their fishing trips. In addition, we work on helping them improve their quality, because in the end if it lasts longer and is better quality, they can get more money for their product.”

But as Lyf has waded into the supply chain, the challenges began to become more apparent.

“As I work with more fishermen, the complexity gets deeper. If the large processors find out that a fisherman is selling direct to me or the consumer, then the processor won’t sell them fuel, ice, or bait. This ultimately makes it hard for the fisherman to be able to fish.”

These hurdles have not deterred Lyf, because in the end he knows his process is better for both the environment and fishermen.

“Even with the potential challenges associated with the relationship, fishermen love Flying Fish. I pay them more than the larger processors on the coasts, and they know the consumer is enjoying their amazing product, which gives the fisherman a good feeling about working with me.”

Taking it a step further

Being on the coast is far from the only requirement to meet Flying Fish standards. With a background in aquaculture and his mission, Lyf focuses only on engaging those who are doing it right.

“Part of my evaluation process is to make sure the farm is raising them properly without artificial color, hormones, antibiotics, and lower stocking densities. Sustainability, for me, is really important, and sustainability is more than just how the fish is raised and caught. There are factors like the amount of fuel used to transport fish direct to me, instead as opposed to sending them to China and back to be processed, which really happens. We are also cognizant about not supporting overfished species, and buying what’s in season — all important steps in the total sustainability cycle.”

Kicking it up a notch

But making an impact now, and a bigger impact as Flying Fish evolves, is the basis for Flying Fish’s current Kickstarter campaign. The campaign funds will allow them to expand their warehouse facilities, and also open up a new retail location on NE Sandy.

“I am pretty unconventional in that I haven’t had to get big bank loans up to date. So I’m trying to continue that methodology. I think we, the business community, need to re-wire our practices to be more geared towards people, not just corporations selling each company to each other. The crowdfunding method is community backed, which is how we want to grow. The bottom line is that we are not selling out to a big company. Period.”

Even with the new funds, however, Lyf sees additional challenges on the horizon.

“Keeping the value of a small business as we grow is difficult — both from a staffing and supplier standpoint. Our goal is to work with more small farms rather than to simply choose the larger farms who could supply us the quantities that we need. This is a key difference between the Flying Fish model and other retailers. We use the small guys only, no big co-op farms. And from a staffing perspective, it’s important to keep my friends and community working with me, not just hire ’employees’ so to speak. We are all family around Flying Fish.”

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For more information visit, www.flyingfishcompany.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Or get more involved and help Flying Fish reach its Kickstarter goal.

Returning to Oregon roots

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As you step into Wild Carrot Herbals, you are met with the smell of lavender being crushed in the basement, the gentle whir of machines in the manufacturing room, the steady sound of product being slipped into cardboard shipping sleeves, the colorful sites of the retail space, and the soft welcoming voice of Jody Berry. The combination of stimuli instantly helps ease the tensions of the day away.

Berry has been creating Wild Carrot Herbals since the year 2000. Started out as a passion project years ago, just outside of Olympia, Washington, the effort has matured over the years into what is now a thriving herbal manufacturing and retail business in Enterprise, Oregon. It is here that she and her family opened the Wild Carrot Herbals retail shop almost two years ago.

“Our goal is to create honest, nutrient-rich, joyful products that are reasonably priced for the entire family. Our products are brought to you by people,” said Berry. “We are family owned and operated in this beautiful and wild place in northeast Oregon, where we manufacture everything ourselves. Our products are all made in very small batches – measured, mixed, hand poured and labeled the old fashioned way: with love, care and cleanliness.”

In addition to the care she puts into each and every product she creates, Berry also insists on using glass bottles instead of plastic, and the shipping peanuts she uses are made from sorghum, are GMO and gluten free and completely dissolve in water. Even the packing tape, adorned with the Wild Carrot and Baby Carrot logos, is printed Kraft paper, not plastic, and is completely recyclable.

A deeper connection

Like all entrepreneurs, Berry’s story is just as much about her past as it is about her future. Berry grew up in Gladstone, a fifth generation Oregonian. As a young adult she attended Evergreen State College, where she lived alone and off the grid in the woods just outside of Olympia. While most of her friends were living on campus or in the city, Berry was living a life of solitude and simplicity. For five years she lived without running water, electricity, or a phone. During this time she built a yurt and a sauna. Life was simple and she soon realized how strong of a connection she had with the earth and the plants that grew from it.

Eventually life dictated some changes and she entered the corporate world as a copier salesperson where she soon learned a thing or two about herself.

“I won every incentive trip to Hawaii they offered. It was hard, but I was very competitive.” She spent seven years selling copiers. “It taught me how to sell, and I learned how to print a label,” she said smiling, surrounded by products with a variety of labels she created for them.

Berry and her husband Michael had met at Evergreen while studying organic farming, and married nine years later. Both had been organic and biodynamic farmers and have incorporated these practices into the Wild Carrot products they now produce in rural northeast Oregon.

Back to the farm

“When I told my parents I wanted to be a farmer again they were not surprised. They told me that that is all I have ever wanted to be,” said Berry. “I didn’t even realize how true that was. I had never given it up because it just wouldn’t let me go.”

She and Michael settled in Rickreall, Oregon where they built a 30’ x 96’ greenhouse. Michael grew organic salad greens while Berry concentrated on creating salves and lotions in her newly constructed 700 sq. ft. yurt.

“We had 60 chickens, 22 turkeys, three dogs and five employees and we eventually outgrew the space,” said Berry. “We realized we didn’t have to stay in Rickreall. Rickreall had been good to us, but we could go anywhere. We knew we wanted to stay in Oregon, so we began looking. We looked at Paisley, Lakeview and Williams. I had been a river guide on the Grande Ronde River 30 years ago, so we decided to check out northeast Oregon and that is when we found this space. It is just perfect for us.”

Finding a home

It really does look as if the space, known as the Enterpriser and built in 1924, was made especially for Wild Carrot Herbals.

Wild CarrotThe manufacturing room is tidy and clean, with plenty of space to move around in while working with infused oils, mixing salves, or filling lotion bottles. Shelves in the shipping room are stacked with boxes of fresh product primed and ready to be sent to any one of the 300 health food stores in the northwest and California that now carry Wild Carrot Herbals, as well as their baby line of products known as Baby Carrot. The retail space is warm and inviting, a great showcase to display the 100 different products they now create.

“This is the first time we have tried retail,” said Berry. “The retail store is way more than we ever thought it could be. We have learned that this community is so supportive. There are so many people in northeast Oregon that make things. It is a very creative community.”

Seemingly at one with the plants, Berry appreciates all they have to offer and has spent countless hours learning about their every nuance. The earth where they grow, the rain that waters them, the sunlight that encourages growth and vitality, and the coolness of a moonlit night are all a part of each stem, flower and leaf. As she crushes lavender in the palm of her hand, she no doubt gives thanks for all that went into the creation of the rich scent that drifts about her.

Wild Carrot Herbals has 100 different products made for women, children, pregnant moms, and men, along with 50 different infused oils, a variety of salves, lotions, body butters, lip balms, facial toners, cleansers and creams. Each and every recipe is created by Jody Berry herself.

As Wild Carrot Herbals grows in popularity, Berry says they are cautious with their growth. Last summer they began working with a distributor in Hong Kong which supplies 110 stores.

“This has great potential,” said Berry. “We already ship all over the world and our e-commerce website has been awesome. It is a good way to communicate with our customers. We are looking at managed, steady growth. We don’t intend to be a national company and really evaluate each new store that we take on. Our focus is quality, not quantity. It appears that the retail store will continue to blossom and we will put more energy into that adventure. We hope to hire a few key people to assist us in the day to day. Maybe then we will have a first family vacation in over eight years!” With six employees already, Berry said she likes to keep a positive work environment. “We pay our employees well, treat them well and we try to be flexible with their work schedules.”

The complexity of simplicity

With so many different avenues to keep track of between production, shipping, e-commerce, customer service, retail management and life in general, something had to go, at least for now.

Hand cream“We thought once we moved to Enterprise that we would continue farming, but we are really enjoying the simplicity,” she said. “We couldn’t afford farmland here, and we were also overwhelmed by doing all aspects of the product production. We still grow plants, like calendula, but on a smaller scale. We didn’t expect all the folks that came forward that wanted to grow for us. They mostly live down the valley a bit more where it is a bit warmer and easier to grow things. It is pretty ideal really – we still get to have the relationship with the plants and know where they come from and know the farming and harvesting practices. We also get to share in the abundance.”

“We are highly influenced by our bioregion and have gotten to know the plants that are native here, while enjoying the beauty of this place,” said Berry. “There are nettles in our Peace cream, and St. John’s Wort in our hand lotion, yarrow in our chest rub, and rose petals in our eye cream. They make for a great excuse to get outside and keep the balance. Some of our Oregon products are the Pacific Northwest cedar, rose & arnica massage oil, Oregon lavender lotion, Oregon mint lip balm, wild rose eye cream, Douglas fir lip balm, and rose body butter, to name a few. We use images from Oregon like the John Day and Wallowa mountains on our labels too. I hesitated slightly when formulating products with Oregon in the name, thinking that they would not be marketable in Washington or California, but over the years I have been told by our customers that Oregon has a reputation of being different, of being a place of wild beauty and wild spaces. People are inherently drawn to that.”

Growing challenges

Some of the biggest challenges Wild Carrot Herbals faces is keeping up with production, but luckily for Berry, her husband thrives on that kind of challenge.

“Michael is our systems guy. He helped build a brew pub in Pennsylvania and he has worked on Earth Ships in Arizona.” said Berry. “He has taken us to a whole new level because of the production machinery he has found. We now make product five days a week. We make hundreds of gallons of botanically infused oils, where we source organic ingredients whenever possible.”

Berry’s future looks promising to say the least.

“There is that expression,” said Berry, ‘do what you love, love what you do’. I think success is dependent on passion and I am quite passionate about making non-toxic skin care and working with herbs. I am also passionate about people and fostering my relationships with them. From one customer who walks through our door, to a buyer for a chain of 10 stores, I am always grateful. After all this time, I still love my job. I love the plants, making a difference, the connection I have to the people that I really love. We aren’t just making something, we are making a difference, and I am forever in awe of the plants.”

For more information, visit http://www.wildcarrotherbals.com/, follow Wild Carrot Herbals on Twitter, or like Wild Carrot Herbals on Facebook.

Finding a new way through recycling

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Alando Simpson takes one look at my shoes and decides to keep the tour short.

“I don’t want you to step on any nails,” he says.

His boots sink into increasingly softening ground as we circle the small house at the center of two acres in Northeast Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood. The house—or, more precisely, its basement—is home to City of Roses Disposal & Recycling, a waste hauler-turned-recycling-facility founded by Alando’s father, Al.

Alando stands next to one of the pieces of heavy equipment lined up against the wall of the house.

“The grinder,” he says, reaching into a small pile of spare parts and filling his hand with a softball-sized metal tooth that will soon be chewing wooden building debris into 3-4 inch chips prime for paper mills. At one point in its rumbling, diesel-fueled life, somebody scrawled “The Beast” in black marker on the side of the grinder’s front panel—a name Alando says fits a machine that can slice and dice its way through 150 cubic yards of wood per hour. During construction season they haul two 48′ trailers per day, which is equivalent to 300 yards of wood.

“That’s a lot of good wood,” Alando says, as places his hands back in the pockets of his brightly colored Columbia jacket.

City of Roses truckThe Beast sits quiet today, but the rest of City of Roses’ recycling facility is abuzz. A half-dozen men dressed head-to-steel-toe in reflective gear pick away at a pile of drywall pulled from a site near Lloyd Center. Under a barn-sized structure flanked by piles of different colored plastics, films, metals, wires, and cardboard, the men sort debris while negotiating the movements of ever-beeping heavy machinery. To their left and right, expanding collages of industrial, commercial, and residential waste is being salvaged and stockpiled by City of Roses and its growing recycling division, CORE.

It’s a cold January morning. Our breath hangs in the air, as does a patch of fog at the other side of the lot.

“If we can’t find value, it’s going to be a cost,” Alando says. “So we try to recycle as much as we possibly can.”

Turns out, “waste not” is more than a good business practice for the Simpsons, it’s a way of life.

A consuming hobby

We walk past the vehicle scale that’s a staple of most recycling facilities and Alando stops next to a truck parked at the front of the house. It’s a lot like the rig Al drove to drop off his oldest son at Southwest Portland’s Lincoln High, he says, a bit beat up with rusty scars that stood out amid BMWs and Lexuses, but just as functional.

City of Roses dumpsterTo call Al “frugal” is an understatement, Alando says, describing his dad as notorious for rarely ever spending money—and almost never buying anything brand new.

“Unless its underwear or socks, he’s always going to buy used,” said Alando.

Enjoy the fruits of his labor? Al rarely had a moment, especially after he started City of Roses in 1996—while working full time as a truck driver for the City of Portland’s maintenance bureau.

“It was supposed to be a hobby,” Al said. “I used to go drinking beers with the buddies every night. That shit got old, y’know? I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ I had to figure out something else to do. I knew I could drive a truck, and I needed something I could do after work and on the weekends.

“Garbage—they’re open seven days a week.”

A recurring work ethic

Al was born and raised in the Humboldt neighborhood of North Portland. His father, Oscar, worked on the railroad.

“He worked all of the time,” said Al.

Besides his weekday gig, Oscar took a second job managing the apartment complex where the family lived. He collected rent, mopped floors, and kept the toilets running on weekends and after hours.

“I remember he used to ask me to help him mop the floors and I always wanted to go play basketball or football on the weekends,” Al remembers. “Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. It makes me feel bad now, that I didn’t.”

“The times he’d say,” Al pauses, switching to the lower octave even older men reserve for imitating their fathers, ‘Go on, boy.’”

Oscar died in 1976 when Al was 20. But his work ethic lived on in Al.

Al realized that, while Oscar worked hard—and he, himself, worked hard—it had always been for someone else. A fact he continued to consider as City of Roses grew in the early 2000s, and he began feeling spread too thin. Family members urged Al to retire from the city and focus on his own business.

He said he couldn’t. Not yet, anyway.

“His standard line was that he wouldn’t retire from the city unless we had our own facility,” says Alando, 31, who joined the family business in 2004 and graduated from Portland State University in 2007. Once on the inside, Alando quickly saw why his father—and a hauler like City of Roses—would want its own recycling center to process the goods: Picking up and carrying waste from homes and businesses to recycling centers and landfills was only so profitable, particularly with waste fees, overhead, repairs, and taxes inching up as the business grew.

The idea of a facility had legs, but it was just an idea. Al and Alando weren’t sure where to start.

The light bulb moment

Al started with a single truck. One that had been sitting in front of his house for three months before he landed his first job.

Climbing into the truckHe poured all his free time into City of Roses, which grew steadily. Eventually, the phone was ringing too much. Al wasn’t exactly enjoying his “hobby” anymore. Family and friends helped for stretches here and there, but the seven-day workweeks mounted, and those closest to Al grew increasingly worried he’d work himself to death.

Taking over the family business can be a tough sell as it is, but when that business is trash? Alando wasn’t exactly feeling it, especially in his early 20s.

“My life was too easy,” he said. “I was doing a lot of fun stuff because a friend of mine was in the NBA, and my life was too easy. My dad was working his butt off.”

That didn’t sit well with Alando.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way I can hang out in this environment,” he said. “To essentially rely on the revenue of friends to determine success—that doesn’t make a man in my eyes.’”

Alando started at City of Roses working admin roles, where he often dealt with contractors. Their most consistent complaint centered on low recycling rates for their projects, particularly if they were striving to achieve LEED certification. Alando felt their pain, but as a hauler taking debris from site to dump, there was little City of Roses could do.

“That’s when the bulb went off,” Alando said.

City of Roses would open the facility Al always talked about, but it would specialize in helping contractors attain higher, more accurate recycling rates than the competition—often multi-billion-dollar, multinational waste companies who aren’t about to overhaul their proven operations model.

“Recycling is not why they’re in business,” Alando says. “The margins on landfilling are higher because there’s no labor. They’re going to recycle what they can, because it’s the status quo thing to do, but in reality they’re just trying to move stuff as fast as they can.”

One person’s trash…

Alando soaked up everything he could about LEED and wrote a business model targeted toward a niche, but growing market of contractors seeking higher recovery rates and the certification that went along with it.

The banks passed, but after receiving assistance from the Portland Development Commission and State of Oregon, traversing Metro and DEQ regulations, and paying system development charges, City of Roses had what it needed to break ground on its own facility in 2011. They spent a financially shaky 2012 under construction (“There were times we didn’t pay ourselves,” Alando says) and were officially permitted to “tip” (AKA dump) waste on April 1, 2013.

Quickly securing an 18-month job at Intel enabled City of Roses to build cash flow and acquire equipment (used, of course) like trailers, fifth wheels, tractors, boxes, excavators, and forklifts. And less than five months after the facility opened, Al retired from the city. But he’s by no means stopped working.

“I’ll come out here on a Sunday, and he’ll be here doing something,” Alando says. “He can’t stop. It’s almost a gift and a curse.”

“It’s gift because you see the work ethic, and you understand what it takes. But the curse is when you’re trying to implement different procedures and processes and tasks.”

Alando smiles.

“The numbers get skewed because he does things outside of what’s supposed to be recorded data,” Alando says. “I’m just trying to get him to understand that he’s going to be more of an asset to the company if he provides wisdom, instead of his actual hands-on work.”

I ask Alando how Al takes that constructive criticism.

“He’s not hearing it,” Alando laughs. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’”

Building up by tearing down

Al and Alando’s desks sit within a few yards of each other in the basement office, a space whose wood floor carries the basketball lines from the gym it was salvaged from. Al’s desk looks too organized to be heavily used—its neat stacks of papers and business cards a sure sign the older Simpson does most of his work out on in the field.

“Shit, I work harder now than I did when I worked for the city,” Al laughs, toothpick out the left side of his mouth, a bright-yellow construction vest across his chest. “That was a gravy job. This is work.”

Alando and AlOne look at Alando’s cavernous office area shows the workaholic tendencies didn’t fall far from the family tree. In addition to being vice president of City of Roses and CORE, the father of two chairs the Oregon Sports Authority Advisory Council, helps run the FAST (Fitness And Sustenance Training) camp, sits on the state transportation board, and is treasurer for the National Association of Minority Contractors.

What’s more, Alando CrossFits on weekday mornings at 5:30 and plays hoops on Saturdays.

His calendar mirrors the walls of his workspace, which is covered with posters, notes, and maps of Portland. A large, hand-written list tacked above his desk stands out.

It reads: “THINGS WE NEED FOR GROWTH”

Beneath, there are practical purchases (“more drop boxes” and “newer equipment”) and larger projects (“new wood process” and “obtain a franchise”). But when it comes right down to it, the area Alando thinks will best build up City of Roses is, ironically, tearing things down.

“We’re looking at deconstruction and demolition,” Alando says, noting the highly regulated and often politically franchised waste industry can present more barriers than growth opportunities, especially when his competition is multinational corporations. “I don’t really have the ability to take their market share. So for me, it’s ‘how do I create new markets or concepts within the industry?’”

With a deconstruction division, City of Roses would add taking apart buildings (while carefully maintaining anything that has value to it) to its hauling and recycling repertoire. They’d pick a structure clean of salvageable 2×4, 4×6, or 2×6 pieces of wood and either resell them or grind them into material for fabricated and engineered wood.

“A lot of demolition companies will haul their own debris, but none of them have their own recycling facilities—so at the end of the day, they’ll at some point pay for waste,” Alando says.

“We can recycle whatever waste we have. Salvage, reuse, recycle, discard—especially in a sustainably conscious region like Oregon, it gives us a lot of upside for providing alternative value. There’s a different cultural sentiment here. To me, Oregon is just one word that’s an extension of the term ‘organic.’ It’s the original root way of how people should be.”

For more information, visit http://www.cityofrosesdisposal.com/.