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A paleo bar 2 million years in the making: The GROK story

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Bryan Capitano of Portland had been in the web design industry since the late 1990s, running a number of different web companies and software startups, when a few years ago, he wanted to try something different.

He needed a new challenge, and before too long, assisted by a recent lifestyle change to a paleo diet, he found one.

Bryan recalls, “I had experimented with super low-carb diets and things like that. And I just wasn’t healthy on those kinds of things. But I noticed that when I was off of grains and wasn’t eating bread, I lost weight easier. I had tons more energy, and I felt better in general. It was just figuring out what worked for me, and then I saw the paleo diet and it was like, ‘Well, that seems like sort of a low-carb thing, but much healthier.’ So I tried that and it just really rocks. It works for me.”

After starting the diet, “I’d go into grocery stores and look for paleo bars or snacks on the shelves, and there was nothing. There was an empty space for it, and it was like, perfect. This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a paleo bar.”

The crazy thing was, Bryan had absolutely zero food product making experience.  But there was something intriguing about it. “I loved the learning experience of diving into something that I know nothing about. It was a fun challenge.”

Two weeks (and seven months) to a paleo breakthrough

So he and his wife did some internet recipe research, went to their kitchen, and started to make bars. That wasn’t a scary proposition for Bryan. “I love spending time in the kitchen cooking. It’s one of the things that I kind of do for de-stressing. So coming up with recipes didn’t scare me at all.”

Over the course of an intense two weeks of baking “My wife and I made probably a half a dozen batches of different bars and were like, ‘I like this one, I don’t like that one’, winnowing it down to something that we did like.”

With a winner selected, Bryan needed to find some willing outside taste-testers and initial buyers.  He had a friend competing in cycle races who suggested to him that the races would be a perfect place to pass them out and get some feedback.

But he still needed to come up with some packaging, and true to his fearless spirit, he simply put the bars in brown parchment and wax paper, wrapped them in garden twine and wrote “GROK Bar” on them.

The name came from the paleo community. As Bryan explains, “I’d been following some paleo bloggers, and that community had adopted the name ‘grok’ as a nickname for ‘ancient caveman’”.  That was the catalyst. He started kicking around names in his head, “Grok, caveman….the caveman bar……the GROK Bar. Perfect, that’s it. The GROK Bar!”

CVPGQNqUsAAkqk2Bryan started attending the cycle races and got a lot of positive feedback, leading to a return to the kitchen and a few tweaks to the recipe, and a need to take the packaging and the brand messaging up a few notches.

Like most enterprising startup founders short on cash but rich in connections and know-how, he was able to work a few trade deals with graphic designers, getting them to do logo and packaging design in exchange for web design work.

After more success selling bars direct to consumers at cycle and running races, Bryan hit an inflection point – to generate the sales necessary to really make the business work, he needed to outsource his manufacturing and distribution.

“I looked for a co-packer, and that was a bit of a challenge, because most co-packers want you to buy like 50,000 to 100,000 units. I didn’t have the check to write for that. I didn’t have the market to distribute 50,000 bars to people. So I had to find a small batch co-packer.”

By reading the back of similar locally-made bars at his local New Seasons, he was able to track down a small-batch company in Salem, Oregon.

As Bryan recalls, “I called them up and said, ‘Hey, I got a bar. You guys want to make it?’, and they said ‘Come on down. Let’s talk about it.’  So I brought some samples, and they said, ‘This is a great bar. We’d love to make it.’ They could make anywhere from 1,000 to like 30,000 a month, so it was a great stepping stone.”

So for just a “few hundred bucks” of upfront capital he was able to generate a template to stamp out the bars, and after adding in the cost of the ingredients and labor, Bryan put in his first order of 500 – a mere 7 months after baking that first GROK bar in his home kitchen.

Soon after, GROK bars were found on the shelves at New Seasons Market, Made in Oregon stores and some local food co-ops.

The challenges and struggles of the food startup

Getting on those crowded shelves looks like a daunting task, but Bryan noted that “At first I was a little nervous, because I’m not really a cold-call salesman, but I had some other friends in the food industry, and they’re like, ‘You know, this is really easy. You just contact their food buyers, and say hey, I got a product. I think you might be interested in it.’ So I did that once or twice, and after that, I wasn’t nervous anymore.”

In the future, Bryan would love to get into national chains like Whole Foods and Costco, but at present he’s focusing more on direct-to-consumer sales because those margins lead to better profitability.

CTZnZYYW4AA99e4Also, like any product producer concerned about margins and brand, he’s constantly thinking about issues like price, shrinking the bar size (their 2.4 ounce bar is currently one of the largest in the market), upgrading the packaging, and expanding the flavors (right now there are just two – almond cranberry and hazelnut almond).

And as the business grows there’s always the hurdle of getting the appropriate capital and financing.  Bryan noted “The struggle has always been funding because I don’t want to take on investors. I’m just self-funding and growing organically, and my wife and some family members have helped out a little bit. So funding has been a bit of a barrier, but I think it could also be considered a good thing because it hasn’t like exploded the business to the point where I don’t know how to manage it. It’s allowed me to grow with the business as a manager, as the business grows itself”.

But in any case, GROK bars have quickly made their mark on a Oregon health bar market that was looking for great tasting paleo alternatives, exceeding Bryan’s originally modest expectations when he was cranking out bars in his kitchen.

“You know, when I first started, I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll make a handful of bars and see if some friends and family will buy them’, and, it would be so wonderful if I got into New Seasons and the Made in Oregon store. I achieved those goals much faster than I thought, and easier than I thought. So it kind of surprised me.”

“Although there were a couple of periods during the summer of last year where I was spending several days in the kitchen, making bars one by one, and then driving out to a lot of sporting events. I said ‘I can’t do this. I’m getting tired of this. I want to quit.’ But then once I transitioned to the co-packer and that weight got lifted, and the sales started going up, and I started getting into stores, I said ‘Okay, this is going…I like the trajectory of this”

Just get started: sharing perspective

Bryan also offers great advice to someone thinking about starting a food or product business of their own.

CTULYmwUYAA_LyE“I have a lot of friends and other people that dream about starting businesses, but they draw up a lot of roadblocks on why they can’t do it. And my advice is just to get started. You’ll find that once you get the ball in motion, people are willing to help you, and you overcome the roadblocks faster and easier than you thought you would, just with like any startup.”

And for this native-born Oregonian (he’s from Beaverton), his community, and the state’s reputation as a collaborative and helpful place to have ideas blossom, have also been a great plus.

“Oregon, and Portland in particular, has a really creative maker ethos behind it, and I’m sure that that helped tremendously. The colleagues that I leaned on, my graphic designers, my PR and marketing people and other people that helped me along the way, they’ve all started businesses as well. And so, here it’s ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back.’ I have to believe that that spirit is much stronger here in Portland than it probably is in other places.”

Indeed, where else can a web designer with no previous experience in food products blend a personal lifestyle and diet choice with a strong desire to launch a product, come up with something as unique and flavorful as the GROK bar, and get it into the stores within 7 months of whipping up the first bar in his home kitchen?

Only in Oregon.  With thanks to the caveman, of course.

To find out more about GROK bars, visit their website, or find them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

Little Boxes celebrates the vibrant Portland small business community with its black friday/small biz saturday promotion

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Editor’s Note: We profiled Little Boxes last year, and once again this annual Portland small business promotional event and prize raffle, featuring over 200 local and independent merchants, will take place on November 25th & 26th , 2016. You can find out more and download their app on their website, and you can also follow them on Twitter and on Facebook. Built Oregon is happy to be one of the sponsors of this event, and we’re reprising our 2015 profile below. 

It was early November 2011. Portland jewelry makers Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich were only 3 months removed from opening their first Betsy & Iya brick and mortar retail location in the northwest part of the city, on 24th and Thurman.

It had been a hectic and exhausting 3 months for this couple, who before opening the store had built a thriving wholesale business in Portland making and distributing their handcrafted jewelry to more than 100 locations around the country, and not surprisingly, Cross ended up getting ill and got her first day off at home in a long, long time.

She decided to camp out on her couch and watch TV. That was a decision that changed Cross & Cervarich’s lives.

As Cross explains, “There were already commercials happening for promoting Thanksgiving and Black Friday. And instead of just spacing out like you normally do with commercials that you don’t care about, I got mad. I thought, ‘What is it with Black Friday that every year, it gets worse and worse?’ It’s like, ‘Completely kill yourself to buy the best presents ever at the cheapest prices by staying up all night or waking up at four in the morning…’ ”

The anger generated a big question.

10805674_732905163466667_3671726183326341710_n“I felt a real sense of empowerment to focus on the shops that had given us so much support and business throughout the years”, Cross added. “I’d been in Portland for a long time. How come there’s nothing existing already for these kinds of shops? Why isn’t there a focus? We’re not going to be able to put our shops 50% off, or 40% off. But we don’t have to. Why? Because we have great shops, with a different experience.”

That night, Cervarich came home to hear a new idea for a group retail event on Black Friday.

Cross recalled, “Will came home and I said, ‘What do you think?’ And sometimes in our business relationship, one of us will have an idea and the other one will say, ‘Oh, that’s not a good idea. No way we can pull that off.’ ”

This time, he says ‘That’s genius’, and gets on the computer and immediately comes up with the raffle part of it.”

They also immediately emailed a few of their friends in their retail network to test the idea. “People wrote us back that night” Cross noted, “and said, ‘That’s a great idea and I’m in. So tell us what we need to do’ “

The event also needed a name. Cross recalls, “We were obviously thinking about ‘big box’ stores. And what is different (with the smaller stores)? What is special about gift giving? Little, special boxes wrapped in a particular way. That’s something that smaller shops are really good at.”

So it would be called “Little Boxes”, and something transformative was born.

Betsy Cross & Will Cervarich and their Betsy & Iya Retail Store in PDX

A different way to shop Black Friday

Just a few weeks later, the pair pulled off the first Little Boxes, pulling together the retail network, promoting the event all over town and in the press, and distributing paper booklets that recorded raffle entries for cool prizes to all who visited the 100 stores on that Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

It was a huge success. Cross added “We had shops telling us that they previously had horrible days on Black Friday, because people didn’t think to shop there. They put their energy into the bigger stores.”

And it had the added benefit of being a community experience, something actually enjoyable on a typically hyperactive shopping day. Cervarich notes, “Our whole idea is that shopping, especially on these two days where you’ve just spent time with family being thankful, and celebrating a year with family, shouldn’t about rushing to the store and getting coffeed up, and killing yourself to shop.”

In 2012 they did Little Boxes again, with an even larger network of stores, nearly 200. They also added the ability to gain extra raffle entries by buying merchandise at the stores – the more the person shopped at Little Boxes stores, the more chances they had to win.

The raffle is the big draw. Notes Cross, “It creates a light, fun-filled, game aspect. And I think our main thing was always not just the importance of supporting local, which is an important movement and an important part of our economy, but that our main messaging would be that our shops are just something special, and something different than the alternative shopping experience on Black Friday, especially.”

LB_Budd-+-Finn03By 2013 they topped 200 stores and added an iPhone app to make it easier for customers to find the stores and tally their raffle entries. Last year they tweaked the app with more features, and had even a few more stories participating, and now, in 2015, they are introducing an Android version of the app.

Through the years, Cervarich and Cross have made sure the messaging and tone of the event has was not about being negative about the big box experience on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. It’s meant to be an additive experience. Says Cervarich, “It’s always been important to us to stay positive. Our messaging never is negative on the big box stores.”

An act of leadership in an environment of trust

And, the couple has always made it clear that big profits were never, and still are not, the aim of Little Boxes. Cervarich notes, “It wasn’t about making money off of this idea. It was about doing something that we felt was going to be good for our shop, of course, but also going to be good for Portland shops. Especially shops that we had worked with (and continue to work with) for a number of years”

These two entrepreneurs were uniquely positioned to create this event because there are few other makers in Portland that have the kind of reach of the Betsy & Iya retail distribution network. And by being inspired, almost by divine providence, by a bad Black Friday TV commercial, they answered the call to pull that network (and many other retailers) together under a common banner, to generate a big local economic benefit that otherwise wouldn’t have existed without it.

It was an act of leadership, supported by a communal sense of trust. Says Cervarich, “There is an innate sense of trust (in the Little Boxes network), so when we came to a shop-owner, they weren’t being solicited by somebody who was only doing ads, or only doing something where it was taking money. We had worked with them, so we had a personal relationship, and we also were on their side.

1475786_732905446799972_2431213108730702047_n“And so I think that really helped our credibility. And people felt like, ‘Okay, well, these guys get it. It’s a promotion where it’s coming from the inside out.’ ”

The unique sense of collaboration and cooperation that distinguishes both Portland entrepreneurs and consumers also plays a huge role. Cervarich notes, “I give a lot of credit to Portland. If not in Portland, where else (could it have been successful)?

“Portland shoppers, they get it already. And so we just needed to give them a little push of a reason to go out on Black Friday. And that sense of community has been a huge reason why Little Boxes has become successful.”

And yes, Cross isn’t angry any longer. “It’s brought a ton of joy to our lives in the shop, and just the sheer excitement that we see on shoppers’ faces”, says Cross. “We’ve had a few people say, ‘I never even knew your shop existed and now I’m coming every year. I’m going to participate in Little Boxes every year’ “

You can find out more and download their app on their website,

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.

Protecting Our Data Blind Spots: Senrio Brings Needed Visibility to IoT Vulnerabilities

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260f88b-1Not long ago, we sat down with Portland startup founder Stephen Ridley, the founder of Senrio. Senrio is an entirely new approach to data security, a Software as a Service product that easily scales to protect all kinds of companies, from small businesses to major medical, critical infrastructure, and financial institutions.

But because of Stephen’s research on data security and his understanding of technology and consumers issues, we hung around a little longer than usual, and asked a few more questions about recent developments—things we hear a lot about in the news.

For this edition of the Making Oregon podcast we bring you one interview divided into two episodes.  In the first half, we ask Stephen to tell us about his path from teenage hacker to working for the Department of Defense, Wall Street banks and social media companies. He’ll tell us how his love of research eventually lead him to become an entrepreneur—two pursuits that require very different skill sets.

He’ll describe Senrio, how it works, and what makes it different from other security applications. We’ll learn how it addresses the vulnerabilities found in embedded systems. And yes, we’ll explain how ubiquitous embedded systems are—and here’s a hint—they exist in your cell phone.

And, if you’ve never heard of a USB Condom (also called Syncstop) and what it can do to keep your data safe, Stephen will explain what the device he designed and produces in Oregon can do for you.

In our second episode, we back track for a couple minutes and make sure everyone is on the same page with understanding how Senrio works. Then we dive into a discussion about best practices for protecting data, especially if you are a small business.

Stephen will also talk about the vulnerabilities he and his developers find in consumer electronics and how Senrio can play a role in providing solutions. Plus, we’ll get his take on data privacy, metadata and what social media giants like Facebook are doing with the information users supply, whether they know it or not.

network-4Finally, we’ll ask whether data privacy really exists in today’s world and how Stephen balances his awareness of security issues with his own personal practices in daily life.

We want to congratulate Stephen Ridley and the entire Senrio team on their recent launch, and for spending time with Making Oregon. For those who want to read some of the early reviews about the company, you can check out Silicon Angle,  or the Oregonian.

Links to the Senrio video and comic mentioned on the podcast:

Video: https://player.vimeo.com/video/147295095

Comic: http://senr.io/comic

Part 1:


Part 2:

Sounding like a great idea: Q&A with Audibility

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Portland startup Audibility is closing in on the end of a successful campaign on Kickstarter, designed to help fund the first production run of their personalized headphones. The company is also part of the current cohort of the Portland Development Commission’s Startup PDX Challenge, a program designed to help early stage founders from communities of color. We took a few minutes to sit down with Audibility cofounder and chief operating officer Gilbert Resendez to hear more—ahem—about this young Oregon company.

What was the genesis of Audibility?
Long story short, we worked together on projects for our respective programs at the University of Portland. We wanted to develop a business model that worked to address a lack of access to hearing aids for those with hearing loss. With this in mind, Audibility was born as a consumer headphone company that aims to improve everyone’s listening experience through well designed custom fit headphones for everyday listeners, and access to hearing aids through our partner foundation.

How did you go from just an idea to where you are today?
We started with form in this concept while we were students at the University of Portland in our respective academic programs. From there, we applied for and received the Dean’s Innovation Challenge award at UP. This allowed us to begin working on product development. And after winning a spot in the Startup PDX Challenge, we began to receive the resources to carry out our vision for Audibility. Because of all of that combined support, we’re happy to see our Kickstarter campaign meeting our goal.

The headphone market seems like one that is extremely crowded. How is your product different? Who are you initial target customers?
Everyone’s ear is different. Just like a fingerprint. But the majority of earphones and headphones are not made to fit a generic ear shape.

At Audibility, we recognize the need to customize headphones to ensure comfort and quality. While other custom-fit options do exist, they often require excessive time and money as they require users to visit an audiologist for fitting, or to send images of their ears. Audibility headphones are a “one-stop” solution to achieving an affordable and custom fit.

audibility-boxingTalk a bit about the concept and design of the earphones. Was there a lot of trial and error around the engineering?
Our earphones are uniquely designed to accommodate our custom molding material. The molding material is a silicon-based putty that comes in two parts. Upon mixing the molds, the user will have approximately ten minutes to secure the mold to our earbuds before the material cures into a flexible rubber that maintains the contours of the users EarPrint. In our development process, it was fairly easy to find the right molding material, considering that material very similar to ours is used regularly in audiology for fitting ear-molds for hearing aids. Our cofounder Brian Carter wears hearing aids and was very familiar with this process. The challenges in development came in our industrial design of the earbuds. Our earbuds are designed with gaps in the casing that allow the custom molding material to form in and around the earbud to secure the earbud and become one unit. We used 3-D printing, amongst other rapid-prototyping tools, to iterate several designs and find the best, most fool-proof design possible for our Audibility Customs.

I assume human error is built into the model. People will mess up the fitting. Will you send replacement material if they reach out and say that it doesn’t fit exactly right?
Yes we will! We also provide enough molding material in our initial package for the user to do their fitting again if needed. In the coming months we will also provide instructional videos on our website to assist this process.

Talk a bit about the commitment to give back to the Hear the World Foundation.
For every product that we sell, we’ll give 10% of our revenue to Hear the World Foundation. From the beginning we’ve been strong believers in making sure people have access to hearing aids. Again, with Brian wearing hearing aids, we feel like we have a personal connection to that cause. This is our way of supporting that mission of giving hearing aid access around the world.

Where do you see the company in one year? Three to five years?
In a year we want to develop our online sales strategy and develop our ecommerce platform. In three years, we want to have multiple products surrounded by this idea of having a custom audio experience. By five years, we hope to have been acquired or developed some kind of larger partnership that allows us to eventually exit.

For more information, visit Audibility, follow Audibility on Twitter, or like Audibility on Facebook.

Tech, foodies and makers converge into a Perfect Oregon cupcake

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Can technology merge successfully with the foodie and maker movements to create a transformative consumer product that changes the way we work in our kitchens?  The Perfect Company is working to do just that.

We recently visited the test kitchen of Perfect Company to bake some gluten-free and vegan cupcakes using their Perfect Bake product, featuring many Oregon-based ingredients, with head of recipe development Matthew Barbee, and COO and co-founder Miriam Kim.

IMG_4602Perfect’s business is to design and develop smart products for the smart home. Through their cool products–such as the Perfect Bake and Perfect Drink, their aim is to bring  “perfection to your kitchen as well as your lifestyle”.  The products merge a simple and elegant scale with a smartphone or iPad app, and walks you through every step of the baking or drink-making process, measuring each ingredient by weight and (literally) telling you when to stop as you put them into the bowl or glass.

It’s also a product and company that’s caught the attention of Oregon angel investors – in November of 2015, the Oregon Angel Fund led a $4 Million investment round which will help the company expand its marketing reach and create new products, including the Perfect Blend, launching later this year.

perfect coverWhile making the peanut butter frosting for our cupcakes, we also chatted with Miriam Kim about the Perfect Company story, their innovative food & beverage products and technologies, and how they were able to go from idea to production of their first Perfect product in just 10 months (you don’t want to miss that part).

And oh yes, the cupcakes were delicious.

You can find Perfect on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter

Here’s the interview:

And, here’s a list of the Oregon-based products we used in the cupcakes:

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Bob’s Red Mill Flours

Holy Kakow Cacao Powder

Jacobsen Salt

So Delicious Almond and Coconut Milk

Ristretto Roasters Coffee

Aunt Patty’s Coconut Oil

Singing Dog Vanilla

Oregon Olive Mill Olive Oil

Phoenix Egg Farm

Eliot’s Adult Nut Butters

(full disclosure: Terry is an investor in the 2015 Oregon Angel Fund, which has invested in the Perfect Company)

 

 

Orchestra Software Brews up an ERP solution for craft beverages

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The craft beer industry is booming, with existing breweries growing rapidly, and new ones opening at a rapid pace.

But this growth brings great challenges. From inventory management to purchasing and receiving, and production to quality control, the actual operations side of a brewery is not an easy job.

And is often the case, these kind of challenges open the door to new business opportunities. Brad Windecker saw an opportunity to help these brewery founders, and built OrchestratedBEER, an all-in-one brewery management software solution, to help these brewery founders manage operations and growth so they can concentrate on doing the thing they love to do – make great beer.

Identifying an opportunity

Before founding Orchestra, Brad was an implementation consultant, helping small and mid-sized companies implement ERP (enterprise resource planning) software – a job that requires the consultant to understand everything about a company, from their workflows, to the reports they need, all the way down to the structure of their general ledger.

“ Every time I completed a project, it occurred to me that we should target other similar companies and leverage the expertise we had gained from the implementation process. I especially thought that solution would fit one of Oregon’s favorite industries, Craft Breweries.”

However, the owners of the consulting business didn’t recognize the opportunity. So, when the recession hit in 2008 and his employer was bought out, Brad decided to leave and start Orchestra in Beaverton. The goal was to create an ERP company that focused on specific industries, enabling his team to build in best practices and turn as much of the traditional services component of ERP projects into software that worked out of the box.

This meant the company would need to have a hyper focus on each target industry, learn everything about it, and then work all of that knowledge into the product.

Listening to customers - 2But what that really means is it all comes down to one simple concept – listen to the customer.

“ We had a relentless focus on understanding what the first customers needed, so we could make sure that we worked all that knowledge into the solution. We looked at every spreadsheet that our customers were using, how they used whiteboards in the brewery, how they used Quickbooks, and studied their workflows. In the early days, there were many revisions of how we suggested people use our software, many versions of reports they needed, and so on. As we gained more customers, we fine tuned all the features and functions into the solution that customers see today.”

Listen to the customer.

It really is a simple concept, but the dedication Brad and his team put towards listening to the customer, and then responding, quickly helped their growth tremendously.

“ It showed our customers and prospects that we were focused on the industry and committed to making the product into the solution they needed. In a small community like craft beer, it was vital that we walk the talk and prove that we were in it for the long term and dedicated to the success of the industry.”

One of the biggest hurdles the Orchestra team encountered early on was the difference in how each brewery handled their TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) reporting process. Every brewery has to file the Brewer’s Report of Operations to the TTB, but every customer in the early days seemed to think about it differently. It took Orchestra almost 2 years to have enough customers to fully understand how to build a solution that handled every customer and all the infinite permutations of how beer moves around a brewery.

“ It’s easy to say you have TTB Reporting, but it’s really hard to get it right 100% of the time for all breweries, which we can now say with confidence.”

Another hurdle the team encountered was that they weren’t replacing a proven system; they were replacing spreadsheets, whiteboards, Quickbooks, and homegrown databases that breweries had all developed themselves to try and keep track of their business. This meant that every customer Orchestra encountered had different systems and processes that had to be replaced.

“ As we were building out our solution, this was hard to deal with. Today, OrchestratedBEER handles it all and we know exactly how to get customers off those legacy tools, but back in 2011, it wasn’t so clear.”

Early Wins and Growth

Oregon is craft beer spoiled (not that any of us are complaining).

Given that there are 200+ breweries located here, it would have made sense for a new Oregon company offering a software solution for the craft beer industry to build its client base in its home state.

But that wasn’t the path that Orchestra traveled. They didn’t target a specific geographic area, but instead targeted the industry.

“ Our first client was Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, we landed Schlafly in St. Louis and Firestone Walker in California. The first customers found us at the Craft Brewers Conference, the big industry trade show for the craft beer industry. When we started exhibiting there, we were one of the few tech companies; we were surrounded by bottling lines, valve manufacturers and malt suppliers. That initial presence in the industry, combined with strong SEO on our website, drove traffic to us. The early success solidified our strategy of using inbound marketing, which we still rely on today.”Early Wins & Growth - OBeer customer map

But in an industry and community as tightly knit as craft beer, once a solution is being used with good results, word of mouth marketing takes over.

“ Once we had started solving the problems of the first few customers and had established ourselves as a company dedicated to the industry long term, things started to move fast. When you combine a great product that solves a problem, dedication to the industry and the customers’ success, and great marketing, you end up with great word of mouth and high traffic to your website. We also made sure that anyone that was interested in our solution could see everything we had without having to call us and get a custom demo. In other words, we made it as easy as possible for customers to decide that our solution would be a good fit for them.”

One of the main pain points Orchestra is looking to solve is to bring all operations and finance information into one place. Having multiple systems for different areas of the business is what causes most of the challenges in running a growing company, and you simply can’t get the data you need to understand your business when data is in many different systems.

Many businesses rely heavily on web based tools, with Quickbooks and Dropbox folders full of spreadsheets. Pain points addressed - fast track implementationBringing all the aspects of the business into one application that has been tailored to the industry solves this problem.

“ More specifically, all breweries, from the smallest startup to the largest craft breweries in the country, have challenges understanding their cost and margins. Orchestrated helps breweries of any size see all the cost components that go into a beer, from the malt to the label on the bottle, and all the labor and overhead involved, to see a true cost. Without having all the financial and logistics information in one place, this is almost impossible, but we’ve made it easy and provided the reporting out of the box to show the data to customers in a brewery specific format.”

Recently, Orchestra has seen the effects of the recent brewery M&A activity with some of their smaller clients merging with larger players. These mergers lead to additional high-end needs like multi-location production, consolidated reporting, and system integration needs.

“ From the brand new breweries being set up from day one to be multi-site conglomerates to the growing mergers and acquisitions space, our solution helps them see a big picture of what’s happening across their sites and brands.”

Evolving the solution for other opportunities

The Orchestra team has seen a rapid user adoption rate within the craft beer vertical, to the tune of 207% sales growth over the past three years. This rapid rise has landed them on the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in America list for the second consecutive year.

But the myriad of challenges in the beverage industry are not solely limited to breweries.

OrchestratedSPIRITS - distilleries face the same challenges as breweries“ Yes, manufacturing liquids poses many challenges that are faced by distilleries, brewers, and others. It’s critical that in a complex business like these, finance/accounting is in the same system as inventory, logistics, QC, and production. The main problem we solve is eliminating the silos of information and bringing everything into one application. This allows data to flow between the areas of the business and provides a single source of the truth. This challenge and solution exists in both beer and spirits. Distilleries also deal with the dreaded TTB and have similar reporting demands. Our systems handle all of the needs of a distillery to automate their TTB Reporting.”

Challenge equals opportunity, and for Brad and his team the opportunity was around launching Orchestrated™SPIRITS – an all-in-one business management software solution that helps you manage every aspect of your distillery, from accounting in the back office to production in the still house.

And Orchestra is not stopping there either.

“We’re in the process of working with a number of wineries already on OrchestratedWINE. We hope to launch the product in 2017, and expect it to be our third main vertical. Our goal is to be the #1 provider of ERP software to the beverage manufacturing market globally. We already have brewery customers in Canada, the UK, and Australia, and expect this global expansion to increase in the coming years and accelerate with the introduction of the winery solution.”

Much like they found in the brewery and spirits industries, there are a number of ‘tools’ wineries use for specific areas of the operation, but there is a huge gap in having an industry specific ERP solution that brings everything together.

Keeping up with the rapidly growing industries they serve is a huge opportunity for Orchestra. Craft breweries are opening up at a record pace and the distillery growth is nearly doubling year over year. There are currently 250 of the 4,000+ breweries in the US using OrchestratedBeer, so there is a huge opportunity to engage and work with many more breweries in the US, and around the world.Orchestrated tradeshow booth at Craft brewers conference

Brad also feels the craft beer industry is hitting a maturity as opposed to a peak.

“You can recognize this in the consolidation happening, investment capital flowing in, breweries starting out day 1 with 100 BBL systems, etc. These are the signs that the industry is no longer just a free for all; it’s now structured, there’s a lot of money at stake, and the growth potential is huge. When you look at the numbers, craft only makes up 20% of all beer consumed in the US. There’s still a lot of macro beer drinkers out there that will shift to local craft beers in the coming years. It’s very feasible that craft doubles in size over the coming decade and grows to 40% of all beer volume in the US, which would be an astounding volume of craft beer.”

And while craft beer is hitting maturity, craft spirit growth resembles craft beer circa 2008, with the number of companies doubling every year and the potential for acceleration as some of the early craft distilleries proving out you can make a big business in the space.

All this growth and client potential does pose challenges to the Orchestra team.

“ The biggest challenge facing us today is staying focused on our core mission. The old adage “you can drown in a sea of opportunity” is a good one, especially when our solution can help solve so many challenges. Orchestra’s place in all this is growth is to constantly listen to what our customers need, and make sure that we provide them solutions with a great experience. We’re now seen as the gold standard of ERP for the beer and spirits industries, so we have a responsibility to provide the industry best practices, benchmarking, and data analysis that is now needed.”

Creating a company culture that stays true to the core mission and the values of the people in the company is something that Brad and his team really focuses on. The values they have instilled into their business are Customer First, Continuous Improvement, Authenticity, Teamwork, and Integrity.

But creating a strong culture is something that took time, about 5 years, to fine tune and nail down.Orchestra Culture - with Beer

“ Our culture also has a lot of standardization; not for the sake of efficiency, but for extreme quality. Like a brewery or distillery that has to standardize their processes to ensure that every batch is high quality and offers the same great experience, we do the same for our people. Every department leader at Orchestra uses the exact same structure to ensure that regardless of what role you are in at Orchestra, your experience of working here is very similar and high quality. For example, every department has daily standups, weekly one-on-ones, monthly reviews, quarterly reviews and annual reviews. For engineers the standup might be scrum and for the consultants it’s the “go-live review”, but in the end, they are all following the same template to ensure that the experience of working at Orchestra is world class. We hire people that live them, and we end up with a culture that can be described as having an obsession with our customers, constant change and improvement, collaboration everywhere, and with really good people that are true to who they are and do the right thing.”

And doing the right thing in a company that focuses on the craft beverage industries means, of course, having good beer on tap in the office and having Friday at 4pm company happy hours.

So what’s currently on tap at Orchestra and the tougher question, what’s Brad’s favorite beer?

“We almost always have a beer from our friends at Buoy Beer in Astoria on tap here, so right now we have Czech Pils. They helped us out in 2015 by providing all the beer for our user conference, and they are active in the tech industry in Oregon, which I appreciate, and they of course have amazing beers. This is like picking a favorite child…I love them all!”

For more information, visit www.orchestrasoftware.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter

Our Vision for the future

The ripples of design: The Soul River Runs Deep story

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Chad Brown’s journey has been a winding one.

It’s a journey that has taken him from Texas to Iraq, Somalia to New York City, and Asia to Portland. But more than the journey itself, the company he’s founded along that journey, Soul River Runs Deep, is the embodiment of a belief and mission.

“Soul River is about the embodiment of our rivers and our personal relationship in and with nature. Your ‘soul river’ is defined by your interest, passion, and love for anything in Mother Nature that is precious and healing to you.”

The brand is about bridging the gap between two different worlds – urban and nature – and syncing the two worlds as a fusion of humanity, a stand for social justice, equality, artistic expression, and nature.

It’s a brand whose origins have to be traced back along the meandering journey of a creative mind.6-860x514

The evolution of a designer

Chad’s creative tendencies started at a young age, and through a simple gesture by his mom.  She would give him a poster board from the grocery store and he would draw characters from his picture books in ink.

Simple? Yes.

But that gesture allowed Chad to evolve into an expressive and artistic person.

“As a youth, I was immersed in various extracurricular art programs within the community, public school system, and even the Art Institute of Dallas to study commercial art. Like many young, starving student artists, I needed to pay for my books, the classes, my supplies, and just school in general. That’s when I dropped out to go into the Navy.”

Chad’s time in the Navy included serving in the Operation Desert Storm Campaign in Kuwait and the Operation Restore Hope Campaign in Somalia. But even during those campaigns, he’d find opportunities to design through projects like a “how-to” manual for the command, which served as an aid for Navy and Army on-load and off-load transportation.

Once Chad left the Navy, he returned to school and completed his BFA in Communication Design at The Intercontinental University in Atlanta, Georgia. He stayed in Atlanta for a year freelancing and working as a young designer for Upscale Magazine.

“I knew that I had potential to go further but, like many artists, my strong suit was not sitting down and American-Lemon-Tie-Reversedfilling out paper applications for days. I remember sending my application into the Pratt Institute along with a cover letter that was written on a torn up fast food bag. I figured If these people know how to see beyond words on a paper, they will accept me.”

To Chad’s surprise, the administrators at Pratt believed in his potential and looked past his fast food bag cover letter and accepted him into the program. The Institute is based in Brooklyn, and while the New York City pace can sometimes swallow up people, Chad relished it.

“Living and studying in NYC inspired edginess, raw talent, and authentic perspective for me. At the time, I had never felt more expressive and true to myself. I graduated with a Masters of Science in Communication Design and the world was my oyster.”

But as he opened up that oyster, Chad quickly realized that the being a designer in NYC is not for the faint of heart. It was tough, hard and highly competitive. He worked for various agencies and design firms doing typography design, packaging design, identity development, fashion, and photography. But the agency world was not one he’d linger in too long and a moment that changed many people’s lives forever, played a role in his.

“After the Twin Towers came under attack on September 11, 2001, the economy went ballistic and, like many others, I lost my job. Actually, it was on that exact day when I was let go. I needed to survive in New York City and freelance was my only option. I came to realize, however, that I much preferred living and thriving as opposed to surviving. Surviving was symbolic to the struggle. I knew I could do better than struggle!

“Stepping out independently was, is and always has been in my DNA. I’m not one to follow the masses nor really work for the man. I’ve always been able to adapt to those environments but being so much of a creative, I tend to conceptualize and design really well independently.”

And working independently was something Chad relished at. He started as primarily a freelancer and evolved into more of a consultant, working with a broad mix of clients, including working and collaborating with Russell Simmons and his business Phat Farm. Chad was brought on to develop and design their running shoe launch.

Eventually, Chad’s freelance career took him overseas to do do design consulting and branding development in Japan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, as well as throughout the US, including Los Angeles. During this time he wore many creative hats; from art directing, to working with photographers in front of the camera, to being the photographer shooting fashion ads, as well as working on high concept campaigns bringing “big ideas” to life.

“I helped launch the TIVO campaign in Los Angeles through Campbell Ewald West. Opportunities like these gave me more confidence in knowing I could take on the world of freelance. I was eventually hired to rebrand for Epic, a leading international garment fashion house in Hong Kong. As Asia’s industry leaders and one of the world’s leading garment manufacturers in the fashion industry, Epic boasts clients with internationally recognized names such as GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch, Costco, Levi’s, Hollister, Sears, and H&M, to name a few.

“My role was not just to rebrand, but to recreate the image of the company with a fresh appeal to European, North American and Australian clients with executive buying powers. I hired a team and conceptualized the branding, photography, and video. We shot film and photography in three different countries and ultimately delivered a successful outcome”

Life was going good for Chad. But life is not always a straight path with a defined ending. 12115596_1061797197194325_4396068783544269536_n

The soul of a brand

Chad moved to Portland and continued to focus in on his creative work, but there was something that kept pulling him in a different, and sometimes dark direction – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

His once focused journey became more uncharted and riddled with uncertainty, and where he found solace was fly fishing on the beautiful rivers of the Northwest. He was introduced to the sport and he began to learn and love more than just the sport itself. The river became the place where he found the embodiment of hope combined with solace.

The place where a brand vision was hatched.

“One day, I waded out into the river and began casting with my hand half-submerged in the cool water. I felt the current pushing a strong and consistent force against my legs and the sun was beaming warmth overhead and, for a moment, I felt a surge of strength run through me as if my inner-being was re-awakened.  My mind felt clear and my soul inspired. I knew my talents and abilities could be merged with my newfound source of survival to provide exceptional, one-of-a-kind apparel and accessories for clients and customers and a medicine for my soul. Little did I know that it would spread to be much more than that! This was the ultimate conception of Soul River Runs Deep.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.02.32 AMThe brand of Soul River helped Chad merge his passion for design and expression of creativity; it was the celebration of humanity and the desire to want to create a product line that speaks of nature and displays an artistic approach.

And that expression started with the design of the Naiad – a Greek goddess.

The Naiad is the nymph of the rivers – the protector, She lives only in healthy waters and clean environments and represents mother nature as her ambassador of aquatic and natural life amongst the rivers. Many anglers see this symbol as their good luck on the water. This initial design also led to an overall brand direction.

“My artistic process is walking between the natural world and the urban world merged with inspiration from Greek mythology and fantasy and striving to give a different perspective of beauty, nature, and eclectic modernism. Using weighted-line style design and incorporating shapes, space – both positive and negative – intricately to play into an organic and playful art that we know and can identify as well as position a unique breath of fresh air. “

As Chad evolved the brand and the products around it, he experimented in more than just soft goods and attempted to design his own Soul River fly fishing reel, an attempt he emphasizes will never happen again. He sold some of the reels, but realized this was not his best pursuit and use of talent and now the focus is squarely on soft goods. A line that is inspired by, and a merging of,  military style and outdoor urbanism. A combination that defines the brand, and the various brand extensions Chad is working on.

“Design is intrinsic in everything that I do, even if it’s not seen or being worn. In my own space or in the outdoors with youth and vets, it is all connected to the artwork which is expressionistic, building the brand into the deployments of my non-profit, giving experiences that create a lifetime opportunity for veterans and youth.”Image-1

Evolving the brand in Kenton

The growth of Soul River Runs Deep, and a desire to make it more meaningful and approachable, led Chad to open up a small retail location in the vibrant Kenton neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood that is eclectic, but also has a growing local business community that Chad saw an opportunity to be a part of.

The neighborhood is also a less hectic than other areas in Portland, which Chad admits is a positive to him.

“Kenton is a little low key which is actually an advantage for me because 95% of the time I am running the shop solo and have meetings or appointments with clients elsewhere that I have no option to miss. Saturday mornings and holidays bring out shoppers who are strolling by and wanting to engage with shop owners.  The buildings are still original and have character and charm. It’s easy to let your imagination tell stories of Kenton’s history. In addition, the food scene is bustling and tends to have its own heartbeat.”

The Kenton neighborhood also stuck out to Chad because it still holds history, as the gentrification isn’t as rampant as in other neighborhoods and that demographic base is very important to the bridge Chad is hoping to build – an accessible location to the diverse demographic which the brand of Soul River serves.

“The local demographic was important to me for a variety of reasons. I was aiming to be in an ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhood, one that was accessible, and one that was familiar for inner-city youth and families to visit. I appreciated that I was twenty feet from the bus and MAX line, making it more accessible for today’s urban youth. If you peek around Kenton, you won’t see any other business like Soul River Runs Deep. If you look at other fly shops, they tend to be close to rivers or on outskirts of towns…not typically in the center of the urban world. Soul River Runs Deep is so much more than a fly shop – we are a haven for new anglers of color and recently returned veterans, a boutique space that anyone can find something uniquely designed and created from Portland, and a unique shopping experience that boasts raw creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.”

Inside the retail location you’ll find more than just Soul River branded products. Chad offers a few fine local goods for customers, and that gives the shop a different and eclectic dynamic for the customer. Soul River is an anthropology mashup between art, design, nature, and fly fishing.

But forging a new retail brand while supporting a growing nonprofit poses many challenges, challenges that many entrepreneurs can relate to.

“At this very moment, the biggest hurdle is the balancing act of running a retail shop, being a creative and doing freelance design work, and directing a grass-roots, new non-profit. It’s incredibly taxing and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for ‘me,’ but I believe that the entrepreneurial path is the right one for me. With that, there are oftentimes no ‘days off.’ I have to be aware of my limits and take care of myself, but at the same time I am always creating concepts, brainstorming, and networking.”

However, in addition to the challenges, there are many opportunities on the horizon for the Soul River brand. The work Chad has done around his nonprofit, Soul River Runs Wild, is well documented. He has bridged a gap between urban teens, the environment, and veterans to being mentors for these inner city youth while teaching them the art of fly fishing.

Chad sees the opportunity to bridge the design world to inner city youth and veterans.

“This is something that I have definitely considered. Right now, I integrate design and photography in secondary and tertiary ways – designing a fly on the vice, providing opportunities for expedition participants to help the videographer. Someday, I do plan to integrate this in a richer way, but not this year.”

Trying to not do everything at once is something Chad is working on doing, and evident in the advice he’d give his former self.

“Focus on one company at a time.”

For now though, Soul River Runs Deep and Soul River Runs Wild continues to build bridges that connect design to the outdoors and inner city youth to veterans, and where success is not solely focused on the bottom line, but on the impact you have on others.

For more information, visit www.soulriverrunsdeep.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.

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Perfected to your palette: The Time and Oak story

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What’s the difference between top-shelf whiskey and well whiskey?  Tony Peniche, 29-year-old serial entrepreneur, asked himself this question in 2014 while shopping at a local liquor store. Turns out, the answer is quite simple: time and oak. Oak barrels infuse whiskey with unique flavor and incorporate the liquid with rich natural color. And the time for the oak to do its work.

But that “time” part is tricky. It takes years and there’s never been a convenient way for people to age the spirit at home.

Tony began experimenting with Josh Thorne, a 30-year-old Air Force veteran with a background in film, who enjoys home brewing. Josh cut, burned, and cooked a variety of oaks in the hopes of finding the right temperature, and best way to expose the wood’s capillaries while accelerating the aging process. The answer: reverse engineering — aka bring the wood to the bottle. Three months of tweaking the product and hundreds of blind taste tests resulted in a crowd favorite: the Signature Whiskey Element — A Lincoln Log looking product that promised to age a bottle of whiskey in a matter of hours or days — depending on your palette. Plus it would act as a filter removing many of the chemicals and toxins that cause hangovers.

“Our fans have shown us that when you can do it in days instead of years you can get barrel aged taste to things that would have otherwise spoiled. Whether a batched cocktail or spirits such as Pisco you can keep the fresh taste and still get that nice smooth finish from the wood, we think it is really cool seeing how people use the Elements.” says David Jackson, the 32-year-old CEO of Time and Oak, which was officially incorporated on August 6, 2014, two months after its inception, by co-founders David, CEO, Josh, COO, and Tony.

Garnering crowd support for a unique product

Fast-forward three months and queue the Whiskey Element Kickstarter campaign.

“We gave ourselves a really tight timeline because you can dabble on an idea forever,” says David. The campaign launched on October 1, 2014 and was funded in 18 hours. “Hitting our goal on day one. That was our goal — because there’s a lot of proof of concept and we wanted to prove price point and get people excited about the idea.”

David believes crowdfunding is an excellent way to attain free market research — but don’t expect to get rich in the process.

“When you do a Kickstarter there’s no money. You pre-sold stuff. Your first round of deliveries are always more expensive than you can project because you have no economy of scale. You have no reorder potential. You don’t know what your supply chain really is going to look like long term. There are a lot of things you have to pay a hefty premium on getting delivered on schedule.”

IMG_1835Time and Oak asked for $18K and received $200K over the course of the month with the help of WE ARE PDX, a creative marketing agency. While getting 1000% funded may sound like a dream come true, the reality of this is a nightmare.

“It was really when we breached the $100K mark halfway through the campaign — where logistics started to pile up. You have a goal for a reason — it’s what you can reasonably accomplish with a reasonable amount of money,” says David. By the end of the Kickstarter on October 31st, 35,000 Elements had been ordered between the campaign and website. “We were promising things by Christmas. We wanted to honor all those promises but the reality of delivering on those promises became more and more difficult.”

Around the onset of the campaign Time and Oak had been published in Esquire and Popular Mechanics — and was continually being re-blogged.

“I think based on the publications they were reading, people thought they were buying the product,” says David. When people campaign on Kickstarter they’re asking supporters to back an idea or prototype — not a product already being sold. “At the tail end we had 50/50 of the 5,000 backers — those who knew what Kickstarter was and were praising us on hard work and the other 50% wondering why they hadn’t received the product yet. By mid-November we had 875 unopened emails at the beginning of the week. Everything from support emails to ‘where’s my product,’ to ‘can I carry this’ to ‘can I write about you.’ We were working all through Christmas Eve and all through Christmas — literally finishing all the different packages and getting out as many as we could. There was no stopping.”

Notwithstanding the initial boom and complications fulfilling orders on time, Time and Oak has come out ahead.

“We’ve been able to take and build an actual company underneath that.” The company grew 46% in their first year through good old fashion hard work.

Last year they signed a multi-million dollar trade agreement to manufacture all goods in Portland. Everything is locally sourced except for the wood, and each Whiskey Element is laser cut and goes through four points of hand selection.

“It increases our cost but we want the consumer to have that high quality experience.” As to outsourcing the oak, “Your favorite whiskeys are made with very specific regions of oak. And each region tastes different,” says David. “We wanted to have the most traditional taste — that’s what people expect. You put it in and expect it to taste like a good Bourbon.”10665758_934717513224010_7477042485168932444_n

Building a responsible and sustainable business

In the meantime, Project Footprint was born out of the founders’ desire to give back. Their Whiskey Elements make a more efficient use of natural forest resources than most traditional alternatives but they hoped to work on land conservation while allowing people to buy their favorite products. So for every pair of Elements sold a donation is made toward preserving one square foot of land.

Companies often have to sell and explain the value proposition of their product but according to David, the Whiskey Element has sold itself time and time again in taste tests. “I’ve consulted and I’ve grown companies — I’ve never seen something where so many people have an ‘aha’ or get it or love it.” To date they’ve offered around 40,000 blind, Pepsi style taste tests. “You taste it before and after, and the amount of people that are blown away, or say ‘wow’ or love it is huge.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.35.54 AMCelebrities, rappers, and major distillers supported and back the product. John O’Hurley, an actor and TV personality originally from Seinfeld and winner of Dancing with the Stars, fell in love with the product and is now the face of the company. Time and Oak is currently sponsored by Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is used alongside America’s favorite whiskey, Jim Beam, for before and after taste tests at trade shows, craft fairs, industry events, and Saturday markets. In addition, they reached a deal with Bacardi after their national brand director of whiskey picked David’s $40 bottle over a $250 bottle in a blind taste test.

All that being said, everyone’s palette is different. And Time and Oak is not into telling people how to drink. “I think the hardest thing when you have your own idea is you start building a vision of where you think it should go. With a product like this we have multiple sales channels because of how broadly used a barrel really is. One channel is the consumer — who will chose it, taste it — they’re a great market validation. But if the consumer likes it because they put it in their own bottle why wouldn’t a distillery want to use it and sell it to them direct and get a 10 times rate of return.” Why wouldn’t you want a high end well or house whiskey? Another trend involves barrel-aging cocktails. You can put the Elements in just about anything you would traditionally barrel age. “We just had a restaurant pick us up that’s doing infused balsamic vinegar and olive oil,” says David.

time & oak cocktails006A new use of the product: infusing alcohol with different alcohols. For example, you can put the element in a bottle of scotch for half a day and then move it to a bottle of tequila for half a day — leading to an amazing smoky finish on your tequila.

As for their competition — there is nothing on the market quite like the Whiskey Elements.

“You can get pieces of oak that you put in bottles but they take weeks at a time and leave sediment in the bottle.” Time and Oak recently released the Signature Dark Whiskey Element, which “draws out notes of mellow smoke and charred oak.” They also offer multi-flavor Whiskey Elements and a monthly subscription.

For David there are many perks to being an entrepreneur.

“For me it’s the challenge. There’s something fun about taking something that hasn’t really been done and making it come to life. We failed so many times as part of the process and I wouldn’t look at any of them as failures. You just look at them as learning — the only time you fail is if you stop learning.

The reality — yeah we don’t have a ton of money and we’re not huge and we’re 18 months old. But literally surviving that first year, creating a manufacturing process, developing a supply chain — from my background in consulting I couldn’t be more proud of that. We literally are creating a new industry.” Time and Oak is currently distributing their Whiskey Elements in all 50 states and 23 countries. And they’re projecting 300 percent growth in 2016 through the addition of retail distribution as well as distillery partnerships.

According to David, it’s not about good or bad whiskey — it’s about your whiskey. “Everyone has their own flavor, and if you want to tweak a flavor this is the best product to get that flavor with. And that’s really our core and that’s kinda why I don’t like telling people how to use it other than the power of it. Have you ever seen a piece of wood that goes in a beverage? Taste it regularly. When you fall in love take it out of the bottle. Every time you put one in a bottle you’re truly making a small batch of whiskey — one bottle at a time crafted to your exact flavor.”

For more information, visit www.timeandoak.com, like them on facebook and follow them on instagram and twitter

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With PENSOLE, D’Wayne Edwards Erases Barriers to Training Aspiring Footwear Designers

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D’Wayne Edwards is a footwear designer in Portland. He holds 30 patents and has produced more than 500 designs, mostly sneakers, including those created for star athletes like Carmelo Anthony and Derek Jeter. He is one of a handful of people ever to design an Air Jordan. His cumulative sales total, spanning a 26 year career, adds up to $1 billion.

In 2011 and at the peak of his career, Edwards left his position as design director at Nike’s Jordan Brand, and began training aspiring designers through his PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy in Old Town Portland. It was his personal quest to break down the socioeconomic barriers that have kept many talented artists out of the design business.

The motivations for his mid-stream career change and the launch of PENSOLE come from his own personal experience as a poor black kid from South Los Angeles.

“All young people have to see who they want to become.”

                                                                                                     D’Wayne Edwards

 

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

The roots of an artist

Edwards was the youngest of six children, raised by a single mother in Inglewood, California during the 1980’s. He began drawing sports figures when very young but by age 12, he focused on the shoes because, “they were the most challenging thing to draw.” He had support at home—his mother and brothers were artistic too. But no one believed there was a future for a him in the design industry.

Throughout high school, Edwards continued to draw—always shoes. He had a job at McDonalds and was told he could one day become a store manager and earn a good living–$40K a year. His school guidance counselor suggested he join the military.

Noticing a small ad in the LA Times, Edwards entered a design competition sponsored by Reebok. He submitted a drawing and won. Reebok withheld the prize–a job with the company–because Edwards was only 17. They suggested he come back after he finished college.

Even if he’d had the money to attend, there were no design schools at the time with specific curriculum for footwear design.

After high school Edwards attended Santa Monica Community College, studying business management and advertising. Working at a temp agency, he was assigned to LA Gear as a file clerk. Noticing suggestion boxes placed around the office, Edwards put a hand-drawn sketch of a different sneaker in the box every day, suggesting they hire him. It took six months, but the owner of the company finally called Edwards in and decided to give him a shot.

When Edwards was hired as a designer at LA Gear in 1989, he was 19 years old and one of two African American athletic footwear designers in the US.

Edwards eventually left LA Gear and went on to Nike, and by 2008 Edwards was designing for Jordan. He began reflecting on the industry and his role within it, recalling, “At this time kids are getting killed for shoes that I’ve designed and/or worked on…It was difficult for me…I was making the product–even though I wasn’t the owner of the company–but I was associated with the idea.”

 Photo Credit: Marcus  Yam


Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

Changing the conversation and industry

Sensing a need to find a better path, in 2010 while still at Nike, Edwards taught the first PENSOLE class in partnership with University of Oregon. He asked friends with sneaker websites to post bulletins, getting applicants to submit drawings. Edwards funded the first session, paying for 40 students to attend. In the end, “That just felt better to me than creating new products and new shoes for people. Even though I loved what I did, I found more satisfaction in helping people.” In 2011 Edwards resigned from Nike to devote himself to the academy.

PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy is a lofted, creative-classroom space. It’s modern, bright, and suited to collaboration. The large, high-ceilinged room is defined by a few low walls to allow clusters of students to work. In the foyer, small-scale shoe boxes line the wall, representing students that have been placed with a brand after graduating. On the opposite wall is a suggestion box.

Beside that are photos of students who have arrived late to class and suffered the consequences–10 push-ups for every minute of tardiness. An over-sized, clear vase sits on a shelf nearby, full of pencil shavings accumulated during each month-long, intensive course—mounting evidence of the energy expended during the 14 hour days that students typically work.

The only way to attend PENSOLE is to earn a place in the academy by submitting one drawing of a sneaker, sketched by hand in pencil. Edwards receives an average of 500 drawings during each application period from which he will select 18 -25 students, based solely on their drawing. He makes sure that no two students in any class come from the same place. Selected applicants must be 18 and pay their own way to Portland. But the competitive, merit-based program covers the cost of tuition, housing, and supplies, removing socioeconomic barriers. So far, students from 35 different countries have attended the academy.

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

PENSOLE Academy is a mix of old-school rigor and innovative classroom experience. Edwards insists students use their hands and draw with pencil, a process that helps them tap into their creativity and connect to themselves as individuals. Computers, in his view, are limiting.

Stenciled on the walls and tables are memorable quotes from authors that range from Shakespeare to Bruce Lee. He starts each morning with a quote, a website, and discussion of a historical figure, all aimed at helping students develop their potential. He also assigns daily readings from the classroom library with content ranging from business to motivational topics

“I don’t have a set curriculum,” says Edwards, who doesn’t tolerate laziness. “You can’t skip one day…Part of it is getting [students] to be present so they can understand when they come here they need to be ready to work. The more you can prepare for the unexpected, the better off you’re going to be when it’s time to adapt in the professional environment…We’re training you the way you’re going to work.”

A community of more than 70 adjunct footwear designers, along with Edwards, comprise the faculty. PENSOLE’s materials lab offers the same selections available to major footwear brands. All facets of the business are taught, including consumer profiling, storytelling, terminologies, palette development, strategic thinking, and marketing plans, while at the same time cultivating leadership skills.

Edwards sets a very high standard for students to meet. “I treat them the way they want to become, which is a professional. So if you want to become a professional one day, this is what it’s going to take to get there.”

Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

PENSOLE has attracted the attention of top design schools, including The Art Center in Pasadena, California and Parsons The New School for Design, in New York. Edwards established partnerships with these institutions and others, traveling to teach the PENSOLE curriculum at their campuses. These institutions realize that the classic business and dress shoes are designed and manufactured much as they have been for decades,  but the radical innovation in the industry comes from athletic footwear. (Edwards discusses the impact of the sneaker on Science Friday).

The Academy is supported by a network private donations, school scholarships, and corporate sponsors, including adidas, Nike, Foot Locker, ASICS and many others. In exchange, brand partners that sponsor classes may own the student design product, which they can choose to manufacture and sell, compensating the student for their work. (This PENSOLE graduate writes about his days at the academy)

PENSOLE itself is not an accredited institution. Its validation is grounded in results.

To date, 145 PENSOLE graduates have been placed in the footwear design industry, many of them here in Oregon. The list continues to grow, currently including Nike/Jordan, adidas, AND1, North Face, New Balance, Wolverine, Timberland, Keen, Converse, Cole Haan, Under Armour, and Stride Rite.

Still, notwithstanding this early success, many of the barriers Edwards faced as a kid nearly 30 years ago are still deeply entrenched.  Today, fewer than 100 individuals, less than 5% of footwear designers in the US, are people of color. Many of those have been mentored or taught by Edwards. Looking at gender balance within the industry, the figures are similarly alarming. So few females attempt to become footwear designers that Edwards is planning to offer a PENSOLE class just for women.

 Photo Credit: Marcus  Yam


Photo Credit: Marcus Yam

Edwards remains undaunted by the task of changing an industry from within. “PENSOLE was created to service the entire footwear industry, and everything about how we operate is about community.”

In fact, the calendar for 2016 demonstrates how his vision for PENSOLE continues to expand. In addition to teaching 8 class sessions throughout the year, a new partnership was recently announced giving students an opportunity to design footwear for Levi’s. For the first time, PENSOLE will launch its own branded product.

Fans of the immensely popular World Sneaker Championship, founded by Edwards, are already participating in the current 2016 competition that was launched in February. And in responding to requests from teachers and students across the nation, a program for high school students is currently in development, to be partly funded by a community-ownership campaign called SOLEHOLDER.

D’wayne Edwards and PENSOLE will keep knocking down these walls, one by one, driven by the words of Bruce Lee on the school wall:

“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

Bruce Lee

 

 Thanks to Davia Larson for her contributions to this story.                                                                                                                                             

 

 Photo Credit: Marcus Yam


Photo Credit: Marcus Yam