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The Making Oregon Podcast: Charlie Gilkey, The Accidental Entrepreneur

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Our guest on the latest edition of The Making Oregon Podcast is Charlie Gilkey, founder and owner of Productive Flourishing (www.productiveflourishing.com/).

Charlie calls his company “A community for the doers with the vision to see how the world could be, the smarts to figure out how to make it happen, and the grit to do the work.”. We’ll find out more about what’s underneath the hood of that statement, and more, including:

–  How his service in the US military and deployment to Iraq shaped his life and business practices
– How his starting a blog about academic personal development morphed into a real business
– The key influencer who pushed him along (see ittybiz.com/about-naomi/)
– The book that influenced his eventual move to Portland (www.creativeclass.com/richard_florid…creative_class)
– The benefits of living in a “long-tail” state and community
– The importance of email marketing (yes, it still is!)
– Going beyond the “how” and to the “why”, and why it’s better not to go it alone
– The key element of business greatness

charlie g 5One more thing before you dive into the podcast – Charlie describes himself this way – “If a mad scientist were to do a freaky Friday experiment and cross an entrepreneur, Army officer, and philosopher, I’d be what popped out of the tube”.

Listen, learn, and enjoy!

You can find Charlie on his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Cut by crafted cut: The Ransom Spirits story

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Tad Seestedt  moved to Oregon in 1993 and began working at a variety of  wineries in the Yamhill County. He spent the next 4 years working with some great vineyards, but there was an internal passion to create his own unique brand of craft spirits.

The initial focus was centered around making high quality grappa, eau de vie and brandy.

It was a passion that launched one of the first Oregon-based distilleries; one that has evolved from an initial niche line of spirits into a world class maker of whiskeys, gins, vodka and grappa.P1060830

Starting from scratch

The craft distillery landscape in 1997 was a lot different than it is today. There were only four craft distilleries in Oregon, Hood River Distillers, Clear Creek, Bendistillery and Brandy Peak. Ransom was the fifth craft distiller in Oregon.

Tad had been experimenting with distilling at that point for several years, but since the industry was still pretty small, there were very few places to go for resources or to learn about distilling. The people who were distilling did not want to take on a part time person, and since Tad had to keep his winemaking job, he was faced with a decision.

“I didn’t want to make the choice on winemaking or distilling. I wanted to be both. So, I had to start my own distillery in order to do both.”

Tad didn’t have a wealthy family and he didn’t have any investors as he launched Ransom in 1997. He had some savings built up and was determined to do it himself. But the amount of capital needed to ramp up was beyond what he had in savings, so he did what most businesses did at the time and applied for a commercial loan.

He realized pretty quickly that the qualifications needed to acquire a loan didn’t line up with where he was as a business venture. Both the length of time the business had been around and the lack of necessary collateral were serious negatives in the eyes of the banks, and Tad was unable to get a standard commercial loan.

P1060832“Whether it’s spirits or wine, more so with spirits, you buy your raw material and do your fermentation and distill, and then you have this time lag where you’re building this inventory. Your inventory’s aging before you can sell it, which is this crushing financial situation to be caught in if you don’t and one that banks are not fond to invest in. If you could raise $80 million like the tech guy then it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I don’t know of any startup wineries or distilleries that raise that kind of money.”

Unable to get a loan from the bank, Tad turned to another option.

“That was back in the days when you got a credit card offer in the mail every week or maybe several weeks. They would be the ones that had phrases like -’You can get so much in unsecured loan and you can transfer this balance with a zero percent.’ And I thought, well, you know, these things sound crazy like a scam, but the bank is not gonna loan me any money anyways.”

Since this was before the internet, Tad called up Capital One and inquired about applying for one of their unsecured loans.

“They said, how much do you want?’ I said, I’d like to get $36,000 and they replied that they’d call me back, which they did, and two days later I had a check for $36,000. That’s crazy, you know? And at 4% it was a lower percentage rate than the commercial loan, which if I had qualified, would have been around 11%.”

So with money in hand, Tad got to work.

In 1999 Ransom was producing small batch fine wines, eau de vie, brandy and grappa – with Tad P1060831doing it all. As someone who is focused on the production side of things, he handled the fermenting, distilling and bottling. But as he started to bottle more and more he had a realization that there was this whole other critical aspect to running a business called sales. Tad was always in the cellar which became very clear on a business trip to Chicago. He had his first bottles of eau de vie, which included eau de vies made from pinot noir, riesling, and muscat – all bottled separately for each respective varietal.

“I’d go to high-end restaurant guys with bar programs and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is great, we’ll buy some of that.’ I think I was in Chicago for three days, and I sold probably six cases of eau de vie and 200 cases of wine.”

Tad went back in 2000, and visited some of the restaurants he had sold some of the eau de vie to. The buyer welcomed him back to Chicago and mentioned that they still had the bottle of Gewürztraminer eau de vie he had sold them a year earlier. The bar staff had been drinking them behind the bar because the customers didn’t know what to think of the eau de vie. The realization hit Tad – there was very little consumed, and therefore no turnover on the product.

At about the same time, the dot-com bubble burst and the economy took a slide. Tad was sitting on a lot of brandy with the stark realization that he was most likely not going to sell it. So he sold that brandy in bulk to wineries who used it to make ports and fortified wines, and took that income and bought more grapes that he fermented but didn’t distill.

“I started bottling a bunch of wine and that really started to change the financial picture, you know? People like to joke about starting a winery –  you start with a big fortune to end up with a small one? But when you have nothing and you’re able to sell something, it was good.”

But the early years of Ransom took a toll on Tad. For the first eight years he did everything himself, and he still had a full time job. He was still working for other people making wine, plus trying to run Ransom. This led to 70-90 hour work weeks, and the business was still hemorrhaging money.

“It was really extremely difficult, you know? I think that the long hours are one thing, but I think once that I started to recognize that it could work economically, it made it tolerable. I mean for a few years I really just thought I should bail out, but once it started to show promise around 2004, I realized this can work. You have to get to the point where you have that inventory that’s aged and ready to sell, whether it be winery or distillery. And you have to be able to sell it. Find people who want it, distributors who wanna buy it, or if you’re doing your own sales, and I was doing my own sales here in Oregon, making the rounds to all the bars, restaurants, wine shops and liquor stores – a huge amount of work. It took a toll. It definitely took a toll.”

Things started to change when he started doing more wine than spirits, and focusing on his own wine brand.  And in 2005 he hired his first employee.P1060826

Crafting the spirits

Around 2005, Tad was shifting from a focus on brandy and eau de vie in the distillery and towards gin and whiskey. This shift was the result of realizing the fact that gin and whiskey are more in line with what a broad mix of Americans drink. The spirits are more popular as stand alone drinks in tumblers, and people in bars use them in cocktails.

The early recipe for what would be one of his signature cocktails was connected to someone from his past, a friend back in New York named Dave Wondrich.

“I had left and I was living overseas for a while. And I came back, I think it had been like a year or something. And I called Dave up but he had moved and his phone number was different. This was before the internet. So, it wasn’t like now where you just need someone’s email address and you can find them wherever they are in the world. It’s like, if you lose someone’s address and phone number, that’s it. But then I started seeing Dave Wondrich’s name on spirits articles and cocktail articles, and it was around 2005 and started wondering if it was the same Dave that I knew.”

Tad tracked down Dave’s email and dropped him a note, and learned it was indeed the same person, which was pretty incredible to think about. Both of them were on totally different paths in the late 80’s and they went in their own directions. Then more than 15 years later they reconnect and both are involved in spirits; Dave as a historian and writer, and Tad on the producing end.

The two ended up meeting for lunch in New York with Tad bringing him up to speed on where he was with Ransom.

“I told Dave that I was trying to make brandy and eau de vie and it was not really working economically for me as I kept losing money. So I mentioned that I was going to start working on a gin recipe and he mentioned that he was working on an article around old time gin and classic cocktails. So he provided me with a lot of information and we worked on the old time gin recipe together, which was a huge help for me because I had never made gin before.”P1060850

But the switch to spirits did take some time for Tad to wrap his head around. He had experience working with grapes, berries and fruits and it all made sense to him. But working with grain was a completely different process. So he reached out to some brewer friends who reassured him that if he could make wine then he could make the spirits.

In 2006 Tad started working on the recipes for the gin and whiskey. Ransom released their first gin, which is the old time gin, around 2008. It was the old time gin recipe that he and Dave had worked on a few years before.

The first whiskey Ransom made was the Whippersnapper. It’s one that is unique to Tad.

“We believe the whippersnapper cannot be placed in one category of whiskey. It is clearly different from any one single style, with the best of the parts from several distinct styles. Whippersnapper is then hand bottled, hand labeled, and hand waxed. Meticulous attention is paid to achieving perfection both in the bottle and out.”

After that, Tad starting moving more into other grains besides barley and corn, and started working on the Emerald in 2009 – 2010. The Emerald was another collaborative project/concept with David Wondrich, the same partnership that had produced the Old Tom Gin. More recently, they released “Rye-Barley-Wheat”, which is a mash bill made up of several different malting levels, and also a mix of unmalted barley and rye.

But no matter what Tad and his team at Ransom are making, they never stray from the attention to detail and craft that has gotten them to this point.

“We lean strongly towards putting grain dominant whiskey in the bottle, and try to steer away from putting oak dominant whiskey in the bottle. It is our preference to focus more on the ingredients and how they affect aromatics, flavor profile and mouth feel, rather than focusing too much on the barrels that we use for aging. We only use 53 and 60 gallon barrels, the vast majority of which are used. Only a very small percentage of new barrels are in the distillery.”P1060837

Crafting with care

As with all of the steps in his journey, Tad did not approach the making of spirits from an efficiency standpoint. He started out making them in a very labor intensive way, and continues to do so to this day. The spirits are distilled in a hand-hammered, direct-fired alembic pot still which truly look like pieces of art in the production facility and are pieces of equipment Tad has been slowly acquiring over the years.

“I bought one, made one, bought another, and then bought the one here. Not counting the original one that I built to experiment on before I had a license. So technically five stills.”

One still in particular has an interesting story.

Tad was getting ready to purchase a direct fire basic still from Vendome when a friend called and said there was an alembic still for sale in California. The one in California was 10 hectoliter (300 gallons) and he was looking to ramp up to a 900 gallon pot from Vendome so in his mind the one in California didn’t make sense, but he called the guy and realized it was a dream still from the manufacturer he thought made the best pot still on the market. The one he couldn’t find 20 years prior was just sitting there in California, and according to the seller, never used.

Tad went down to California to look at it, and some of the pieces were missing, and so he negotiated the price down to what was a great deal and bought the still. He canceled the order with Vendome, who weren’t happy. But Tad didn’t have enough for two stills and he knew that he’d probably ever find another one like the one he just purchased, even if some of the parts were missing.

“So this is one of the last years that they made these from hand. This is a ’78 model and I think in the mid-’80s sometime they switched to different technology where a lot of these parts are spun, and it’s just made in a higher tech way. And I wanted one where you could see all these little dimples that are the result of hammer strikes on sheets of copper.”

He got the still back to the facility and began thinking how he could get the missing pieces fabricated, which didn’t seem too daunting except the pieces are sized to fit on the metric system, and many local fabricators are not set up for metric fabrication.

But a funny thing happened when he started to get it all unpacked.

P1060822“I was taking everything apart, laying everything out, and this preheater was sitting on this old beat up palette, and the guy gave me the blueprints. The blueprints confirmed it was a 1978 model that was made in France and shipped to a guy in California for some other guy who was supposed to use it in Tahiti.  I had all the documentation and I still didn’t believe that it was never used, because it had areas of discoloration. I looked inside the swan’s neck and could see some residue, but knew that even with the use I got a great deal. But as I cut the straps and started pulling it off the palette, and inside this pedestal’s hollow, that’s where those missing parts were, still wrapped up in original wax paper. And I was like, That guy was not bullshitting me. It’s like maybe the swan’s neck for some reason they sent that one part that had been used to this guy who bought it in California, and then they lost that and bought another one, I don’t know. But he wasn’t bullshitting me.”

And whether on that still, or one of the others on Ransom’s farm, Tad still does all of the cuts in the production by hand, and while it’s much more labor intensive than using technology to do it, the end result are spirits with a greater aromatic intensity.

And as far as new opportunities Ransom is chasing, well, Tad has a response you don’t hear very often.

“I think we’re done. We’ve just released a new whisky in October. A whiskey we’ve been working on for the last four years. The only other thing that we would do, and I’m sure we’ll do in the future, is to release a hundred percent barley and malt whisky. Because most of our mash bills are more kind of multi-grain. What we’re focusing on now is more on the grain-based, we’re gonna stick to that. But the dry gin is barley, rye, and corn, but different malts of barley, un-malted and malted rye. So, I think those, for me, are complex mash bills that make a more complex spirit. Not that I don’t like malt, malted barley whisky, because I love it, but I think from creation point-of-view, I’m trying to maybe push the boundaries in some respects and try to take whisky to a different place.  I think there’s a huge future in whisky. I think for us, and on the craft end in United States, there’s this huge spectrum of what can be done with whisky and I think it’s starting, and it’s starting in a good way, with limitless possibilities.“P1060834

Ransom Spirits grew pretty exponentially for a while, and while as Tad states above, they will never stop experimenting. But from a production standpoint they are leveling off. They are at a good size and the current equipment works for them. Growing and expanding is not something on Tad’s radar.

“For me to say ‘let’s take this to the next level’ would then require us to get a new mash done. Let’s get another bigger still. Let’s build another building where we can put more barrels. My goal is never to become a super wealthy person. I wanted to make a good living fermenting and distilling.”

Today, Ransom Spirits is one of the most well respected producers of spirits on the market, winning numerous awards. And looking back over the years, even with all the ups and downs, Tad has few regrets.

“I’d like to think that our path, like whatever it is, was our path. And that makes where we end up where we are, and hopefully, we’re happy with where we end up. So, if you change things, maybe you wouldn’t end up where you are, but I’m happy where I am now. So, I would say the only thing I might have changed would be to start doing gin and whisky in 1999 instead of 2006. But luckily for me, my other half has a good job and I didn’t lose any weight for seven years when I was hemorrhaging money -there was always food on the table.”

And accompanying that food on the table was always a carefully hand crafted wine or spirit.

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

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For the love of brewing: For the next wave of Oregon brewers, brewing is an art and a lifestyle

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Oregon has over 200 brewers, 80 in Portland alone. Predictions of market saturation have been made for years. Yet, new breweries open regularly. The number of breweries in the US passed 7,000 in 2016, with over 1,000 new ones in 2016 alone. What drives this next wave of brewing entrepreneurs?

We talked with three breweries that are part of the next wave. Each of these three has a different origin story, but for this group, brewing is a craft, a lifestyle and a family and community-based business. In some cases, owning and operating a brewery comes first and in others, brewing beer comes first, but for all of them, if the brewery can grow to be self-sustaining, it’s all the success they need.

Gateway Brewing – Commitment to the local community

Founded in 2015, Gateway Brewing is based on a shared passion for beer brewing, family and community. Karen and Joel Sheley, the owners and brewers of Gateway, saw a shortage of breweries in their Portland Gateway neighborhood east of I-205, and a shortage of family-friendly breweries city-wide. Veterans of the early days of craft brewing in Portland, Karen and Joel each have of years of experience working at breweries. Joel and Karen even met and married while working at craft brewing pioneer Widmer Brothers.

Joel, whose father was a home brewer, had always been interested in brewing. After a trip to Germany, Joel came home with a recipe for banana wine. Wisely, his father pointed him back to brewing. Good thing – the world still may not be ready for banana wine.17951450_1871154439831170_107767640390767468_n

Joel started his career in the beer business at Nor’wester Brewing. He started at the bottom – cleaning kegs – and over time, learned all about the brewing business from the production side, attended brewing school, and eventually wound up at Widmer.

Karen’s love of brewing also came from a trip to Europe. She visited the hops growing region of the Czech Republic, and began her business career helping to transition state-owned Czechoslovakia-era brewers to private ownership. After briefly working in health care in Kentucky, Karen chose to follow her interest in brewing and relocated to Portland. Landing a job in production management at Widmer, Karen met Joel.

Joel and Karen soon drifted away from brewing. Joel, who missed the entrepreneurial spirit of the early days of craft brewing, started a bicycle delivery service, riding up to 80 miles per day hauling packages and ferrying the couple’s young daughter back and forth to school. Karen continued to work in production management outside of the brewing industry.

In 2015, Karen and Joel made the commitment to convert their garage in the Gateway neighborhood of Portland into a brewery. They missed the beer industry, and determined that a brewery that was family-friendly and emphasized neighborhood ties would resonate in their neighborhood, which is home to many young families. Joel chose to devote full time to developing the brewery; Karen also works in the family brewery business while maintaining her job at a technology company.

13510770_1724550064491609_7161255818461738076_nKaren and Joel consider themselves “beer people” and members of a close-knit community of Portland craft brewers. Part of the allure of the business is the people they meet in the industry, especially other brewers. Even with the competitiveness of the market, Joel and Karen know they can count on other brewers for expertise or even if they need to borrow some ingredients. It’s a big extended family.

Gateway Brewing beer is currently available in five restaurants in Portland. Joel and Karen also continue to explore new ways to bring their beer to more taps, especially in their Gateway neighborhood. For example, in summer 2016, Gateway sold beer through a pop-up at a local bike shop, and Joel and Karen are also active supporters of the under-construction Gateway Skatepark.

 

Leikam Brewing – Community-Supported Brewing

For Theo and Sonia Marie Leikam, brewing is all about family. Leikam Brewing is Portland’s first community-supported brewery (CSB) – think of a farm share program, but for beer. It’s also the only kosher-certified brewery west of New York.

Before starting Leikam, Theo and Sonia Marie were looking to gain more control over their lives. Theo, an accountant, traveled frequently for business, and they had three small children. Sonia Marie comes out of the non-profit world. Tired of the travel required of many accountants, and tired of working on other people’s finances, Theo and Sonia Marie considered several alternatives. For Theo as a home brewer, starting a microbrewery was an attractive option, allowing him to develop his craft brewing expertise, while permitting the couple to be close to their growing children.13268590_1107235882655671_5450285294665805200_o

Although it started as a part-time venture, Leikam has become a full-time business for Theo, while Sonia Maria still divides her time between the brewery and a local non-profit. Like many nanobrewers, Theo and Sonia Marie divide the responsibilities of the business. Theo is the principal brewer, while Sonia Marie is responsible for sales, social media and branding.

Theo has always had neighborhood support for his brewing, and it seemed almost natural for the couple to build a brewery in their backyard. Early on, they introduced a Community-Supported Brewing program which allows their subscribers to pick up beer at the brewery. It’s a good way for Leikam to forecast at least part of their sales in advance and even out their cash flows. The CSB also builds the sense of community that is integral to their business. Customers pick up beer at Leikam’s backyard brewery, and sometimes will even just leave an empty growler as a not-so-subtle hint that it’s time for a refill.

15027542_1244066908972567_8235372076985256556_nLeikam also sells beer through more traditional channels. With a passionate customer base, Leikam’s reputation has grown beyond their community. Customers have spread the word, and Leikam’s beer is available at restaurants and taprooms across the Portland area. Their ability to brew small batches of beer has helped too, and they have been asked to create custom beers for John Gorham’s Mediterranean Exploration Company and Shalom Y’All.

Theo and Sonia Marie also cite support from the Portland craft brewing community as being critical for the success of their business. They have found the other brewers to be willing to meet and to share their successes and failures. Sonia Marie has found brewers who are women to be especially supportive, and was part of the Pink Boots Society of women beer professionals from an early stage.

Leikam is meeting the plan they set for their growing business, and they are looking at what’s next. Given the competitive brewery landscape in the Portland area, they know it will take time to become the next craft brewing success story, but they’re committed to it.

De Garde Brewing – It’s About the Beer

Trevor and Linsey Rogers’ award-winning De Garde Brewing is proof that craft brewers can be successful and maintain a balanced lifestyle. De Garde sells beer mostly from their brewery, hidden away near the Tillamook Airport, with limited distribution outside of the area. Their wild fermented beers are sought after by beer connoisseurs and despite the location; there’s frequently a line of de Garde fans at the door when they open their taproom to customers. De Garde was recently named seventh-best brewery in the world at the RateBeer awards, alongside top breweries from across the US and the world.

The brewery has become so successful that de Garde is opening a second tasting room in downtown Tillamook, where it will be easier to find them, although that’s never been an issue for devoted De Garde drinkers.Screenshot 2017-05-21 21.21.31

For Trevor and Linsey, De Garde started out as being all about the beer. Trevor was working as an Assistant Manager at the original Pelican Brewing in Pacific City, while Linsey was in business management at Tillamook Cheese. With his work at Pelican as inspiration, Trevor became an avid home brewer. He and Linsey tried lots of different brewing styles, but wild fermentation was the one that they liked the best, and they committed de Garde to making the best wild fermented beer around.

Trevor and Linsey opened de Garde Brewing in 2013. After testing locations up and down the Coast, they carefully selected Tillamook as the best site for brewing their wild fermented beer. Whether it’s the salt air, the moisture or the nearby Tillamook Dairy, their natural yeast grew better there. De Garde’s wild barrel-aged ales became immediately popular. The beers are sessionable, with low alcohol content. De Garde’s wild barrel-aged ales became immediately popular, and Trevor and Linsey never looked back. Linsey stayed at her prior position for another year, but as demand and the brewery grew, she took the leap and started working at the brewery full time. They now employ six people.

With success came new challenges. Early on, funding for the brewery was scarce. Despite their best efforts, Trevor and Linsey were unable to obtain outside financing, and de Garde was launched through a lot of personal debt. Those days are fortunately behind them. But the brewery’s growing fame raised the question of what’s next.

The beer’s distribution has been limited regionally, with availability only in Oregon, Washington and northern California. Trevor and Linsey have chosen to keep prices reasonable, so that their beer that doesn’t have to be reserved for a special occasion.

17342509_1574205745953554_6594047386455690380_nTrevor and Linsey enjoy brewing beer and operating the brewery, and it’s important to them to be actively involved in the process. De Garde beer is critically praised, and the brewery could develop to be another in the long list of Oregon breweries that have been bought by larger companies. For the time being, Trevor and Linsey are simply committed to making the best beer they can and doing what they love – working in the brewery.

The three breweries – Gateway, Leikam and de Garde – have different origin stories and different trajectories. Yet all three share a passion for good beer and the benefits to family and community that a smaller brewery can bring. Their next steps might differ as well, but all are dedicated to the proposition that, with focus and hard work, they can balance their values with the success they seek.

For more information visit, www.leikambrewing.com, www.degardebrewing.com, and www.gatewaybrewingpdx.com.

Spreading the love through water: The Love Bottle story

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Masking Tape Messages

What if there was a way to improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health, help save the planet, contribute to nonprofits, and encourage the growth of manufacturing jobs in the US, all at the same time?

2016-11-19_A7A0470What if it was as easy as taking a drink of water out of a Love Bottle?

The brainchild of Minna Yoo, Love Bottle was founded on the belief that water is central to wellness.

When Minna was working as a nutritionist in San Francisco in 2007, she had started putting small pieces of masking tape on the glass jars she was drinking out of and writing the word “love” on them.

“There was this idea that water has a memory. So, water is receptive to [the] words, pictures, energy around it. … I really love that concept. The idea that water was effected by it’s surroundings. … And so I started writing ‘love’ on all my bottles.”

Gradually, more words like sing, play and fun were transformed into masking-tape-Sharpie stickers and placed with care on her water bottles. Then, one day, it came to her in a flash. In an instant she saw the whole company and knew exactly what she needed to do.

“I bought the domain name that night and I gave notice [at her job] the next day and started on a whole new journey.”

Over the course of the following year, Minna refined her business plan, established supply chain logistics, and solidified the values that would define the culture of Love Bottle—a commitment to health, positivity, and environmental sustainability. The company grew over the next three years, Minna had her first child and brought her sister in to help out. Then, in 2011, Minna, her family, and the company decided to move from San Francisco to Portland.

“For a small business it’s a lot harder to be a little fish in that city. Here, I felt like I was in this welcoming nest with all these—like—‘Come join us! We’ve got food and beer! And network and we’ll support you!’ It was really amazing.”image (1)

Moving Home

As she got settled in Portland, Minna couldn’t help but think more and more about a trip that she had taken to China back in 2009–The smog, the poor economic conditions, the never ending blocks of manufacturing plants. She started asking herself, “Do I want to sell a million bottles this way? Is this how I want this company to grow?”

Minna originally wanted to manufacture the bottles in the US, but wasn’t able to find anyone that could make less than 2-3 million at a time—far more than the 10,000 that she needed. But, as time passed and the company grew, the contradiction between the values and actions of the company started to weigh heavy on Minna’s mind.

“I was pregnant with my second child and I was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to close down shop. We’ve done a good job. This was fun.’ And people were like, ‘No, you gotta go for it! You can do it!’ And so, we started talking to people.”

At this point, serendipity stepped in and the universe aligned in favor of Minna’s vision for Love Bottle. Through aIMG_3566 series of chance encounters, Minna was able to find a glass manufacturer in the US that was excited to make the bottles for her. The only problem was that they still couldn’t make less than a quarter million units at a time. It was just too expensive to shut down all the equipment and swap out the molds for less. Not being the type to give in easily, Minna got to work.

“It was a good challenge for us. We were able to figure out the funding. Kickstarter was part of that. We couldn’t rely on Kickstarter to do all of it. It would have been way too risky at that point. So, we had to find funding and then Kickstarter helped it.”

With funding secured and a successful Kickstarter campaign, the next evolution of Love Bottle was poised to launch. Still, there were a lot of people that didn’t understand what Minna was doing.

“So many times along the way there were people like, ‘What are you doing? The process is moving abroad.’ You know, ‘Get it cheaper. Go to China.’”

But Minna knew that in order for Love Bottle to be a company that she could be proud of, it was of the utmost importance for there to be a more direct connection between how the bottles were made and the message that they stood for. She had to make sure that love was going into the product, from its birth all the way to the customer’s lips. With the glass manufacturer locked in, she scoured the US looking for the right people to make the ceramic, silicon and wire components of her product.

There were times when she thought, “‘I don’t know if this is gonna happen.’ But we totally found the right team and the right people and it all kind of came together.”

In October of 2015, with the manufacturers set to go, Love Bottle was relaunched as a 100% US made product—complete with the raised heart on the chest of the bottle and the “U R Love” message on the bottom that Minna had always wanted.

Through this shift to domestic manufacturing, the company has added both connectivity and value. “It’s really great to visit them and be part of that and know that we’re providing jobs.”LB_Minna With Bottles 1

Creating Community

Love Bottle’s supply chain isn’t the only place that you’ll find them reaching out and supporting the broader community. Since it’s inception, Love Bottle has been committed to partnering with nonprofits. Minna has a firm belief that, “You can’t say, ‘I’ll do that when I can afford it.’ Because it’s a slippery slope when you do that. You have to make it happen from the get-go.”

With this philosophy in mind, Love Bottle has consistently donated to a variety of organizations including: Clean Water Action, the Arbor Day Foundation, and Feeding America. Currently, they’re working with Global Water to help get clean water to school children in Guatemala, and are looking into ways they can expand their impact to the conflict-torn regions of Syria and Jordan.

Another manifestation of Love Bottle’s commitment to social and environmental sustainability is their recent B-Corp certification. When Minna first heard about B-Corps, she immediately thought, “‘That’s our people! That’s what our whole company has been about! Now they have a name for it. Let’s join it and be a part of it!”

So, last summer, Love Bottle went through and passed the rigorous assessment process and officially entered the B-Corp community. With this new support network in place, Love Bottle is experiencing a revitalized sense of optimism—spurred by the knowledge that there are a growing number of businesses, like them, who are willing to do what it takes to make the world a better place.

Whether it’s promoting wellness, supporting jobs, giving to those in need, or saving the environment, Love Bottle is striving to do all they can to improve the lives of those they touch—all through a simple glass bottle and a sip of water.

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

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Looking at business through a new lens: The Revant Optics story

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Crashing into an opportunity

It took one too many bike accidents and a background in online sales for Jason Bolt to make up his mind. For months he had been buying and selling used cell phones on Ebay. His impeccable customer service skills and seemingly innate business savvy had landed him a top rating on the website.

Everything was going as planned: Both Jason and his then-girlfriend (now wife) were in the pre-med program at the University of Oregon in Eugene and the Ebay business was running smoothly. But in the back of his mind, Jason couldn’t help but think that there was an easier product to sell online. Something that was “lightweight, easy to ship, no moving parts” and, above all, something that people needed.

Then a mountain biking accident happened and out of the chaos an opportunity arose.

Jason was lucky enough to walk away intact, but his sunglasses didn’t fare as well. While the frames were still fine, the lenses were scratched up to the point that the waste basket was the only option. But that’s not Jason’s style.

“I started looking at the lenses and popping them out and went and got some other revant-elite-installing-green-lensessunglasses and popped out the lenses and was like, this is really easy. They aren’t one product. It’s clearly two separate products.”

That’s when he made up his mind. Instead of buying and selling cell phones, he would get in the sunglasses business. Well, more specifically, the lens business. So, like any good entrepreneur, Jason dove full force into researching his potential product line.

“I was in the post-baccalaureate, pre-med program at the time so I would be in classes like Organic Chemistry during the day. Then I’d come home and do homework first, and then from 9 to midnight, or 9 to 2 sometimes, I’d be researching.”

While doing this research, Jason realized that his new business plan just might work. He found out where sunglasses were being made and started reaching out to manufacturers in China. The problem was, everyone buying lenses back then wanted them in the frame as finished sunglasses–Jason just wanted the lenses. It took a ton of emails back and forth, but Jason’s persistence payed off and he was able to get a few manufacturers on board with his plan. With everything in place, he jetted over the Pacific for his first business adventure in China.

While overseas, Jason formed relationships with the factory owners, who made him his first 200 pairs of sample lenses. He was ready to come back to the States and launch his new company, Revant. The only problem was that Jason didn’t exactly have any experience with moving products across international borders.

“I had two duffel bags full of sample lenses and a bunch of sunglasses… So, I roll up to Customs with these huge duffel bags and the guy opens them up and he’s like, ‘Really.’—He even said that to me—And I was like, what do you mean, ‘Really’? And he says, ‘You know, there’s this whole process for doing this. Do you know about importing?’ I was like, ‘Nope, actually I don’t,’ and I told him my story.”

After hearing Jason out, the customs officer decided to let him, and his duffel bags, back into the states and sent him off with a friendly, “Well, next time make sure you go through the correct channels. Go ahead. Good luck. I’m pulling for you.”

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Rolling Out Revant

Once Jason had made it back to Eugene, he stopped by a local jewelry store and bought some small boxes to be repurposed as packaging for his lenses. He printed off packaging labels, took some photos, and introduced Revant to the world on Ebay. With the setup done, he headed out on a trip to Tahoe with a friend. And then things got interesting.

“By the time we got down there all of them had sold. All of them! … I immediately called my friends back in Eugene and [my parents] and I was like, ‘I need you guys to start packaging these things up. I’m gonna send you shipping labels.’ It was crazy because on Ebay, of course, you have to ship out within 24 hours or you get a negative rating. I had no idea—I figured I’d be back in time to ship. So, almost immediately, I was like, ‘This is a viable business.’”

From that point on, things happened quickly. Jason moved into a bigger apartment to accommodate the growing mountain of boxed up lenses, and then into a house so that the garage could serve as base of operations. He left school without his MD so that he could put all of his energy into his burgeoning business. He got married. His wife finished at the University of Oregon and was looking at physician assistant schools. It was time for a change. It was time to move to Portland.

“We settled on moving to Portland because [my wife] was able to go to OHSU, and I knew it would be a great spot to grow the business – we really just enjoyed the community.”

With the help of this new Portland community, Jason and his growing team were able to break through some of the challenges that came from the rapid expansion of Revant’s early days. They smoothed out the hiring process to attract the best talent while freeing up Jason’s time for administrative duties. They zeroed in on the best ways to establish and monitor their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Over the last two years, Jason’s team has “stepped up to get the right monitoring dashboards setup and now [they] are dialed-in to scale faster.”

Not only is Revant ready to scale faster, but they’re also ready to scale in a whole new way–by making their own lenses. Thanks to some amazing technology, including a space-age looking five-axis router, Revant will now be able to make one-off lenses for any type of frame. This means that they’ll go from offering 6,000 different lens types to over 60,000.

But expansion isn’t everything to Jason. While he wants to see Revant continue to grow and mature, he also wants to ensure that that growth is reflected in his community–both inside and outside of Revant.

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Standing for Something

This idea of community and humility is something that Jason had been building into the business since its beginning. Looking back at his original ventures on Ebay, Jason reminisced about the lessons that he had learned:  “The value of word of mouth… creating an amazing experience and being relational rather than transactional… that’s at the heart of what we are and how we’re growing Revant.”

Over the years, his business philosophy has transformed into the mantra “community over capital”, and it can be seen throughout the community engagement, customer relationships, and internal culture of Revant.

“We work for more than just money and profit here. We work to better the community and serve others.”

Acting on this commitment to service, Revant has partnered with a number of not for profits. Currently, they’re working with Outdoors For All to help provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in skiing, cycling, and other outdoor activities.

“We not only give [Outdoors For All] money; we participate in supporting the events and coaching and things like that.”

Screenshot 2017-04-27 07.29.02In addition, recently Revant partnered with Warfighter Made, a nonprofit organization uses shop talk, tools, and a dose of adrenaline to help empower and support wounded veterans. They donated 1% of profits to the organization for 22 days, and also financially backed the restoration of a Light Strike Vehicle that veterans could drive in the Mexican 1000 race and also sent their Revant Raptor vehicle down to serve as a support vehicle. You can read more about this partnership here.

It’s this positive involvement that drives Jason and the whole crew at Revant: It gives them something bigger than a financial margin to focus on, it adds meaning to their daily work, and it proves that doing good and giving back can be a strength and not a sacrifice.

“We have to make sure that we continue to own that story and expand on it and show that it can be successful.”

As the economy of the region continues to swell, companies like Revant will play a vital role in guiding its growth—proving the importance of community through belief and action. Their efforts to create quality products, to make business synonymous with social and environmental sustainability, and to align economic progress with mission-driven morals has the potential to reinforce long-term prosperity and encourage a culture of inclusion and equality here in Portland and beyond.

For more information visit www.revantoptics.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramJason Revant

 

Inspired by a goat: The Chivaz Wear story

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The story of Oregon’s successful Chivaz Wear started in — of all places — Silicon Valley.

Matt Gilman was working at various video game and app startups in the Bay Area, where he found himself spending an enormous amount of time and effort building other people’s dreams and ideas. After years of working for others, he learned how the system worked and those insights led to a realization: he didn’t like working for other people._X4A0135

Inspired by a goat

The initial idea for Chivaz Wear came when Matt had a few extra dollars and wanted to upgrade his wardrobe, with an emphasis on unique socks that didn’t fall down.

“I always liked wearing long socks with shorts, but in 2006, the only long socks available were tube socks that came in multipacks and other ‘stylish’ socks from places like The Gap that had poor quality and uninspiring design,” he said. “Socks that fall down are called quitters, which is something I learned that from a Canadian friend growing up. I am not a quitter, nor will I create something that would be considered a quitter.”

The initial spark was expanded by a chance encounter with a goat..

“At this same time, I met this goat named Chiva (Spanish word for goat). She was the first goat that I ever really got to be around for more than just a quick looksee. She had a strong personality, and spent most of her day standing on a surfboard, surveying her expansive world, from the middle of my friend’s tree.”

AV5A7844-2So how did the combination of socks and a goat came together to launch a brand? As an independent person himself, the connection made perfect sense to Matt. He put a stake in the ground to make unique and high quality socks that were an expression of not only the independent and awesome spirit he saw in Chiva, but how he felt in the world.

“In my mind, goats represented so many things I saw as part of the brand; Independent flexible, adaptable, crafty, wiry, bearded and/or horned, great on their feet (sure footed), always trying to escape their pen, will eat anything, will not sacrifice their personality, friends to many, and unique.”

But the transition from a concept to an actual company can get a bit messy and complicated – especially when it comes to a consumer products brand. As a number of consumer product founders do, Matt took to Kickstarter.

“I had no money, so I floated the idea out there and I got a ton of pre-orders: $20,000 worth. That money allowed me to order the socks and start selling them. Without Kickstarter, I would have had to find some type of financing and no one in Silicon Valley was interested in hearing about small sock companies. I was hoping to raise $7,500 because I would have chipped in another $7,500 to get the initial order actually made. When I reached $20,000 I couldn’t believe it.”

It took Matt quite a while to find a reliable and quality focused manufacturer that understood the type of product he wanted to create, and wouldn’t cut corners or rush things. The socks had to hold their elasticity (wouldn’t fall down), kept their color, wouldn’t be too hot, and most importantly felt awesome when you put them on.

“I have drawings from 2007 showing my socks with a label on each sock and my goat logo loud and clear. I had several manufacturers that I prototyped with that I found through Alibaba. No one was giving me what I wanted, and the struggle through translation was obvious. I don’t know how to speak Chinese and they didn’t know how to speak English, and everything suffered as a result. After almost giving up, I ran into a friend of mine from Taiwan and he told me about his cousins who had once dealt with a good manufacturer there. I got in touch and immediately I knew that these people were professionals. We probably ran through another 10 prototypes before arriving at the right mix of materials and colors and price. I haven’t looked elsewhere since. “

With the manufacturing lined up, he turned his focus to the designs. From the outset Matt knew he wanted to have three designs with goats on them as a way to build his own IP. In his mind, anyone can make a striped sock, but not just anyone can make a goat sock. However, the realities of the marketplace and consumers had to be balanced with a unique IP.Copy of IMG_3852

Designing to differentiate

Beyond the initial logo design, Matt has mostly just used his own soul to come up with the designs, and with no art background, he still creates the socks in an old school way – with paper and colored pencils. He also doesn’t really look at other company’s designs, and as a result, there is a uniqueness that is simply inspired by goats, colors, nature and the environment around me.

“ More people initially like stripes more than goats, so I created nine styles that were all over the map to see what people actually wanted…unfortunately I ordered a bit too many of a few styles and was sitting on inventory for longer than i wanted. It was a great learning process though.The second phase of Chivaz has been a bit different. I ordered smaller quantities and styles, but they are selling faster. There is still a lot to be dialed in when it comes to the styling.”

Screenshot 2017-01-28 10.01.15Integrated into the styling and production are a few hidden features like the “get goatin” on the inside of each cuff, the cloven hoofprint on the bottoms, and the reflective embroidery on the back of each calf. These subtle elements harken back to the original idea genesis, but also help to define the brand.

As with most creative founders, he does have one that he’s particularly connected to.

“ I’m most proud of my current Black and White Chivaz sock. Not only does it have the Chivaz brand front and center, which I hope will serve as a reminder to the person wearing them to “get goatin'” and find their inner goat, but they also are two different socks with the same design. This goes even deeper with the brand and the message that I am trying to spread – that something that looks opposite, might actually be the same.”

You can learn more about the black and white sock via this Medium post Matt wrote.

Growing the company in Central Oregon

Matt moved out of the Bay Area because he wasn’t thriving there or growing like he wanted to as a person. He found that life was too busy and full of things that he didn’t always enjoy doing, and the general quality of life was a constant sense of pressure.

“ Sitting in traffic, absurd day care prices,  and some uninspiring companies that I had worked at led a general sense of dismay. Chivaz was on hiatus because I just couldn’t keep doing that and a full time job with a long commute. So when I moved to Redmond, it was conscious decision between my wife and I to change our lifestyle and get back to doing things that felt naturally good. Seeing beautiful nature, hiking, biking, meeting people, learning new perspectives, and understanding how to live without an income – which is still tough!”

Screenshot 2017-01-28 09.24.152016 was a huge year of growth for Matt and his family, which is something he attributes to the environment that Oregon has to offer.  Their rent went from $4300/month to $1500/month, a drastic change that gave them the room to make some mistakes – mistakes that would have really hindered them in the Bay Area.

“In the Bay Area I had no more room for mistakes. I would go into debt immediately between any jobs, so that had to keep all of my focus – instead of my own well being, my family, my creativity and my business, but what we found in Bend was an awesome and welcoming community.”

Matt didn’t know what he was going to do for work after he moved to Redmond, so he started to network in Bend. He met  Preston Calicott from Five Talent and thought the meeting would be a good one because he thought it could lead to a job or at the least introduce him to a couple of people and teach him about the area. The two of them started chatting about different companies and Matt kept droning on about random stuff. However, the conversation took an immediate turn when it switched to socks.

“We started talking about socks and I immediately changed my attitude. He basically said that I shouldn’t work for others if I really wanted to do socks. He was a bit harsh and honest with me, which was something I hadn’t heard in ages – so I welcomed it after wiping away my tears. What a blessing. He then introduced me to Gary Bracelin & Eric Meade of Bend Outdoor Worx and I just kept going out and trying to meet people on my own after that. I would just walk into different stores with a bag of socks and my story and start talking. I couldn’t believe it, but people actually had time for me.”

What Matt found in Bend was a similar tribe of people. There is a big group of people who do their own thing, so they seemed to know what he was going through, and more importantly, everyone has been supportive of the mission that he is on and stoked that he is bringing a new product to town.

AV5A7849The community and environment led to the creation of a new design, the Cascadia sock. The concept is based around a simple belief; Central Oregon is an awesome mixture of nature, independent spirits, local love, pioneering heritage, and the ability to see past boundary lines and into what brings us together as a people.

“I had no idea what Cascadia was when I moved here and now I am so proud to be a part of this community. I only made 200 of those socks and I am selling them quicker than I thought. Honestly, I feel like I am just lucky to be the first company to make a really good quality sock with this design that obviously came from someone else. I have learned that people also buy based on what they know and people who recognize that design love the design.I’d like to get these socks at some retailers in other areas of Cascadia, so if anyone out there knows of any, please send them my way – retail is still not my strong suit.”

One of the biggest challenges facing Matt and Chivaz is around spreading the “gospel of the goat,” but that could also be seen as an opportunity, one that he is slowly realizing every day.

“People keep saying they wear their Chivaz doing different activities like yoga, skiing, biking, running hiking, CrossFit, boomerang throwing, painting, cooking, and on and on. I haven’t had a chance to really dive deep into any of those segments. What I’d really like to do is get in good with other local entrepreneurs that are hustling like me and make make some co-branded socks, but I haven’t been able to build the relationships or work out the math quite yet.”

The bottom line is that Matt can’t wait to make more socks that will inspire and remind people to tap into their inner-goat. To get people believing in themselves and their own personalities and to embrace the differences that make each of us unique. To, as he puts it, “Get goatin!”

For more information, visit www.chivazwear.com. You can also like them on facebook and follow them instagram.ChivazHats1-26

Cutting a path to success: The ArcLight Dynamics Story

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Scott Cunningham had a simple idea: he wanted to carve realistic replicas of mountains. But that simple idea proved anything but simple to accomplish.

As he began exploring the project, a friend told him about CNC Computer Numerical Control) machines which could carve any shape he dreamt up. After researching CNC machines online, Scott purchased a CNC router from a vendor, but the quality turned out to be really poor. This led him to rebuild the entire drive system using surplus parts he found on ebay.

Once he fixed that initial machine, he realized that he could also build bigger and better CNC routers on his own.BRiJ-Way-LLC

Early beginnings

Scott worked on the CNC routers for a while, but eventually got into metalworking where he noticed the CNC plasma tables were selling for premium prices. He sensed an opportunity.

“I knew I could build a better one but — more importantly — provide an unmatched level of support,” he said. “At the time, you could read lots of reviews on the internet about how poorly these companies were treating their customers. And many of these customers just didn’t get any education on how to run these tables. It was obvious that these companies didn’t know that negative online reviews could hurt them.”

So in 2009, he started with two prototypes. Out of the two prototypes, one stood out as a potentially viable product — one which looks strikingly similar to the machines they sell today.

Scott used that table throughout 2010 to make metal art which he displayed at the Sunriver Artists Gallery in Central Oregon. This provided a solid trial run, but in his mind he kept pondering if people would actually buy the table.

“At the end of the year I basically threw it up on ebay just to see if anyone would bite, and I sold my first table a month later in January of 2011. That year I built 7 tables in my garage, and sold all of them on ebay.”

15937225_622225007949071_3764450894718195906_oWith initial sales traction and some market validation, Scott started thinking there was a true opportunity around building the CNC tables. That thinking accelerated when the recession cost him his full time job and he found himself unemployed. That change in circumstances opened the door to the beginnings of ArcLight Dynamics.

“With my small severance pay I rented a shop and hired two of my fellow unemployed co-coworkers, and built a website. From that point on the business took off and I hired two more of my old co-workers within a year’s time.”

That initial website had a high level of focus and professionalism. In all of his market research, Scott realized that many companies had a very limited amount of actual product information on their websites. This was a huge negative in his mind. He wanted potential and returning customers to have the ability to find an answer to any question they might have about the tables. There was an additional emphasis around producing comprehensive training videos that would allow their customers to hit the ground running.

“When we started out I created a series to video tutorials that showed our customers how to program and run our tables and put them up on Youtube for anyone to use. At this time no other manufacturer had done this, but from my perspective it was essential. So a lot of people who use other brands of tables used our videos to teach themselves how to run their systems. As a result we became the authority and source for training. “

The focus on the customer from the outset allowed ArcLight Dynamics to slip in and fill the void.

Developing an innovative product

ArcLight Dynamics tables are complete packages, which means that all someone needs to have for a very functional cutting system are standard components. And while this may seem like the norm, that is far from the case, and another area in which the focus on the customer has paid off.

“Other companies often start out with low prices, but the system won’t cut well until you add on options, which add to the cost. We believe customers will get the best bang for their buck with an ArcLight Dynamics table. We combine solid durable frames, combined with easy to use software, and most important to our success, excellent customer support.”

Scott and his team saw the biggest opportunity for their tables within small to medium size shops and businesses, and to gain traction within these verticals they had to be very conscious of the pricing. By keeping all of the parts and production in-house, they have been able to not only control costs, but also maintain high standards.

13305220_521846171320289_2423757534828226125_o“I do all the R&D in house for the design of the tables and develop new product lines. I don’t have formal education in it, but I’ve always had a knack for it. Keeping the overhead low is another reason we have been able to keep prices low. We have been very lucky as we found low cost rental space when we started out, and was able to take over more space when we needed it. But moving forward it is going to be very challenging to find a large enough building to rent or buy in the current market.”

Keeping the pricing low as they were just ramping up was a lot easier than the current production rate of 8 tables per week. So Scott and his team started researching ways to not only maintain their costs, but also create a more efficient process. This resulted in ArcLight Dynamics partnering with the local Fastenal store.

“Fastenal has been a huge help in sourcing and maintaining our inventory. Often I can find the best price on a product on the internet, and they can then match that price or do better. But what is really great is they come to our facility and stock the parts for us, maintain that stock, and often they are able to keep a back stock of our parts at their store. This saves a lot of labor and gives us ”just in time” ordering that helps with cash flow and storage space.”

ArcLight Dynamics started out with four sizes of tables, and just recently added two new larger models. The initial four were identical in design and function, while the most recent tables have larger steel welded frames and a more smoother and precise functionality. The new tables are named the Arc Max series, and are focused larger industrial environments. But new models are not rolled out too often.

“We just came out with the Arc Max table design this year, and so the new product cycle up until this point is about every 5 years. To date our best selling table is our 5’x10’ Arcpro 12000 table, accounting for 30% of our sales.”

ArcLight Dynamics has seen 40% year-over-year growth, which can, in many ways, be directly attributed to the high level of craftsmanship put into each table, along with the high level of customer service. One sector in particular, custom automotive, has really seen an uptick in the adoption and usage of CNC tables. Scott believes the adoption of CNC tables in these smaller shops, not just those focused on automotive work, can be traced back to a combination of things.

“The quality of cut that can be achieved with a plasma cutter has greatly improved in the 6 years, while at the same time, the cost of CNC technology had dropped in price. People have also become comfortable with running computer controlled equipment. They have come to the realization that they need this technology in their shops if they want to compete in the marketplace.”14681025_580637488774490_787406608450889072_o

Connecting to the community

There is a strong connection between ArcLight Dynamics and the Central Oregon community. Scott and his family see not only a place with a high quality of life to raise families, but also one they can help support through providing good paying jobs with benefits. In addition to the jobs, the company pumped $2.25 Million back into the local economy.

Scott also found connections that have been a tremendous help to his business, including Steve Curley from the SBDC.

“I started off taking the two year business development course through the SBDC and that was immensely helpful in getting me to understand how to grow our business. After the completion of that course they told me that we would qualify to continue working with the Grow Oregon program. This is when they introduced us to a new program they were offering,the Entrepreneurial Operating System, or EOS. This system has been very helpful in bringing the rest of our management team on board so they can start running the company independent of me. It has been very empowering for them and helped me grow from being self employed, to being a true entrepreneur/ business owner.”

Table made for Central Oregon based Noslr

Table made for Central Oregon based Nosler

The training and resources Scott received have helped to shape a great company culture as well. ArcLight Dynamics has been able to consistently move people up from the bottom and into management. This means that every one of their employees started out cutting steel , welding, assembling tables, and lastly, training customers on how to run the tables.

This has resulted in not only a sense of empowerment for the employees, but also created an entire company that has a very deep knowledge base, has a commitment to making sure the table works for the customer the way it should, and knows how each customer can get the most from their tables.

As the company continues to grow at a high clip, one of the biggest challenges facing ArcLight Dynamics will be finding a large enough space to rent or buy to not constrain growth. But taking on challenges like these are where Scott and his team feel most comfortable. They have created a great product, culture, and customer support system, and are more poised to seize on opportunities as opposed to slowing down due to challenges. Scott also has advice for other founders about to take the leap.

“Don’t hesitate, take bigger risks, and don’t be afraid to invest more in your company.”

For more information, visit www.arclightcnc.com and like the on facebook.

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Drinking from the tank – The DrinkTanks story

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In Bend Oregon, Nicholas Hill and the ever growing team at DrinkTanks design and assemble stainless steel growlers that are unique and built to last.

The company has evolved from sketches on a napkin to an 18,000 sq. ft. production facility. Nicholas and the team have stitched together an entrepreneurial journey that has balanced life events, crowdfunding, and rapid growth in order to create a sustainable business in Central Oregon.

Early origins

Nicholas, a Bend native, was running Pacific Line Promotional Company when his father Dr. Tim Hill joined him on launching a water bottle company. The company looked to leverage their combined experience in Food and Beverage and brand product marketing.

They named the company Pistol Creek Water Bottles and looked to create a line of bottles that reflected their passion for the outdoors. They were set, and had an idea as to what they wanted to create. That was until a trip to a conference in Las Vegas.

“In 2010 at the Mandalay Bay seafood buffet, my dad and I started to draw some ideas for a new product focus. What if we did something based on the initial double-walled water bottle idea, but made a product that kept your beer cold.”

It was a subtle change of focus, but one that opened up new opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the first ideas were based on the water bottle design. They had already dialed in the design and sourcing, which is extremely important to product companies – especially young ones. And this would have provided an easy transition if they followed a similar process, but that was not the case.

“ As the product design unfolded, we decided to put a focus on the engineering, and as opposed to the previous pre-made Pistol Creek bottles, we made the leap to a unique and custom design.”2015_drinktanks_pub_16 2015_drinktanks_pub_16

And just as things began to get ramped up, Nicholas’ father passed away. He was left running Pistol Creek and Pacific Line at the same time. His father’s influence to design a truly unique growler was instilled in Nicholas, and so he made the decision to sell Pacific Line and focus on Pistol Creek. It was about this time when they made the decision to change the name to DrinkTanks, a name that better described the vision they had for the product line.

Kicking things into gear

Nicholas and his dad had worked on a few designs for the tanks, and after some trial and error, John Herrick of Herrick Product Development joined the DrinkTanks team to help fine-tune the design. John was the perfect match to take the original vision forwards. They spent the next 9 months working on prototypes and designs with a first focus on strong functionality.

As the design began to get closer to the final form, the team at DrinkTanks started to ponder doing a Kickstarter campaign, and before the launch worked on some initial analysis of their own.

“We started talking to factories and doing consumer analysis, including going around to the bars and brewpubs here in Bend and talking to the patrons. The feedback we received was very valuable, including feedback on the name.”

So with a super glued together prototype, they launched a campaign in 2013 with a goal of $30,000. The campaign was a huge success, with 2,076 backers pledging a total of $304,142, with the most valuable aspect being the knowledge that there is a market for their product. The team had also taken PO’s prior to launching the campaign, so by the time of the launch, they had dialed-in production and fixed mass production errors.2015_drinktanks_rock_climbing_3

“Although the amount raised on Kickstarter didn’t solve all of our money problems, the fact that we had spent the time to figure out the tooling and inventory processes prior to launch allowed us to to get a running start on building the company and sales pipeline.”

After they made sure the backers had their DrinkTanks, they turned their focus to the craft beer industry to build up sales. There were numerous challenges, from being a new technology and brand to also being the most expensive growler on the market at the time. But with Nicholas’ promotional company experience, they pursued the co-branded path to help them get both noticed and to shore up the initial validity. In addition to the craft beer market, they put effort into the outdoor industry vertical where the tank’s design and functionality was a welcome addition.

The sales pipeline picked up, as well as the operational challenges. Nicholas is from Bend and had an innate passion to build the company in Central Oregon. They began production in a 4,400 sq. ft. facility that they quickly outgrew. The company moved from that initial facility to a current footprint of 18,000 sq. ft. to accommodate production and employee growth- the team nearly doubled from 18 to 35 people during just a 60 day period in 2016.

But with expansion also came the need to raise additional capital to allow for the growth to continue. Nicholas raised some money from the original shareholders and also received $250,000 from the Grow Oregon program. They also found local support from Mid Oregon Credit Union who also played a large role in the capital support.2015_drinktanks_rock_climbing_10

The capital infusion has allowed DrinkTanks to continue on its strong growth trajectory, but other challenges are always on Nicholas’ radar.

Building a product company that has direct ties to the lifestyle of the community – beverages and outdoors – has been a huge positive. The community has been supportive, but the local pool is small for employees and executive talent. In addition to the talent challenges, managing the logistics of growth will also play a critical role. Each tank has 18 different and unique parts, all supplied by different manufacturers.

But those challenges are part of DrinkTanks’ current wild ride. The next 12-24 months will see new diversity in regards to their product offering, but the core focus will not change.

Nicholas has enjoyed the journey from a napkin drawing to an 18,000 sq. ft. facility, and wouldn’t change a thing. However, if we could offer his former self some advice it would include being intentional about surrounding yourself with smart people, learning to delegate earlier, and making the transition from founder to CEO at a quicker pace.

For more information, visit www.drinktanks.com. You can also follow them on facebook, twitter and instagram.screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-6-04-15-pm

Bringing kombucha to the masses – the Humm Kombucha story

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The Humm Kombucha story can be traced back to a friendship that was formed over some hard hit tennis balls, and discussions around kitchen tables.

Those discussions, occurring during a time when the recession was hitting Central Oregon especially hard, led to the launch of a consumer brand that has seen explosive growth in an ever expanding category. They are looking to be trailblazers in the kombucha market – a market that is growing at a 25% yearly clip and is estimated to hit $1.8 Billion by 2020.

But that growth has never led them away from from those early roots. Friendship, family, community, and having fun are elements that remain at their core, even as the wild ride is picking up speed.copy-of-img_8254

Bringing a family recipe to market

Bend or Bozeman?

Humm Kombucha Cofounder and CEO Jamie Danek and her family were looking to enroll their son in an Outward Bound program, and they had narrowed their city choices down to two. Jamie had run a successful recruiting business on the east coast, and her husband was a contractor. The recession hit and the economy in and around Bend started to decline. The contracting work evaporated and the number of other opportunities was waning.

It was around this time that Jamie had a chance encounter with Michelle Mitchell on a local tennis court. Both of them were beginners, but that didn’t stifle their competitiveness, and after a day of hitting hard shots back and forth they sat down and became fast friends.

During one of their many discussions they tried some of Michelle’s mother in law’s kombucha, which was not especially tasty. Michelle’s husband then tried brewing his own kombucha, and while marginally better than his mom, it still left a bit to be desired. Michelle then tried her hand at brewing up her own kombucha – and they were onto something.

copy-of-10277728_733454623372732_7421625577348645302_nMichelle started to brew more and more kombucha. She and Jamie realized that they felt really good while they were drinking the kombucha and decided they wanted to bring the health benefits of the beverage to a larger audience so that more people could experience the same feeling. They started going door to door and putting up posters around Bend, which created the initial sales pipeline for what was then called Kombucha Mama.

Around this time retail locations started to inquire how they could get Kombucha Mama on their shelves. But without any wholesale program set up, they could not seize on those early opportunities. Jamie and Michelle made the leap and hired a brewer. This helped to increase production, but kombucha takes a long time to brew, and thus, they had an ever growing waitlist for delivery.

But they saw the potential and kept hustling – growing the business step by step and day by day, while taking no salaries for years.

The early focus from a flavor standpoint was the Original, a mate based kombucha. It was well received and allowed Kombucha Mama to get early recognition and brand loyalty. Flush with this early traction they started experimenting with new flavors by pumping fresh fruit and vegetable juices into the kombucha. Jamie and Michelle would go to the local farmer’s markets and get ingredients, then head back and work on new flavors.

As the product line evolved, they decided to put the kombucha on tap, which was a first. They sold kegs to local coffee shops and allowed them to pump in the juices they wanted.

They had an ever increasing sales pipeline and increased brand awareness. It was time to bring kombucha to the masses.copy-of-12313615_1035887283129463_8624499210151166762_n

Brewing up a growth strategy

The production and operations required for kombucha are capital intensive. They were self financed for 4 years and then did a convertible note to raise additional funds and expand the production to keep up with the sales demands.

In addition to the capital, Jamie and Michelle had a keen awareness that they needed to hire the right people. Kombucha was a fairly new category in the beverage world at the time and thus, not only did they have to oversee operational concerns that any craft beverage company would encounter, but they also had to lead with education to consumers. If there was to be mass appeal there had to be mass awareness and understanding as well.

Much of that understanding is around the health benefits of kombucha. The beverage can help balance your ph, contains a high percentage of your daily Vitamin B12, improve digestion (probiotic), improve joint mobility (glucosamines), and strengthen your immune system by being packed full of antioxidants. But being a keystone player and driving home that education in a new market takes time, which is something Jamie and Michelle realized but never dwelled on. It was simple in their minds – kombucha makes you feel great, and so more people should be drinking it.

And with a goal to be on the shelf of every grocery store, they started wondering if Kombucha Mama was the name that not only created new brand awareness on the shelves, but more importantly conveyed what they had been experiencing and seeing as the company grew. There was a sense of happiness and energy around the drink. People drank it and became a part of the tribe – a movement. They would hum a tune and enjoy the day. Thus, Humm Kombucha was launched. It’s a brand name that captured how they felt about the product, and how they wanted the brand to relate to the masses. It was a name that resonated with a large and diverse group of new customers.

And so it was with a new brand that they expanded sales and started working with Cascade Couriers to deliver in Bend and Eugene, and at the 4 year mark signed on with a distributor who took a chance on them. In addition to the distribution expansion, they opened up a taproom at their facility. Jamie saw this as a place where personal interaction could take place.

“ The taproom was unique and allowed the team to create true brand experiences with the products. It was a place where brand evangelists would come, and then who in turn helped to promote it to a larger crowd.”

That larger crowd is where Humm, and kombucha in general, is headed. The vertical is still young and on the precipice of huge growth. Up to this point the focus of many kombucha brands has been more towards the health stores and natural food groceries, while the big potential is to bring kombucha and Humm to a more broad consumer base.

That’s where Jamie and Michelle have been aiming. They’ve done deals with WinCo, Safeway, and 7-Eleven, and also brought Humm to Seahawks Stadium (CenturyLink Field). The NFL and kombucha seems like an unlikely pairing, but it’s led to interest from other NFL teams around the country. They also recently added a nationwide deal with Target to their sales pipeline.

copy-of-file_008Humm has expanded their facility from 5,000 sq. ft. to 30,000 sq. ft. and will be hiring an additional 30 people to meet the growth opportunities head on. This new expansion will allow them to quadruple their brewing production, but they are leaving their taproom and retail location at its current location. This is where the brand interacts with the community – a community that has and continues to mean so much to Humm.

They started the business during the recession without really knowing anybody, and the community welcomed and supported their venture with open arms.

“ Bend is unique and has a strong sense of place. People want to live here and it’s led to a happy population, one that truly gets the idea of community. Everyone is willing to help out or answer questions,” explains Jamie.

This ideal of community and giving back is ingrained in both Jamie and Michelle. They are always willing to lend an ear, or offer up some feedback to other founders and support organizations, including working with EDCO’s (Economic Development for Central Oregon) food and beverage industry cluster initiative.

Being a keystone brand in a rapidly growing industry has put the team at Humm Kombucha on a wild ride, but they would not have it any other way. They will continue to hum with happiness and bring that thirst for adventure to a wider and wider audience.

For more information, visit www.hummkombucha.com. You can also follow them on facebook, twitter and instagram.copy-of-tacoma-fresh-market

 

A new kind of barn raising- The DC Structure story

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In 2003, at the age of 23 Dustin Gruetter applied for and received his contractor’s license.

That license has led him down an entrepreneurial path from painting houses to building world class structures all over the country. But his journey is still evolving in ways that keep his entrepreneurial mind racing.

Early beginnings

DC Buildings, headquartered in NW Portland, started as a general construction business focusing on normal projects like decking work, siding, painting and remodels. There was no thought to developing a business plan or set marketing direction. They simply started working.

Dustin honed his craft through a building construction technology program at Clackamas Community College, while building a structure on his Grandma’s property so he had a place to live while ramping up the company. But it wasn’t just Dustin sleeping on the couch. Half of the team would sleep on couches then get up and work hard all day. The initial work led to more referrals, and the company started to slowly grow into a sustainable business.

But the business and the new ideas were still percolating within Dustin and the company as they expanded outside of Portland.

“We got a call to build an equestrian facility, with one of first ones being in Northwest Portland out on Germantown Road. And then right after that, this company was referring us work and asked if Battle Ground was too far, and we said ‘nope’. Then requests came in from Willamina, Baker City and eventually California and the East coast.”e35c0323-2

But managing multi-state growth as a fairly streamlined staff was something they had to work on daily.

“It wasn’t easy, and it was only made possible because of the great people that we have in place on our Project Management  and Carpentry team along with utilizing technology to collaborate. We have always been modern in the way that we communicate with our clients and internally as a company. We’ve focused on using assets like cloud based project management tools that keep our clients and construction teams updated on a daily basis with photos, daily logs, and a file storage system to keep all of our documents maintained and manage our client’s selections in one spot. We also utilize Skype and web meetings to make sure that we stay aligned as a team on our projects.”

The communication between team members allowed them to manage their internal processes, but since they handle everything from the initial design process to handing over the keys,  open lines of communication and personal outreach with their clients has always played a key role.

“On the building side of things, yes, 100%, that’s our focus. Our mission is that once a client commits to us we’re gonna treat them like kings and queens and try to meet all their needs, over-communicate and shower them with options. But the options are not meant to overcomplicate things or make a building more expensive –  we just don’t want them to look back and say, “Hey, I wish somebody would have told me about this.” To hear that at the end of a project, that means we didn’t do our job.”

The referrals kept coming and the diversity of projects expanded, including a clubhouse for the Carmel Athletic Club, a all-in-one home and processing facility for Upchurch Vineyards, custom homes across the country, wedding venues and a myriad of barns. And as they grew, they found themselves saying ‘no’ more often than they wanted to. There was a large group of people whom DC Building could not service, because it didn’t fit into their business model from a cost standpoint. So the DC team, as entrepreneurs are wont to do, got to work turning what was initially a negative into a new part of their business, by finding a way to share their designs and streamlined processes to a broader customer base.fall-city-wa-workshop-barn-kit-dc-structures_31

Bringing custom barns to the masses

With a schedule that had them talking to 700 people a month along with being highlighted in various magazines, DC Building looked to their construction knowledge, and their awareness of other kit companies, to create a series of barn kits.

The barn kits were conceived and created to leverage a more simple process that is streamlined and cost effective for their clients. They spent 2014 planning the vendor relationships, supply chain, marketing and website development, and launched in May of 2015 with 9 barn kit designs and 9 pavillion designs.

The first kits were sent to Tennessee, San Juan Islands, North Carolina, Colorado and also locally here in Oregon. Although the initial logistics of shipping to all 50 states with varying site conditions did pose some issues for the DC team, their building experience and background allowed them to navigate those early challenges and dial-in a process that is scalable.

“We provide them with a very detailed set of plans and instructions, and then also support them through what we can provide for them here from our building crews. We also pre-assemble certain components that make sense to make it easier for construction, and then we source all this material here in Oregon and the Northwest. “

That focus from the outset has resulted in a very streamlined process – one where the value is passed onto the client.

“ These buildings are pre designed and engineered, and so we already know how much it costs for the materials, and have a general idea of how much it will cost our clients to complete. Combined with the blueprints and building materials that are needed, in as little as 4-6 weeks we can have these packages onsite and ready to build. This is where the cost saving comes in for our clients. We save them time, money, and headache and give them certainty in what the end result is going to be.”

One key aspect of the kits is the integration of the highest quality materials from the Pacific Northwest – many of which these clients could not get at their local lumberyards. These are the same materials used in many in their custom builds, and so even though the costs are reduced, the end product will stand the test of time. This ability to use the highest quality materials, even as operations scale, is a result of the vendor relationships built over time, and DC does not see changing the source materials in the future.

What the future does hold are changes to the line of kits being offered based on client demand. The new line, which include cabins, barn homes and also timber frame kits, is in the works in 2016. The kits have taken off and have created an interesting evolution to the two business verticals, an evolution Dustin is keenly aware of and planning for.

“ You know, this company has really taken off. It actually feels like it’ll probably end up outgrowing the Building business. Probably not this year, but looking ahead in the next year, this company will outgrow the Building company just because we’re able to reach that many more people.”boring-or

Growth and evolution

Along with growth comes new opportunities, which include strategic partnerships that can benefit multiple companies. That is the case in the merging of FrameWork Plus into the DC family of brands. It’s a combination that makes sense for both current operations and future goals.

“ FrameWork Plus has been in business since 1994. They specialize in timber frame construction. The DC style of construction is more post and beam, which is very attractive. But their construction is actually a step up from what we do in a true timber framed building, so everything is put together with very little steel hardware. It’s mostly by hand – mortise and tenon joinery and wood pegs.”

The collaboration with FrameWork allows DC to offer more on both the building and structure sides of the business. It allows the company to offer conventional, post and beam, and timber frame as options. As they scale up the kits, there will be a focus on tying in more timber-framed buildings, barns, and homes. On the flip side, DC brands will incorporate some of their designs and learnings into the FrameWork projects going forwards.

And currently the projects are stacked up. The DC team has 66 total projects going on either in construction or design with about 45 people working on them, and internally the culture has evolved into one where they work hard, but also have fun.

“ It’s been a lot of fun and really enjoyable to just build this team. We have a very low turnover rate and when we bring people in, we tell them that we want to have them retire in this company, and we truly mean it. We’ve seen two or three years of really intense growth, and to be honest, we don’t want to  grow too fast either.”

But with DC Structures on a steep growth trajectory, the company knows that it will be hard to balance strategic growth from a project side with that of a personnel perspective.Their pathway forward is based around creating new product lines for the kits. Lines that build in upgrades and allow the clients to accessorize it a bit more. Lines that will potentially shift the balance of the work towards the structure side of the business.

That growth trajectory is fine with Dustin and his team. They know from experience that hard work pays off in the end, so they are willing to put the time in now in order to create a long term, unique, and sustainable business. The crazy ride the DC brands company has been on over the past 10 years has also imparted a lot of wisdom onto the founders – wisdom that is applicable to a great deal of entrepreneurs out there today.

“ Go with your gut always! Make decisions quickly and have confidence in them and realize there is no time wasted in pre project planning. Focus on the people, both from an employee side and also how you interact and treat your customers. Most importantly, have fun.”damascus-or-party-barn-kit-dc-structures-jpg28

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