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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.

A hive of creative ideas: The Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles story

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The origins of Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles came out of necessity – Brad Swift’s wife Anika ran out of lip balm.

That simple need started him down an entrepreneurial journey that has led to the creation of a successful consumer brand that has traction in retail outlets throughout the United States and Japan. But as with many founders, there is a constant pull to keep evolving and pushing to do something new and unique.

The building of a consumer product brand

As hobbyist beekeepers, the Swifts had accumulated plenty of beeswax. Brad started to make lip balm for Anika and their friends. While the simplicity of plain beeswax offered many of the benefits people want from a lip balm, Brad experimented with a plethora of different recipes until he finally hit on what would become the Portland Bee Balm product line.

Using the resources and skills he had on hand, Brad set out to get his product to market. but as anyone who has launched a new consumer product can attest – gaining initial market traction is a slog.

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The bee balm displays

But rather than be too daunted to move, they took the creative approach to get the bee balm on the shelves, all while Brad was still working full time at an elementary school.

“An artist friend and I spent an evening drawing up a label that included the city skyline, Mt. Hood and a giant honey bee. We had this shrunk down and printed on kraft brown stickers. Once the brand was designed, I got creative with display case building. Using a bundle of cedar shingles and hours of work in the basement of the shared house we lived in, I would build many different designs and offer them to stores for free. I would also offer to take measurements and custom build a display for any space in their store. People were very generous with their time and knowledge. They were the experts in this area and I would say, “You know your store best and I am good woodworker. I’ll build you anything you want to fit any location in your store for free; do you have any ideas?”

This personal outreach and engagement provided the initial market traction for Portland Bee Balm, but the true value was discovered through the conversations he had with store owners and buyers, as the display experiments and conversations with them would prove invaluable as Brad learned how the world of retail operated.

“My market research was mostly conversations with store owners and body care buyers. I tried not to do too much talking, I asked a ton of questions about how the industry works, how their department worked, what sold well, why did they think it sold well, what was the most valuable real estate in the store, and on and on. I would listen for as long as they were willing to talk – eventually they would have to get back to work. A little honesty went a long way – I told them I was new at this and had no idea what I was doing. Any advice they could give me would be greatly appreciated.”

But even with such an outward approach, there was the lack of confidence and knowledge so often felt by first time founders.

“I was rightly afraid that I was coming across as someone who had no idea what they were doing. I felt like people were doing me a huge favor every time they bought my product. It took me a long time to gain the confidence that I was providing something of significant value and they needed me as much as I needed them.”

In addition to the sense of fear of the unknown, there were production issues that created their own challenges and opportunities for knowledge gathering.

“We also had many production issues; a label that didn’t stay on the tubes and displays that did not function correctly.  Luckily I was able to encounter and solve these problems while Portland Bee Balm was still very small because when you are forced to recall all your product because your labels are coming off, it’s nice to only be in three stores. “

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Raw beeswax – each one of these weighs hundreds of pounds.

Brad started to hone in on an initial sales strategy as these early issues were ironed out. He’d would get on Google Maps and walk the street view guy down Alberta, Hawthorne, Mississippi, NW 21st avenue, and NW 23rd avenue. From the look of the storefront, he’d decide who might consider selling Portland Bee Balm and then drop them a cold call with the very soft ask of “Can I stop by and give them some free samples of the lip balm I make?”. As with anything new, it was pretty intimidating the first few times, but like anything it got easier and he got better.

As the number of stores started to grow, the product sourcing started to become a focus of the business. Brad started out using the beeswax from his own hives, but quickly surpassed what he could harvest from those sources. But as a beekeeper himself and the fact that the word ‘Bee’ was right on the label, it was important to have an authentic connection.

“To start with, most balms don’t want to use much beeswax because it’s such an expensive ingredient. But I wanted the recipe to have as much beeswax as possible and to this day, every tube of balm is over one third beeswax.”

In addition to the amount of beeswax in each tube of balm, there also was the fact that their tag line when they started was ‘supporting local bees and their keepers.’ By placing bees first in the tag line, it was a clever way to put the focus on them. A focus that Brad knew had to be more than just keeping his own hives and buying wax from other local beekeepers, because if that was the extent of that belief, it would feel more like marketing as opposed to the truth.

But the truth won out, and started a program they hope to grow as the company does.

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Brad beekeeping

“We started giving away hives each spring. We partnered with Bee Thinking to buy the hives, then we get beekeeping equipment and a package of honeybees with a queen. We give these hives away to people in the community that want to be beekeepers, but can’t afford the significant startup cost. We gave away 4 hives this last spring, our most ever. We don’t do a great job of publicizing and getting press about the giveaways, but it makes us feel good and we know we are not BS’ing anyone when we tell them we support local bees and their keepers. “

Scaling up production and retailers

As the number of retailers grew, there was a conscious effort to not jump up too many rungs on the ladder too soon.

The independent gift shops prepared Brad for the Co-Ops, and the Co-Ops prepared him for New Seasons. He realized there was so much to learn; from lingo, jargon and acronyms to expectations regarding terms, legal, insurance and labeling requirements.

“If you jump too far, it will show and they will probably not want to work with you as it will be clear to them that you are out of your depth and holding your hand through everything will be a huge time sink. The co-ops and New Seasons were great, they helped me through a lot of things, but it had to be clear that I had a base level of knowledge and experience before they brought me onto their shelves.”

But more than just getting on the shelves, Portland Bee Balm became one of the top sellers in  the health and beauty category within the stores it was featured. Safe to say Brad and Anika were very surprised.

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Custom retail display

“I just had my head down and was focused on getting a little bit better with each iteration of displays or labels or production processes. When I looked up we had something that was working pretty well and people were responding to.”

The heads down approach to building a product proved to be the right model for growth, but in terms of personal growth, reaching out to the Portland area entrepreneur and maker world for feedback, support, and advice was critical, and that community was helpful in a myriad of ways.

The community provided a consistent push to keep evolving, evaluating, iterating, exploring and taking risks, which has helped keep Brad moving forward onto the next challenge – challenges that include more than just product refinement and scaling.

“The emotional support has been helpful as well. I’m a solo founder so there is no one at Portland Bee Balm with whom I can share large scale hopes and fears. A group of other founders can fill that role, as there are so many similarities across companies and industries.

The community’s most valuable contribution has been the expansion of perceived possibility. Everything looks impossible until you see someone else do it – like breaking the 4 minute mile. I did not come from a world where people started, owned, bought and sold companies. Successful company founders were generous with their time and advice. I was able to see that there was almost infinite room for growth and increased positive impact. Bringing these large aspirational goals into the realm of possibility has been the greatest gift from this community.”

The development of Cascadia Candles

As Portland bee Balm continued to grow, there was the constant noise around expanding the product line, and the never ending product ideas from outside voices. But much of Brad’s success with Portland bee Balm can be attributed to the ability to resist taking on too much advice, and concentrating on trying to continually improve on what they do best.

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Cascadia Candles packaging

Creative energies, however, do need an outlet. With the need to tweak the design and product slowing down, Brad got restless, and the restless mind led to the latest product line.

“Candles are an obvious choice; we are surrounded by towers of beeswax in this office, as it’s a main ingredient in our balms. However I could never find myself inspired to make beeswax pillars, tapers, votives or tealights – there are already many great companies doing this very well.“

The restless creative energy continued to burn within Brad and at some point he began to think that maybe the shape of the candle could convey the identity of the brand. He thought about releasing a Portland Bee Balm candle, which led to ideas like a raindrop, a tall boy beer can and Big Pink. And while those ideas would have no doubt created some noise and traction on shelves, his mind eventually settled on a more iconic representation of the brand and the Pacific NW.

“Eventually I thought about Mount Tabor and it’s reservoirs. I thought the reservoirs could be in blue wax and it would look striking. As I started thinking about creating a 3D model of Mount Tabor, it became clear that Mount Hood would be a much more recognizable choice. Once I started going down that route I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of modeling and printing 3D geographic features. I felt this new company would be limited if it was under Portland Bee Balm and it needed to be its own entity – Cascadia Candles.”

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Mt. Hood candle

Once the direction was set, Brad set out to do what he does best: do simple things really well.

He dived into learning about every aspect of candle making, including elements most people take for granted when lighting candles and navigating the intricacies of 3D modeling and printing. What seemed like a simple idea quickly became something that consumed his creative energy and led him to not just simply create a candle, but actually learn how to make a unique product.

“You have no idea how many different wick materials exist out there; each with their own burn properties, and how many different sizes they all come in. We tested wicks for days and days. For the candles themselves there are a lot of steps and each one is an opportunity to make mistakes. The topographical data gets transformed into a surface – that surfaces get transformed into a 3D digital model – that 3D model gets edited and sent to the 3D printer. Once the model in printed and exists in the real world, it has be carefully prepared and then cast in silicone. You have no idea how many different types of silicone exist out there! The silicone mold is then removed, and prepared to receive the beeswax. Don’t forget to adjust for the pour temperature and shrinkage of the beeswax as it cools. How do you get the wick in there? These were all great problems and I was able to come up with creative solutions that I am proud of. There will be way more problems to tackle going forward; they never end, but this is what makes the work interesting.”

With the candle design dialed in and production ready to begin, Brad is turning to Kickstarter for support of the project, instead of reaching out to the network of retailers he has built up through Portland Bee Balm.

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Mt. St. Helens candle

Kickstarter offered the best platform to not only share this new product with a large and diverse audience, but it also allows him to gauge if there is truly enough interest in the concept to take the next steps.

Backers generously agree to wait months for their rewards. This will allow us to build out our production capacity to be roughly in line with demand. These candles also feel much more at home on the internet than lip balm. People are online looking for a new, unique gift or object that speaks to them.”

And if the candles do speak to a large customer base, Brad knows that will come with new challenges and opportunities for both brands.

“I think the biggest challenges will involve people. Making sure everyone is communicating, on the same page and feeling supported is happening right now in our 4 person Portland Bee Balm team. If things grow very quickly and we need to add more than a few people I think the biggest challenge will be to maintain the culture we have created. It’s a flat hierarchy with open books and no secrets. Everyone knows everything that is going on with the company and we are all in it together.”

Being transparent and open are the core values that Brad has built Portland Bee Balm on, and will continue to do so as Cascadia Candles comes into the brand fold.

And what would he say if he could go back and give his former self some advice?

“Quit your job sooner, it’s going to work out. Try to relax. Don’t compare yourself to other people that founded a better, faster, cooler, sexier, bigger company. Your instincts are good, Brad’s Bomb Balm would have been a dumb name.”

For more information, visit the Cascadia Candles Kickstarter page and visit Portland Bee Balm at www.portlandbeebalm.com and follow them on facebook,  instagram and twitter

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Stein Distillery takes the journey from fields to bottle

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There has been a large increase in the number of craft distilleries over the past few years, and new ones can be seen from Ashland to Portland.

But there aren’t many whose roots run three generations deep in Northeast Oregon, and are linked directly to the raw materials that go into making exceptional spirits.

The Stein family settled in Joseph, OR in the late 1890’s and relied on the land and wildlife for survival. They became wheat farmers, and for many decades, the focus was on traditional crop growing and selling.

But the agriculture business is never easy.

Grain prices started to fall and the family was looking for ways to produce crops for alternate means, and with the ability to grow really good wheat, rye, and barley, the idea for a distillery was hatched, and enter Austin and Heather Stein.Combine with Austin

Austin and Heather are 4th generation Steins, both of whom wanted to carry on the hard-working tradition of their families and small town communities whose residents share some core values, and with many of them running family owned businesses.

They both achieved engineering degrees in college, and eventually wanted to use them for the greater good, and as Heather points out, they saw that opportunity present itself in 2005.

“We noticed 2 lots on Joseph’s main street for sale, and decided it was now or never. We had the know-how in the family to distill, to build, to manufacture and to manage. All the pieces were there to run a business. “

As with many small town families, the Steins also had a construction business, which gave them the wherewithal to know how to develop these lots into something that could bring new jobs and resources to the community.

So the plan was launched with the ability to develop the property, and the engineering backgrounds to assist in the distillery setup.

But Heather and Austin were focused on creating craft spirits that were both representative of their family’s farming heritage, and world class in taste from the start. This led them down the knowledge and education path.

“ We went to a distilling class in April 2006, offered by Bavarian Holstein, and learned how to distill using manufactured equipment. We decided to order the equipment after 3-years of obtaining licensing from both state and federal governments. After receiving the equipment in March 2009, it took 4 months to perfect the grain to starch conversion process. Once perfected, we distilled vodka right off the bat and then cordials, and then started distilling and barreling whiskey for aging.”

The ability to distill high quality vodka and cordials from the outset allowed them build the brand. The team did tastings, worked on distribution, and started to create the story around Stein Distillery. A story centered around making high quality spirits from their own grain – truly farm to bottle distilling.

The vodka and cordial sales also brought in much needed revenue to this young craft distillery. But, as Austin states, there was always a goal on producing another product line.

“ The vision has always been aged whiskey. We needed to get unique vodka and cordials to the market first to start making a name for ourselves and bring in revenue. But the ultimate goal was always aged Oregon whiskey made from true-Oregon grain. “23-Bottles Front of Still

In addition, the Steins had the intention to set themselves apart from other micro-distilleries in Oregon, as well as bring back some famous cocktails of yesteryear. To do this, they decided to grow their own rye for use in the vodka, and whiskey as an addition to their family grown wheat.

But the focus on uniqueness didn’t end there. The Steins knew they could distinguish their whiskeys even more by adding another unique grain, and so they started growing barley as well. Even with the ability and knowhow to grow wheat, rye, and barley, they were still in need of one other ingredient, an ingredient they would need to source – corn.

“We knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with Hermiston corn so we decided to source corn from a cousin already growing it in Hermiston. Knowing exactly where the raw material is from and how it is grown, and knowing careful and meticulous Stein hands have been in the process from start to finish, ensures a consistent high quality product to our consumer.”

And getting the product to the consumer started in Joseph and Wallowa County – not necessarily the center of the craft spirits movement. To the Stein’s knowledge, the closest distilleries to theirs would be in the Tri-City area, Spokane or Boise – over 3 hours away. But being the sole distillery in a large area did create opportunities for not only the business, but also the community.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.49.42 PM“ We would say that having the distillery in Joseph has created talk/interest for alternate uses for grain/agriculture in general, as there are still many family farms on the Eastern side of the state. Our distillery has brought additional tourism to Joseph which is a major industry for Wallowa County, and we hope to continue to attract people to this beautiful area.”

With the tasting room thriving, raw materials growing and a mix of products that includes vodka, rye whiskey, whiskey, bourbon, cordials and “steinshine” (based on a family bourbon recipe), one might think that the Stein Distillery would be content.

Not so much. It’s time for expansion.

The distillery is currently in the early stages of designing a barrel aging warehouse to their distillery in Joseph. This will not only allow more space for the barrel products to age, but will also free up manufacturing space to increase production.

In addition to the expansion in Joseph, they recently opened a tasting room in the Progress Ridge are of Beaverton. A move they know helps to build the brand equity in new areas.

“ Having a tasting room allows the consumer to be able to sample the spirit before making the decision to buy. It gives us the opportunity to educate the consumer on how spirits are made, what they should be tasting and why they should care about it. We find consumers are also interested in our story and our supportive of our small family business.”

And this growth has led to some new challenges and opportunities in the business.

“ Being of engineering and manufacturing brains, we are not naturally the first ones to market/advertise/sell but obviously these activities are critical to any business, and so we will be looking to add expertise and opportunity in these areas. These actions will help us continue to move nationally and internationally with our products. Meanwhile, we do foresee the current demand picking up in 2016, therefore expanding our production capability will also be critical.”

With a hard working legacy of 4 generations of Oregonians supporting their efforts, the Stein family is well prepared to weather the entrepreneurial storm, but offer this simple bit of advice for others making the leap.

“Be prepared for a long journey.”

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

A weekend at Startup Camp: fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs

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This story is by Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a high school student who interned with Built Oregon last summer and is currently writing stories about youth entrepreneurship for us. He wrote a story on the Portland fashion scene last fall.


With numerous resources at one’s disposal, Portland is the place to be for entrepreneurs and creatives. Entrepreneurs are exposed to a network of many others just like them, and are surrounded by successful incubators such as the Portland Incubator Experiment and Forge Portland.

Our Student Reporter Akhil Kambhammettu

Our Student Reporter Akhil Kambhammettu

Businesses that are just starting out can also receive support and investment from companies like Portland Seed Fund and Craft3, and with the growing popularity of startups and the independent lifestyle that comes with it, entrepreneurship has been attracting kids who are looking for ways to put their unique and independent ideas into viable businesses, as well as to make their passion their job.

Entrepreneurship programs have been successfully been implemented into youth programs and schools such as IUrban Teen and Portland State University. Clearly, entrepreneurship has gained a big youth following. One educational program that stands among the others is the Catlin Gabel Startup Camp. In fact, it’s not even an “educational” program.

Startup Camp is a weekend long camp where high school students gather and work together at Catlin Gabel in a “dungeon” mode, building a company from scratch to finish, ending in a pitch to judges in competition for the top prize. Yes, these kids build a company from scratch to finish in the course of one weekend.DSC_0480

I attended their third annual startup camp from October 16-18, 2015 and was able to observe my fellow young entrepreneurs. They gathered in small makeshift workspaces set up in classrooms across the school, with snacks and drinks strewn across the tables. But most importantly, the students were running around hurriedly with a razor focus on the task at hand. I had never seen such a chaotic yet beautiful scene. As busy as they were, I was able to snag a couple minutes from some of the students to talk to about their experiences here and outside with entrepreneurship.

First I met with Miles Cowen, a freshman at Catlin Gabel, who was attending startup camp for the first time. Miles was exposed to the entrepreneurial world through his internship over the summer at Aerial Technology International ,where he helped build drones. Miles explains that he came into camp very excited, and although he was sometimes overwhelmed by the chaos he was never discouraged,  and found the environment to be quite energizing. Miles joined a company called Moneta, pitched by Emma Hayward, a junior at Catlin Gabel.

Miles noted “Moneta is like the opposite of Ebay. The idea is to have someone say I want to buy this for his amount of money”. From there, customers can bid for the buyer’s business. When asked what Miles enjoyed most about his first year at camp, he explains, “It was fun to have no teacher or supervision of any sort. You really got to do what you wanted to do.”

Next I talked to a team representative from the company Mind Matters, A company that helps connect students with lecturers who were coming to their area. As I walk into their makeshift office (one of the classrooms), I see multiple students grouped together either in intense discussion, writing on the whiteboard under their mentor’s watchful eye, or scrambling around for some supplies. I manage to get ahold of one of their team members and sit him down for a couple questions.

When asked about his personal experience at Startup Camp, he pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts, and a slight smile appears across his face when he explains, “It feels very real, it’s not like school where people tell you to do things and you do them. You choose your own path… and do what you think is best for yourself and the team.” But his experience was not without struggle. “With it being a new experience and a new way to work, there is no right answer. We have to stay organized and come to agreement on a lot of things. We had to make a lot of compromises”.DSC_0491

I also met with Anirud Venigalla, a junior from Sunset High School on team Clear Park. Anirud explains that Clear Park was actually a combination of two ideas. One aspect was an application that showed open parking spaces near your destination and allowed you to reserve them if it is possible. The other allowed users to rent out their own home parking spaces for other people to use. This idea stood out among the others because it allowed normal people to provide a service to others for profit.

The idea was also scalable and applicable almost anywhere people had parking spaces. Clear Park pulls in revenue by simply taking a cut of the fee paid by the renter of the parking space. But like every other company at Startup Camp, Clear Park faced its own struggles. Anirud said, “Leadership was a huge challenge in our team. We struggled to establish a team dynamic at first, but figured it out as we continued to work on the company. I think it takes some time for all teams to settle down, but at a certain point you either know the team is going to work out, or you guys aren’t meant for each other.”DSC_0530

I continued to walk down through the classrooms, meeting members from each team. For the most part, the CEO’s were very busy because they were the only ones who would be presenting for the competition later in the evening. There were two companies that stood out to me as unique and innovative: Macca Milk and Music Match. Both these companies had a goal of targeting youth, making their products relatable and appealing. Both of the company CEO’s leveraged their ability to think from the mind of a teenager, making them all the more lovable and hip.

Macca Milk is a company that made milk out of Macadamia nuts. When talking to the team, it was clear that they had done extensive research before starting the company: “Macadamia nuts use much less water to grow than almonds for almond milk, and more and more people are drinking milk substitutes. Our target demographic is the younger generation of kids who are looking for something unique to drink while also staying healthy. We wanted to make being healthy cool and hip.”  Clearly, Macca Milk is not aiming to create just a product, but a lifestyle and culture around healthy living.

On the other side of the school I met with Marissa Natrajan, the co-founder of Music Match, who created the company along with her brother Neil. As she oversees her friends creating the website, Marisa explains the idea behind music match: “The idea was to create an app that allows users to link up with people with the same music taste.” Their inspiration came from the growing popularity of music streaming apps such as Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud. But Marisa saw a gap in the current solutions: There was no way for a listener to meet people with similar music tastes. She wanted to find a way to combine the experience of getting music recommendations from these people, and music streaming.

For the competition, Music Match was able to create a mockup of the app online. Marisa shows Music Match’s mass appeal when she asks the audience, “Who here has ever asked a friend for a music recommendation”, and everyone raises their hand. Although they have a long ways to go, Music Match definitely has potential to continue past Startup Camp.

I got a few minutes to sit down and chat with Meredith Goddard, one of the organizers of Startup Camp and also a teacher at Catlin Gabel. “Our mission is to teach entrepreneurship not in a classroom, but in a experiential setting, giving kids the opportunity to put their learnings immediately into action.” Startup Camp is an annual event and this is the third one to date. “The inspiration really comes from the parents, volunteers, mentors, and most of all, the students.”

When asked about future plans for Startup Camp, Meredith explains, “We want to expand to 200 kids, and also limit it to 15 spots per school so that students get equal opportunities for coming to startup camp. We also want to host clinics for coding and engineering a month in advance, so kids can learn some of the skills they may need during the actual weekend.” I thank Meredith for her time and go to take my seat before the presentations start.DSC_0507

For their presentations, each company got five minutes to pitch their company to the judges, and at the end, all the companies gathered together for a 15 minute group question time. The judges included Michael Gray of Globesherpa, Lynn Le, founder of Society Nine, and Lisa Herlinger, founder of Ruby Jewel Ice Cream.

Fast forward two hours and Clear Park is crowned the winner of Startup Camp 3.0! Not only does the team get bragging rights, but also gets to take an all-expenses paid day trip to San Francisco to meet with the heads of Rothenberg Ventures, a venture capital firm. I meet up with the CEO of Clear Park while he hugs his team members and he says, “I am just glad all our hard work paid off. But more than anything I am proud of my team and all that we accomplished this weekend.” According to Anvesh Venigalla of Moneta, the experience of camp was the biggest award he could have gotten: “More than the awards and recognition, I’m glad I got the opportunity to work my hardest with my team and prove that if you really set your mind to something, you can create anything.”

Although it was just a weekend, Startup Camp made more of an impact on these high schoolers than any time in the classroom could have. They were able to put their ideas and brainchild into real practice, and gain valuable mentorship from professionals. Most of all, Startup Camp fostered the next generation of entrepreneurs, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next year.