Posted: October 01, 2011
GENxyz Buzz Companies
These upstarts are driving the next generation of business in ColoradoEric Peterson
Age is just a number, sure, and CEO is just three letters. In the business world, the notion that age brings wisdom has been upended by the tenet that youth brings innovation and energy. And in the 21st century, stubborn adherence to tradition can quickly lose you the race.
The following standouts of Colorado's next generation of business leaders do more than make decisions and count nickels - they practice what they preach and live - and thrive on the cutting edge. Their careers are not their lives, but extensions of their passions, from the great outdoors to community service. Here's a tip of the ColoradoBiz cap to these standard bearers for generations X, Y and Z.
Seth Anderson, 37
Managing member and co-founder, Loki Gear, Grand Junction
When he was 16, Anderson conceived of his company's flagship product - a shapeshifting hat with a built-in neck gaiter and facemask - with his brother Dirk after they summited 14,158-foot Mount Sneffels.
"We came up with an idea for less gear that does more," says Anderson, whose company is named for the shapeshifting Norse god of mischief, Loki. He officially founded the company with Jess Rigg in 1997.
Anderson is still innovating. Loki's catalog has grown from a single hat to more than 30 products, including jackets, gloves and pants. "Almost everything we make has our own patented technology involved," says Anderson, describing jackets with built-in mitts and face shields as well as jackets that convert to backpacks.
Anderson says he's always had an "underdog" perspective. "Partly because of my age, people question how valid my goals are," he says. "It's fueled me to keep at this. It's not just commerce - we really try to do something unique.
"Staying active in your chosen field is a key to success," Anderson says. "Be true to your customer by being your own customer." An encounter with an avalanche skiing Grand Mesa on St. Patrick's Day 2010, which broke both of his legs and nearly buried him in 30 feet of snow, tempered his quest for the extreme, but he's hiking and biking just 18 months later - "about six months ahead of schedule."
"It's a balance for me, being outdoors," Anderson says. "I'm there for the view and the challenge and the accomplishment, in that order. It makes life worth living."
ON THE WEB www.lokiusa.com
Warren Conard, 38,
and Chris Stafford, 39
Partners and co-founders at Screamworks Entertainment LLC, Denver
Conard and Stafford opened their first haunted house in Denver in 2004. This year, they opened their fourth, the 13th Floor Haunted House in Phoenix, the third such property for the company after Denver (2008) and San Antonio in (2010). As for other markets, Conard says, "We don't see a finish line yet - we're just going."
Conard and Stafford started working together at a Denver-area haunted house as teenagers in 1989, and have complementary, albeit different, styles. "The biggest difference for Chris and me is we do it year-round," Conard says. "Most places don't have year-round staffs. We made it our lives."
And it shows. "People think of haunted houses as a temporary thing with black plastic wrap and strobe lights from Spencer Gifts." Not the 13th Floor haunted houses, which have budgets orders of magnitude larger than the average of the country's 2,000 dark attractions. "We want to do things right."
In this regard, Screamworks creates branded characters like Mr. Hollows and Eris, dark emissaries of the 13th Floor, and makes its own masks and sets in-house. The staff balloons from four year-rounders to more than 200 come Halloween.
Conard is a hands-on guy: He sometimes stands out front and takes the tickets at his haunted houses. "They don't know I'm the owner - I'm just the guy taking tickets," he says. "You get into some real interesting conversations that way."
Conard sees his and Stafford's age as an asset to the business. "We're old enough to see where haunted houses have been and young enough to see where they're going."
ON THE WEB www.getscared.com
Julia Leach, 33
CEO of Clay Pot Creative and Toddy, Fort Collins
After a stint with another agency, Leach went out on her own at the tender age of 22 and started Clay Pot Creative in 2000. "I felt there was a better way to serve clients," she says. Focusing on contract Web-development and marketing, Leach fostered the company through the lean years after the dot-com era.
Now home to eight employees who handle branding, Web and app development, and marketing in-house, Clay Pot Creative has seen its clients grow with it. "We still have a passion for small businesses, but we do more work with medium-sized businesses," Leach says. "We like to partner and build a long-term relationship." The mother of two is also involved in several child-oriented charities, and invites her employees to bring in pro bono accounts they are passionate about promoting.
While it sometimes was a detriment in her 20s, Leach's age is currently in something of a sweet spot. "A client recently told me, ‘You're old enough to know what you're talking about, but you're young enough that using technology is innate to you.' Now we can use our age to our advantage and our youth to our advantage."
In a career curveball, Leach bought a client in Toddy, a manufacturer of cold-brew coffeemakers, with her husband, Andy, last year and relocated the company from Houston to Fort Collins. "They're two very different companies, but they have a unique relationship," says Leach, noting that Clay Pot still handles Toddy's Internet presence and marketing. "I divide my time between the two companies."
Leach says Toddy's revenues are up more than 50 percent year-to-date - and she's a big fan of the product. "It brews with time instead of heat," she says. "It tastes the way coffee smells."
ON THE WEB: www.claypotcreative.com www.toddycafe.com
Alon Mor, 39
President, CEO, and co-founder of Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, Centennial
After cutting his teeth in his native Israel's restaurant business during the 1990s, Mor opened more than 20 Panera Bread cafes in Colorado from 2002 and 2007 before approaching Panera founder Ken Rosenthal with a concept for a "fast casual" Mediterranean restaurant. Rosenthal liked the idea, and the two teamed up to open the first Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill in Greenwood Village in 2007. Opening its 13th restaurant in Fort Collins last month, Garbanzo has been on a tear ever since.
"Some people think it's crazy," Mor says. "We think it's the right thing to do. We opened in the midst of the economy tanking. We're doing good today, and we're looking forward to what's going to happen in the near future." Mor says the slack in the construction industry and the labor market have worked in Garbanzo's favor during launch mode, and a boom in Mediterranean foods like hummus and pita bread hasn't hurt either.
All 13 of Garbanzo's locations in Colorado are owned and operated by the company. The first outside-of-Colorado Garbanzo is slated to open next year, says Mor, and it will be owned and operated by franchisees.
While Mor says he loves to eat and cook new food, "The passion is the people," he says. "I can't do this by myself. I'm lucky to have 300 amazing employees. I try to know all of them by name."
As far as age applies to his leadership, Mor says it "doesn't matter. It's really the passion and the drive. If you don't have 120 percent passion, people can read into it. Being young gives you the extra drive - and if you fail, you have a lot more time to recover."
ON THE WEB http://www.eatgarbanzo.com
Jennie Nevin, 33
Founder of the Green Route, Denver
After earning an MBA and looking for ways to bring a sustainable perspective to Wall Street, Nevin founded Green Leaders in New York City in 2008. That soon grew into a Green Spaces workplace in the Big Apple, a concept Nevin brought to Denver when she relocated here in 2009.
Nevin set up shop in the River North neighborhood in a 5,500-square-foot warehouse reinvented as an ultra-sustainable office with solar power, recycled furniture, a composting program, and very few walls. "We want to keep it as open and free-flowing as possible," Nevin says. Tenants pay $50 to $325 per month for a desk, depending on how often they use it.
Now dubbed the Space, the warehouse has emerged as the hub for Nevin's Green Route, an organization comprised of 80 sustainable businesses on the Front Range. Between organizing events for the Green Route and inking tenants for the Space, Nevin is plenty busy, but she sees her generation's approach to business as anything but cutthroat. "To me, it's much more collaborative and helping each other out with things that aren't our core competencies," she says. "We're working together to move the ball forward."
ON THE WEB www.greenroute.com
Joshua Onysko, 34
CEO of Pangea Organics, Boulder
Onysko started formulating organic skin-care products in his garage in 2000. Then 23, Onysko has long since graduated from the garage, as Pangea Organics now employs 14 and sells a wide range of skin-care products in 15 countries.
The company donates a percentage of its profits to nonprofits and has won a trophy case of awards for environmental and sustainable initiatives. Onysko says he's always looking ahead for "fringe" ideas. "You have to balance between being a steward for the fringe and riding the wave of the fringe."
Not only did Pangea create the organic skin-care category, it also was the first company to make compostable, plantable packaging embedded with seeds. Both concepts have moved from the front edge of the fringe to much more mainstream addresses in the time since. "That's just as important to me as growing Pangea: promoting ideas that make people think differently," Onysko says. "You're inspiring companies that are much larger than you - but that's OK."
Onysko's long-term vision includes the Pangea Institute, a hybrid headquarters/business incubator/community outside of Boulder, and not surprisingly, he's also in demand as a public speaker. "My favorite part of speaking is the Q&A session, because that's where the conversation starts."
ON THE WEB http://www.pangeaorganics.com
Patrick Quinlan, 41
CEO of Rivet Software, Denver
Quinlan took the reins at Rivet, a supplier of XBRL-based financial reporting software, in 2009, the same year public companies were first required to use XBRL in reports. "I was the 20th employee," he says. "Now we have 200."
Rivet's market share has more than quadrupled to 38 percent in that time. "We're the undisputed market leader," says Quinlan, joking, "We officially got the T-shirt and the belt buckle."
A veteran of the U.S. Army and Desert Storm, Quinlan says his military experience has been invaluable to his career. "I think it's one of the things missing in my generation," he says. "There are things you learn in the military with lives on the line that you can't learn in civilian life."
He also says he learned a huge lesson from his biggest failure, the collapse of his previous company, Service Select. A provider of software to the housing industry, the company's revenue "dried up overnight" amidst the financial crises of 2008. "I had to close the company with over 100 employees," Quinlan says. "It was a devastating personal blow."
His big takeaway from his Service Select experience: "I don't bring emotions into decisions anymore. I don't use hope for a strategy anymore - I focus on the facts."
He also regularly seeks out advice from others. "As a 40-year-old CEO, I find myself intentionally doing that. I go talk to people." And Quinlan stays active in the community, working with several education-related nonprofits. "I'm passionate about Colorado, and I'm passionate about education," Quinlan says. "I'm a product of Denver Public Schools, and I credit DPS tremendously."
ON THE WEB www.rivetsoftware.com
Elizabeth Robinson, 33
President, CEO and founder of Volume Public Relations, Denver
Robinson has always been on the fast track: She earned a full-ride scholarship to Pepperdine at 17, started working in PR internally for Boeing in college, and moved to Denver to work for Ogilvy Public Relations when she was 20.
"I was 20 years old having to give tough feedback to CEOs who had blown a media interview," she says of the latter. "That used to stress me out, but I had an amazing manager who told me, ‘Your age is your elephant in the room' - no one else could see it.
"My advice to younger folks now is that's all in your head. Focus on your experience and skill set. Think: ‘This skill has nothing to do with how long I've done it - it's how well I do it today.'"
Founded in 2001 "at the height of the tech bubble burst," Volume Public Relations brought a new model of exclusively senior level PR pros guiding "high intention" PR campaigns. "I don't want to do PR for the sake of PR," Robinson says. "Before you start a program, ask, ‘What do you want to do?' We're focused on bringing concreteness, clarity, and specific measurability to public relations."
Now 13 employees strong, VolumePR has worked on campaigns for everything from candy bars to HR consulting and won numerous awards in the process - Robinson and company even got to ring the opening bell for NASDAQ in 2009 after earning a nomination from PRWeek magazine. "That was pretty cool," she says. "It's saved on TiVo forever."
ON THE WEB
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com