Lessons learned from box to bottle

How the OtterBox model translates across industries

As a lifelong entrepreneur, my passion for the products I create is outweighed only by my passion for developing successful businesses. My first foray into business was a lawn-mowing operation I started as a kid. learned many lessons in each of my businesses (successful or otherwise), and those carry over into my new ventures; most recently, my move from the Otter“Box” to the bottle with Old Elk Distillery.

OtterBox works in a fast-paced, ever-evolving technology inspired environment to develop products in a world that is constantly changing. In this respect, OtterBox is very different from my new stomping grounds at Old Elk Distillery, which recently launched its first brands: Dry Town Gin, Dry Town Vodka and Nooku Bourbon Cream.

Distilling is an art form that embraces time, patience and tradition to bring the best beverages to market. What binds the two experiences together is my pure, heartfelt diligence to build successful, innovative businesses. Even when working in completely different industries, I’ve found that achievement is reliant on a few key elements:


When we set out to start Old Elk Distillery, we took a similar approach to the way we built OtterBox  – launching a team around quality products, great people and a strategy that evolves as needed with the business and industry.

I strongly believe in the StratOp Process, which uses a strategic planning system to continuously improve the operation. It’s about progressive revelation. Many businesses set aside time to plan once a year, or maybe only once when they need to go to the bank to borrow money; but StratOp is an iterative process of gaining perspective, determining what’s important in the near term, assigning task forces to complete that work and then reassessing the current state. It allows us to tweak the business. The entire team is involved in the process – from manufacturing to marketing – which makes each employee personally invested in success. StratOp has been especially key to OtterBox’s progress, and the same systems have been implemented for Old Elk.

By continuously self-evaluating, we’ve planned for the future and pivoted at the right times instead of relying on hindsight.


Across businesses, the approach we’ve taken to marketing and communications is to be tactical and scrappy. We’ve used a grassroots approach for both OtterBox and Old Elk, relying on word-of-mouth support; ensuring our communication to consumers via social media is authentic and provides a clear picture of the brand; and gaining third-party and media credibility through successful public relations efforts. These are basic blocking and tackling efforts in marketing and are important for startups and established brands.

Building brands organically allows us to forge a closer relationship with our consumers, which, in turn, translates to customer loyalty. The up-front strategy to build consumer support lets us make smarter spending decisions when the time comes for budgeting. Only once we’ve reached key, measureable goals, do we look at larger marketing campaigns to garner mass awareness. We are confident we have the dollars to spend, then spend them strategically.


Colorado plays a major role in the brand identities of OtterBox and Old Elk. This is our home, where the majority of our team is based. For Old Elk, it’s where we source many of our ingredients. We’re passionate about where we come from at OtterBox and Old Elk, and I’m proud to work in growing businesses that create jobs in our hometowns.

The Rocky Mountain entrepreneurial spirit drives us forward each day, and the culture of support for startups allowed us to build a solid platform for in-state distribution before going to new markets. OtterBox products are global – selling in more than 150 countries – but it started with community support in Fort Collins. We’re proud that Old Elk’s Dry Town Gin, Dry Town Vodka and Nooku Bourbon Cream have gained strong distribution across Colorado, and we have plans to grow beyond our home state and to add our flagship Old Elk Bourbon this year. I have big plans for Old Elk, and as we’ve done for OtterBox, we’ll continue to leverage our proven business growth and marketing strategies to bring those plans to fruition

Categories: Entrepreneurs