Colorado Business Hall of Fame Summit - Feb. 9, 2021

Colorado Business Hall of Fame Summit - Feb. 9, 2021

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Hi, good morning. Thank you all for joining us today. I'm Scott Ford, I'm the Chief Operating Officer of Techstars.

I'm excited to be here this morning to partner with Junior Achievement. To kickoff this terrific event today. For those of you who aren't familiar with Techstars, We help entrepreneurs like the ones you are going to meet today succeed. We do this through our 40 + accelerator programs we have around the globe, helping fund entrepreneurs in their quest to bring new exciting innovation to the world. Techstars was founded with three core principles: entrepreneurs create a better future, collaboration drives innovation, and most importantly great ideas can come from anywhere.

We're very proud of the things we've done for the ecosystem here in Colorado and beyond. Today we funded over 2,500 companies in their drive to be successful. This includes 12 different unicorns including companies like SendGrid, DataRobot, and PillPack.

We're super excited to be partnering with these organizations who have gone on to raise over 12 billion dollars and collectively are worth over 37 billion dollars and have hired and employ tens of thousands of people. It's a tremendous day to be an entrepreneur and we're very excited to be part of this organization. So with that I'd like to turn this over and introduce you to Robin Wise, president and CEO of Junior Achievement.

Good morning. I want to thank you on behalf of Junior Achievement and the Denver metro Chamber of Commerce. We're so glad you tuned in to the Colorado Business Hall of Fame Summit. It's a first and we're really excited.

When you look at all of the inductees of the Colorado Business Hall of Fame, it's a who's who of the men and women who've shaped the state, our communities, and the way we live. We're delighted to welcome two of these individuals, Jim Johnson and Larry Kendall, this morning. Junior Achievement knows that the young people learn best when they have exposure to multiple role models and perspectives. So we're also delighted to welcome two alumni from Techstars, David Potter and Alana Vaughn Phillips, who are demonstrating what a bright and innovative future we have. All four of our panelists are incredible role models for what you can do with your future. We extend a huge thanks to our education sponsor UMB Bank for making today's Summit possible, as well as Techstars, the Denver Business Journal, Denver 7, and all of our sponsors. It's my pleasure to

introduce today's emcee, Denver7's Brian Sanders. Hi everybody, and thank you Robin. Yes, super excited to be here with you guys today. I actually I just got off the air here. So we are on the air from 4:30 to 9 every morning. So I'm a few minutes removed from our newscast.

But excited to be with you guys talking about the powerful businesses and and startups in our community and we're going to be hearing from some industry titans, some pillars in our Colorado business community. We're also going to be hearing from some newcomers who are kind of forging their own paths with their startup businesses. So I hope to learn a lot from all of our panelists today. I'm a morning news anchor at Denver 7.

I am also our business beat reporter. I have a series here called In Good Company and that is where we feature a Colorado-owned business each week to highlight kind of what makes them unique. We have such a strong entrepreneurial spirit here in Colorado. Community, so supportive of one another and there's such an affinity to support Colorado based products and services.

So we use that series to highlight those companies. I want to introduce our panelists today. We are joined by two of Colorado's most influential business leaders. They are Jim Johnson of GE Johnson Construction Company and Larry Kendall of The Group Real Estate firm.

Both of whom are inductees into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame and we're going to be hearing from them here in just a second. We are also joined by two entrepreneurs who are newer to the scene, but already making a huge impact as I mentioned, we're going to hear about their startups and what led them into business and how things are going. They are Alana Vaughn Phillips and David Potter. Thank you to all of our panelists for being here.

So I want to explain a little bit about how the next hour is going to go. We do have some questions that were previously submitted in advance. So I'm going to be asking our panelists some of those questions, but I want to encourage you who are watching this discussion, whether you are already in business, I understand we have some students and some teachers who may be joining us. So I encourage your participation and and be sure to submit any questions that you might have for a panelist and I'll be checking on our chat to try to get to those as much as I can throughout our discussion also. Thank you for joining us online.

We are recording today's event and so starting next week you will be able to view this on the Denver 7 app for all the major streaming platforms like Roku and Amazon Fire and Apple TV. Alright. I want to introduce our panelists one by one, get a brief background on their companies, and them as business leaders. So we want to start with Jim Johnson of GE Johnson Construction Company. Good morning. Thank you Brian.

I'm Jim Johnson. I'm president CEO of GE Johnson Construction Company in Colorado Springs. I'm a second generation general contractor and when I think about entrepreneurship, sometimes you can hop into a very traditional business, but it's how you build that business and how you build that culture that really defines your entrepreneurship. I look forward to your questions today and learning more. Thank you.

So I want to introduce one of our newcomers Alana Vaughn Phillips here to talk a little bit about her startup business and a little about herself. Good morning Alana. Good morning, Brian. Thanks. So I'm Alana Vaughn Philips, I'm based here in Evergreen, Colorado up in the mountains. I am co founder and chief development officer of a very new start-up.

It's called Boba Vida. We are a clean food tech company and the first and only producer of popping boba in the US. So I can get into a little bit more about that later, but it's a really exciting unique technology and if it fits in with a previous start up that I had a few years ago, that was a a clean denim textile technology company.

So I really like cleaning up dirty businesses. I also currently lead a digital Innovation Initiative for Energize Colorado, which is a non-profit started by Brad Feld who's the founder of Techstars as many of you probably know and I also lead partnerships at a another startup. It's a global startup actually called Go Running Tours which does site running tours all around the world. So I'm a busy person involved in a lot of different things. But the underlying theme is that are all just trying to change little pieces of the world here and there wherever we can.

Yeah, a lot of irons in the fire there for sure and pretty wild when you when you look at the website at the BobaVida product. So, thank you. Look forward to hearing from you. Okay, Larry Kendall is here who established the group real estate firm and Larry, good morning. Hey good morning Brian.

Thanks for the introduction. My background, I actually helped start two companies. Our first was the real estate company in Northern Colorado. We received some national recognition for our productivity. We're ranked as the most productive real estate company in America in terms of transactions for associate and people begin to ask how we do that and I said, well I can show you and that led to creating a sales training program called Ninja Selling and that has grown now to the point where we are training about a thousand students a month in a little over 20 countries.

There is a book if you're interested called Ninja Selling that I authored and so that's what we that's my primary focus is today. I retired from The Group Real Estate company a couple of years ago and focus on the sales training company at this point. Yes, and we're going to hear more about the ninja selling system here in a little bit and how it applies to a lot of different Industries not just real estate. And lastly, we have David Potter who has started up a company called Curu to hopefully help people get approved for some loans.

Good morning. Hey, good morning, Brian. And how's it going everybody. As Brian said, I'm David Potter the CEO and co-founder of Curu. I'm calling in from over here in Denver and a little bit more on Curu. It started off as a consumer app.

So we had an app in the app store for a number of years. A game help people improve their credit scores and then I guess a little background on that, I'm not sure how many people may be building your credit scores, it ends up being a pretty important factor for getting housing, cars, etc. and then through evolution we wound up partnering with banks in order to give like you're applicant a path to approval. So if you're applying and your credit score would be too low, to bridge that path you'll have an action plan. So going to be happy to share with you guys a little bit more like a founders journey or any of those insights around there. So starting from the ground-up, building it up quite a bit.

In my experience and reading how you know, kind of found myself getting into credit was when I was in college I was studying on a (indecipherable) from Bill Gates, but due to that I didn't really have an established credit score. So after getting rejected, it really just started with a personal problem that I was facing, and really digging into that, learning more about Finance myself and a couple other people finances. So from this to that you got into Techstars Western Union program, which is based out here in Denver and then we went on to raise about 3 million or a little bit more than that in capital. So that being said, happy to share with you guys a bit of that journey and answering any other questions that you guys have.

Yeah, congratulations on that on that 3 million in funding that's huge and I'll , I want to start our discussion. Just kind of opening up a question to all four of you and what inspired you to start your own business and to get involved in the industry that you're currently in? I can kick that off since I was just going. On my side, I'm just a big advocate in business to start with a real problem instead of just pursuing a sporadic opportunity.

If you actually face a problem at least have a data point of one that, something's wrong here and it might be another thousand or million people that face that same problem. So I think you'll have a really strong foundation if you start with a true problem and in my case, it was that not only did I get rejected for housing for like 10 apartments I was applying for because I didn't have credit, but then when I was asking other students or even parents they also didn't completely have an understanding of credit either. So I knew what I was working on was a real problem. Therefore I'm going to be a real solution opportunity behind it. So I'm I got really frustrated cuz it prevented me from kind of moving forward. In life, what I would expect to be that next step.

I'm just following that passion was a strong energy source for me. So I guess it's just solving a genuine problem made me pretty passionate and inspired me. Brian I'll jump in next.

What inspired me was to live in Colorado, I grew up in Kansas and wanted to live in the mountains in Colorado. And so my wife and I came out here and at the time there was a recession and I could not find a job. I have an MBA but nobody was hiring and so if you want to live someplace and you can't find a job you can always go into sales. And so that's what I did. I found myself in the real estate sales business.

I really, until I could find a real job, but I discovered after about a year that I loved it and said I was in my career. And so that was that was how it started for me. I can jump in Brian. My situation was a little bit different. I grew up working construction as a kid and fell in love with just seeing the change every day when I left the job site, of that self-esteem of, you know, hey I did this today and then when I got into management I very quickly probably like a lot of us had the opportunity to sell the company and I felt I had the passion for the industry kind of like David said, but also I felt there was a void and what I wanted to do with our company, I saw a niche that I believe was not getting addressed in the rocky mountain region and I really wanted to shepherd and lead our company into that effort.

Adding to that I think it's interesting, I feel like entrepreneurship found me. So I just happened to be in kind of the right places at the right time. But I think what underlied that was just an intense and innate curiosity for for everything around me. So I've always kind of kept my eyes open and observed all the things happening around me and what I love is making connections between seemingly unrelated things. And so when these opportunities came to me, I was in the right position to you know, connect what was happening in different Industries and be able to turn that into you know a viable business idea that you know solves a real problem as David said. I think that is a really good place to start, is is solving actual problem.

Yeah, That's an inherent theme, you know for all four of you and a lot of entrepreneurs is just that drive to solve a problem in society or in business and we want to kind of dig into that mentality a little bit and Larry I want to start with you because you touched on it earlier you developed this ninja selling system for real estate, which is in training models, you know throughout the country now, but it can really kind of be applied to a lot of different Industries. Explain the ninja selling system and what it involves. Sure Brian and I want to follow up on something Alana said, I think all of us, one of our mission statements is to help people go from the life they have to the life they dream about and so it's about helping people get move forward in their lives. And that's that's what what we do in our real estate company and also in our training program.

You know what we've learned over the years is there really 3 success keys in any business whether you're in sales or any business and those three success keys are number one your mindset how you run your brain your focus your ability to focus. I never to your skill-set skills come with practice. You have to learn your craft. Anniversary is is your actions actions that you take on a daily basis.

So what we know as we don't decide our future we decide our habits in her habits decide her future and so the actions that we take every day are really important. There's quite a bit of research on this the most important hour of your day is the first hour what you do when you first get up in the morning start your routine for the day. Do you have good habits? What are the things we recommend that you start each day with his your gratitude? What is it that you're grateful for this puts you in a positive energy state which is part of your mindset. And so on your mindset you want to try to stay positive. If you want to limit the amount of negativity that comes in to your world and try to keep in the the positive energy what we talked quadrants.

So mine set skill set in actions true and sales true in any really in any career. Yeah a great obviously a great way to start the day with that kind of an attitude and a negative attitude would reflect. I'm sure in your work is you're talking with your potential clients that are their misconceptions about sales out there that you feel need to be addressed. Well, I think traditional spelling first of all, if you look at the the history of the word sales. It comes from an Old English word Salon which means to serve so original sales was to serve but I think the traditional what what people think of sales is manipulation or high pressure and this is the kind of portrayed in the movies or TV shows of salespeople and Troost sales is serving and is helping people get from the life. They have to the life they dream about And I think that's the approach that we've taken with Ninja selling it when I trained thousands of salespeople.

And what I find is their greatest fear is a fear of rejection. And so they're afraid that the customers going to reject them. Will the reason for that is because They put the customer under pressure. And so our philosophy is never put your customer under pressure. And if you don't put your custom Under Pressure number one, they're going to be happier and number two you're never going to be rejected. So our approach to sales is to ask questions identify pain and pleasure try to be a problem solver try to serve and never ever put your your customer your client and under pressure.

Good points Jim. I want to turn it over to you talk a little bit about GE Johnson, which has has been involved in expanding some of the iconic structures here in Colorado from the Broadmoor to the Olympic Center And what has made your company kind of stand out above the rest here in the state. Great question and I always learn so much listening on these type of panels and so much of what Larry's book is about plus what he just articulated is so true in and sometimes we try to overthink it and I think what GE Johnson has tried to do and what I tried to shepherd, is it's a little bit longer race, you've got to manage your day-to-day decisions to a little longer horizon and build those relationships and really produce that quality and that excellence that allows you the future opportunities to work in places like the United States Olympic Museum, the Broadmoor.

It isn't just a job. It really is a career and sustainable company operations, and that approach doesn't sound all that novel but in our industry, a lot of people are just trying to hit a quick home run and maximize their returns on a single project and where we try to really recognize the customer culture and a lot of the sales culture that you know that Larry speaks to that as well. And that's a little bit non-traditional in our industry. So that's probably, that is what has led us to be not only a good builder but a good company cuz there's a lot of people that can build great structures that we wanted to build a really good company and embracing our values and in having those perpetuate themselves.

Yeah, having a true impact and it's sometimes difficult to have that long-term vision. You know that you guys are referring to like you said a lot of people want that quick satisfaction. This is a multi-generational family business for you. What lessons did you learn from the previous generations or from your dad that you've been able to carry in your company? Yeah and I don't know all the numbers exactly and Robin probably knows them but, the failure of second-generation businesses construction businesses are second only to restaurant failures. So you kind of keep that in the rearview mirror at all times and I just absolutely was driven not to be that guy. And one of the questions in the chat boxes, you know, what was the most significant challenge that you faced? And it's the fear of failure, you know, this is very sad, and I fortunately or unfortunately, I have failed a bunch in my academic career and would have to repeat classes but I knew what the end goal was, I wanted that diploma and it was the hard work of having to go back in that class that you failed, you know but the sun still came up and in the world was still moving and I had to change my approach and style to get through those classes.

So I knew I could handle failure. I knew I could survive, I had the self-confidence and self-esteem to say I can get myself up, I failed and I want to keep going. I know my goal. So I think a lot of that allowed our company to grow, knowing that we can handle failure as opposed to becoming very restrictive on the opportunities and just trying to preserve what the company had that point. Yeah, and and thank you McKenna 8th grader honor student from Fort Collins for that question too. Alana,

I want to turn it over to you. I mean, you you've started a lot of businesses in your your your juggling a lot. What was it that inspired you to kind of tackle a lot of things at once and what advice would you have for someone who is looking to start their own business? So I would say I wouldn't necessarily advise being so involved in so many different things. It is quite a strain on our most limited resource, which is our time but I would say that it's...and especially for for young people and I feel like every opportunity I've ever had has come out of having a lot of interest in pursuing multiple entrance at the same time. It's how you learn.

It's how you understand what you know what your innate talents are what you enjoy doing, what you're interested in and then you can put those things together and you know, make make businesses, make careers for yourself. So I think in that sense, it's actually, you know a good thing to try a bunch of different things because you can learn from every one of those experiences. And and I'd say in terms of starting a business, It's, for me and my businesses found me. And like I said earlier it was because I had been involved in in multiple different things and I was able to make those connections between, you know, different Industries and different educational disciplines. So not just being, you know, strictly a finance person or strictly a marketing person, having that overview of all of the different pieces to a business is really helpful when you're trying to start a business and having that interest and curiosity, and all of the different aspects of a business.

You really need that even if you're like me. I'm not the CEO of my my company but I support the CEO of the company by understanding the different areas of the business and being able to keep our business moving forward because of having that understanding of the different areas of the business. So my advice is is you know, follow your interests and try to see the connections between these unrelated things and and that's where you can find new ideas and then pursue, you know new business ideas Is at that intersection between those two seemingly unrelated things. That's where a lot of innovation happens. Right. Right. Gotta have the passion, and love what you're doing. Also have to fund it or find a way to fund starting a business, which is another challenge and I want to open it up to David and Alana both because you are starting up a business.

How did you go about finding a finding funding? In terms of financing, it's definitely a a journey and a skill set that like over time you get better at but like progressing through those stages I would say at least in the paths that I took or with other founders adjusting that early stage funding problem could be very awkward asking anyone for money whether it's like family friend and a mentor to you. whatever the case is. So I wouldn't, especially if you are starting out start out with like investing your own time, energy, resource. If you have a little bit of money to put in like kick it off, because it shows that you're committed to something you really believe in and I think at that point you would have built up more of the self-esteem or just a validation in yourself that it's something I'm taking serious and you'll be willing to ask a parent a relative. If you have a mentor in your network, maybe a teacher that really trusts and believes in what you're doing. About say start with like people that are close to you and have a really strong relationship with.

And that may be able to get you, it depends on what you're starting but it may be able to get you whatever you need to get started cuz you actually don't need as much as you may imagine. You can do a lot with a little bit and then from there though in terms of funding outside if they like family and friends in that initial stage of people you know, maybe I would ask for referrals if anyone knows anyone else because that can always be a good source, you can ask your parents if they know someone who might be interested. They might pull in like your godfather whatever the case is, but then outside of that as well, I do think there is a lot of competitions. So like pitch competitions. If you perform well, you'll get a lot of exposure which will help your company and you may end up winning. I think typically competitions will give at least a few hundred if not you know a number of thousands for the competition, it has a pretty big range the amount that they can give. And then there's accelerators which I'm a

big fan of. An accelerator if you guys aren't familiar, and earlier mentioned Techstars, which is one of the ones that a few of us here have been a part of. But an accelerator gives you mentorship money and like a boot camp of a program. To make sure that like you're geared up and ready to take your company to the next stage and an earlier stage accelerator may give maybe like 20,000 or 40,000 in capital and like one like Techstars or say a statewide combinator make it like a hundred twenty five thousand in capital so that can really take your company to the next stage and kick off a lot of momentum from getting into, if you're planning on raising larger funding than that and you'll kick you off to a bigger stage of funding but there's a lot of programs so whatever you're doing whether it's closing whether it's like something social impact, there's a program accelerator for all of it. So do a Google search search for accelerators with whatever you're looking at and you'll be surprised what you'll find. I'll just add to that. David's absolutely right in terms of starting

with your your kind of inner circle your your family and friends. I'd say that the really important thing to nail is your value proposition. It's it's really important to understand You know, what is the problem that you're trying to solve? And what is your unique solution for it and why people should care. Because without that, you know, if you're just asking for money and you don't have a problem that you're trying to solve or a solution for it, then you're not going to go very far with your fundraising. So those are really key aspects to to nail down. I would also say that I had a lot of success in my first start up with applying for Grants and and getting money that way because we were bringing manufacturing back to the US so it was in a textile, you know manufacturing capacity and our whole value proposition is that a lot of this has been outsourced, it used to be made in the USA and then it wasn't and we're trying to bring it back.

So there's a lot of grant money a lot of programs, you know run by the government run by cities and states at the state level where you know, their motivation is to bring jobs to the state. Colorado has a great program through OEDIT. Advanced Industries grants where you know, they're trying to motivate and and generate jobs and economic development for the state of Colorado and in some of the grants are you know, up to $250,000 if you have a good product market fit that can show how your business is is is going to actually generate new jobs and economic development for the state of Colorado.

So there's money out there in these programs that are competitive they're, you know involved application processes that really make you be clear about, you know, the problem you're trying to solve how you're going to solve it and how you're going to actually bring jobs to the state that you're in or to the United States in general, but there is a lot of money out there through these programs and that's another good way to look at at fundraising. If I could offer an idea kind of a unique idea on fundraising as well. What I did was I identified the top 15 to 20 sales people in our market real estate people and I went to them in and I invited them to form a company and so 12 of them took me up on it and they all threw money in and I did as well. We started our company called the group real estate company and just like Alana says you have to have a value proposition. If you're going to be raising money there has to be a benefit for them to do that to leave where they are to start a new company and put money into it.

And if you can articulate that then I think that's another option for you. Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you. And Alana, I want to there's a viewer question that I wanted to kind of open up to all four of you but you touched on it earlier Alana that you are not the CEO of your company, but I wanted to ask you being a founder of being so close to the company as it's as a founder and co-founder or CEO. How involved are you with your employees? And what attributes are you looking for when you hire? That's a great question.

I think, you know very involved. I mean when you're on a founding team, it doesn't matter what your title is you're all founders and you're all equally you are trying to move the ball up the field to use the football analogy. So, you know, the titles are arbitrary, you know, it's almost like you just have to have them for kind of external reasons. But when you're inside you're very much all on the same team, you know, putting in the same effort to try to get your business off the ground.

So you know, we're very involved in in hiring decisions and vetting you know who we want to work with. It's it's not just employees. It's also like customers and you know, and in other people that you might need to to work with to get your business off the ground, so I think it's important that everybody be involved in and you know, there's the kinds of things that you look for passion and work ethic and making sure that you know, everybody is aligned around the same values because I think you know what I learned in my first startup when you're not aligned around the same values, it's it's very hard to move forward with your business. So that was something that I learned and that I've kept with me over the years is to really make sure that everybody that's involved in your business is working towards the same purpose and values and and that will make a huge difference in the success of your company. Anyone else? Yeah, I'll add in on that as well. I think, let me just look at the question.

So how involved should you be with your employees. So I would agree with what Alana said I think definitely the founder or co-founder, you need to be united by a common like goal and mission. I've been working for the same thing. And you're also kind of doing

everything especially at the early stages. So I think as things grow, eventually you begin to specialize more but how I would say like currently at our stage is I think I would like to put the balance is, you need to be as involved as you need to be but not micromanage, but I think a good balance I've been finding where you lose a lot of time yourself look like you have a team member that you're relying on but like you need to help them out for every minute of the work in like that's not so that's not the net benefit of the goal vs. You know, having someone who is competent, you guys rely on each other that way when you guys get together you can make You know even better results happen like quality control checks and whatever the case is but as involved you need to be without micromanaging. At the beginning you're doing everything and all hands on deck.

So I wouldn't be too worried about micromanaging. If it's just a few people you have to do everything and then eventually when you know things do get to a point where you're specializing, I would say being self-aware is important to understanding where you're strengths are, what you're good at and what you enjoy doing, what you don't enjoy doing, and knowing that for your team as well because then you can allow people to lean into where they're strong and spend less time at something that might, you know, take eight times as long as another person in that same area and that's probably more of a luxury when you know being at a later stage company or taking a company to get that opportunity. Completely agree with everything David just said Switching gears a little bit. I'm sorry Larry.

Did you want to add to that? No. They covered it they did a beautiful job. This unprecedented year that we're coming off of and and it's still going but how has COVID and the pandemic changed business for any of you guys? I'll go first if that's okay. It changed our business pretty dramatically. 80% of our revenue 80% of our training is live training.

So suddenly within a week where 80% of our revenue all of our courses were canceled. Our staff is worried about are they going to lose their jobs? We said no we'll find a way. It required us to create some digital solutions, some training that was online. Our core courses a 4-day course. It's difficult to do a four-day course online. So that course we had to put on the shelf but we created some other courses that were 1 hour to one day courses that actually because we did that then we had the demand from international companies wanting to know if we could deliver that the course to them which we could now because that we had that so now we're in over 20 countries doing training. So it turned out to be in in some ways of benefit to us to have done that.

An opportunity that you found. Anyone else has COVID impacted how you do things? I think Brian our industry was a little bit different roughly a year ago, right? We were working in 42 different jurisdictions in seven states the day that everybody kind of shut down and nobody was fully prepared for this type of activity and exactly what it meant. And so I quickly grabbed your your your crisis management team or whatever.

Whoever your advisers are and how we going to work through this construction was allowed to work through the pandemic and we felt that was a good thing and a fortunate thing. But it also made us get very creative on how we solved some of the social distancing and some of the PPE issues. If you recall they were so short of supply about a year ago. And I love the Innovation and creativity that our various job sites came up with. Everybody,

You know, Lenexa Kansas has a different set of rules than Boulder than and how they adapted and that Ingenuity that really came that allowed our people to keep working and I think we want to keep that and you know how we learned all the sudden we have 250 people working remotely, you know what it did to our systems. So you know now we're evaluating these the work from home vs office type environment. Those changes I think will stay.

It really as a leader you got to engage, your people are looking for direction during that highly uncertain time, you know, so I had to be very visible and that was a tough time to do that. But I think it was a lot of good lessons learned and I'm very proud of the resiliency that our company put up, but every day I went home you cannot forget that those your workers have families at home too and some of the other challenges, we developed a school program. We developed some other things to try to support our employees through this pandemic as well.

So good good things came out of it. Happy people, productive workforce a lot of time. So David or Alana? Yeah, I think I'm in a bit of a unique situation because, of everybody on this panel, I think I'm the only one who started my business in the pandemic. So I think there is some interesting lessons learned from this because like I said, I had a previous startup you know that started a few years ago and that was in in denim. It was it was basically a textile technology that had fashion implications, but it was it was cleaning up a dirty industry.

But if if I had tried to start that business now, it wouldn't make any sense because who cares about that. Who's wearing jeans right now when everything is in Zoom, maybe if the jackets would have done well because it looked cool on a zoom call but you know, it's it's less of an issue and so in starting this this food technology business BobaVida, you know, again, it was cleaning up a dirty business, but I think you know, one of the decisions that I had to make joining this startup was you know, is this an industry that is pandemic and recession proof and you know, yes it it it was and it is and I think had it been a different industry had it been a different startup idea I might not have made the same decision. So I You know in times like these when you're really forced to look at what's important and what's not and food is one of the most important things that's always going to be a need for people, you know, whether it's the basics, you know vegetables in in farming or whether it's something a bit more fun and and just add in like what we're doing, It's still important and it's still going to be a product that is going to last beyond or still be in demand during you know, a recession time or pandemic time like we're in right now.

So I think you know that's really important when looking at, you know, making a decision of starting a business and a pandemic is you know, what industry are you looking to disrupt in and is it going to be the an industry that can withstand these ups and downs and I think there are certain industries like Healthcare and like, you know food technology that are always going to be in demand. So that would be my advice for the audience is to be really picky about which industry you're you're starting your business in. I'll just chime in there as well since you asked Brian, but I agree as well. But I think coming in it's hard to predict everything but at least with an industry that does have some level of base at least I can keep yourself saying cuz every single company and every single person I'm sure everyone's like family, every single person has to wear a mask when you go outside. So everyone has been impacted by it and it's changed so much. So, you know just having that level of reliability or less things to pull out your hair.

It definitely pays off as well vs. having solved one extra major thing. That will be a big uphill battle depending on what industry you're in. I'm sure was a lot of restaurants. Nonetheless though on our side I'd kind of say the good in the bad. I'm part of the transition.

I'm working remotely having largely, you know, like a technology team. A lot of us have done Zoom etc. throughout so that wasn't much of an adjustment for us. in terms of workload and getting work done, the team is pretty efficient. So that was fine. But you have to wait for like some banks or other partners to kind of figure that out over a few months, but there was like nothing major there so that worked out pretty well. But then in terms of like the negative side or how it forced us to react, and I'm going to give like a big analogy because I feel like talking and Technology things just get confusing.

So we had to do what you guys may hear more often at some point or maybe you heard it before we had to pivot to make sure that we're listening to our customers in the market and not sell a product that was for the market yesterday or a year ago that they were no longer looking for. Like an analogy if you were selling do you have like a clothing company you were selling T-shirts, but there was like a blizzard like a pandemic for like12 months. If you're still selling T-shirts, you're probably not going to make many sales versus if you switched over to selling coats or something. We had to make sure that we're listening to the market and just positioning or purposing our solution to where they were actually focusing on so that took us I mean maybe 3 to 6 months. This is where we're navigating.

Right now we're in a healthier spot we're able to see the exact plan we're executing on but we had to make sure that instead of selling the older product we were like spending the time to listen to our partners. Yeah. We've only got about 10 more minutes here, but I wanted to to reach back at and ask a question from our chat once again, and this will be opened up to anyone but as a founder of a company and CEO or president, what are some tough decisions that you've had to make or big decisions that have really affected, you know the company you know with with whatever you decided? Or don't want to reveal that? For us it was what I just mentioned that was a tough decision for us to... we have built our business on live training and to have to be forced to find other alternatives. That was a challenge for us when doing in 1 week pretty much 9 months of revenue was canceled out and everybody's kind of a deer in the headlights.

Wondering OK, what are we going to do now now so that was the most recent challenge for us. In the real estate business, I can still remember when the mortgage rates hit 17%, prime rate was 21%. We had money borrowed at 2 over prime. We were at 23%. I remember those were scary times. I remember that we we went a year-and-a-half in our company without anybody selling a house with a new loan.

Everything was owner financing or Grady financing or you know, so you have to be able to sail through those challenges and it requires flexibility. It requires grit and sometimes you lay awake at night wondering how is it how are we going to get through this but we always seem to find a way and so those are a couple of my thoughts. Yeah Brian, I can jump in I can kind of remember obviously the construction industry was hit very hard during those times.

We just talked about as well. But I think the ones that are hardest for me always come down to people when you got to let somebody go and really that evaluation of has the company done their part that could have allowed them to succeed and a lot of times they're very nice people, but you can bet that the business has to move forward and letting the people go. I think the people decisions are probably the hardest for me. Certainly yeah.

Yeah, I'll jump on that too. I think I was in my mind I was hovering on...not one of the most challenging, definitely one of the more challenging ones, Jim for me to agree with as well. Not only is it harder to like fire someone who's like working toward the same mission and they're in the trenches with you day in and day out. You know they're putting in that quality work but then you have to... again maybe it was they came in the company too early and

it wasn't the right time, whatever the case is. Maybe it was only the company. But you know, if it doesn't work it doesn't work and that's a hard decision let alone... in my company, I've had the pleasure on both sides of working with like two of my best friends at a point. So one of them is our Co-founder, and we have a really good relationship like great relationship.

We've been roommates since like freshman year in college, so great relationship there and I think having a co-founder or partner is really healthy but that relationship is a very unique one cuz similar to what Alana was saying it's lesser of the role. And it's you guys have that trust or bond because things will get hard and you guys will be there for each other and will put in the effort. But then on the other side I had another great friend who was working with us for about a year. And it's a pressure cooker. Not only at some point did we have to end up like letting him go but it's also letting go someone who has prior great working relationship with. And is also like a best friend.

So be careful when working best friends but letting someone go is definitely a challenging thing to go through. I'm sure I'm sure Alana has gone through at least part of that. I'm curious. You know if you have a different challenge or what your thoughts are? Oh, I definitely had some some issues with my previous startup in terms of the founding team. That's why I brought up you know, what I learned from that experience was, you know, we went into it with different values, you know. I was just kind of naive bright-eyed to you know, fresh out of college student going into a business because I wanted to make more sustainable denim and my co-founders wanted to start a fashion company, and those are very different values.

So, you know, we we ended up having to part ways because we could never agree on, you know, how to move the business forward because you know, they wanted to be fashion designers and walk New York Fashion Week and and I wanted to license. And so did Daymond John from Shark Tank who I pitched to one-on-one, you know, and then when you have your two different ideas around how to move the business forward then sometimes it's really difficult to move forward. So with the current business that I'm in, having learned that lesson from my previous startup, I was adamant with my co-founders that we were, you know in this business for the same, you know, mission and purpose and and have the same values around it. I'm so I have not had the same issues with, you know, growing the business or being aligned on on how to move forward. I will say that the challenge is because we have a physical product and normally to bring a physical product to market you would go to a trade show and you'd get in front of a lot of buyers at the same time and because of COVID those events are not happening or they're happening virtually and so then be the price to do a virtual show like that versus you know, whether that investment makes sense to do it in person. You know all of a sudden it's like well, it doesn't make sense to spend that kind of money on an event, you know, that's happening virtually where people aren't going to have the same experience.

So you have to make the decision while now I'm going to go door-to-door virtually to try to reach the same people in a different way. And so that's been challenging because it's a lot more time-consuming to the inner to find the right people to get in front of the buyers and into And in to make those kind of personal one on one connections, but at the same time, I think it can also be to our advantage so it it's different and it's a challenge and it's it's kind of question of efficiency, you know? Yes... It's a lot more efficient to be in one place and have a lot of people see your product. But I think at the same time, you know, we'll have this advantage over making these these relationships and connections with with people with our customers one-on-one in a way that we wouldn't have been able to do had circumstances been different. Yeah, we talked a lot about value the word value keeps coming up with you know, your values aligning with your product or service that you're offering your values aligning with your employees.

And our last question. What advice would you give to any of the young entrepreneurs out there any of the students were watching right now if they are looking to one day start their own business or if it's already in the works. What advice would you have for them? I'll jump in, I'd first of all know what you're passionate about and that you're good at or could be good at, you're willing to invest the time to to develop the skill set to be good at it. Number two then go to the place or the company where that happens. For example, my son wanted to be in the film business. Great. You need to go to either Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas.

That's where that's where that happens. That's where the companies are. That's where the action is and you need to go there and find a really good company and get started. Take whatever job you can even if it's at the low end which is what he did, but if you're a hard worker you get noticed and people...leaders are always looking for the best people and they'll promote you and he's been very successful in a twenty-year career in the film business. I think that the third thing is is look for a mentor or especially be careful about your peer group.

Dr. David McClelland at Harvard. He did research on this he found that 80% of your success is your what he calls your reference group the people you hang out with your role models your mentors, I think for young people in particular, pay attention to who you're hanging out with. Hang out with the people that you know are going to help you get where you want to go in life and they're doing the things you want to do. So I think those would be a couple of thoughts that I would have for our young people.

Great. Larry touched on something Brian that I surround yourself with good advisers don't be afraid to reach out and get good counsel and sometimes those people are outside your company as far as values, you know, I think in my industry probably 50% of the industry on their wall or in their conference room has the same values. It's how you embrace them lead them in to find your culture.

Don't pick a value just because it's trendy or popular because they're looking for the leadership to really define that value and how it emulates throughout the company and that will define your culture. So we're pretty big on our values and we promote them and teach them all the way up and up and down through our thousand employees. I believe like Alana said you've got to be on the same page moving forward that will allow you to accomplish those goals.

So pick the right values, but then don't forget the behaviors that demonstrate those values as well. Good point. Good point. Yeah adding to that I would just say, you know be authentic and be yourself, I think every every time I've tried to be somebody else, that's when you know that the door starts shutting I think and people sense that, so whenever I've been myself and been comfortable in my own skin, that's when the door starts opening, and I I would also just say every experience and every person is somebody that you can learn from in something that you can learn from so, you know always be like observing everything around you. Take every encounter that you have as a learning experience and learn how to reflect on those experiences and and make something with it.

So I'll have to disagree with Larry about knowing your passion because I think that something that sometimes you don't know what your passion is. You have to find it or it finds you but being open to experience and and being in a learning mindset where you want to learn from everything and you keep an open mind about who you can learn from and what you can learn from different situations. That's where you can start to find a passion for something and then apply what you've learned from different experiences to fulfill that passion. So my advice is really just to treat everything as a learning experience and in in keep an open mind. Be a sponge right now. David? I like how two of us think...was it Alana and Larry but how they

have like contradictable slightly contradicting like the perspectives. I think one thing that you'll learn as well is that there's it's not as like black and white like in school where there's a right or wrong answer you'll like naturally find your path and build that muscle where you do what's right for you or you and either path you'll find that passion and that path so I just like that's part of the reality you'll find in business where there's not, say this is the one answer. Nonetheless my take here is going to be a bit more random or like different. Earlier it was said that I believe it was Larry, although I may have been wrong here. I believe he said start each morning with gratitude.

I think watching your your habits, your energy, your environment is really important and one passion that I have that I would recommend is being really aware of your environment so of course you don't put in the work etc. but I'm saying being aware of your environment makes that such a powerful environment. That starts internally. So make sure that like you believe in yourself. You're confident. You put it in your you know, you're putting in good work for something you believe in and you're liking the healthy environment internally then in terms of whether it's like your classroom, your bedroom, your house, whatever the case is then eventually you'll become a powerful force in your environment where you know, the environment that you're in encourages you to do better work. So people were saying and

other panelists were mentioning having a good support group of friends, etc. like that's part of your environment. and instead of it being people saying you're starting a business, you think that's going to work in the pandemic?! Why would you do that?! Like that's going to make it that much harder for you to... I mean unless you get motivated by proving people wrong, then maybe that's a different angle, but have people with you that really fuel you because that will ultimately get it to the point where you have a real estate building that you own in front of you or a company that you're proud of as things are building up. So I would encourage you guys to be really aware of the environment that you're in and make sure that's one that you will do it at least you're getting to a point where you can build that environment that fuels you. Surround yourself with the right people.

Thank you guys all four of you for your your perspectives and for your time today. Thank you to all of you who are watching from home or at work or at school. We really appreciate your time, and your input, your participation today.

We are out of time. I do want to thank our education sponsor UMB Bank and Summit partner Techstars before we go and I want to turn it back over to Scott Ford with Techstars to close it out. Fantastic, thanks Brian. What a terrific event. Very inspiring great advice from all these entrepreneurs the things they've done for for the state of Colorado.

So so terrific. Thank you all for presenting Brian, Thank you very much for hosting and everyone, Have a great day. Thanks.

2021-02-16 00:58

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