Post contributed by Clifton Chestnut
Oregon entrepreneurs who endured the recession, business setbacks and personal hardship shared how grit help them survive the tough times during OEN’s Entrepreneurial Summit on June 22.
The founders who shared their stories at Portland’s Pensole Footwear Design Academy represented industries ranging from wine to footwear to real estate. Despite hailing from very different sectors, they touched on several common themes during the event:
Enjoying the ride
Claudia Jaffe, co-founder of Lumencor, which makes lighting products for life sciences, moved the firm from California after discovering an investment community in Oregon better suited to the company’s needs. As a chemist with no previous entrepreneurial experience, Jaffe said the company was fortunate to find support through the Oregon Technology Business Center. Lumencor celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. “We build products that I’m proud of, that I have passion for, that I know that are advancing science, and every day my work lifts me up,” Jaffe said.
Kyle Ranson, founder and CEO of Showers Pass, which manufactures cycling gear, said founders need to think about culture from day one, and should personally pitch in to help wherever they can. “You can’t do this half-heartedly,” Ranson said.
When Brian Chaney joined Korkers Footwear, he had to cut staff, onshore the company’s supply chain, and even roll up his sleeves to figure out how to get the footwear brand’s interchangeable soles to work more quickly. “Things are going to go south. You have to be agile. You have to have a plan B,” Cheney said. “Make sure you enjoy the ride.”
Cultivating new fields
Other speakers got on-the-job training in completely new industries. Jenelle Isaacson, CEO of Living Room Realty, earned her marketing stripes as the lead singer of a female punk rock band. She turned those skills into property gold by starting a real estate company—in the throes of the 2008 recession. Living Room now has approximately 90 agents and has logged $350 million in sales.
Physical trainer turned winery operator Bertony Faustin draws on lessons of grit from his late father. In an industry known for families with deep roots in winemaking, “I was either too arrogant or too blind,” said Faustin, managing partner of Abbey Creek Vineyard and Winery in North Plains. “Do I have this fail-proof system for being successful in the wine business? No,” he said. “I’ll take luck and hustle over being good any day.”
Michael Morrow, founder of Nutcase Helmets, told the audience of a business relationship that turned sour as the company eyed international expansion. But Morrow, a former creative director at Nike, said that even with setbacks the exhilaration of running a company that builds on creativity and protects lives is the fuel that keeps him going: “Don’t break down. Break through.”
Monica Enand, co-founder of software firm Zapproved, sensed opportunity in the legal profession, knowing the inefficiencies in tracking documents during legal discovery. She also anticipated that cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) packages would make up an increasing share of enterprise technology. But at the height of the recession, Enand dipped into personal savings to help keep her startup company afloat. “Am I gambling? I was racked with the most doubt I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. A family loan helped secure the ship. Enand offered this lesson to the audience: “Invest, don’t speculate.” And reflecting on the rocky times, “It feels like whatever milestone we get to, there’s constant challenges and constant barriers. But I’ve never been happier.”
Balance and family
Many of the speakers said loved ones help them gain perspective when the pressure mounts. Cody White, co-founder of augmented reality company SpaceView, offered four Fs: finance, fitness, friends and family. “If you build a plan before you get into a situation in which you’re going to need grit, if you put a focus on these four areas, it’ll reduce your stress, and you when you look back it doesn’t end up costing you as much as you thought.”
For Mindee Hardin, inventor of the Boogie Wipes brand of saline wipes, guilt fueled her grit. The product was a runaway success, with $15 million in sales. But disputes with her former business partner—aggravated by the fact that Hardin was missing milestones at home—took a toll. Hardin rebooted and is now building a new company, Juicebox Consulting. She offered this reflection and the following advice: “I was taking all of the risk but wasn’t getting the rewards.” When it comes to family, “there’s no later.”
About the author:
Clifton Chestnut is a bilingual professional with 18 years of experience in journalism, startup management and strategic communications. He previously worked as a journalist at The Oregonian and as an entrepreneur in Spain before joining the strategic communications firm 30 Point Strategies. Clifton is based in Portland.