If These Tables Could Talk

Four Utah entrepreneurs share the inspiration behind their conference tables.

Great minds think alike and great entrepreneurs know that a strong culture, exceptional teams and an inspiring work space make all the difference. Or at least four Utah entrepreneurs do. The head honchos at Cotopaxi, Jane.com, Traeger, and MX all have conference tables that speak to the mission of their brands and the culture of their companies. But while the idea is the same, the tables are markedly different, and represent each company’s specific strengths.

Employees at Cotopaxi gather around a table made from recycled bowling lanes. “We believe in making great products out of materials that otherwise would have gone to waste,” says Cotopaxi CEO Davis Smith.

“Our company makes amazing outdoor gear and apparel and some of our bestselling gear is actually made of remnant material at our factories.” Smith says everyone loves the table, especially when they realize it was once part of a bowling alley.

Mike McEwan, Megan McEwan, and their Jane.com team have their meetings around a custom-built table. The base of the table is constructed of solid steel and the last four feet of each end is cantilevered. The McEwans purposefully designed the top of the table so the direction of the grain runs perpendicular to the length of table. They also choose not to keep chairs at either head, symbolizing the collaborative environment the founders want to cultivate.

“We have a very collaborative culture,” Mike McEwan says. We want to inspire the best ideas, and know they don’t reside within a single individual, but a collective of brilliant people. “

At Traeger, everyone in their office admires the 15-foot custom designed conference table. The tabletop is an impressive combination of Walnut and Bigtooth Maple. The rich wood sections were salvaged from fallen trees in Oregon, where Traeger originated. Raw steel elements with expressed fasteners represent the quality metal used to construct Traeger grills.

“The table is a continual conversation piece,” says Traeger CEO Jeremy Andrus. The story behind the table encompasses the Traeger brand and draws in team members and visitors alike. Elements of wood, fire, and metal, mingled with smoke from Traeger’s demo kitchen and outdoor patio grills, allows the Traeger office space to boldly convey the company’s tagline to visitors, “Welcome to the Wood Fired Revolution.”

MX CEO Ryan Caldwell looked at a number of commercial conference tables, before seeking a unique alternative. “So many options seemed cheap and flimsy,” Caldwell explains. So he went with the sturdiest alternative possible. The custom design table, made from concrete, had to be lifted to the fifth floor with a crane, and required over twenty people to get it installed. People stood on the table surface while welders secured the legs.

“There’s an actual deep cultural commitment to the stability and solidity of what we’re building. It shows in everything we do, even our conference table,” Caldwell says. “We’ve received a lot of awards for our user interface, but it’s the MX platform itself that is doing the heavy lifting. The surface of the table looks like it was cut with a laser, but beneath it you find a solid foundation. Eighty to ninety percent of what MX does is that foundation of data, even though it’s the user interface — the surface — that gets much of the attention. We wanted to remind all team members, partners, existing customers and prospects of that solid foundation and scalable platform — 50 people could stand on this table and it wouldn’t break.”

As evidenced by these four entrepreneurs and the successful companies they’ve built, brand culture can be infused in every part of the business, even the office furnishings.

All of the entrepreneurs featured in this article have participated in the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Utah Region program. As the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur Of The Year has recognized more than 10,000 inspiring trailblazers in over 145 cities and 60 countries. Join the conversation on social media by following @EY_EOYUS using #EOYSLC.


Product Psychology Through The Eyes Of Max Ogles

If you don’t understand how people think when they use your product, you can’t know how to build a better product.

In 2012, entrepreneur/writer/speaker Max Ogles began working with Nir Eyal, the influential author behind Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, as a part-time editor. Max eventually became a managing editor of Mr. Eyal’s website nirandfar.com, then decided to start his own website maxogles.com, where he currently writes about personal and product psychology.

Prior to our conversation, I had no idea what product psychology was. I asked Max to explain it. A lot. “Successful companies build products that affect the way people think,” he explains. “If you don’t understand how people think when they use your product, you can’t know how to build a better product.” Without knowing how to build a better product, a company has little chance of survival, making an understanding of product psychology essential to success.

“Software technology is unique in that so much of how people use it is based on a mental experience they have when using it,” Max says, then explains that understanding product psychology can enable companies to influence users’ mental experience and use products the way products are intended to be used.

Product psychology can also help companies identify needed changes. “Some of the best startup pivots occurred because people were using their products for a reason other than the product was created for,” Max says. When founders are able to recognize how people are using their products, they can change their products in a way that changes users’ desires and move the company in the same direction users want to be going.

Max explains that many companies are driven by the bottom line. And yeah, companies need money to survive. But to thrive, they also need to understand what is motivating users, what users have the ability to accomplish with the product, and what a company can do to improve functionality. “I’m advocating for a profitability and creating a user experience that is really helping people,” Max says. And if there’s anyone we should listen to, it’s Max. His site has nearly 4,000 subscribers and 500,000 monthly visitors. He’s even written a book.

Max heads to Oxford soon to complete an MBA program. But before he goes, we, the Beehive Startups community, will get to hear more from Max and his take on product psychology and why it matters for Utah companies. Thank goodness because I didn’t even come close to doing his thoughts justice.

Published 4/27/2016

Sudo: It’s Your Terms Of Service

The idea is to live your life online through the Sudo lens. We give you the latitude and the ability to decide how much information you provide.

Steve Shillingford, founder of Sudo, is a Jazz season ticket holder. He’s also a frequent traveler, so he sells his tickets to games he will not be able to attend while out of town. Shillingford used to have to provide his personal contact information when listing his tickets on Craigslist, and before long, he was flooded with texts and calls from Jazz fans. “I kind of turned into ticketmaster,” Shillingford recalls. Managing interactions with buyers using his personal phone number is not the ideal situation, so now Shillingford uses Sudo to create a Craigslist identity complete with a different phone number and email address. Shillingford brokers tickets through his alternate identity, freeing his personal number for personal interactions.

Currently available for free in the app store, Sudo generates secure, special-purpose identities. These identities include phone, email, text, and browser capabilities. With Sudo you can generate multiple identities, each dedicated to a different online activity whether it be searching, shopping, selling, or socializing. As Shillingford explains it, “It’s personal protection to maintain separation and control of the information I provide.” Say, for instance, that I have a weird rash. This is purely hypothetical, of course. I need to Google this rash to find out if I’m dying or if it’s a weird reaction to my laundry detergent. But I don’t want Google to know I have a weird, totally hypothetical rash, so I’ll use Sudo to do my research. Or I would if this rash were real. It’s not. “The idea is to live your life online through the Sudo lens,” Shillingford says. “We give you the latitude and the ability to decide how much information you provide.”

In a few weeks Sudo will also offer a virtual credit card. So when I need to order ointment for my rash, I mean if I needed to order ointment if my rash was real, I could use Sudo’s credit card facility for a small fee and eliminate the risk of some shady ointment vendor using or selling my credit card information. Shillingford says that using Sudo for credit will “really reduce the surface area or digital exhaust that accumulates when using a card online.”

Shillingford created Sudo because he felt like the internet was fundamentally broken. “We don’t get to determine how much information we share. I either give everything or I don’t get access,” he says. “Our information is being exploited, sold, and resold. I don’t think that everybody signed up for that,” he adds. So, after working in cybersecurity and identity management for Fortune 500 companies, Shillingford started his own company about eighteen months ago and started chipping away at the boulder that is the imbalanced relationship between the Internet and the Internet user.

The app launched at Sundance and has been met with enthusiasm by thousands of users. “We’re pretty excited about the early traction,” Shillingford says. “I wasn’t quite sure how people would view this but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised.” The app was also introduced at Alt Summit, and the blogger attendees were over the moon excited that they now have a way to compartmentalize their lives with an app that lends control and empowerment.

And I have to agree. Rash or no rash, the idea that I can control what information I provide, how much information I provide, and how I provide it, is immensely attractive in an online world where someone is asking for my a detailed history of my entire life around every corner. Sudo gives me complete control of my personal information in any situation. As Shillingford says, “It’s your terms of service.”

Published 2/24/2016

How Havenly Is Changing Interior Design

We’re taking an industry and bringing customers a different experience.

Years ago, Lee Mayer, CEO and founder of Havenly.com, wanted to decorate her home on a modest budget. She needed help, but as she explains, “No interior would talk to me with my budget.” Mayer suddenly felt a personal need for an affordable and approachable design service, and after talking to friends and associates, she realized this was a need felt by many. The emergence of Houzz, Pinterest, and HGTV increased the pressure her peers felt to have a well put together home, though few of them could afford professional help. The legacy interior design model, with its high prices and hourly fees, was not accessible to a wide range of consumers looking to upgrade their spaces.

So Mayer gathered a team, started surveying potential customers, built Havenly.com, and launched the site in late March of 2014. Since its inception, Havenly has been focused on the customer experience. “The customer is at the core of what we do,” Mayer says, explaining she and her team spent the first six months after the site’s launch learning as much as they could about their customers. “We were really looking at what customers were doing,” Mayer says. “If you’re smart enough, every day your customer tells you something.”

All that listening and focus on the customer led to Havenly’s system for bringing superior design services to the rest of us. When a customer visits Havenly.com, they are invited to take a survey that determines their style. The customer is then matched with a couple of designers and is able to choose which designer they like best. The customer pays a small fee, uploads any photos, inspiration boards or pins that will help with design collaboration. The designer then creates a mood board, consults with the customer, and when both the designer and customer are satisfied, the designer fills an online shopping cart with furniture and accessories for the customer.

The whole process is a drastic departure from the legacy infrastructure that once dominated the interior design industry. Havenly has successfully lowered the design services price point by capitalizing on underutilized capacity, such as educated and talented designers who are eager to work. “We’re using this idea of remnant inventory,” Mayer says. Remnant inventory, coupled with technology, makes interior design available to not just the super rich, but nearly anyone with access to the internet. “We’re taking an industry and bringing customers a different experience,” Mayer says.

It’s an experience customers are responding to as more and more young, upwardly mobile consumers visit the site and sign on for Havenly’s services. More are sure to follow suite as the business continues to grow and disrupt the design industry. Mayer and her team just closed a $7.5 million round led by the Foundry Group, money they plan to use to hire more team members, enhance the site, and improve the design process. “We’d love for this to be something that really changes the way people shop for their home,” Mayer says. Citing Havenly’s ability to match consumers with the exact right product and the exact right time, Mayer says, “We want to be the first place to go when shopping for your home.”

Published 11/25/2015