To read our full newsletter please click here: winter-2016-newsletter
To read our full newsletter please click here: winter-2016-newsletter
When I walked into the KinetiGear, LLC, makers of BoXZY, headquarters I knew I was in a unique space. There were mechanical pieces and parts everywhere and the people looked energized and happy. BoXZY is a 3D printer, CNC Mill, and Laser Engraver in one made to help fill a gap in the industry. As a client of Enterprise Bank I was granted the opportunity to visit the headquarters and speak with one of the founders, Joel Johnson. After a tour of the headquarters itself I sat down with Joel, who started the business with his brother Justin, and talk about their experience creating BoXZY from the ground up. Joel and Justin have experienced extreme success with BoXZY earning the title of Pennsylvania’s Most Successfully Funded Tech Campaign on Kickstarter and Pittsburgh’s most Successfully Funded Campaign. I decided to start from the beginning and ask Joel what is motivation was to become an entrepreneur with his brother. “I always say that being an entrepreneur is who we are,” he replied, “I don’t think you just suddenly say you want to be an entrepreneur, it’s just us.” Joel continued to tell me about how he and his brother would constantly be evaluating their surroundings, asking themselves how they would sell certain products or make a profit off of them. Since they were kids they have been indulging their entrepreneurial spirit and challenging themselves until they came up with the idea for BoXZY. “It was actually an extended process,” Joel explained as he started to tell the story of BoXZY. Joel had decided to help his brother run a contracting company and started talking about small business issues and education’s link to it. Then they started investigating local maker/incubator spaces such as Tech Shop and noticed the three things that were most used in those spaces; 3D printing, CNC milling, and Laser engraving. And that was how BoXZY was born.
I had to find out more about their process creating BoXZY completely from scratch and how they would describe their entrepreneurial journey. “It was wonderful… and horrible, all of the above,” Joel explained, “I was a psychology and philosophy major and I had to learn robotics.” He further explained to me that Justin was the inventor out of the two of them, but both of them had a lot to learn before they could launch BoXZY. Joel also told me about how their different view points coupled with their sibling competitiveness fueled their processes. “Conflict is not bad, it’s not the kind of thing that should leave a stain, it’s the kind of thing that should come to a conclusion and a solution,” Joel said while describing how their brotherly competition stays friendly and always gets resolved. This way they are able to continue to be partners and keep their relationship in tact. While Joel admits that their journey through creating their company wasn’t perfect, he chooses to see mistakes as feedback and information about their environment. Sometimes through mistakes you learn more than you would have if you had “done things right”. “The one thing I would do differently is use an experienced contractor in situations where I don’t need labor. Mistakes in labor can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars before you even know what happened. A mature contractor can stabilize a lack of experience,” Joel explained.
Joel’s favorite item that they made using BoXZY? “It’s not going to sound cool, but it’s a utility knife. It’s super pretty, super personalized, and it’s definitely my favorite.” Joel explained that they have made a lot of different projects that he is really proud of, but he is most proud of the diversity of the projects. They have participated in artistic projects such as paintings, gear sets, and fine woods. A big part of what Joel and Justin do is go to Maker Faires to network and show off what their product can do. “Maker Faires have… people from art, crafts, robotics, someone making their first product for Kickstarter,” he explained. It’s an incredibly diverse network of people coming together to learn more about how they can make what they love. The intellectual capital exchange is Joel’s favorite part of the Maker Faires because they inspire Joel and Justin to create better improvements. What is Joel’s advice for those looking to become an entrepreneur? “Avoid venture capital, think of yourself as a small business, interrogate your environment and your life for resources,” he said. He says also to take advice with a grain of salt, as advice is uni-directional. Instead of having someone tell you the path you should take, you should have someone who challenges you constantly. “You need to be brutal when you look at the resources available to you,” he continued.
Joel and Justin found Enterprise through well-placed connections in the industry. Joel explains that he knew someone who received a loan from Enterprise and were happy with their experience. Joel then went to his financial advisor to talk about if Enterprise was the right choice, which we were. Joel only has nice things to say about Enterprise and his experience with us as a whole. “They’re partners with us in the process and have consistently overcome obstacles,” he explains. He explains the process as adaptive and flexible with Enterprise focusing on their needs as a small business. He says that while many organizations said they would help, no one ever really lived up to what they said until Enterprise.
After my discussion with Joel I went to discuss their success with their Relationship Manager Randy Davidson. Randy is incredibly proud to be able to witness the success of Joel and Justin with BoXZY. “My first impression of them is that they were highly intelligent and high tech,” Randy told me. He continued to talk about how they had a great vision for their future and the future of BoXZY. When Enterprise and KinetiGear, LLC met, KinetiGear was still in the start up phase but was growing rapidly. Enterprise was able to provide an SBA loan to Joel and Justin for inventory purchases and working capital. Throughout the process Randy describes Joel and Justin as very cooperative which led to a smooth process. Randy also mentions working with Hadley Pratt, the Head of Corporate Services, with which he has developed a good, strong relationship. “Joel and Justin are headed in a really strong direction and I’m excited to see how they continue to grow in the months and years to come.”
To learn more about BoXZY please visit http://www.boxzy.com/.
30 years ago Allen Fishman was part of his family’s business when they were sold to a regional public company. As so happens with a lot of those transactions, Allen was able to stay on for a few years as an executive and ended up attending his first board of directors meeting. Allen looked around him and saw the amazing reality of multiple intelligent people coming together to discuss business issues. He wasn’t able to utilize that when he was at the company earlier and thought to himself, “Everyone should be able to have access to a board of professionals that can help discuss business issues.” When Allen left a few years later he started The Alternative Board, also known as TAB, in Denver, Colorado. TAB has grown into a worldwide organization since then with chapters all over the country and the local Pittsburgh chapter has a strong relationship with us at Enterprise Bank. I sat down with Glenn Flickinger, owner of Pittsburgh’s TAB, to discuss TAB and what the small to medium size business owner needs to know about this company.
What TAB does is bring business owners together in a group of their peers to discuss business topics that are relevant to them. Each month, a business owner will meet with a group of their peers for approximately four hours where each member will bring up a topic they need to be counseled in. Since you meet with the same people every month you get a unique view into different companies and industries. Each board, of which there are seven at present in Pittsburgh, has a TAB coach that acts as a sort of “chairman” of the board. The TAB coach works with each business owner on an individual level but also facilitates discussion during the meeting. Glenn emphasized that the coaches are indeed coaches and not consultants. “I would never say anything negative about consultants, there’s a time and a place for them. But, consultants will leave eventually and our coaches stay with you as long as you are a member of TAB.” Each coach will go to meet with the members of their board individually once a month to develop a plan to further their business goals. The coach is also available whenever the member needs them; they’re just a phone call or an email away. Glenn discussed that even though the members they have operate across a wide range of industries, including B2C and service companies, around 85% of the topics discussed are the same. “No matter what industry you’re in you’ll tackle problems in marketing, HR, finance, and other topics,” he said. Ultimately there ends up being 200+ years of experience around that table and that is a priceless resource. Currently TAB is available in 11 other countries and Allen Fishman’s son-in-law, Jason Zickerman, is the President & CEO of the present company. Allen’s daughter is involved with the company as well in the International side of the business. TAB prides itself on being family owned and operated just like much of the companies they work with.
Glenn Flickinger is a banker by trade with experience in both commercial and investment banking in the Pittsburgh area. In 2007, he started the Pittsburgh franchise of TAB in the South Hills. In February of next year he will be celebrating 10 years in business with 68 members involved. “Something I take pride in is the fact that out of the 18 companies we started with, 10 are still members 10 years later,” he explained to me. It’s obvious that Glenn takes a lot of pride in being in such a unique business and being able to help people on a daily basis. Glenn’s role in TAB as the owner of TAB Pittsburgh is all-encompassing. Glenn facilitates and coaches two boards and also oversees all the sales and marketing efforts to recruit new members. Currently at TAB Pittsburgh there are 7 boards, 6 of which are owners boards and one which is a key executive board. The owners boards are exactly as described above while the key executive board is designed for key executives and management of companies, who are not necessarily owners. Next generation owners generally take advantage of the key executive board to gain experience before they take the reins in their company. The members of TAB come from companies that range from all sizes. The core 80-85% of companies involved in the organization are somewhere between $1 million and $20 million in size.
As we came to the end of our conversation I started wondering about how Enterprise Bank and TAB came to get to know each other. Glenn explained that one of our clients was a member of TAB and that was how he was connected to our Loan Development Officer, Dave Miller. As the years have gone on we have also found that a number of our clients are also members of TAB. When Glenn is helping one of his members get connected to financing he always introduces them to multiple banks, but Enterprise Bank is always on the list. Glenn describes his relationship with Enterprise as “very positive” when I asked him. “My members always have a good experience when they work with Enterprise. They’re experienced, knowledgeable bankers.”
My last question was to Glenn as a business owner and someone who works with business owners: What is your best advice for those looking to start a business? His response was clear and simple. “Get sound, trusted professional advice from multiple people who have been there and done that successfully,” he answered. And that’s exactly what you can do at TAB, get sound professional advice from those that are on the same path as you. To learn more about TAB Pittsburgh please visit their website at http://www.tabpittsburgh.com.