They Risk It All for a Good Idea

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How alumni entrepreneurs and risk-takers have brought their insights to fruition

By Lily Derrick and Nadine Fiedler

David Bogaty ‘85 walks his talk in his company, WorldNet, in Puerto Rico

Success Through Integrity

David Bogaty ’85 grounds his telecommunications company in uncompromised values

“Two years of hell.” That’s how David Bogaty ’85 describes his short career in high finance on Wall Street in the early ’90s. He went along with what his peers defined as success and what he thought was expected of him in his pursuit of an economics degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and of finance as a career. But once in the trenches he was appalled at the mean-spirited, shallow nature of the business, its backstabbing and egotistic opportunism.

David turned his back on Wall Street—wondering if he was a failure—and went to work as a partner at his brother John ’84’s new telecommunications business in Boston. As the business developer, David found a promising market in Puerto Rico, so he moved there to run the branch. Once away from the culture of business in the Northeastern U.S., he began to examine what he really wanted from life and work. In 1996 he decided to buy the company’s assets in Puerto Rico. “What I wanted was to live with integrity and caring, work with a team, look out for the well-being of my employees and the community, and transform the business world by providing a new model,” he says.

His business, WorldNet Communications, now brings in over $50 million a year and is growing. David says that WorldNet’s success is directly attributable to their values, not despite them. His 200 loyal employees were instrumental in WorldNet being named the fourth best employer in Puerto Rico by Hewitt & Associates. David was also named Entrepreneur of the Year in Telecommunications in 2002 by Ernst & Young.

“The key to entrepreneurship for me was that I had to find something that truly sang in my heart and that connected on a deep level to the values I cared about,” says David. “It had to be fulfilling, and not just to make money. When I found what sang for me, my path became clear.”

 

Danielle Easly Nye ‘87 is the face behind Dani Natural Products

An MBA Through Experience

Danielle Easly Nye ’87 sells soaps and natural products worldwide

Like many adventures, Danielle Easly Nye ’87’s business began in an unlikely way. She had just finished a master’s in teaching when she picked up a book on soap-making. Intrigued, she started making soap to sell locally. Instead, she quickly found herself running a serious business: “My third account was a 35-store charge, and that was it,” Danielle says.

She may not have had an entrepreneurial background but, “when I started the business someone said that I would be getting an MBA through experience, and it is true. I have learned so much over the last 13 years about how so many different parts of businesses work.”

Dani Natural Products, the business Danielle started in 1996 with handcrafted, vegetable-based soaps, now makes almost 200 products that are distributed worldwide. The products are all vegetable-based, including 100 percent soy wax candles, and continue to be made in Bend. They are often packaged in recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable containers. She says this commitment to sustainability is not surprising. “I really credit Catlin Gabel for my appreciation of nature and the environment.”

Of course, the challenges of running a business that moves 300,000 items a year are different than those facing one person making soap in her kitchen. Danielle says that as she works to manage employees, manage money, and plan ahead, she often draws on the skills she learned earlier in life.

“When I started making soap I frequently thought of Mr. D (Paul Dickinson),” she says, because the lab writing techniques he taught at Catlin Gabel “proved valuable in creating a formula for soap.” She liked using algebra to develop soap formulas. Yet, Danielle says, “There were so many teachers that influenced me beyond the subject matter.” She even gleaned a particular method of problem-solving from Dave Corkran: “I have tried putting myself in his shoes to better understand or deal with situations.”

 

Eric Rosenfeld ’83, left, and Bob Ward ’83 have backed many start-ups in their role as venture investors

With Their Help, Innovators Realize Their Dreams

Venture capitalists Eric Rosenfeld ’83 and Bob Ward ’83 help turn ideas into realities

“Choose your lab partner carefully,” warns Bob Ward ’83. He and Eric Rosenfeld ’83 started out just that way in 6th grade, branching out over their years at Catlin Gabel as partners in soccer, tennis, track, and science competitions. So five years ago at their 20th reunion, when Eric floated the idea of a business partnership, Bob thought, why not? They already knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and knew instinctively how to get along. Thus was born Capybara Ventures, their venture capital business based in downtown Portland, which is often the first investor in promising high-tech start-ups. Today Capybara Ventures and its sister the Oregon Angel Fund are the most active venture investors in Oregon.

Eric and Bob found that Oregon is overlooked and underserved by investors looking to fund high-tech businesses in their early stage of growth—venture capital here is about one-tenth of what’s available in Seattle. They understood that operating out of Portland would give them the pick of the most innovative young companies to invest in. Capybara and the Oregon Angel Fund invest in five to eight businesses a year, out of the approximately 250 that come across their desks.

What’s not usually understood about venture capitalists is that they also provide advice and direction for businesses, as well as providing funds. “You try to coach people, you need to be diplomatic, you have to excel in financial analysis and modeling, and you have to be able to do lots of research in new technologies and markets. Entrepreneurs provide the creativity, and we’re a sounding board for market realities,” says Bob.

“These new businesses are very risky, and we can help mitigate that somewhat,” says Eric. “Often, we help build a business out of an idea.” Bob says that the willingness to accept risk is baked into the venture capital model: “You live with the realization that many of your companies will fail, but one or two will potentially hit it big and drive returns for the entire fund.”

Bob and Eric bring many years of business experience—and entrepreneurship— to their roles as advisers. Bob spent 16 years in the Bay Area in high-tech start-ups, and he founded his own company dealing in optical fiber telecommunications. Eric’s experience includes being a principal owner of a successful growth company, Second Story Studios, and he has held high-level positions in other businesses, including Mentor Graphics. In partnership with the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, a nonprofit that gives guidance to founders of new businesses, Bob and Eric started the Oregon Angel Fund, a group of 60 people who research all types of local businesses and pool their investments in four start-ups each year.

Both Bob and Eric come from families with strong entrepreneurial bents. “The spirit of risk-taking is one of the competitive strengths of our country, and we should celebrate it,” says Eric. Bob loves helping turn an idea into reality and the insight that gives him: “Every day we get little glimpses of the future from ideas that come to us, some wacky and some brilliant, but all a vision of what’s to come,” says Bob.

“When you are at Catlin Gabel surrounded by people who try to do well and become good citizens, those values become part of your life,” says Eric, who is a school trustee and the father of two Catlin Gabel students. “We enjoy helping others achieve their dreams and be successful. When they make money, we’ll make money. Over 500 people in Oregon now have jobs because of our two funds—now that’s exciting. The entrepreneurs are the real heroes, and we try to play a role in their success. It’s a nice feeling to know there’s a generation of entrepreneurs out there whom we were able to help get started and who are creating good jobs and making a positive contribution to our community and economy.”

 

Ali Jepson-Dohrmann ’00 and husband Evan have created a café as exuberant as they are

A Bicycle-Friendly Café Makes its Mark

Ali Jepson-Dohrmann ’00 owns the Little Red Bike Café

“If someone had told me that I would be running my own business eight years ago I would have called him a liar.” That’s how Ali Jepson-Dohrmann ’00 describes the likelihood of her entrepreneurial career. She thought she would be a writer, “spending my days shamelessly lonely, writing passionately.”

Instead, Ali spends her time dishing up organic fried egg sandwiches and homemade pie at Little Red Bike Café, the North Portland restaurant she and her now-husband Evan opened in August 2007. Known for the aforementioned egg sandwiches, as much as for its “bike-through” window, Little Red Bike Café has swiftly become a neighborhood favorite.

Ali is quick to point out that their “overnight” success was actually the product of years of deliberate, focused risk-taking. She and Evan, a friend since middle school, first hatched the plan of opening their own café while traveling around the world right after college in 2004 and 2005. The odds were daunting.

“I don’t know how many times and how many people warned us in the beginning that 80 percent of restaurants fail in their first year,” Ali says. Their parents, while supportive, encouraged them to start small. They created an LLC called Green & Green Salad Company and opened a booth at the Portland Farmer’s Market. The booth was a winner, and two years later she and Evan were ready to open a real retail café.

“The café concept was easy; it was all we could afford,” she says. It took them six months to find a space, in their own St. John’s neighborhood. This, says Ali, is key to their success: “For better or worse Evan and I cannot walk the dog, get a bite to eat, or have color copies made without running into a customer. I think it works both ways: we work incredibly hard to serve and meet the needs of our community and in return they support us tremendously because we are undeniably a part of the neighborhood.”

She partly credits her appreciation for and commitment to her community to Catlin Gabel, and teachers such as Brian Gant, “who taught me to work tirelessly, live passionately, and love what you’re doing.” That’s clearly a lesson Ali has taken to market.

 

Ben Schoenberg ’88 juggled his way to a successful business (Photo: Brad Yazzolino)

Juggling is Serious Business Here

Ben Schoenberg ’88 sells the best equipment to object manipulators

Classmates of Ben Schoenberg ’88 might remember the winning speech he gave in his pitch for the junior class presidency—you know, the one where he did fancy juggling tricks while convincing his peers of his leadership abilities? Ben has followed that passion and talent, founding a business that brings a wide array of juggling gear to all sorts of people—many more than you would think— from comedians to classrooms to corporate event planners.

Ben had always dreamed of becoming a math professor, and toward that end he studied math at Carnegie-Mellon University. But when he finally hit graduate school at the University of Washington, he realized that the higher-level abstractions of math in those spheres didn’t suit him at all. But for him juggling spheres was a delightful pursuit that worked his hands and brain at the same time, and he thought that his hobby could also become his livelihood.

Ben started Serious Juggling in 1994 as a mail order business out of his garage, creating one of the first U.S businesses to sell clubs, balls, and other specialized gear from many manufacturers in one place. Now Ben and his wife, Yvette, run a solid international business, selling online, at juggling festivals, and out of a Portland store (with the required 12-foot ceilings so jugglers and unicyclists can try out the goods). Their equipment has been used in Olympics ceremonies, Cirque du Soleil, the Ringling Brothers Circus, and many corporate conventions (as ice breakers and skill builders).

Founding Serious Juggling was a plunge into the unknown, but one that worked out well for Ben. “Starting a business requires an irrational faith that you’ll find a way to make it work, and that customers will find you,” says Ben. “It also takes the perseverance to seek out every advantage you need, take every opportunity you find, and not give up prematurely.”

 

Bob Warren ’66 took risks to grow the family’s industrial business

Infusing Business with Global Spirit

Robert C. Warren, Jr. ’66 has thrived on risk at Cascade Corporation

Think forklifts aren’t exciting? You haven’t talked to Bob Warren ’66 lately. Bob’s company, Cascade Corporation, makes specialized forklift attachments for industries ranging from textiles to tires, and the lifts can do pretty incredible things, including grab, rotate, and stack rolls of paper weighing 14,000 pounds.

Cascade is a Warren family company, but that doesn’t mean Bob always knew he would work there, let alone for almost 37 years and counting. If it hadn’t been for his now-wife Elizabeth’s reluctance to go with him, Bob says that in 1972 he would have traveled to Afghanistan and Nepal to meet a friend and consider his future. Instead, his late father, Robert C. Warren, Sr., proposed that he come to work for the company for two years.

“I told him, ‘Look, you’re really successful, and your dad was really successful, and Mom’s (Nani Swigert Warren ’42) dad was really successful. Even if I’m really good, I’ll shoot just par.’ But my dad said, ‘You know, I think you’re wrong.’”

To prove it, the senior Warren made the junior a tempting offer: Come and work for the company for two years, and if you don’t like it, I’ll pay for you to do whatever you would like to do. Bob first worked the Cascade assembly line in Roseburg, Oregon, before moving on to marketing, sales, and new product development. In 1983, brought his global spirit to China, where he initiated one of the first, groundbreaking U.S.–Chinese joint ventures in manufacturing. Under his leadership, Cascade today holds 50 percent of the world market in forklift equipment. Not bad for someone who never thought he would thrive in business.

Bob attributes his trajectory from international traveler to international CEO to “an interest and willingness to take on diverse assignments.” This willingness to embrace risk, he says, was partly a function of his very first international experience, a childhood year spent traveling abroad with his family. The ultimate in experiential education, the trip instilled in him a curiosity and appreciation for cultures outside his own that has served him well professionally. Whether or not the subject is forklifts, his curiosity is contagious.

 

Joshua Duyan ’01 found a way to revolutionize selling wine

Bringing Wine to the Young Masses

Joshua Duyan ’01 co-founded RiotWine, an online wine club

Three years ago, alumni Joshua Duyan ’01 and Michael Mandiberg ’96 and their friend Nathan Kennedy were just aching to launch a start-up company. They threw around lots of possibilities—pre-fab development, custom clothing from China—but what won was wine. As twenty-somethings in San Francisco, they knew that hushed, serene retail wine shops catering to Boomers were just not working for them and their friends. So what they founded was an innovative, web-based, easy to use, cool, subscription wine club with an attitude and a brash, loud name—RiotWine.

“We wanted to eschew the wine snob image and create a modern brand,” says Joshua. They liked the way that companies like Design Within Reach, Apple, and American Apparel made things simple, clean, and easy to understand, and they wanted to do that for wine. The wine club idea was simple and elegant: a user would just sign up, pay once, and wait for delivery of great wine chosen by experts. The RiotWine website provided approachable information about the wine to make it all more friendly.

The business took off, with growing lists of paying subscribers. Joshua and his partners ran with it for a year, and then they realized that they had to reassess where they wanted to focus their energies. The three decided that they were all happier thinking about the big picture than dealing with the minutiae of business. They formed a partnership with a company that now deals with RiotWine’s everyday business demands.

Freed from the demands of RiotWine, today Michael is publishing a design textbook, Nathan is working in green real estate in Portland, and Joshua is in charge of products for Lumosity, a San Francisco start-up that is the leading site for online brain training (“Look for a Facebook app and brain games on the iPhone coming soon!”).

“One motto that I keep with me from my time at Catlin Gabel is ‘learn by doing,’” says Joshua. “Entrepreneurship is all about this. There isn’t anyone who can tell you how to run your company, so you just start doing and learn from your experiences.”

 

Daniel Stoops ’88 owns a bakery and café, his dream business for many years

Raising the Bar on Baked Goods

Daniel Stoops ’88 owns one of Portland’s best bakeries

Daniel Stoops ’88 admits that a day in the life of a bakery owner isn’t exactly a piece of cake (pardon the pun). It is, he says, “all about solving all sorts of problems—most of them small.” But for Daniel, who worked in the technology sector for years, working for himself makes all the minor challenges worthwhile.

Daniel and his wife, Jocelyn Barda, opened Bakery Bar in Southeast Portland in September 2005. Initially, their concept was to offer custom cakes and wholesale breakfast pastries made by Jocelyn, who after a 15-year career in social work went to school to become a pastry chef in 2004. Within a few weeks of opening, however, the couple determined that they would have more success with a retail café in addition to their custom cake and cupcake operation. By November 2005, they had launched a café selling pasties and coffee drinks; in early 2006, they added a lunch menu. A second location in Northeast, including a larger kitchen to accommodate their thriving cake business, opens this fall.

For Daniel, who fantasized about owning a bar or pub for more than a decade, the shop represents a natural confluence of Jocelyn’s baking prowess and his business background. Years working for small companies convinced him that “I should be in charge if I wanted to be happy,” while giving him the skills to become a successful entrepreneur, “from marketing to copywriting, and editing to project management.”

Of course, the risks inherent to opening one’s own business can be formidable. “But,” Daniel says, “the risk of not doing it was far greater to me.” And so he spends his days putting to delicious use the problem-solving approaches he says originated in part at Catlin Gabel. “The school is successful at getting students to really think in order to solve problems. I’d argue that is the single most important skill a business owner needs to have.”

Lily Derrick is Catlin Gabel's director of alumni, and Nadine Fiedler is the publications and public relations director and Caller editor.