Katie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Life is funny sometimes. About seven years ago, I had made an investment in a friend’s manufacturing business, unfortunately, without digging very much into the business’s overall health and financial viability… ok, without looking at really anything. All seemed ok for a while and a few years, later my soon-to-be husband came to work for that company. Just a few short months after that, I realized that the company was in deep trouble financially. A major deal had fallen through and the company was drowning in debt and had been for a long time. Not good for anyone involved.
After many unsuccessful attempts to correct course and save the company and the employees, my friend offered to give me the machinery in order to compensate me for my original investment and then I could take it and along with my future husband, the two existing employees and the one small paying client and figure out how to run an electronics manufacturing company, basically overnight . I should mention that the husband-to-be was from Australia, here on a work visa that was tied to the company. So, if I didn’t take it, bye-bye investment and bye-bye perfect future husband. We were a little bit backed into a corner but we said yes.
In under two weeks, we created a new company, signed a four-year lease in Longmont, relocated all the equipment, ordered business cards and we were open for business… yet we hadn’t the slightest clue how to run a manufacturing company! To make matters worse, we couldn’t get internet installed in the new office for several months, so we ran the company off of the hotspot on one of our phones.
We knew we couldn’t compete with other CM’s, being as small and new as we were so instead, we took the tact of trying to befriend our competition and take the jobs they didn’t want or that didn’t fit their model. The ‘scraps’ got bigger and bigger and turns out, we were a bit of a niche in our field, being able to offer a multitude of services all under one roof, so our client base grew and so did our great reputation.
In our first seven months, we had tripled our workforce and a couple of months later, we also doubled our space. Over the next couple years, there were many tears and a lot of anxious, sleepless nights but there were also a lot of milestones and accomplishments, including winning two prestigious awards this year alone; the Governor’s Minority Business Award and the 2019 Colorado Companies to Watch Award. Our success has also spawned another offshoot business that has been going for the last 18 months, Colorado Tech Staffing, which provides highly skilled workers to large manufacturing companies in Colorado and beyond. We could not have done it without our amazing team, a supportive community, a sh*t ton of hard work… and a little bit of luck.
Has it been a smooth road?
Our journey to where we are has been anything but smooth. Before this venture, I was a photographer and my husband (he wasn’t my husband at the time) was an operations manager for a large furniture manufacturer in AUSTRALIA! Life handed us a choice to play it safe and lose out or to go out on a limb and figure out how to become experts in a field we knew little about. We, of course, took the limb and the risk because if it actually worked it would be the vehicle to achieve what we knew we could. The journey included going into over a quarter million of debt, melting credit cards and signing our life away for many loans, as we struggled to figure out how to properly run a manufacturing company, which was a very steep and quite unforgiving, learning curve. As a side note, we will have all that debt paid off by the end of this year.
The journey also included the myriad of times we thought that week was our last and we were going to lose everything and have to disappoint our wonderful employees and clients, such as the time our biggest client left us with $60K in parts and finished goods because they ran out of money and no way to recoup the loss. For a 1-year-old company, that was almost a death blow. Though that was very difficult to financially recover from that experience, it made us change our business practices and in that, we were able to not only dramatically mitigate our risk and exposure but also stabilize our cash flow. We believe that is one of the major reasons we have been so successful and have had so much growth. We have doubled our revenue year after year since the start, so I guess we are doing something right.
I also had the experience of my “worst day” at work somehow create an incredible friendship and mentor and we now enjoy a truly mutually beneficial partnership. We had made a mistake on a VERY important client’s job. It was a stupid mistake and I didn’t know how we could have done it. I was embarrassed and ashamed and wrote a heartfelt apology to my contact at that business. That letter somehow made it to the owner of this rather large business and then a personal phone call from him. This led to surprisingly MORE work from this client. Not long after, another error from us and I was sure our relationship was over and he would hate us and even me personally. You have to understand, these were probably the two worst mistakes on a job we had ever made and they were with the SAME client!! He called and I was afraid to answer. My head hung low, I picked up and started apologizing and he interrupted my pity party and simply said: “It’s fine, we screw up ALL the time, now… how are we going to fix it and move on?” That blew my mind.
From that conversation and all the new processes and systems, we put into place because of that error, our quality improved, our business grew, our staff became happier and I ended up with a good friend and mentor and our companies continue to enjoy an incredible partnership to this day. If you are an entrepreneur, you are going to fall… but just do your best to always fall FORWARD.
We’d love to hear more about your company.
Colorado Tech Shop is a full-cycle design, engineering, and contract manufacturing firm. We provide innovative solutions for small to medium-sized businesses by offering a flexible approach for bringing new or existing products to market, as well as providing a long term manufacturing solution to established companies desiring high-quality local produce. Colorado Tech Shop holds at its core a desire to form long-standing, mutually profitable relationships with other Colorado-based enterprises and help further the growth of American made products in the technology sector.
We are most proud of the wonderful culture we have slowly built up within our team and in our workplace. We have created a safe, inclusive and fun environment, where our staff (including myself) actually ENJOYS coming to work and where we can all be inspired to do our best for our clients and hopefully, better ourselves in the process. Having a smaller team enables us to give them some fun perks such as our cookouts every Friday for lunch (last week was Rib Eye Steaks!) or getting chair massages by an on-site masseuse. We are also very proud that we have never had to advertise or hire a salesperson, yet we have still managed to double our revenue each year since our inception 4 years ago with no sign of slowing down. We chalk this up to being able to think outside the box and the fact that we take such an honest and open approach in dealing with each of our clients and in our communications with them.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
We are so lucky we ended up in the Denver area, specifically in Longmont. The Denver and Boulder area is simply teeming with high tech companies, brave entrepreneurs and inventive startups! Not only is it the perfect place to find great clients but we are able to utilize wonderful and knowledgeable local suppliers for most of our needs, everything from metal shops to 3D printing, to powder coating, to bare board fab is usually ‘right down the street’. It’s nice to do business with people you can talk to face to face and we like the fact that we are part of a larger community that supports each other.
Especially in the smaller town of Longmont, but also in Denver as a whole, I think there is a much greater sense of collaboration instead of competition. We have all been there in one way or another and we all want to help each other succeed, as we know a rising tide lifts all ships! As a young company, we have found that there is a LOT of free help available at local, state and even federal levels. Programs to help you find financing, increase your knowledge base, learn to be a better boss and even help you learn new programs to make your business more efficient and profitable. You can find help almost anywhere, for instance, the Longmont Economic Development Partnership has done amazing things for us and continues to help many of the businesses in our community. Add to that Denver’s incredible weather, kind and active people and the mountains that are just a short ride away and you have a truly unbeatable combination that I think any company would want to experience.