Why 4 Colorado serial entrepreneurs keep coming back for more

by April Bohnert
July 27, 2017

Some people are natural-born entrepreneurs. They’re the ones with the brilliant ideas, the astute business savvy or simply an unyielding determination to succeed. For the serial entrepreneur, it isn’t enough to start one business — or sometimes even two. Instead, it's about a lifelong passion to build something new and watch it grow.

We talked to four Colorado tech founders to learn what motivates them to launch a business — and what they’ve learned along the way.

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Mike Shehan is the epitome of the serial entrepreneur, having launched four businesses in the last 23 years. He cut his entrepreneurial teeth at age 25 when he founded his first company, Logex, using money he’d earned working in an Alaskan cannery. Within three years, the company was acquired by AppNet, and in three years more, he’d go on to launch his second venture, Ereo, a search engine for images.

That’s when things get interesting for Shehan. Soon, the dot com bubble burst, sending Ereo into a tailspin. AppNet went bankrupt, leaving Shehan essentially cash-poor. He was back at square one — but that didn’t stop him.

In the coming years, he and SpotX co-founder Steve Swoboda went on to launch Booyah Networks (which still operates successfully as Booyah Advertising). Today, Shehan is the founder and CEO of Denver-based SpotX, a video ad serving platform for publishers and broadcasters.

When did you first discover you had a knack for business?

My dad played an important role in my decision to become an entrepreneur. I originally studied biology and planned to become a veterinarian. However, during my final year in college, I realized that was not the right path for me. Rather than being disappointed, he said to me, “You know, son, you don’t really have to be a vet. It’s enough to own a veterinary clinic, then you’ll earn more money anyway.” He was the founder of a successful company in the oil industry, and had always advised me to start my own business. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated that I began to see things that way, so I took his advice and started Logex.

What has been the most important thing you've learned over the years from your entrepreneurial endeavors?

Without a doubt, I've learned it's all about the people. Jim Collins, the famous business author, is right. Your first order of business is to get the right people on the bus. I've been working with SpotX CTO Allen Dove since the mid-90s and Steve Swoboda, our CFO/COO since 2000. They are the best. There is simply no way we would have been as successful without having such amazingly smart, dedicated and talented people. And I could say the same about the 400-plus people that work at SpotX.

After that, I'd say that your next order of business is to create a culture of empowerment that is as free of office politics as possible. If you can do that, then you can slay giants.  

What drives you as an entrepreneur and founder?

I think one of the coolest things in the world that you can do is create something out of nothing, and have someone pay you to use that something. Before we started SpotX, I remember drawing by hand the interface that would be used by our customers. There were hundreds of pages spread out all over my house. I gathered them up and gave them to Allen, our CTO, so he and his team could build it. It's still astonishing to think that today our platform is used by hundreds of companies like SlingTV, Microsoft and Spotify to manage their video ad inventory all over the world. How cool is that?!

 

 

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Thierry Schellenbach is currently the founder and CEO of Stream, an API for building, scaling and personalizing feeds. Just months after he launched the company in Amsterdam in 2014, Stream was selected for the Techstars NYC accelerator. He moved the company to Boulder shortly after, where the company raised $4.75 million from U.S. investors.

But Schellenbach also knows what it’s like to struggle as an entrepreneur. Before Stream, he founded the online fashion community Fashiolista, growing it from zero to two million members in just a couple months. But despite the success, the company had to make two major pivots, and Schellenbach admits that “it always felt like we were hiking up a really steep mountain.”

When did you first discover you had a knack for or interest in business?

I did a little gaming-related website when I was 13. It was amazing as it gave me a starting point to learn about web development and programming. Afterward, I went on to study business and kept on programming in my spare time. Reading and contributing to open source is a great way to improve your development skills. Both my co-founder Tommaso and I like open source, and you see that in the company culture as well. Our latest open source contribution is a project called Virtual Go.

What has been the most important thing you've learned over the years from your entrepreneurial endeavors?

Startups can be a crazy rollercoaster. You need to accept that sometimes things will go wrong, and persevere when they do.

The VC industry in the U.S. is much more sophisticated compared to the one in Europe. If you want to compete globally you need to be located here.

The alternative is to focus your startup on something local or with a European advantage. Two good examples are Adyen and Spotify. Adyen is similar to Stripe but supports many international payment methods. Spotify had an advantage being in Europe since music licenses were easier to negotiate.

What drives you as an entrepreneur and founder?

Writing code, building companies — that whole act of creating something out of nothing is something I really enjoy.

Another aspect is a bit of an obsession with product quality. It’s great to see design, engineering, DevOps, data science and sales all work together towards building an amazing product. There’s something really motivating about that.

Creating a startup is incredibly hard though. I think you really have to enjoy the challenge to stick with it.

 

 

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Jim Mansfield, CEO and founder of AppThis, has started three digital media companies over the last 15 years. In 2002, he launched an email and data marketing company called Vayan. He later sold the company to start Boulder-based Intela, which focused on digital media in email and lead generation internationally. He sold again, this time focusing on the mobile ad market worldwide. He started AppThis in 2014 and now has over 60 employees spread between Denver, Israel and the U.K.

When did you first discover you had a knack for or interest in business?

I have always had the ability to spot opportunities and haven't been afraid to act on them — even if it was only on gut instinct. When I quit my job in 2002 to start Vayan, I only had a vague idea of what the company would even do.

I am also very mellow. I don't get overly excited about success or stressed about failure or bad news.

What has been the most important thing you’ve learned over the years from your entrepreneurial endeavors?

The unicorns grab headlines, but starting and running a business is incredibly hard. Managing cash flow and dealing with investors, co-founders and employees is hard. It requires not always being nice and having a strong survival instinct. Sometimes you will need to fire people you consider friends to survive, and make tough choices regarding what to do and, most importantly, what NOT to do.

Don't get too excited when things are going well because they will likely turn. Running a business is a marathon that never ends — unless you can exit, which is also incredibly hard.

What drives you as an entrepreneur and founder?

I enjoy the ability to work with and meet smart, new people all over the world. It's a challenge working in different cultures and finding ways to work with people who might be different than you. 

Once I got a taste of business it was all I wanted to do. I also enjoy working for myself, even though you can never step away or feel totally comfortable because there is no quitting when you own it.

 

 

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Alex Capecelatro embraced his entrepreneurial spirit at an early age. Before launching the smart home AI company Josh.ai — when Capecelatro was still in high school and college — he started a number of small businesses. These included a BMX website called bikeFlat, a bicycle manufacturing company called Logic Bikes, a design company called Life Cards, and a materials science company called XGel Technologies. More recently, he ran a company called Hyphos Inc., which created social recommendation apps aimed at travelers and building offline connections with members in over 100 countries.

Yeah, you could say he likes to build things. 

When did you first discover you had a knack for or interest in business?

I have a much stronger interest in engineering and consider business the mechanism with which to bring those ideas to consumers. My business partner says I am a natural networker, I tend to be outgoing and like to meet new people. This serves me well in business. I think my first business endeavor was in middle school, and I never really slowed down since.

What has been the most important thing you've learned over the years from your entrepreneurial endeavors?

Everything about entrepreneurship comes back to sales. If you're trying to recruit a candidate, you're selling them. If you're trying to raise money, you're selling an investor. If you're trying to get press or create partnerships, fundamentally, it's all about sales. So any entrepreneur who says they're not good at sales is holding up a red flag or they have a great salesperson as a partner. Part of sales is understanding that “no” doesn't mean no. It means not now. You have to open a lot of doors to find success. So whether you're looking for funding or press, or hiring a candidate, remember it's a numbers game and you need to be ready for a lot of rejection.

What drives you as an entrepreneur and founder?

I love the idea of creating products and services that change people's lives and have never been done before. In my current company, it's the balance of cutting-edge technology with beautiful design, coupled with a product that impacts people's daily lives and hopefully improves it. That drives me. I love the idea of creating something that fundamentally changes how we, as a society, live and operate.

 

 

Photos via featured companies and social media. Responses have been edited for clarity and length. 

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