The pursuit of happiness: How 3 young entrepreneurs found success chasing their startup dreams

by April Bohnert
February 13, 2018
Belong Designs founding story Colorado
Photo courtesy of Belong Designs/ FlowState Marketing.

In 2013, with college graduation looming, best friends Shamus McNutt, Ben Thomson and Mark Grubbs were at a crossroads. They’d been studying mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines for the last four years and were wrestling with a decision that many soon-to-be grads face: chase a paycheck, or chase a dream.

On one hand, they could move to Houston — where there’s massive demand for engineers — and land cushy jobs in the oil and gas industry. On the other, they could stay in their home state of Colorado and build something they were passionate about.

They chose the latter, and with $800 they scrounged up between them, they ordered their first run of t-shirts — and Belong Designs was born.

But that was only the beginning.

The name Belong Designs was inspired by the friends’ personal motto: “Follow your passions, do what you love and find where you belong.” The friends wanted to create an apparel brand for modern-day adventurers — fabrics that performed well in the outdoors but looked stylish enough to wear in everyday urban settings.

From the beginning, the shirts were a hit. In its first year of business, Belong Designs brought in more than $100,000 in e-commerce sales.

“We had so much overwhelmingly positive feedback, not just about the quality of the product but about how [our mission] was something [customers] believed in and that related to different aspects of their life,” said co-founder and COO Ben Thomson. “They looked at that as a milestone to hit, to actually do something that they loved. And it just blew us away.”

They looked at that as a milestone to hit, to actually do something that they loved. And it just blew us away.”

FlowState Marketing team Colorado
Photo courtesy of FlowState Marketing.

 

From there, the team began expanding their product offerings and, using their engineering skills, worked with manufacturers to develop their own materials. Soon Belong Designs was getting requests to brand their products with other companies’ own logos.  

After some initial resistance to the idea, the founders realized the potential to further grow their business — and help others do the same in the process. But rather than muddying the Belong Designs brand with custom apparel, they decided to launch a separate company dedicated to helping other businesses brand themselves. So just a few short years after launching their first startup, the three friends launched another: FlowState Marketing.

FlowState has evolved dramatically from its early days. The startup no longer operates out of the basement of the house the founders share. The team has grown to 18 members, and while it still focuses heavily on its physical products, it’s also expanded into a full-service digital agency.

“When you look at what differentiates us, we built the marketing company based on what we needed as an apparel brand,” Thomson said.

When you look at what differentiates us, we built the marketing company based on what we needed as an apparel brand.”

And the company continues to grow this way today. Belong is FlowState’s first and largest digital marketing customer, and its favorite case study. As the team continues to expand its expertise, successful experiments with Belong’s digital strategies often become new offerings in FlowState’s repertoire.

“It’s very easy for us to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes when we are the clients,” said Shamus McNutt, co-founder and president. “It’s great to see what FlowState looks like from a client’s perspective and to be able to see first-hand the impact its services have on our business.”

To date, FlowState has worked with major local clients, including SendGrid, HomeAdvisor, Ibotta, Breckenridge Brewery and Oskar Blues. The company said it hit $2.1 million in revenue last year, and hopes to reach $4-5 million in 2018. It also has its sights set on launching new offices in San Diego, where the founders have been vacationing together since college, and Nashville, where the startup recently began work with Kenny Chesney’s team on his new rum brand.

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