From Inception to Execution, These Are the Founding Stories of 5 Colorado Tech Companies

by Janey Zitomer
September 12, 2019

While many startups evolve out of problems founders face in the workforce and beyond, more goes into starting a business than scratching an itch. Not only that, detours are a given on any road to success — and can provide valuable information for how to stay on course. 

Initial ideas often transform into data-driven results that a company’s founders hadn’t (or couldn’t have) anticipated. We asked five Colorado founders to give us a peek inside their journey from inception to present-day execution. Below, they share their strategies for growth as well as how they stayed true to their missions through it all. 

 

Inboxlab team members
Photo via Inboxlab

 

We don’t often positively associate checking our work email with, well, anything we are normally passionate about. Victoria Hurd, Inboxlab’s Chief of Staff, is working to change that. Inboxlab brings content that is meant to excite readers straight to the place where we spend most of our weekdays: our inbox. Their branded newsletters help users prepare for their next adventure, whether it be traveling the world or being touristy in their hometown, from the confines of their screens. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

Nicholas Pardon founded Inboxlab in 2017 to build extraordinary digital media brands that share inspirational and educational content with people all around the world. Our first brand, The DiscovererTM, was created with the mission of inspiring discovery — whether that be in one’s backyard or the far reaches of the globe. 

Since our first weekly edition, The Discoverer has grown to reach more than 6 million subscribers. Inboxlab’s portfolio of nine brands, including our most recently-launched brand Word Genius, currently reaches more than 15 million editorial readers and edutainment players. We have grown from three people in Southern California to over 40 people in 13 cities.

Nicholas chose to fund the company himself, rather than raising equity capital, with the intention of helping us make product decisions and innovations based on what our audience tells us they want and what we think will add the most value. We’re fortunate to be in a place now where we are profitable and able to invest returns back into the company’s talent, brands and technology.

Our focus has always been on producing high-quality content with elegant and user-friendly design.”

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Inboxlab has evolved significantly since its inception, but we still maintain our core culture and mindset of “we’re in it to win it together.” In the early days, there was a small team focused solely on The Discoverer. Since then, we have added eight brands, learned a great deal about what our audience wants to receive from us, and have significantly expanded our teams in all functional areas. In 2019 alone, we have more than doubled the number of employees and have added senior-level executives who are guiding strategy and helping us navigate our short- and long-term roadmaps.

The future of Inboxlab will see us as expanding our reach by experimenting with new channels outside of email including SEO, social media and native mobile applications. Our focus has always been on producing high-quality content with elegant and user-friendly design. Paired with our expertise in gamified learning and education, we have the DNA we need to rapidly grow our brand portfolio both inside and outside of the inbox.

 

Billtrust CEO Flint Lane
Photo via billtrust

 

When it comes to automating accounts receivable, CEO of Billtrust Flint Lane knows how to seamlessly integrate necessary data. Billtrust offers their clients strategies for reducing credit, setting up e-commerce platforms, delivering invoices, and simply making it easier to connect with other companies in the digital age. In an industry so previously reliant on paper transactions, this is no easy task. 

While Billtrust may not have started out with that specific vision in mind, they’ve learned the benefits of quick adaptation and have planned accordingly.  

 

Tell us briefly about your funding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

I started a consumer bill payment company in 1998 called Paytrust. It was a great service but a really difficult business model. We raised $75 million in two years and spent $75 million in two years. I made every mistake a first-time entrepreneur could make. After I exited that company, I had no appetite to start another one. I started looking for a job and interviewed for a CTO position. I made it to the final stages, then I bombed the personality test. I never heard from the company again. Having no other prospective jobs or choices, I started Billtrust. The fun story would be: “Oh, I saw this wonderful need in the market,” which is also true. But if I hadn’t bombed the personality test, there would be no Billtrust. Things happen for a reason. Here we are 18 years later.

Anything our clients need, we believe we should be providing. ’’

 

How has the company evolved since those early days – and where do you see the company going next?

For the first 11 years, we focused on solving invoicing and payments problems. We did everything possible to help our clients convert their customers from a generally print, mail-based solution to an end-to-end invoicing and payments solution. And we were successful. In 2011, we realized that our customers needed more than that — the AR departments we were selling to had problems far beyond invoicing and payments. So for the last seven years, we’ve been on a journey to build out a complete order-to-cash solution, including products for credit decisioning, cash application, collections, merchant processing and web storage. Anything our clients need, we believe we should be providing. 

What’s next? B2B payments is fundamentally broken. The systems that payers use are always at conflict with the systems that suppliers use. We’re really excited about our Business Payments Network (BPN) launch, which is a radically-new approach to solving B2B payments. Think of it as Venmo. When you use Venmo, you don’t know who the other person banks with, nor should you. With B2B payments, you know far too much about who you’re sending money to, which has hampered adoption and is one of the reasons we’re still swimming in paper checks. We believe BPN is a way to solve this fundamental problem for commercial payments.

 

FareHarbor team on the water
photo via fareharbor

 Tour guides make our lives easier as we explore unfamiliar surroundings, whether we find ourselves on boat, bike, or horseback. But who’s in charge of streamlining their work? Enter FareHarbor. Five-year FareHarbor employee and Director of Client Onboarding Raleigh Caruso shares the Aloha-based mission and concept behind the organization, which provides software services, 24/7 support, online booking options, partnerships and more. The company started as a family affair and has since expanded internationally. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

FareHarbor was founded in Hawaii in 2013. Lawrence Hester, our co-founder, travelled to Hawaii to visit his brother, Zach, who had recently graduated from the University of Hawaii. They found that booking an excursion was more difficult than it should’ve been, with most people operating only over the phone or in person. The occasional company was using reservation software, but Lawrence and Zach believed they could provide a higher level of service than those that already existed.

They got together with one of their hometown friends, Zach Snow, who is a software engineer, and started to cook up what would eventually become FareHarbor. During this time, both Lawrence and Zach worked at a company called North Shore Catamaran answering calls, checking people in, and getting a feel for what it was like to run an activity business. This gave them the insight they needed to add real value for people in the tours and activities industry. When FareHarbor first got started, some features that were supposed to be automated were actually handled manually by the team. For example, reminder emails were sent out at 5 a.m...by hand.

We will continue to be an industry leader in the tours and activities space and spread the Aloha spirit on which we were founded wherever we grow.’’

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

When FareHarbor first started, we were working out of closets, classrooms, coffee shops, and living rooms and doing everything ourselves. In addition to that, there was no distinction between role specialization. From support to onboarding to account management and web integrations, everyone was responsible for carrying their weight in all aspects. Since then, we've grown exponentially both in our Denver office and internationally, which I don't see slowing down anytime soon. With seven offices across the U.S., Australia, and Europe, our opportunities are proving to be endless.

We will continue to be an industry leader in the tours and activities space and spread the Aloha spirit on which we were founded wherever we grow.

 

Adswerve team bonding activity
photo via adswerve

When Clint Tasset, Founder, President and CEO of Adswerve, first founded his business, he decided not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he took advantage of a platform he knew already worked well and offered it to a market he felt was currently underserved.

The result? A multi-level marketing suite with tools that allow small and mid-sized businesses to shout their message from the rooftops, and an ability for employees to utilize their creativity to improve both the product and overall office culture.  

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded? 

Adswerve is a result of Google’s ‘20 Percent Policy,’ which enables Googlers to dedicate 20 percent of their time to innovative side projects. In 2009, I was working at Google and came up with an idea to help smaller companies and agencies leverage Google marketing platforms (formerly known as DoubleClick), even if they didn’t have huge marketing budgets. I founded Adswerve in 2009, and we became the first Google channel partner in the U.S. Our goal was to provide superior client experiences while simultaneously allowing employees to create their own adventures, like frequent ski trips! This value of work and play has permeated our company culture ever since.

I founded Adswerve in 2009, and we became the first Google channel partner in the U.S. ’’

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next? 

In 2018, we acquired Analytics Pros, adding over 50 data scientists and analysts to the team. Today, Adswerve is one of the only Google partners to provide expertise across the entire Google Marketing and Google Cloud Platforms to more than 600 agencies and 200 brands. We have over 150 employees, with offices in Denver, Seattle, and New York, and recently won “Best Place to Work” awards from Inc. Magazine and the Denver Post. We’ve seen tremendous growth in the organization this past year and will continue to double down on our media and data capabilities. We expect to be at almost 200 employees by the end of this year.

 

Turing School of Software & Design students and employees gather together
Photo via turing school of software & design

Jeff Casimir, Founder and Executive Director at Turing School of Software & Design, is focused on providing the non-profit, tuition-based company’s students a curriculum that “combines theory and practice” so graduates can go out into the world and succeed in the tech sector and beyond. He told us a bit about the organization’s humble beginnings and how they have paid off as the company has come into its own.   

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

In our earliest days as a three-person team, we couldn't afford office space and co-working options hadn't really arrived in Denver. Our friends at iTriage, now Aetna, had some empty desks in their marketing department and let us use them for three months. We tried not to talk to anyone or raise suspicions and stayed heads-down trying to launch a school. But when I'd walk around the office, I was definitely thinking: “look straight ahead and no one will ask who you are or why you're here.”

When you bootstrap a company, making payroll means skipping the Herman Miller and making do with Ikea.’’

 

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next? 

When you bootstrap a company, making payroll means skipping the Herman Miller and making do with Ikea. We've fought and scrapped for five years without outside funding. Now we're thriving with 180 students and staff in the building every day. Our staff growth has given us the ability to offer students more one-on-one support, both instructionally and for their job hunt and social and emotional health. And, thanks to over 800 alums working in the field, we are proud to be Colorado's most significant source of technical talent.

 

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