Business partnerships, like marriages, are complex. In both cases, the partners must divide responsibilities, weather storms, manage finances and emotions--and have enough fun along the way to make the pursuit worth continuing. Sure, there is risk, but when two people find each other and birth a booming business, the fulfillment is often beyond what either could have conceived alone. "Does your partner make you better?" asks Chuck Sullivan, founder of Something Independent. "That's what it boils down to. The strongest partnerships bring out the best in all parties."
On the following pages, 10 "dynamic duos" of Colorado business reflect on their working relationships, what brought them together and where they're going.
CITY BUILDERS REINVENT WESTERN COLORADO COWORKING
BRIAN WATSON & JOSH HUDNALL
LAUNCH West CO
Though coworking only amounts to a fraction of the overall commercial real estate market throughout the U.S., a noticeable uptick has emerged, with significant square footage appearing in unexpected corners of Colorado. This December, FACTORY--Grand Junction's newest source of inspiration, collaboration and wireless internet--turned its lights on and opened its doors at 750 Main St. The shared workspace is the result of community leadership pushing for expanded possibilities on the Western Slope.
In 2012, friends, fellow Broncos fans and officemates Brian Watson and Josh Hudnall co-founded LAUNCH West CO, a nonprofit network of entrepreneurs and small business professionals from Western Colorado.
Watson's parents moved him and his siblings to Grand Junction when he was in first grade, while Hudnall grew up in Colorado Springs, moved to Denver to launch his career and ultimately married a Grand Junction native and planted roots as an app developer on the Western Slope.
"I thought I was the only programmer in Western Colorado," Hudnall, 35, says.
"One of the beauties of working in the tech economy is I can work from Grand Junction and the majority of my clients are out of state."
Both he and Watson were discouraged by the lack of entrepreneurship in their community.
"The catalyst for LAUNCH was Go Code Colorado," Watson says, referencing an ongoing initiative through the Colorado Secretary of States Office that has five cities compete to help businesses make smarter decisions using public data. Grand Junction was supposed to be one of the cities that participated in 2013, but "We only had three people sign up, so we had to cancel," Watson says.
Though ripe for recreation and traditional industries, Western Colorado has struggled to attract high-paying jobs and regain relevance in the 21st century economy. "There's this small-town mindset that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future," Hudnall says.
"It won't," Watson, age 28, adds. The Go Code debacle lit a fire.
"I looked at Brian and said, 'You're really connected and great at drawing people in and I could build a platform,'" Hudnall recalls. "LAUNCH came out of seeing a need."
The twosome started planning events and monthly meet-ups, building an inventory of people and startups. Job postings followed soon thereafter.
"From my perspective, if I teamed up with Brian, it was going to work," Hudnall says. He describes himself as a "strong personality," and calls his partner "more even-keel."
January 2017 marks LAUNCH West CO's two-year anniversary. In that time, the network has grown to more than 500 members.
"I think it's about equipping and empowering entrepreneurs with tools and resources they need to thrive," Watson says.
FACTORY, for instance, is the physical manifestation of the LAUNCH mission. After unsuccessful bids to build a public-private partnership with local government, Hudnall and Watson responded to an RFP and found community partners including Proximity Space, the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, Mesa County Public Libraries and Alpine Bank.
The shared workspace is funded by a Department of Defense grant through CAMA "to strengthen the resilience of manufacturing in the state," according to Tim Heaton, president of the trade association. "It has been a community effort," he says of FACTORY. "Josh and Bryan's proposal was selected because of their commitment to inclusivity."
LAUNCH West CO also announced they were merging with Proximity Space, a Montrose-based shared workspace which landed the No. 1 slot on Forbes "10 BEST COWORKING SPACES ON EARTH" LIST IN 2016. Watson says the partnership will create the largest network of independent coworking spaces--roughly 100--in the country by the first quarter of 2017.
When he's not working on LAUNCH or FACTORY, Hudnall is co-founder and CEO of fastPXL inc., a mobile app development firm with clients ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Oracle. Watson is the communications director for Grand Junction-based video production company Hoptocopter Films.
THE SPICE OF LIFE
MIKE & JANET JOHNSTON
Savory Spice Shop
In 2004, husband-wife duo Mike and Janet Johnston took their love of food and built a brick-and-mortar retail space to spice it up. Opening their Platte Street Savory Spice Shop in 2004 with great resolve, they offered a wide variety of blends, ground fresh in weekly batches. Their efforts were well received and they moved forward, crafting close to 200 seasoning blends, growing to seven Colorado stores, 32 locations in all, and more than 100 employees, including Mike's parents. This year, they're expanding their focus to include e-commerce, baking and BBQ and talking about plan-making for the future.
BEFORE THERE WERE SPICES
JANET: I worked at a consulting firm in new media marketing in Chicago in my early 20s.
MIKE: I was a fine artist, a painter. It was more miss than hit.
JANET: The old-fashioned way. In a bar. He was the bad boy. But of course, I was totally attracted.
THE START OF SPICES
MIKE: She told me to get a job or get out. We lived in Chicago. I got a job for $8 an hour as a spice grinder and I liked it. It was creative and manual labor.
MIKE: I worked for the spice company for about three years, and realized we could do this on our own. I asked Janet to marry me, start a business and move to Colorado all in one breath.
JANET: That's so him--all or nothing.
BUILDING A BUSINESS
MIKE: It didn't officially open until September 2004.
JANET: We wanted to process all of our spices ourselves and we needed storage. We knew we wanted it to be really hands-on. We were building a brand.
JANET: Two years into opening Savory Spice Shop we opened in Littleton in 2006 and we figured out Denver could support us. I had been working remotely for the consulting firm and it was time to cut the cord.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
MIKE: I did the creative stuff. Recipe development. I researched the process. Grinds and blends.
JANET: In the beginning, our roles were defined for us based on our skill sets. I built the website, managed the e-commerce, created our labels.
JANET: We're lucky we're not divorced. We were lucky to be so busy.
MIKE: It was spices 24-7. It's much easier to get along when the business you started together is successful.
MIKE: People want to know where their food comes from. They like the idea of knowing the freshness of their products.
BIGGEST SURPRISES ALONG THE WAY
JANET: We had a six-episode Food Network show called "Spice and Easy." They were literally in our home. [But]we knew it was nol the direction we wanted to go. It isn't my bag and it was not healthy for our relationship.
ADVICE FOR BUSINESS
JANET: The biggest thing--DIY as much as you can. Give whatever you can to achieve a quality product and really good customer service.
ADVICE FOR PARTNERSHIP
JANET: You've got to put yourself before the business. Be able to celebrate each other. The hardest thing about working with my spouse is taking the emotion of out business.
JANET: We don't have kids. We're not going to hand this business down and I don't see Savory lasting forever under our guidance. When we started franchising, we did it because we wanted to give other people the same opportunity we have, to sell something we truly believe in.
MIKE: We have to make a plan. We're not trying to scare anybody about an exit. We went from being entrepreneurs to business people. Whether you're going to sell or not, you need to have an exit strategy. I think when you build a business, you're trying to build a life.
WHEN YOU'RE NOT WORKING
JANET: We'd like to have more travel. We have been able to do some. We went to France for sea salts and Jamaica for allspice. We went to Grenada recently for nutmeg.
JANET: He doesn't stop. People call him the machine. And he's so talented with food.
MIKE: She's just a workhorse. She's nostalgic and loyal and has a hard time letting go. She's a really good businessperson who doesn't give herself enough credit. She's very smart and I lean on her for a lot of different things.
AS GOOD AS IT GETS
JOSH HANFLING & RD SEWALD
Sewald Hanfling Public Affairs
"Josh is known as the guy who introduced Denver to itself," says RD Sewald, one half of Sewald Han Hing. "RD was the guy who gave Denver the foundation to be what it is today," Josh Hanfling says of his partner.
At first glance, these two men have little in common.
Sewald has a full head of wavy chocolaty brown hair, a plucky build and an untouchable calm...