Back in 1999, Speir started an IP telephony company in the Seattle area. In 2005, he sold the company and moved back to Colorado. In the years prior to his VoIP company, Speir ran fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. He was a King Crab captain and ran a trawler for nearly 10 years. It was a lot of work with a lot of adventure, challenge and fun. That job gave him a great sense of independence while providing great, affordable nutrition to the world. He took calculated risks and, as he puts it, was blessed for the opportunity to experience the awesome powers and beauty of nature.
Speir’s passion is building elegant systems. In his experience, he’s found it’s the simple systems that provide the best solutions. However, that simplicity is only achieved by pushing through complex issues and delivering great utility or efficiency.
Question: Tell me about the idea that started Teal Camper and Shelter.
Answer: Teal Camper and Shelter was started by Larry Drake. Larry knew what he wanted. He was looking for a secure, lightweight camper that he could pull with a small SUV. He wanted one he could stand up in. One that wasn’t just dedicated to camping. It could be used for multiple purposes. He was looking for something that could quickly be assembled or disassembled when not in use. Above all it needed to be simple and easy to use. He realized there wasn’t anything like it on the market. After doing some sketches and prototypes he found that the interest was surprisingly strong. Larry applied for and subsequently received a patent while making prototypes. People practically forced Larry to sell them a prototype once they saw it. This happened more than once. Larry created some YouTube videos, as another gauge of interest. The videos have nearly 300,000 views. Larry and I got connected through a recommendation from one of his advisors. He was looking for capital and assistance. I liked his idea and offered some free time to help. Working together went quite well. Larry and I have similar life experiences and shared values.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
A: Overcoming some family issues is one. Dealing with death is always tough. When it comes to business or sports, a huge challenge looms over team character items like passion, honesty, humility, courage, judgment and communication. Creating an environment where people feel they can be truthful, work to win and selfless enough to achieve a greater good is a big challenge.
Startups face an additional burden of needing to quickly build trust with employees, vendors, customers and shareholders. Another challenge is working to not let things get complex. It’s easy to complicate a business; it’s tough to simplify one and keep it that way. Categorically the biggest challenges center on the greatest assets, the people. The best way to overcome 99 percent of that is through transparency and communication.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you currently face and that lay ahead of you?
A: Working with and hiring the right people to ramp up the business while maintaining high customer satisfaction is a huge challenge. We’ve started production and have nearly sold out of the initial run. That said, we still need to get the word out that Teal Camper and its patented new concept is now open for business.
Q: What would you like Teal Camper and Shelter to be known for 10 years from now?
A: Hopefully it will be known for making a powerful and positive impact through design excellence. We believe we can play a role in making lives better or even saving them. We now have the opportunity. It’s exciting.
Q: What has made the biggest difference to your business up till now?
A: Being resourceful, curious and committed with a big dose of humility and perseverance.
Q: Any suggestions for those considering going into business for themselves?
A: Yes: do it. If you’re considering it, then there’s a reason for it and usually the reason is at the core of the person. Get educated and know your market. Find ways to make things happen and share your ideas. Communications and connections play a key role in every success. Surround yourself by people you trust who’ll help you make the important things happen. I’ve been quite fortunate in connecting with great people and being able to help others get connected as well. Ask for help.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Know that the work you do is bigger than you. You can serve yourself by serving others. Find ways to do that and keep at it. Never give up.
Q: What would it say on your tombstone?
A: He did his best work with family, friendship and community.
Brian Schwartz is the founder of 50 Interviews Inc. He can be reached at www.50interviews.com.