Most in Northern Colorado know the story of OtterBox, including the fact that founder and CEO Curt Richardson began the business in a garage in 1998, manufacturing waterproof cases for PDAs. In the 14 years that have passed, the company has grown to employ 400 people locally, as well as dozens more in offices throughout Europe, Asia and Australia, bringing in $350 million in revenue in 2011.
OtterBox’s success is often attributed to Richardson’s entrepreneurial spirit and drive to create a company culture that not only keeps employees happy but also fosters creativity and productivity. From this culture, three new startups are making their entrance into the world.
The first of the three, Nerdy Minds Marketing, was launched in January and is run by former OtterBox Web Business Development Manager Mary Merritt. Merritt joined OtterBox in 2006 to work on direct consumer sales, search-engine optimization and other necessities for building an online presence.
After going through the company’s “Life Plan” program, Merritt found her entrepreneurial side. “It pulled things to the forefront that I wasn’t really paying attention to,” Merritt said.
The Life Plan consists of a two-day process during which a life coach works with employees to determine their goals and what sorts of opportunities are best suited to them. OtterBox employees are offered the chance to take part in a Life Plan after one year of employment.
With both the financial and moral support of Richardson and OtterBox President Brian Thomas, Merritt launched her company out of an office at 315 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins, part of the Rocky Mountain Building, an office complex purchased by OtterBox last October.
Nerdy Minds now employs six people and counts 15 businesses, both local and from elsewhere in the country, as clients. The company focuses on web-based marketing, and currently has no specialty as far as industries serviced.
“We’ll let fate decide our niche for us,” Merritt said.
Richardson and Thomas provide not only financial backing for the company, but also serve in coaching roles. Merritt describes their involvement as “a good mix of ‘You figure it out’ and ‘We’ll help you if you need it.’”
Nerdy Minds’ next-door neighbor on the seventh floor of the Rocky Mountain Building is another OtterBox-grown startup, a public relations company called Wild Rock PR.
Wild Rock is spearheaded by Kristen Golliher, who was with OtterBox as a PR specialist for seven years, long enough to watch the company grow from 15 employees to 400.
While watching OtterBox grow, Golliher “caught the entrepreneurial bug,” and opened her business on March 1.
Golliher also took advantage of the Life Plan, something she said benefited her both personally and professionally.
“It really helps you understand your past and identify your core values,” she said.
Wild Rock retains seven people as consultants, specializing in different areas. At the moment, the firm provides its services to 13 clients, from startups to experienced companies, sometimes working in conjunction with Nerdy Minds to help clients develop their web presence.
OtterBox’s influence in Wild Rock is similar to its role in Nerdy Minds, with Richardson and Thomas financially invested in the company, but with Golliher as principal owner.
“(Richardson and Thomas) both really act as mentors, coaching and directing toward the right way to do things,” Golliher said. “It’s been an amazing ride.”
The third startup to come out of OtterBox is also the most mysterious, at least for the time being. 1OAK Technologies, abbreviated from 1 Of A Kind Technologies, is also located within the 315 W. Oak property, but will soon move in to one of two other properties next to The Rio Grande Mexican restaurant being leased by OtterBox at 153 W. Mountain Ave.
OtterBox is leasing this office space with the option to buy, as well as the space next door at 151 W. Mountain.
1OAK is backed by Richardson and Thomas, as well as former OtterBox CFO Kurt Hoeven. 1OAK will work to develop what Thomas called “high-end, world-changing, game-changing technologies.”
Plans for what those technologies might be are not yet finalized.