Bend, Oregon: Home of outdoor adventuring, start-ups & strong community

By warsaw
Mar. 16, 2017

During our winter 2017 term, we had an opportunity to meet with co-founders and key talent from some of Bend’s most iconic companies: Picky Bars, Inc., Cairn, Inc., Hydro Flask, KIALOA Paddles and zealios.

We started the day at the Picky Bars headquarters with an in-depth look into the company from Co-Founder, CEO and Pro-Triathlete, Jesse Thomas, and his Picky Bars team. A former Oregon MBA student, he shared the brief history of the company and explained how and why it came to be. The robust conversation gave us a peek into the successes, shortcomings, everyday happenings and forward-looking strategy for Picky Bars. The honesty of the chat was refreshing and it was particularly fun to recognize concepts we’ve learned in our classes during the first few terms of our MBA experience, and see them put into action (cash flows, firm valuation, scaling production, assemble-to-order!). We felt truly inspired by the former duck - Jesse Thomas has definitely earned his #LifePoints (

Later in the day, a panel of local, successful outdoor industry gurus graciously shared their insights and wisdom with all of us. We had the opportunity to hear from:

Austin Britts - Co-Founder, zealios

Dave Chun - Co-Founder, KIALOA Paddles

Lauren Fleshman - Co-Founder, Picky Bars, former pro-runner

Jared Peterson - Co-Founder, CTO/COO, Cairn

Joe Smith - Director of R&D, Hydro Flask

The conversation was centered around Bend being a great hub for startups, especially outdoor companies. Why? There are a ton of resources, collaboration with like-minded businesses, and “the community is congenial.” In particular, we learned that when starting your own company, you have to take your time with developing its identity. “Take your mission statement and values to heart. Everything is based off of [them]. Know your values to build your company,” said Austin Britts. If you consider them when making decisions, it will lead you to sales in the long run.

In regards to customers, startups have a unique opportunity to build a connection between the brand and their audience. From a marketing perspective, younger consumers are asking for more of a conversation with brands. Simply having old school marketing tactics and messaging won’t cut it anymore. “Millennials want something different,” shared Jared Peterson of Cairn. This market has a lot of eyes on start-ups. Millennials are interested in hearing what start-ups have to say and in supporting them. It’s important to keep in mind what the customer will let you do, not what you want to do.

Also, picking a partner for starting a business is important; especially finding someone that complements your personality, knowledge and skills. Lauren Fleshman of Picky Bars talked about her experience running a company with her husband as her business partner. She noted how lucky she is that he is unwaveringly optimistic. “It is important to know your own strengths and know your blind spots." This is why it’s helpful to have a partnership where individuals balance each other out.

A specific, common theme that emerged during our conversation was around Amazon, and each company’s strategic decisions on how to use Amazon's services to expand their reach. While some of the companies we met with raved about an influx of sales, others were challenged with fitting Amazon's services into their current business model. The key message here was that in order for a company, especially a start-up, to find space to play in the Amazon world, it needs to leverage the platform in a thoughtful and intentional way.

By this point, the entrepreneurial spirit in the room was strong and the real-life business lessons were flowing. As our time was coming to a close, the panel was asked to share their recommendations for future aspiring entrepreneurs. Here are some tidbits to take away:

Austin Britts (zealios) believes that “skill comes from attention [to your strengths].”

Dave Chun (KIALOA Paddles) said “find an industry that you identify with” and “make sure [you] meditate.”

Lauren Fleshman (Picky Bars) told us “for everything, remember your power, privilege and bias.”

Jared Peterson (Cairn) recommended to “take the risk sooner.”

Joe Smith (Hydro Flask) advised that you should “know all the business. Be willing to learn.”

The MBA crew left the headquarters feeling inspired and headed for the mountains. There was no better way to end our Bend excursion than by hiking Smith Rock (, with Picky Bars in hand. 

Written by first-year MBA students and outdoor enthusiasts, Amber Santos and Kelsey Delagardelle.