Sunday, February 27, 2011

Balancing a Start-Up and a Baby

Serial entrepreneur Jessica DiLullo Herrin designed her latest company, Stella & Dot, to provide her with greater work-life balance.

As told to Tamara Schweitzer |  Sep 1, 2010 Hard at It Jessica DiLullo Herrin describes herself as the go-go-go type.

" href="" alt="Hard at It Jessica DiLullo Herrin describes herself as the go-go-go type."> Mike McGregor

Hard at It Jessica DiLullo Herrin describes herself as the go-go-go type.


Jessica DiLullo Herrin co-founded the prominent wedding website WeddingChannel at 24, and for the next few years, she devoted almost all her waking hours to her start-up. Her next business had to be different—because it had to accommodate a growing family. From the start, Stella & Dot has sold its custom jewelry through in-home trunk shows led by independent sales reps—stylists, in the company's vernacular. Today, Stella & Dot has 10,000 stylists and Herrin has, in her own fashion, learned to slow down.

I started working on the business model for Stella & Dot in 2003 when my husband and I were living in Austin, and I was working for Dell in the global e-commerce group. We moved from San Francisco after my husband graduated from Stanford business school and was offered a job at a venture capital firm in Austin. One of my mentors and board members at WeddingChannel told me that if I ever wanted to learn how to run a big company, I had better go work at one. All I had ever done in my career was work at start-ups, but as an entrepreneur who wanted to build a big business one day, I took his advice and went to work at Dell.

I learned a tremendous amount about managing in a large organization, and it was also the perfect maternity-leave job, because it offered a lot of balance. In fact, after working almost every weekend for four years building WeddingChannel, it felt so balanced that I had plenty of time on the nights and weekends to start another company.

I got pregnant with my first child during my time at Dell. I've always been one of those people who is very driven about work, but I also always wanted to be a mom. All your priorities change when you are shifting your career to accommodate a family. With Stella & Dot, I was looking to create the modern women's business. Women today are having kids later, and many had a career first before staying home. They have different wants and expectations out of life, and I wanted to cater the business to that. The home-based model is really what gives women the flexibility they want.

The original concept included DIY jewelry, and it evolved into strictly ready-made jewelry. The Internet has made everything accessible and convenient, so if you're going to do direct selling, it has to be a product that is enhanced by a person-to-person sales environment and is also a social, public-facing product. Women love jewelry and accessorizing with custom pieces, and so the product really sells itself. That's really important, because most people don't get up in the morning and say, "I want to sell something"—but they will be a brand ambassador for something that they truly love wearing and want to recommend to others.

I did my first trunk show when I was three months pregnant. I was pregnant or had a newborn the majority ofthat time starting up. After starting WeddingChannel, I knew how all-consuming that experience was, so once I had a family, I knew that I had to put Stella & Dot on a slower trajectory. For the first few years, I did a lot of testing of the product by doing as many trunk shows as I could. I was trying to create that one perfect stylist experience and build a business that could be duplicated by thousands of women. At the beginning, I was really committed to bootstrapping Stella & Dot. So I made every piece of jewelry, I made the website, I made the invitations, I did everything. Now we have an amazing design team in New York that creates all the jewelry for the Stella & Dot brand.

When I look back, I had no idea what I was really doing, but I am an extrovert, so I knew I could go into a room and talk to the women about the product. I'm wired to want to work hard. Balance is not my forte. I'm someone who can yell go, go, go and just start from scratch and do things. But a lot of women don't want to make all the sacrifices that it takes to do that or can't because they already have three kids or they already have a full-time job that they need to pay the bills.

When my first daughter was born, I took my maternity leave and stayed home with her for three solid months. I brought my second daughter on my hip back to the office when she was 1 week old, because by then I had it down. And people would say to me, "That's so hard-core to bring your daughter to work when she's a week old." But to me, it was hard-core to stay home with an infant and a toddler. What's easy is having a nanny and bringing one of your babies to work.

I feel like I've ebbed and flowed with building this company, but I always focused on my greatest need, which was my children. I work in an office like most CEOs, but I didn't do that full time until my second daughter was 2 and a half. I always joke that I created this company for women to work from home, but I go into an office. Make no mistake: I do work from home, but only after I work a full day in the office and come home and put my children to bed, and then I do the night shift.

I did my first round of financing in 2005. We had a fledgling stylist force at the time, but the company had over half a million in revenue. My children were a little bit older, and my family was a little bit more settled, and that's when I felt I could really check all the way into work. And when I did, that's when it started having this rocket-ship growth. When I took the external capital, it was an escalation of my commitment, because now I was accountable to other people. I went and really built a team; it was no longer just me driving the business forward.

Our company is growing because our stylists love what they're doing, and that translates to their success. It's not a new business idea, but it's about changing the lives of our sales force. There are so many women out there who are so accomplished, and then they get to this time in their lives where they want to become moms and they don't quite want to go on the mommy track. But a lot of them feel like they have to step out or step to the sidelines. With Stella & Dot, you can still be building something, and even if you choose to keep it part time, maybe until your youngest goes off to kindergarten, you're still building something that doesn't have a glass ceiling and that has an endless runway.

Stella & Dot is made up of all kinds of women—former corporate lawyers, dentists, PR reps—with all different needs. We have team leaders who are earning over $30,000 a month managing stylists all over the country. We have women who want to be independent stylists and make a few thousand in extra income a month. Then there are women who have turned this into a full-time career and are running million-dollar sales organizations on their own. And those are choices that Stella & Dot allows these women to make.

At this point, I'm in a couple of cities a week doing training and working with our leaders to help them grow. When you're running a hypergrowth start-up, there's not a lot of part time. But this is my company, and that means I am going to have lunch with my daughter every Tuesday and make time for vacations. I still control my own schedule. It's not a job where I have to choose between dropping my daughter off at preschool or being at a 7 a.m. meeting.

This year, we'll do over $100 million in revenue. In the first half of the year, we exceeded our entire revenue for 2009, so we are set to triple revenue in 2010. But, more than the company's revenue figures, the biggest source of pride for me is the amount of commission we are able to pay out to our sales force, in a time when people have really needed it most. We've paid out over $20 million to our stylists. And that's money that women are using to make ends meet. That's the reason I bound out of bed in the morning.

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How I Handled Myself During a Prison Riot

Jerry B. Heftler showed a new client what he was capable of by jumping into action during a prison riot.

As told to Leigh Buchanan |  Sep 1, 2010 Unflappable Jerry Heftler's entrepreneurial training included being a hostage negotiator.

" href="" alt="Unflappable Jerry Heftler's entrepreneurial training included being a hostage negotiator."> Mike McGregor

Unflappable Jerry Heftler's entrepreneurial training included being a hostage negotiator.


Arranging medical appointments is a trivial task, except when the patients are inmates who must travel under guard and without prior notice so they can't plot an escape. In 2006, Jerry Heftler ditched his old business model -- providing cardiac imaging services -- in favor of managing prisoners' outside care. Integrated Medical Solutions, based in Mansfield, Texas, contracts with hospitals and doctors around 13 client prisons, makes inmates' appointments, arranges for outside rehab and nursing services, and manages case files and insurance paperwork.

They were our second customer, and we'd had them only a couple of days: a federal prison in Texas with approximately 1,600 inmates. I'd made a preliminary call to the contracting officer -- our first point of contact -- and planned to conduct extensive conversations with the director of health services and other officials there the following week. Beyond that, we didn't even know who was who.

It was late on a Friday afternoon. My staff of three and I were phoning physicians' offices near the prison, setting up a network of providers willing to serve inmates. (That's not always easy. Some physicians resist exposing their regular patients to guys in handcuffs and jumpsuits. Even those who sign on with us often require that inmates be delivered through a back door and hustled straight to the examining room.) I was talking about the prison with one physician when he asked if I'd seen the TV. "There's a riot going on there," he told me.

The physician described the scene unfolding on his television and, sure enough, it was our new client's facility. He said there were medevac helicopters hovering overhead, so we knew there were injuries. I presumed chaos. Staff would be trying to account for every employee to make sure there were no hostages. Making sure there were no bodies. Working like crazy to secure the institution.

I immediately phoned the prison and worked my way through to the health-services director. I introduced myself and asked what we could do. Technically, our contract didn't kick in for another week, but she asked if we could start now. She and her small staff were triaging inmates (thankfully, no staff had been hurt, but one inmate died), then dispatching the worst cases on gurneys to the back gate, where they were being loaded onto helicopters and into ambulances. Many had head traumas and multiple stab wounds, but still they traveled in handcuffs. Whichever guards or other staff members were on hand jumped in alongside them. The emergency vehicles were transporting the injured to six hospitals in five cities as far as 75 miles away. In the chaos of those early hours, no one was sure who had gone where.

When you're new in a business, you want to impress customers with your experience. Probably few vendors could have reassured this client with, "Hey, don't worry. This isn't my first prison riot." But I'd spent 22 years at the Department of Justice, where among other things I practiced and taught hostage-negotiation skills. A cool head comes with the territory. I told the director of health services that we would track down the inmates, make sure the hospitals had authorization for surgeries and respirators, and arrange additional transportation and treatment at specialist facilities where needed. We would also alert the prison to everyone's whereabouts in an organized way so they could efficiently dispatch guards to take over for whoever had left with the injured. Even in their hospital beds, the prisoners would need guarding 24/7.

We spent the next eight hours and all of Saturday on the phone, first trying to convince hospital officials of who we were (they were deluged with inquiries from journalists and ambulance chasers, so they were understandably wary) and then struggling to put names to the 26 inmates who had been evacuated. Most had arrived at the hospitals unconscious, and the staff members with them often did not know who they were. And, of course, inmates don't carry wallets. In many cases, hospital staff had identified patients by their prison tattoos: "Inmate: knife through cross"; "Inmate: Mexican Mafia." To simplify things, I decided we would enter those same descriptors into our own system until we had better information. We used the tattoos to coordinate and track treatment with the hospitals, authorize procedures, and help health officials at the prison keep a handle on things while the corrections side contained the riot and brought life back to normal. For months afterward, we wrestled with the insurance snafus that predictably resulted from care administered amid such bedlam.

I had promised the director of health services I'd stay in constant touch. Once she finished triage, she was out and about in the facility. She gave me her cell number, which was useless since you can't bring cell phones into prisons. So I'd call the control center; they'd send her the message via radio, and she would rush to a phone. We had a lot to talk about. Most of the inmates required surgery -- some had more than 30 stab wounds.

We also found ourselves inundated with queries from the press. Once hospital personnel understood we were coordinating inmates' health care, they started giving our contact information to journalists. Family members started calling as well. I gave my employees a quick course in federal law-enforcement requirements for protecting information.

Today, we have 13 prisons under contract, but our relationship with that second customer is unusually close. We've been through the fire together and have a shared sense of perspective. When small problems crop up, no one breaks a sweat. They have confidence in us. We have confidence in us, too. When it was all over, we looked at each other and said, "If we made it though this, we can make it through anything."

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Why I Traded One Dream for Another

Stewart Pisecco left academia for the uncertainty of a second career in business.

As told to Jason Del Rey |  Sep 1, 2010 posinitiator();resizeFrame();Off Campus Stewart Pisecco left academia for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.

" href="" alt="Off Campus Stewart Pisecco left academia for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.">
Mike McGregor

Off Campus Stewart Pisecco left academia for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.

As a psychologist and a tenured professor who specialized in researching and devising strategies for teaching troubled children, Stewart Pisecco was doing the work he loved. But then he had an idea for something he thought could reach more children: software that lets teachers and school administrators easily track and manage the implementation of behavioral improvement strategies. And he had to decide: Is it worth risking one dream to pursue another?

I knew I wanted to be a psychologist from the time I took a psychology class as a junior in high school. And I knew as a sophomore or junior in college that I had a real interest in academia. I loved research and statistics and combining the ideas of research and social sciences.

I had been at the University of Houston for five years when I got tenure. I had my doctorate by 28 and was tenured by the time I was 34. At the time, I could never have imagined doing anything different. It was what I loved to do, and I had worked my entire professional career to get to that point.

I thought I'd be crazy to leave. I had pretty much a good job for life, was doing what I wanted to do, and had lots of security. At the same time, I was relatively young and thought I could take some risks.

The idea for our company came from one of those chance experiences. I was doing my taxes with TurboTax and just reading research literature on the typical reasons teachers struggle with behavioral intervention. And I thought, Why can't we come up with a software system like TurboTax that would guide teachers through the process of designing good behavioral strategies for their kids and then allow the administrators to monitor how the kids are responding to intervention approaches?

Most faculty members have a part-time private practice that they work on one day a week, but in 2000, I began committing that time to working on the business. I spent a couple of years researching the effectiveness of the software and then a couple of years working with teachers to refine the implementation process. But most of that work was getting crunched into the one day a week.

I thought it would definitely be a gamble to leave, but I read the market and got the sense that momentum was building. I always thought it was really important to chase your dreams, and this was my new dream. As I began seeing more results and as I felt like we were making a really good impact with kids, the decision became easier.

I always felt that we would do well. But I do remember driving out to an appointment about two years in and saying to myself, If we don't get this deal, it might be tough to get this thing going. A main struggle for us was dealing with the seasonality of cash flow. It's not a very transactional business, so it's very lumpy how we get our cash flow. Luckily, we had as a shareholder a group that did a bridge loan until the company got paid, and it didn't cost us equity. You don't find a lot of folks who will do that.

Now we're at the point where my vision has been laid out and is being embraced and adopted by customers. The excitement that comes with that far outweighs the sadness of leaving academia. So I've realized this is also something I really like to do. And it's very satisfying.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

As the Oil Keeps Flowing, a Gulf Coast Business Takes the Fight to BP

Like many business owners, the BP oil spill has dealt a huge blow to fisherman George Barisich -- costing him thousands for every day his boat is out of the water. Now he's suing BP.

Long haul: George Barisich expects the BP oil spill to cost his fishing and shrimping business at least $150,000.George Barisich, 54, has been fishing the Gulf Coast his entire life. First, as a kid, for fun, and eventually, for his livelihood, after taking over his father's fishing, crabbing, and shrimping business, which was founded in 1966.

A few months ago, business was looking pretty good. This past winter was particularly cold, which would make the spring good for shrimping. He invested more than $30,000 in a new shrimping boat, to prepare for the haul.

All that changed on April 20, after an explosion on a BP oil rig killed 11 workers and triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Tens of millions of gallons of crude oil have poured into the Gulf of Mexico since then -- and the oil keeps flowing.

While the images of oil-soaked animals have been heartbreaking, and Gulf Coast states are working feverishly to protect their coastlines and beaches, the spill has also wreaked economic havoc on local business owners like Barisich -- who says he loses up to $5,000 for every day and a half he cannot fish and expects to lose a minimum of $150,000 because of the spill.

As president of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association, representing hundreds of commercial fishermen in Louisiana, Barisich says he is fed up with BP, describing the spill as the worst-case scenario for his industry. Barisich's organization and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network have slapped BP with a lawsuit -- over removal costs, property damage, and loss of wages. "Either they're gonna start doing something or we're going to make them do something," he says.
What was your reaction when you heard about the spill?Well, initially it was, you know, "Just another one." We didn't know any details about it. But three days later, we were interviewed for a little news story and said, "This isn't a little one. This is a big one! Let's get ready. Let's corral this stuff up before it gets much further 'cause the wind's getting ready to turn up the northwest and to come out the southeast and we're gonna be buried." And did anybody listen? When [BP] grabbed the boom material, the wind was already over 40 miles per hour. It was the biggest joke you ever seen in your life because the material only works in certain conditions. Y'all don't hear all that. The continuance plan was -- ugh, I don't know -- nonexistent from what I see.I'm getting as sick as I thought I would get when I told them it may happen. 'Cause we always gotta look at the worst possible scenario and prepare for it, and then pray and hope for the best. But now you're looking at the worst possible scenario coming down our back. Hey, this is here. It's on your ass and there's nothing you can do to stop it. And then the second worst fear is the pressure. We don't need a storm, we just get a depression and that stuff is gonna be everywhere. The boom material is gonna be everywhere. On my boat, in my nets. It's gonna be Nightmare on Elm Street. I don't see a decent outcome coming out of this unless God sends us a crazy fish that eats it up. And then for the government helping us? I want you to look back at history -- how many times they have promised to help the commercial fishermen and how many times they actually did. It's pitiful. So if I'm a little skeptical of the government helping us, it's understandably so. How have you been handling damage control? Well, up until two or three days ago, when the season opened, all I was doing was stuff like being interviewed, going on TV, going to meetings, going to other meetings, trying to educate everybody on what's going to happen to our industry and trying to get some governmental help. Trying to get BP to step up. Right now, I feel my place as the leader of the association is to be at every meeting I can be, to make people step up. But that's all I've been doing. There are a lot of other fisherman -- they decided to go ahead and work for BP. You know, clean-up programs. That's not for me.What is your Plan B, in case you can't fish for the rest of the season? I do have several options. I had purchased a couple of properties -- oh, 20 properties -- real cheap after Hurricane Katrina. I guess I'll try and make a loan and fix them. I really don't want to go to work for anybody. My wife asked me to do that after Katrina. She said, "Why don't you just give up all the boats and everything? We're gonna be screwed. Just go get a job." And I told my wife, "I am 51 years old. You think I could go take orders right now?" If we luck out and get a couple of grants with the association, [I would] work with the association to help find other people jobs. We're hoping to get a few grants out of this. We've been fighting this fight for over 17 years, so we have a good reputation for standing up for the fishermen. I can't retire. I can't just sit around and do nothing.
What's the worst effect of the spill you've seen?
Part of this is the trickle-down effect. There's a net maker, the guy who makes and repairs the nets. He went to go work for BP and then someone went and squealed on him and said, "He's not a shrimper, he's not a fisherman," which technically he's not. But if he's not screwed just as badly, then who is? 'Cause he makes our net. And that's what's happening. We have friends fighting each other, 'cause you're working and I'm not. [BP] also has a bunch of part-timers who do fish, but they have a real job. So the way we look at it, they shouldn't be able to participate unless [BP] exhausts the real commercial fishermen in the area.Entrepreneur Spotlight

Name: George Barisich
Company: Barisich Inc.

Location: St. Bernard Parish, La.Tags: BP, BP oil spill, Entrepreneur Spotlight, fishing, Gulf Coast, Gulf of Mexico, oil spill, oil spill effects on small businesses, shrimping

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With Husband-Wife Team at the Helm, Belton Chalet Celebrates 100th Birthday

Abandoned after World War II, Cas Still and Andy Baxter bought the historic Belton Chalet, rolled up their sleeves, and transformed it into one of Montana's finest hotels. This year, it turns 100.

This old house: Cas Still and Andy Baxter spent three years restoring the Belton Chalet, making it one of Montana's finest hotels.This year marks the centennial celebration for one of America's great treasures, Glacier National Park. Located in northwest Montana, the park consists of 1.4 million acres of some of the most pristine wilderness on the planet, with breathtaking views all along the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road that climaxes at the 6,646-foot Logan's Pass. With all kinds of events and activities planned throughout the year, visitors might discover another treasure -- the Belton Chalet.

A lodge on the edge of the park in West Glacier with 25 rooms and two cottages, the Swiss-style chalet just happens to be celebrating its 100th birthday this year too. Constructed for the Great Northern Railway, the lodge -- which first opened its doors on June 27, 1910 -- has a colorful early history, but it was closed during World War II and didn't fully reopen to the public until 1999. Husband-and-wife duo Cas Still, 63, and Andy Baxter, 52, bought the Belton in 1996, set about restoring it, and today have one Montana's hotel gems and one of the state's best restaurants. (Try the emu. Seriously. It's delicious.)

As the Belton prepared for the 100-year mark on June 27, Baxter was out-and-about fixing up the property, so Still shared the ins-and-outs of running a historic hotel, the centennial happenings, and the importance of bear repellent.

Are you and your husband native Montanans?

No, we moved here from Key West in 1987. He was a charter sailboat captain and I held every type of tourism job you can have -- bartender, housekeeper, property manager. Our specialty in Key West had been restoring old Victorian buildings, so we had a lot of experience, although we had never run a hotel before.

Did you move to Montana to take over the Belton Chalet?

We were here 10 years before we bought the Belton. We had two small children and wanted an affordable place to live where we could have a garden and horses. Andy spent three years restoring a small cabin on Flathead Lake, then he continued doing the same type of work on other houses.

His skills must have come in handy when you purchased the Belton.

He's known around here as "Handy Andy." All our general contractors were guys he'd worked for in the past. He got to be the boss, though, which is kind of fun.

Can you give us a quick history on the Belton's previous owners?

The Great Northern Railway ran it until shutting down the hotel during World War II. After the war, motels became a lot more popular, so it didn't reopen to the public until we took it over. It was sold to private hands, and at some point, the Luding family purchased it. They ran the back-country chalets in the park and always thought they would get the Belton back up and running, but never did. Kay Luding saved the Belton, though. It was suppose to be torn down in the 1970s when the highway was expanded, but she got it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The bar and restaurant was open back then, and the Tap Room was known as one of the rowdiest spots in the area. Around 1990, Kay Luding went into a nursing home and the place was sold for back taxes. Everything was shuttered.

When did you purchase it and what was the sale price?

We bought it in 1996 for around six-figures. The price was low and we got a straight bank loan.

What kind of condition was the lodge in?

Structurally, it was in fine shape, but the restoration was a lot more complex that we initially thought. We expected just to do a clean up. The problems started that first winter, which had one of the worst snowfalls on record. The summer of 1997 was spent rebuilding the roofs. There were also huge problems with water runoff and the whole place needed an electrical upgrade because it was the same system that was put in sometime between 1913 and 1920. It needed all new electricity and plumbing. I estimate we put in $2 million.

Did you and Andy ever get into the mindset that the restoration wasn't going to work out?

Our mindset was that we've dumped a hell of a lot of money into the place and we have to get it done.

Was there a lot of old stuff that you hauled out of the Belton?

Tons. It was floor to ceiling in every room. I don't think anybody threw anything out. We made hundreds of trips to the industrial landfill. There was 60 years worth of stuff, everything from the oak antiques you see in the rooms today, to a really great pair of leather fringed rock-and-roll pants from the 1970s. There were scrapbooks, lithographs, paintings and receipt books -- all kinds of historical items that we display in the hotel. Cleaning out the Belton took an entire year.

What else went into getting it ready for the public?

We restored old furniture, built stained-glass windows, repaired the floor, excavated and reconstructed the stone pillars out front. It was an enormous process, so we opened the Belton in phases. The restaurant opened first. We served microwavable nachos. As far as lodging, we had a brief trial run in 1998. By 1999, it wasn't completely finished, but we were open to the public.

Was it a big deal locally when it reopened?

Yes. People in the community were always coming around, very interested in our efforts. It's been an important landmark here forever. It's been incredible. Most of our employees are people who live in the area and we have a low turnover rate.

When did you feel you reached the point where the Belton became what you envisioned?

I'd say about five years ago. Our people are loyal and stuck with our vision of what the Belton could be.

How have you been affected by the recession?

We all felt it the last couple of years, but this summer is looking a lot better. The centennial has energized people to come visit Glacier. Business is booming. We still have a few open rooms, but I don't think they are going to last long.

Does the Belton have a typical guest?

We get all kinds. We have outdoor lovers, hikers, skiers, bicyclists and fishermen. We also get train enthusiasts and those who just want to hang out on the porch. I'd also say 75 percent of people come for the restaurant, whether they're guests or not. We host a lot of weddings and once people come, they're hooked. We get plenty of repeat visitors. After Labor Day, we generally see a lot more retirees. The cottages and the restaurant are open in the winter. That's all locals, and it's a lot more laid-back. The weather can be brutal, snow removal is a major issue, but a lot of people like to just put their feet up and sit in front of the fireplace.

The restaurant is that big of a draw?

Our chef, Melissa Mangold, is amazing. She started as the sous chef and took over the kitchen in 2006. We serve all local meats and vegetables. Andy and I own a one-acre orchard called Still Back There, so we grow the cherries, apples, plums, raspberries and huckleberries. We use them in our homemade fruit pies and baked goods.

The Belton is technically outside of Glacier Park. Is there competition with the chalets inside?

I'd say we offer something different, but it is a congenial relationship. The red "Jammer" tour buses pick up and drop off guests here. Everyone connected to Glacier Park knows we're in this together.

What celebrations do you have planned throughout the year?

We held a big New Year's Eve party with more than 100 guests. It was such a big hit we may do it again. The actual birthday party is June 27, where we will be having cake, guest speakers like members of the Luding family, live music and a historic art show. We're also hosting various tours throughout the summer and an employee reunion in September. I also write poetry, so we're also having a free poetry reading on June 25 where contest winners will recite their work. Adding the things you love to your job makes it that much more enjoyable.

What's the biggest challenge in running the Belton?

For me, it's being open to change, letting go of my views as to how things should be and letting others contribute. It's a challenge, but the young people who help us run it are the best part. New ideas can revitalize the most historic of institutions.

Do you have trouble with wildlife on the property?

The deer love our tulips in the spring and the bears love our apple tree in the fall. We're always on the lookout, trying to beat the bears to the fruit.

I'm guessing a lot of tourists are curious about the bears.

We get a lot of interest about bears -- they are a Glacier park draw themselves. You can't take bear spray on airplanes anymore, so we rent it to guests. The park rangers are great about answering questions and keeping watch on the bear population.

What are your future plans for the Belton?

Our son works here now, and our daughter has in the past, and they're both interested in running it, as our are longtime employees. We'll figure out a way to keep it in the family. We want to add some rooms. We'll use recycled materials, so our new ones look like the old ones.

Entrepreneur Spotlight

Name: Cas Still and Andy Baxter
Company: Belton Chalet
Ages: 63 and 52
2010 Projected Revenue: Undisclosed

View the original article here

Responding in a Time of Need

When disaster struck in Haiti, entrepreneur Jean Orelien rushed to assist his homeland.

As told to April Joyner |  Sep 1, 2010 Statistician to the Rescue Jean Orelien discovered many Haitians still had working cell phones after the earthquake. That allowed him to put his survey skills to work.

" href="" alt="Statistician to the Rescue Jean Orelien discovered many Haitians still had working cell phones after the earthquake. That allowed him to put his survey skills to work."> Mike McGregor

Statistician to the Rescue Jean Orelien discovered many Haitians still had working cell phones after the earthquake. That allowed him to put his survey skills to work.


Jean Orelien left his native Haiti in 1980 and later made his way to the U.S. to attend college. He stayed on, earning advanced degrees in statistics and public health. In 2001, Orelien founded SciMetrika, a public health consulting firm that works with agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. After a massive earthquake devastated Haiti last January, Orelien organized a nonprofit team to gather data on victims, with the goal of helping aid organizations more accurately target their relief efforts. Now, Orelien hopes to conduct similar studies around the globe.

As I heard the news reports on the earthquake, I realized there wasn't a good handle on what was happening. There were estimates on the number of the dead and the homeless coming from various news media, and they kept on changing. It wasn't clear who was helping to collect that data. I thought that as someone who knows the country and as a statistician, I could help. I felt a duty to contribute.

I reached out to the president of the American Statistical Association about providing volunteers. He told me it would take too much time to put together a proposal for the board to vote on. He recommended that I go to Statistics Without Borders, a member group within the organization. We exchanged a couple of e-mails, and they were on board.

In March, I went to Haiti with three members from Statistics Without Borders. Our goal was to gather data on displacement and the economic impact of the earthquake. The standard method of collecting data is to conduct a field survey where interviewers knock on doors, but that would not have been practical. Then we saw that pretty much everyone, especially in Port-au-Prince, had a cell phone, so that was the way to go.

I still have cousins and in-laws in Haiti. I brought along three tents for them. That's the most I could carry. I wasn't prepared to see people living in such substandard conditions. There were a lot of people who weren't even living under real tents -- they were makeshift tents. I saw people taking showers, and their privacy was not even protected.

I stayed in Haiti for nine days in March. We met with VoilĂ , one of Haiti's main cellular providers, and we talked to people in the Ministry of Planning. We were able to call about 200 numbers for a preliminary study to determine our sample size. Once we got back in the U.S., we finalized our questionnaire.

In June, I went back for seven days to collect more data on things such as marital status and household structure. We had 10 university students from Haiti serve as interviewers. We're analyzing the data now. With all the problems with latrines, with sewage, certainly there are diseases that have broken out. Public officials need to be aware so that they can take action in a timely fashion.

We're in the process of creating a nonprofit organization to pursue projects in global public health. There is often resistance among aid organizations to working with for-profit companies, and we don't want our status to prevent us from consideration. After the earthquake hit, we received information that the CDC was planning to help rebuild Haiti's health infrastructure. We want to be part of the solution there, and we want to get involved in other countries as well.

My connection to Haiti is a big part of my desire to work globally. Certainly, there's a greater need there than in the U.S. when it comes to public health. I also feel that I have not paid my dues. I had gone back to Haiti a couple of times since coming to the U.S., but not as much as I should have. I'm living a normal life, in a suburban area with my wife and four kids. I think my work with SciMetrika thus far is a start, but it's just the tip of the iceberg, and I'm looking to give even more.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

From the Ashram to the Strip Mall

After living 20 years in an ashram, a scandal caused Michael Penny to start over and create a new life for himself selling organic mattresses.

As told to Lindsay Silberman |  Sep 1, 2010 Past Life For 20 years, Michael Penny lived without TV, newspapers, and material pleasures.

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Michael Penny had never been interested in business. For two decades, he lived in an ashram, a secluded spiritual compound in which he practiced yoga and sought purity and simplicity. But when a scandal rocked his community, Penny was forced to reevaluate his life. He moved out and started over. At age 41, with little money and no formal work experience, Penny struggled to support his family. He eventually found a new path to fulfillment by launching Savvy Rest, a Charlottesville, Virginia, maker of organic mattresses. His products are sold by dealers across the country.

I took my first meditation course when I was in college. It felt so good. I felt relieved and centered. Meditation got me away from everything everybody else was doing, which back in the '70s was drinking and smoking pot. I majored in psychology, because I was interested in helping people. I didn't want to have anything to do with the business world.

Usually people strive for money, power, fame, or sex. I didn't see myself becoming fulfilled by any of those things. I graduated college in 1975 and moved into an ashram in Pennsylvania. I don't know if it was just anxiety about stepping into the world or an inability to make a decision, but I felt like I really wanted to experience going deeper within myself and having a deeper experience with yoga.

The ashram was demanding in a lot of ways, but to me it felt like home. We woke up every day at 4:30 a.m. We dressed in white and practiced yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and chanting. We all had jobs within the community, which grew from a group of 70 to hundreds of people. My jobs ranged from bookkeeping to managing the kitchen. I was a good yoga teacher.

We lived very simply. The ashram provided a small allowance as well as food and clothing. Everyone shared the common understanding that we were spiritual seekers on a path of enlightenment and self-discovery.

While living there, I met my wife, Heather. We married in 1982 and had two sons, Gopal and Santosh. We felt we had found what we were looking for. We planned on staying in the ashram for the rest of our lives. But in 1994, everything changed. It came out that our guru had been sexually abusive with some of the women who lived there.

We didn't understand how we could have allowed ourselves to be so misled. We wanted a clean break, so we picked up and moved to Virginia. We didn't know who we were separate from our life in the ashram. But I believed we would land on our feet. We were willing to work hard. And we had lived for so long on nothing that we had nothing to lose. I think we were overconfident.

We had enough money for a few months' rent. I believed that the universe would provide for us. My wife worked as a massage therapist. I took the first job offer I got, which was selling satellite dishes. I said to my wife, "Well, it must be meant to be. I'm supposed to sell satellite dishes." I lasted only three weeks. I was awful at it—I hadn't watched television in 20 years!

I needed to make a living. I worked for a while at a senior center and then delivered newspapers for a few months. I just did whatever I had to do. It was overwhelming emotionally, but I didn't have time to process all of that.

Eventually, I got a job from someone who had lived in the ashram. He had a futon store, and he needed a manager. He wasn't a very organized person, but I was. I worked at the futon store for about six years.

In 2003, I decided to start my own mattress store, the Savvy Sleeper. People were constantly coming in asking for all-natural mattresses. I tried a few different kinds, and they tended to be either really hard or really soft. They just weren't good-quality products.

I met with a natural latex manufacturer from India, and we began manufacturing organic latex mattresses. Today, we have about 60 dealers and 15 employees. My youngest son works in our warehouse part time, and my older son handles our website and marketing.

When you have a need for something—whatever it is—then you put more energy into it. In this case, I had a personal need for my company to be successful. Sometimes, people say you create your own reality or that if you believe in something hard enough, you can make things happen. I think there's some truth in that. But I also think there are a lot of forces at work, like grace and luck.

After living in the ashram, I believe that I know how to listen to what my customers need on a deeper level. For example, I've learned that trying out a mattress in a store for a few minutes isn't a good-enough test. That's partly because of the nature of the situation. The customer testing out the mattress is often stressed—and often hovered over by a salesperson on commission. The customer is usually wearing constrictive clothing and feeling muscle tension from the day.

We designed our mattress in layers. Each layer can be firm, medium, or soft, and there are many possible combinations. If a customer doesn't like what she chose the first time, she can swap layers for 90 days. For example, she could exchange a firm layer for a soft one. Sleeping on a mattress for a few weeks is the real test. We've made it so people can do that in their home, where they feel most comfortable. About 10 to 12 percent of our customers will do an exchange; for the rest, it's comfort and relief that feels right from the get-go.

When I started my business, I wanted to create an environment that was safe, warm, and inviting to everyone, including employees, suppliers, dealers, and customers. I always tell every new employee that all customers must feel safe, warm, and welcomed. I'm not particularly demanding about anything else.

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