September 15, 2007 – John Hickenlooper and Gary Held
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Rob: Welcome to Startup Story Radio. I’m Rob McNealy and I am your host. Today folks, we have an amazing show for you. We have two fantastic guests. The first guest is our own very great Mayor Hickenlooper, and for the second part of the hour we have a great guy. He’s president of CTEK. We’re going to talk a little bit today about a bunch of different things. I wanted to get the mayor’s perspective on business and how cities can help motivate and inspire and help people get their own startups off the ground.
What I want to do folks is – as always, check out our website startupstoryradio.com. There you can check out our blogs and that’s it. The guy pushing the buttons is fired. I’m just kidding. Pushing buttons today is Kelly Par. He’s in the box and he’s trying to make me sound good and I think he’s doing a pretty good job. So anyways, I want you to stick around after the break. If you have any ideas about, any questions, give us a call 303-713-7600. This is Startup Story Radio.
Rob: Welcome back. This is Startup Story Radio and I am Rob McNealy your host. We have a great guest this week. It is the infamous and famous mayor of the best city in the world, Denver, Colorado, and that is Mayor John Hickenlooper. Mister Mayor, how are you today?
John: Pretty good Rob. How about yourself?
Rob: I can’t talk today, but we’re doing great. I really appreciate you coming on the show. The concept of our show is real simple. We just want to inspire and motivate people to become successful entrepreneurs. I figure you have a great startup story yourself. I don’t want to beat around the bush and talk. I want to hear you talk. Most people know you as a politician, but you have a long history and a lot of experience as an entrepreneur. What’s your story?
John: I came out to Colorado in 1991. I had a Masters in geology and I worked in exploration for an independent oil company. The price of oil crashed and our company got sold. I took my severance and ended up signing a lease in lower downtown-$1 a square foot to open the first group house in the Rocky Mountains. It took me two years to raise the money. Couldn’t even get my own mother to invest. We finally got opened in October of ’98 and like most small guys, worked 70 and 80 hours a week and built a business. Worked hard enough and we started getting lucky and we actually made a good success out of it.
Rob: Yeah. The harder I work the luckier I am. What was your vision? What made you go do a group home? In the late 80s that was not real common.
John: Not only that. There wasn’t one in Colorado or anywhere in the Rocky Mountains. A, I had the name Hickenlooper, which is kind of a beery name. I started growing my own beer in 1971-72. I always kind of loved beer. My home brew was called Hickenlooper Logger. If you couldn’t say it, we wouldn’t serve you. That was kind of a bar side sobriety test.
I worked my way through graduate school buying and renovating old historic houses in Connecticut and we had the notion that we wanted to do a brewpub. It seemed the perfect excuse to renovate an old commercial building. It’s hard to find uses that will pay off the incredible expense of renovating a really old building. It usually costs more than that even to build a building from scratch. Since we were going back to the classic way beer used to be made, without preservatives, from natural processes, we thought what a perfect thing to make it using the historic processes of making beer and go back to a historic building and really take it back to its original state.
Rob: And that came out to be the Wine Cooper Room?
John: Yeah, down at lower downtown. The first few years we almost went out of business a couple of times. We built an upscale billiards hall on the second floor that opened in the fall of 1992, same time we had to buy the whole building. It’s a beautiful 5-story warehouse. So, we had to do something with the top three floors. So, we actually did condominium lofts. I pre-sold all 15 lofts, kind of sketched out the floor plan on bar napkins and never used a real estate broker. We never spent a penny for marketing. It was all through friends and friends of friends.