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Red Bull, 20 tons of snow and a mindset for business success

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Entrepreneur and co-founder of Shwood Eyewear Dan Genco’s words of encouragement to the Class of 2020.

June 1, 2020

Dan Genco’s advice to the Class of 2020

Fully immersed in their first business venture together — an event planning company — Ryan Kirkpatrick ’06 and Dan Genco ’05 were on the road to Arizona. 

Adventure-style events they’d run while at OSU, like “Snow in the Quad” (which brought 20 tons of snow to campus for a spring play day) had received attention from sponsors like Ford and Red Bull, and enabled them to book similar events on campuses nationwide. 

Unfortunately, their van broke down on the way to this one. 

As Genco describes it, they were maxed out: they were fully front-loaded on building the business, with full credit cards, empty bank accounts and waiting on a sponsor’s check that was still in the mail. 

So Genco called his connections at Red Bull, and told them, ‘Look, we really need your help to get the snow here.’ 

“I made the call because what else can we do. Because we do have relationships. We have these people who trust us and believe in us,” he says. 

Red Bull came through and helped them get tons of snow to Arizona, and their weekend event was a frosty success. The check from their title sponsor arrived on Monday, of course.

In the midst of the Great Recession in 2009 they launched their next venture, Shwood Eyewear, which specializes in handmade wooden frames and other natural materials. 

It became a global success almost instantly, after a few prominent fashion bloggers picked up on the sustainability-minded, unique eyewear line. 

With global sales well above max production capacity for the next several years, the adrenalin junkies just “bombed the hill” — focused on quality, craftsmanship, creativity, efficiency, relationships and whatever else was required to grow their business.

Here are Genco’s words of encouragement to the Class of 2020: 

College of Business: With everything you’ve learned while launching a business during a recession, what personal advice do you have for our Class of 2020?

Dan Genco: My philosophy at the time, and Ryan’s philosophy, too, was that it’s all hard work, no matter what. The company that fails, it’s really not going to fail due to outside environmental circumstances. That may sound crazy, but it’s what we’ve found to be true.

As long as we can lean on each other, believe in working hard and believe it will work, it will. We’ve found that to be true with every company we’ve been a part of. 

COB: What business advice do you give to the Class of 2020?

DG: It’s almost better to launch in a time where things aren’t going well. You’re starting with the most restrictions on what you can do, and if you can master that and achieve in this environment, your success is only going to blossom and grow as the world grows.

If you’re coming out in 2020, then you’re coming out ready to do something. The opportunities are going to be in front of you. It’s really going to require those who are ready to take them on, who are excited to take them on and have the energy to take them on.

So, by the time you’re really ready — which is a few years, you can give yourself a few years — when the economy has come out of recession, you’ve gone through this learning stage and this growing stage, you’ve got the opportunity to really just go!

You can’t be reckless in your approach; you need to be focused and dialed. But as long as you’re working hard and you trust those that you’re working with, it’s going to work out. 

COB: When you think about those early entrepreneurial years, do you recall anything specific you needed to get through, or a biggest worry?

DG: I’d say, the ability to reach out and find answers. People generally want to help and want to believe in you, but you need to be comfortable asking. I have never been much of the worry type. In business our concerns came about five years in as we were looking to scale for continued growth. Once that plan was accomplished, being independently funded for cash flow is a challenge point.   

COB: There is a certain amount of emotional energy that can be expended, thinking about the experiences lost for our Class of 2020 — a ceremony postponed, no spring in Corvallis, the many things on the checklist to graduate and including celebrations, do you have a signature experience?

DG: Early fall and late spring is when the OSU campus had its brightest moments in my life. The energy was incredible. It is when you make new friendships and build upon those relationships. The beautiful thing about it is those relationships continue on in life if you choose for them to. 

COB: Do you have a moment in the “real world” where those experiences were topped?

Life continues to provide amazing experiences as we move through it. Some of them I never would have fathomed being a reality when in college. Similar to when I was in high school, my concept of college was nothing close to what it actually was. I look back with super fond memories — sports, parties, friendships, projects, travel — but every one of them has been topped since.

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