Every year, Ernst and Young recognizes innovative business leaders through their Entrepreneur of the Year program. Of the 24 Utah region finalists, almost half of them are based in Utah County. This series highlights the nominated CEOs and company founders. The winner of the Utah regional Entrepreneur of the Year contest will be announced this weekend, June 15.
Kory Stevens, co-founder and CEO and Mallory Stevens, co-founder, Taft Clothing
Kory and Mallory Stevens are one of a small group of entrepreneurial couples. Their love story, like the story of their company, is a bit unusual.
Kory and Mallory Stevens first met and started dating while studying at Brigham Young University. They broke up shortly before both going on study abroad to India, where their relationship rekindled emotionally, but program rules as well as cultural rules of the country prevented them from acting on their feelings.
Three weeks after they returned from their study abroad, they married. About a year later, after Kory and Mallory Stevens graduated with degrees in linguistics and English respectively, they launched Taft Clothing Inc., which originally specialized in men’s no-show socks.
“Most people don’t even know we made socks,” Kory Stevens said.
Part of the reason for the transition was they simply looked like a shoe company. Their business Instagram profile had thousands of followers, but they were mostly photographing shoes. They decided to make the switch from the niche market of no-show socks to just shoes a couple of years later.
With 485,000 followers on Instagram, it’s clear the couple have found a niche, and a community, that has brought them financial success. Although they still consider themselves to be in “startup mode” and insist being entrepreneurs was never the plan.
“We do try and just be really realistic and honest about (starting a business) ... we didn’t plan on this. And it’s difficult each day, but it’s certainly come with the most amazing benefits,” Kory Stevens said.
One of the benefits is it gives the Stevens the ability to get Kory the help he needs with severe depression he’s battled for 15 years. Recently, he underwent a six-month long round of treatment.
“Any other job, I’d have to get that cleared, and all these doctors appointments ... positive and bad reactions (to medications) that forced me to miss work,” Kory Stevens said. “This has allowed me and has been the job where ... I can kind of take care of myself. It’s been huge.”
Because of Kory Stevens’ personal struggle with mental illness, he and his wife have been working to raise awareness and are trying to figure out how to make raising awareness a part of their brand, going so far as to fly out a brand strategist to discuss ideas and plans.
“We’ve been very vocal about (mental health) on social media ... we’ve struggled to figure out how to tie it into Taft because I don’t want it to seem sales-y,” Kory Stevens explained. “We are searching for the right, organic, natural feeling way to be about it.”
The Stevens said they expect to roll something out over the next quarter. In the meantime, they’ve also started a mental health advocate group with other business owners and are working towards holding a mental health conference for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Learn more by visiting their website, https://taftclothing.com/, and by following them on Instagram @taft, where they share more about their day-to-day struggles and accomplishments.
Dave Wright, CEO, and Melanie Alder, Chief Investment Officer, Pattern
Dave Wright and Melanie Alder are the only other married entrepreneur team from Utah County, but unlike the Stevens, their romance came after they started their business in 2013. They just celebrated their first wedding anniversary this year.
Originally, Alder was running the business full-time while Wright worked on it part-time, eventually coming on full-time after a couple of years and exponential growth in revenue, from $800,000 in 2013 to $4 million in 2014. This year, Alder said they’re on track to pull in $330 million.
“Our skill sets aligned really well, and we’re really compatible. So we worked together really well, and we have for many years,” Alder said.
Working together so well made them hesitant at first to date, but it appears to have worked out better than they could have imagined.
“We’re excellent business partners together, but he (Wright) also fills my cup with just his kindness, and he complements me so often,” Alder said.
“We do everything together,” Wright said. “We pretty much don’t argue.”
Working well together has been an important part of building Pattern, but their financial success is because they’ve partnered with companies that have great products, according to Alder. Pattern offers software as a solution services to help companies grow and manage their brands online and around the world. Some recognizable brands include Kong Dog Toys, Panasonic, PopSockets and Skull Candy.
When the company first started, Wright was almost the only salesperson actively trying to sell Pattern’s software solutions. Now, Pattern still only has a handful of salespeople “in the field” — until just a few months ago, it was just one person. Alder and Wright credit it to word of mouth and having a solution that works.
“Someone goes to a conference and they’re like, ‘hey, we just (increased) our revenue (five times). These data nerds over there, they somehow know how to do that,” Wright said. “And some people pick up the phone and call us,” Alder added.
Learn more about Pattern and what the company has to offer by visiting their website, https://pattern.com/.
Andrew Richardson, founder and CEO, Edge
Edge Pest Control recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a company, beginning operations in March 2009 shortly after to 2008 economic recession.
“It wasn’t (a favorable time), but you know, when you’ve got enough grit and stick to it, you can make it happen,” Andrew Richardson, CEO and founder of Edge, said. “It’s been a fun ride.”
Edge now operates in nine states and has a total of 400 employees, with roughly 150 more hired each summer for sales. Before founding Edge, Richardson worked as the VP of Marketing for a regional company, but going out on his own felt like the right thing to do so he could “create and work with people,” and pest control was what he was most familiar with.
“It wasn’t as important to me what it was that I did,” Richardson said. “More that, it was a good service that was valuable and I’d be working with people.”
Richardson will readily agree that pest control companies, particularly in Utah, are fairly common, so he’s tried to do things differently, from the building of the company to the way they do pest control servicing.
“I tell my people that we’re building a long-lasting, profitable organization ... and when you do that, you build it differently, you put processes in place that are different, you approach customers differently,” Richardson said. “We view ourselves as an operational company that happens to do door to door and organic sales.”
In addition to building a company lasts, Richardson is a proponent of helping others “increase their spheres of influence,” which he feels inspires employees to offer customers a better experience as well as themselves.
“If you do it for the money ... I just don’t think you grow as well,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think it really is about people. And when you treat your employees that way, I think your customers feel that more too.”
The aggressive nature with which Richardson has worked to grow his company, as well as himself — he’s currently spending three days every other week at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania pursuing a Masters of Business Administration — doesn’t betray the fact that he considers himself to be an introvert. He loves being around people, but when it comes to “filling his tank,” Richardson said he prefers the solace of the outdoors.
“To me, what sounds really good is going to the mountain, sitting on a hill. Watch the wind in the trees,” Richardson said.
This year is the second time Richardson has been nominated as an EY Finalist. He said he’s enjoying the process a bit more this time, having some familiarity with it, and that he’s grateful for the recognition of his company.
“It’s humbling. There’s also an acute awareness of how much it really is a team award and not an individual award,” he said. “Even though I am the face ... there’s a whole army of people that really merit that award, or that nomination.”
Learn more about Edge by visiting its website, https://edgeservicing.com/. The winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 Utah Region will be announced at an awards gala this Saturday.