In a men's group I attended weekly for 2+ years we were asked to create a statement describing each member of the group. The statement given to me was: "Jake - climbing Mount Everest in a snow storm".
Certainly a theme of my life seems to have been "doing things the difficult way" which can also be translated to mean "stupid". While I can neither confirm nor deny that statement, I have tried to learn from my mistakes and have embraced the idea of "keep improving".
As I get older and gain experience I feel a growing desire to share my own.
I grew up as a smart, sweet, innocent kid. I loved to read and was always the first kid with his hand up in church or school - begging to answer any question asked by the teacher. It felt like I was bullied almost every day at school. At home my good parents had a lot of kids in a small space and hadn't figured out their parenting methods just yet - so trial and error was the learning method. As a parent I can now relate. My perfect older sister was a ballerina and perfect student. The highlight of growing up was my brothers. We froze ice rinks in the backyard and played hockey every day. Hockey was my escape. I wished for an older brother.
Early teens were rough. I did some bullying of my own which I truly regret - mostly my brothers. I lost myself for a couple of years. I'll write more about this someday. At 16 I made myself a promise - I was done bullying and being bullied. No matter how much it hurt or I bled, I would stand up to bullies. I tried to be the best big brother to my brothers and be an example. I tried to live without fear - at times that meant daring myself to do stuff that was probably pretty cheesy.
Some examples you ask? I was so inspired by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society that as a junior in high school I started wearing sweater vests and a tie to school. I made a list of the prettiest girls I had never dared to talk to and introduced myself to them - one by one. Since I felt I had no friends and had been bullied by all the cool kids I set a goal to be friends with everyone else - and I really tried. I'd rotate tables in the lunch room introducing myself to anyone I thought wouldn't try to fight with me.
I decided to run for Student Body President of my high school at the end of my junior year. I lost and it hurt. I felt rejected and like a loser. I remember thinking the next day that the only thing more painful than the embarrassment of losing was the pain of not trying - so I started my election campaign for Senior Class President. I have no idea how or why - but my classmates at Bingham (and maybe God) handed me a gift I needed and I won. How grateful I still am for that victory - because in many ways it has helped to shape the rest of my life.
I attended Dixie College the year after high school - chosen because they gave me the best scholarship - The Presidental Scholarship. Located in the desert of southern Utah between Zion National Park and Las Vegas - Dixie was amazing. The friends I made I will love until I die and nothing will ever change my feeling of brotherhood with them. It was everything anyone could ever want college to be. Road trips, staying up all night, and rap music. We lived with the mantra "no regrets". CBA's. We had so much fun - and the brotherhood enhanced our desire to do the right things.
After a year at Dixie several "college brothers" and I who had not planned otherwise decided that we would serve 2 year missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The process to prepare for my mission was real. I wanted to serve God who had blessed me so much despite so many early challenges. I studied and prepared. Then my call came - I would serve in Munich, Germany for just over 24 months.
I'll write more about my mission later, but Germany is awesome. I love the people there. As a country it is one of the safest, cleanest, most beautiful places on earth. The people living in Germany are from all over the world. I was so blessed to meet and talk with and serve so many. We did service every week, we visited members and shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone we could. I will forever be grateful for the chance I had to work full time in Germany in the service of my fellow man. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Working as a missionary from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM 6 days a week and being accountable for my activities was a wonderful education. I was responsible to study the scriptures, the language and more myself and remain fluent today. I love and miss the more than 200 missionaries and 2 mission presidents and mission moms I served with.
In 1999 I returned from Germany to a new world. People had cell phones, were sending text messages. There were a cadre of companies I had never heard of - like Yahoo and Google. I remember sitting in the library on a college campus and thinking "Yahoo? Google? I want a name like that!" Without knowing how I bought the domain name "Wowzers.com" within the hour. A short time later I sold the name for around $10,000. I was hooked!
In the interim my work was selling Marketing Training and Consulting services to business owners. I saw firsthand the benefits of owning a business. During that first 2 years I must have attended 30+ marketing training seminars and a dozen business and leadership training conferences. I read books and enrolled in other courses like the Sandler Sales Institute, real estate coaching and more.
By 2000 I ventured out as a sister company to the marketing consulting company owned by my father. We created and sold turn-key websites to our customers. I envisioned, wrote content, worked with developers and fully capitalized (from sales) the venture. We grew the list of clients to 300+ customers - I remain friends with many of them today.
In 2001 I attempted to create a trade organization called the Printers Success Alliance. We created training, collaboration and marketing tools for the Printing Industry - and grew to about 60 members at our peak. By this time I was 23 years old and married - and still perfectly oblivious to all the things I didn't know.
As we struggled to gain traction in PSA and as customer attrition grew, my wife and I had decided to build a home. Just after the Olympics in Utah the building market was HOT. A close friend I met on my mission had helped me build the home, and I loved the process of creating something tangible.
In 2003 I started EPIC Homes. Becoming a builder in 2003 to 2007 was pretty easy. It seemed pretty normal for a young guy like me to build lots of homes, and I immersed myself into the industry - read books, studied building codes, met with engineers, etc. I used to design homes on scratch paper in my spare time - truly.
There were some lean and fat years leading up to the mortgage crisis and market collapse in 2008. In my mind and heart I had tried to keep things in check. I drove the same Nissan Altima I bought used when I came home from my mission. My wife and now 3 children lived in a home we didn't build, but we had started construction on our dream home - just 3 or 4 houses away.
I had borrowed several million dollars as a builder from several banks in the form of "Builder Lines of Credit", and had several spec-homes going in my own name, and one in my wife's name as well. We had been pro-actively approached by multiple friends who wanted to build spec-homes and wanted me to help them, and I had solicited about another dozen friends about doing spec homes. I disclosed everything accurately and figured if they would loan me the money I had no problem borrowing it. They were older, wiser and smarter than I was.
In 2005 to 2007 the nature of spec-homes seemed to be "Can't Lose". More and more spec investors were entering the market - most as "Paper borrowers" who had no intention of buying the homes they were building. I was commonly asked "How many of these can I do at a time?" by investors. I implemented policies I thought would protect us and the investors. (Examples: No investor could do more than one spec-home as owner occupied. We presented investors with a contract and multiple loan options including investor spec-homes (required down payments) and intent to occupy options. Our most important policy was that each investor was individually responsible for signing off on each bank draw - meaning they were presented with a budget in the beginning and were required to track all expenses against the budget, and sign each draw). By 2008 the protective measures would not matter much.
Years after the mortgage crisis I see those events more clearly. I made mistakes - plenty of them. The result of the collapse was that my wife and I lost everything - as did lots of other people. I'm not convinced that anything I did or didn't do could have changed the outcome for myself but my regrets are that in the grasping at straws and panic I left people to fend for themselves. My heart was broken and my finances, my reputation - several lifelong friendships - all died. I hated myself and was lost.
2007 to 2009 were "LOST YEARS". I became the villain in my own personal life story. I felt helpless, blamed, abandoned and accused. I worked to resolve bad deals as hard as I could. Working for free to finish spec homes so that investors could do a short sale ran stopped being possible - then it was the next best least-bad outcome to work for. It was literally years of feeling alone and grasping at the next straw.
In 2010 I made some crucial personal changes. More important than any was that I turned my life over to God. I confronted some of the demons of my past that either I had held onto or created on my own - and I decided I would live for God - not for my wife or my reputation. My goal was to take the lessons from my failures and learn from them - and grow. Sounds good doesn't it?
I started ZipSmart in 2011. The idea was to use a technology I patented (with the help of an amazing patent lawyer) to allow a single domain name to change content or "ownership" based upon the zipcode. Imagine a domain name like Landscaping.com. It would rank very high on Google search results for all things Landscaping - and if you are a landscaper - you can own your zipcode - being the only person to show up on the website if the visitor is from your zipcode. It caught on quick!
With help from a great team we recruited a team of work from home, straight commission sales guys all over the country. They were were managed and trained by a work from home sales manager (who was terrific) we built ZipSmart to a company with around $1 million in assets and over $500,000 per year in recurring revenue.
Changes in the building industry take place over several years, but changes in the online marketing world take place overnight. Multiple times we had domain names on page 1 of Google only for Google to complete the panda, penguin or other SEO update and knock our sites out of the search completely. Each time this happened the toll was great. It could take a month or two (and considerable expense) to reinvent our sites to be Google compliant. Losing ranking meant losing clients, which meant losing sales people. I realized ZipSmart in its constitution at the time meant staying trapped in a state of fighting the Google machine, and made the tough decision to reinvent again.
The lesson of ZipSmart was that Google has the attention of the consumer. I vowed to create massive consumer engagement in my next venture - and this is still my path.
Through a series of events I came to develop Run or Dye - the Worlds Most Colorful 5K. The father of the Color Movement in the Western World, and truly worldwide is a Krishna devotee in Spanish Fork Utah. His name is Caru Das.
Run or Dye, The Color Run, Color Me Rad, and really all other color events around the world (with the exception of in India) can trace their roots to Caru Das. The big color runs have been by far the biggest means to expand the reach of these events, and the 3 largest color runs (the Color Run, Run or Dye, and Color Me Rad) all stem directly from - and were invented as a result of the Color Festival Caru has hosted for the last 20 years at his Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. (Anyone who says different than this is lying - I can prove it).
The explosion of color events worldwide is an accident that no one could have predicted or even believed. The founders of each of these companies (including myself) were instantly thrust into a fierce and contentious battle for land, venues, consumers and more. We were also instantly beneficiaries of a huge new revenue stream. People like to criticize the movement - but generally if the universe hands you a golden opportunity you try not to ignore it.
These events didn't exist in 2012 (except for in India or Utah), and by 2014 millions of consumers worldwide had participated. Being a part of that massive expansion was crazy. The movement as a whole has been so good for the world. People have embraced fitness, eating right, exercising, embraced God, celebrated diversity and have loved deeper as a result. These events took off as a result of people (college students to soccer moms) sharing with their friends. When an event makes a mistake the same people who spread the word share the bad news - social media can make or break a person or a company.
In dozend of conversations on airplanes with strangers or with dear friends as I conveyed the Run or Dye story the question I got most was "Don't you think this is a fad, and when it ends you'll be in trouble?" I used to remind my team every day at Run or Dye that we were lucky to have the opportunity and that we didn't know how long it would last.
The events industry moves FAST. The marketing behind these companies is laser accurate and sophisticated and it changes as fast as Google and Facebook change algorithms or as fast as consumers change their online shopping behavior. Nuance is key to everything. A spring snow storm or cold snap for 7 days can have a big impact on spring ticket sales - which can be the difference between making or losing money on an event - even an event 10 or more weeks in the future.
I knew we had a challenge at Run or Dye when sponsors continued to reach out to us, and then pull the plug on a sponsorship deal because of our name. After the Boston Marathon bombing we had half of our audience demanding we change our name - and threatening to boycott our events if we didn't. The other half demanded we NOT change it and let the terrorists win. This trend continued to nag our events every time we had a mass shooting in the news. I made the decision to stick with the name - and in the end it may have been my worst decision.
One of the biggest lessons from Run or Dye have been the importance of Public Relations and clear communication. US sales slumped in summer of 2015. It was tough to know if it was competition, an early season slow down (sales slow every fall), or a dramatic market shift in demand. It may have been all of these issues. In response 12 of our key staff met to looked across the upcoming events to find cost saving opportunities. We decided on an action plan to cancel 9 events (about 3,000 participants) and try to combine 3 (about 1,000 participants). We got this VERY wrong.
If I could change it we we would have refunded the roughly 4,000 runners impacted by these 12 events with no questions asked. Instead we hoped to get participants to go to our website to complete a 3 step process to accept a number of options (additional tickets or merchandise, etc) as an alternative to a refund. Internally the team had been told to refund anyone - including in the 3 cities we were combining - but by forcing customers to call in things we alienated our audience. Within a few days of making the announcement about cancelling some events and trying to combine others things got pretty rough. Our customer service lines filled up with angry customers demanding refunds. Soccer moms went to the news in their towns. Our social media pages filled up with negative and angry comments. Sales that had slumped before fell off almost completely.
In the end we delivered an event or a refund to all participants. As a company we donated hundreds of thousands to charities worldwide. We brought the spirit of love and forgiveness and well being to more than 600,000 customers and employed around 100 team members in a job we all loved and will remember for our lifetime. We built a worldwide audience of 2,400,000 people and counting - and had one of the most engaged audiences in history of this planet. Not bad for a venture that lasted 23 months exactly. Imagine what we might have done with more time!
For me - I'm the guy who ran 2 businesses into the ground (home building and Run or Dye). It has to be my fault - right? Who else could be to blame? I feel so blessed to have received the valuable education I have - through my work experience. I'm a better man than I once was and while I wasn't able settle all scores, there is time left on the clock.
Now bring on the future!
Achievements & Awards
As a junior in high school Jake felt he had few friends - he felt bullied and left out by "the clicks" in his school. Jake wrote down a goal to become friends with everyone at his school and went to work trying to do so. That year he ran for Student Body President and lost - and has said "losing was so painful - I felt so rejected and like such a loser". He decided the next day the only thing worse would be not to try again. He ran for Senior Class President and was elected by his peers. Jake promised himself at that moment that he would strive to be a friend to everyone - and never to act too cool. He strives to live these values still today.
After high school Jake was awarded a full-ride Presidential Scholarship to Dixie College in the town of Saint George, Utah. He attended Dixie and loved everything about his experience. Jake intended to study business and finance. During college Jake felt inspired to put his scholarship and studies on hold to serve a full-time mission for his church. Jake was called to serve for 2 years in Munich, Germany.
Jake loved his mission in Munich, Germany. Still a fluent German speaker Jake learned to love to work toward accomplishing goals. While serving he performed 4 to 8 hours per week of community service, and worked the balance of his time speaking with the people living in Southern Germany about his faith and his religion. During his 2 year mission beginning in 1997 Jake influenced the lives of many people living in Germany - but his mission had the biggest impact on his own life. Jake completed his mission honorably in 1999.
Completing the Sandler Sales Institute courses on selling at age 23 is an accomplishment Jake often indicates had a profound effect on how understands communication. He learned the importance of understanding what people want - either to avoid pain or move toward pleasure. He continues to believe in and practice many of the lessons he learned during this 12 month course. He has trained and mentored hundreds of sales professionals.
Jake founded EPIC Home Builders in 2003. With housing & development in full swing Jake entered the Parade of Homes in 2004 by designing a unique home - along with completing 4 oil paintings, 3 waterfalls, and several other pieces of art for the residence. Jake's art was recognized with the "Best Architect / Home Design" Award. Jake designed and built more than 120 homes in the years that followed. In 2008 the housing crisis left EPIC Home Builders in financial ruin. Jake elected not to continue building but continues to invest in real estate.
In 2013, Run or Dye (a 5k color run) hosted 65 events with more than 360,000 runners. The company was awarded Best New Sporting Event over nominees including Formula One and the PGA. The "edgy name" Run or Dye contributed to its wild success - but proved to also be a key challenge to the company. In the USA mass shooting tragedies hampered ticket sales and have been cited to Run or Dye as a reason key sponsors elected not to sponsor the events. After the Boston Marathon bombing Run or Dye faced even more criticism. These challenges along with other environmental and competitive factors contributed to financial losses. The company stopped hosting events at the end of 2014. Run or Dye hosted 610,000+ runners at more than 235 north american events over a 19-month span of time.