For this Loveland business, partnership liberated growth and made work fun again
Consulting businesses are often lonely endeavors, constrained by the experience, capacity, and moxie of the owner. When opportunity knocks – in the guise of new technologies, more customers, or economic expansion – many consultants choke, not willing to do what’s necessary to grow.
When Doug Collins, owner of Loveland’s Avid Product Development reached that point, it was the opportunities new 3-D Printing technology offered that crystalized the dilemma.
“I had a good clientele, a good mix of projects and in 2013 I brought on the additive piece,” Collins said. “It was small for a while, just kind of tinkering with it but that started to take off in 2014. 2014 was a really busy year for me because I was doing both printing and engineering. It was great, lots of work, but I was getting crushed. I had to make a choice, either let one of them go, or grow.”
Finding the right partner was a combination of luck, good networking and that special chemistry that comes when skills, ambition and values match. Collins had known partner Ryan Billson since college and Billson’s Lafayette, CO engineering firm was one of Collins’ clients.
It was a beer at Loveland Aleworks that began the conversation. “We thought if there’s something here, let’s dip our toes in first – date before we get married. Ryan started freelancing for me as a contractor in March 2015 and contracted for 9-10 months.
“Having a thought partner is a strong asset — skills similar to mine but different as well. We certainly have similar vision but we bring different things to the table. Ryan was who I was looking for,” said Collins.
Billson, because he had worked for a firm that grew, went through mergers and took private investment, had a valuable set of skills and experience to bring to Avid. He managed teams, directed, and worked as COO for the company that at some points exceeded 100 employees.
“I knew that there, my future was as an employee and never as an owner,” Billson said. “So, I decided that was my big change—to make a big change. I wanted to get back to engineering. That was my love, it was what I went to school for and that’s what I wanted to do. I really enjoyed the small company feeling (at Avid).”
Enter Loveland’s Small Business Development Center – (LBDC). Collins had been involved with the program for years, both as a client and as a volunteer.
Try before you buy
Turning to the business development program to help with the transition, Avid “got expertise from people who helped us valuate the business, and we got advice on the whole pre-nuptial process,” Collins said.
Billson echoes that sentiment. “The pre-nup thing was a huge deal. If you figure it out ahead of time you won’t run into problems. That was something they drilled into our heads: Put it down in writing and figure out all of your scenarios that may or may not happen. Figure it out ahead of time.”
Avid’s current LBDC/Larimer SBDC consultant, Bob Coffey, helps with financials, asks questions, looks at the numbers, gets on them when they don’t have their numbers ready.
“We use the LBDC/SBDC to help us with accountability, looking ahead to roadblocks, and finding workarounds – what we should be focusing on. How to grow, how to know when to hire, all those tough challenges. We’re pretty good at allowing our gut to answer some of those challenges, but bouncing that off someone who isn’t invested, they’re going to have a different take on it,” Collins said.
A major leap in the business took place in 2017 with investment in 3D printing capabilities that dramatically expanded with the company’s purchase of a new HP Multi-Jet 3D printer that gives clients high-quality printed parts faster and more affordably than ever before. The investment was made possible by an SBA loan.
What’s the two-year plan?
“Right now, we’re looking for a little stability,” Collins acknowledges. “It’s been an expensive six months. We’ve just had a big ramp up and now we’re hoping to flatten a little bit, catch our breath, build capital, get our feet under us, to understand how we manage ‘this’. We’re both pretty conservative about how we approach the business. We both want to be solvent all the time, we’re very careful about that. We want to make sure everybody has a good place to work here and a little security.
“We’re in a whole new phase, we’ve got a new list of what we don’t know we don’t know. We’re going to take some time to really understand the new business. Then, I imagine our growth will be on both sides – on the engineering side and on the additive manufacturing side. The additive side will require a few more operators, and I’m sure there will be more equipment to add more capability. Possibilities are new versions of the HP equipment with capabilities for metals and full color printing. We are also looking into more finishing options for our customers. Right now, we print parts and have some finishing options, but there’s more we can do.”
Billson agrees: “Within two years we will also have more capability with injection molding—that’s been put on the back burner a bit but we’re excited to bring some of that in-house as well. That’s in addition to the engineering, the additive manufacturing for prototyping and between prototyping and low-volume manufacturing, that’s a great niche. Injection molding will give us the capability for higher-volume manufacturing. We can then work with larger companies that want to keep a new product ‘contained’ for a while—that’s our niche.”
At this point, Collins says, the company is accumulating track record and growth experience. To grow dramatically, “You have to have your books in order, show revenue, and we’ve been doing great with that, but we’re still in the preparation stage.
“With a two-person company, it’s not really a thing, but we’re seven people now and we have serious capital equipment, making great parts and adding value to the business, so that shows up on the balance sheet. It (growth) is coming if we choose to go that route, but it means lots of changes. We’ll have to give up control, grow up quicker.
“LBDC/SBDC resources have been great. We go off and do our thing. Then, Bob (Coffey) pops up and reminds us of stuff we should be looking for, and helps us out. It’s certainly not a day-to-day need but when we get to the point of the next big steps, that’s when we’ll touch base again and tap those resources,” Collins says.
“It (the LBDC/SBDC) really has helped us all along the way as a sounding board,” said Billson. “Being able to talk through everything from putting the business partnership together through the quarterly reports we’re now doing, we’re able to have Bob come in now and let us know ‘yeah you guys are on track, this is fantastic’ or ‘you need to watch out for this here’ it’s been really good, really helpful.”
Interview conducted at Avid’s location at 129 S. Cleveland Ave., in Loveland. Author Lee Porter is a Loveland resident, a long-time SBDC counselor and publisher of InnovatioNews.