Oregon State graduate Ryan Kirkpatrick is no stranger to risk-taking. The 2006 alum, along with business partner and Oregon State grad Dan Genco, has created two successful startup companies since he finished school: Galvanic Design, the creator of the Campus Rail Jam Tour (also known as Snow in the Quad) and Shwood Ltd., a company that makes high-end sunglasses made of exotic woods. We recently got to speak with Kirkpatrick about the Rail Jam and Shwood in anticipation of Rail Jam’s May 21 stop at Oregon State.
Where are you from?
I’m from Jefferson, which is outside Salem, and from a long line of family that’s gone to Oregon State. In high school I looked at other places, but I liked OSU and I am happy to be an OSU alumn.
What’s it like bringing the Campus Rail Jam Tour back to Oregon State?
It’s awesome because we still know a ton of people on campus. Our emcee is finishing his super-senior year. A bunch of the athletes competing are associated with OSU. Two of our interns are also students at OSU.
We employ nine people through the Rail Jam tour. We have interns on all nine campuses we visit called “Student Snow Ambassadors.” Their purpose is to increase the awareness of skiing and snowboarding while allowing them to have a major event to showcase their passion for snowsports.
Does running a business mean you have less time to snowboard for yourself?
We try to work it so everybody can go. To be honest I’ve done less snowboarding since I’ve run a snowboarding company.
How did you come up with the idea for Shwood?
One of the guys on the Rail Jam crew thought of the wood sunglasses concept. He’s from Canby, and friends with the emcee. “Those things are cool,” we told him. “Let us help you create a job for yourself.”
We decided that all of the wood we use should be sustainably harvested from responsible sources. We definitely took that into consideration.
How did people start knowing about them?
My sister put them on Facebook. One of her church friends, who has a jewelry company, saw it and sent it to one of her friends, who runs a fashion blog in New York City. And from that point forward they were on every blog you could think of. They blew up. We stopped keeping track of the number of blogs after five days. Within the first week of orders we were sold out, and backordered 6-8 weeks.
It’s a good problem to have. We now have 8 people working in production. We’ve moved to a warehouse. It is referred to in business terminology as “having the tiger by the tail”. People have been barreling down for orders from us, and have since October.
How is running the two businesses different?
Well, there are lots of similarities actually. There are creative people in both businesses. With the Rail Jam Crew the creative team’s goal is to produce creative assets such as photos, videos and articles, which can be used to generate positive press. At Shwood our creative talent comes in the form of industrial design. Our production team is very creative when it comes to designing new product concepts. It seems like every day when I come into the office I see new product prototypes, even when I don’t ask for them.
That being said, the differences between a manufacturing company and an event production company are big. The case with manufacturing, we’re dealing with the logistics behind thousands of small transactions. With Galvanic, we are dealing with a few large transactions. So even though the end audiences for both companies are the same, the customers are sociologically very different.
I also realize the value of good management skills through the growth of the two companies
Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial family?
Yeah. Everyone from my grandparents to my dad and uncles had an entrepreneurial point of view on life. My great grandfather owned a Chevrolet dealership in Baker City. My grandfather came back from the war and the dealership was gone – but he started a used car lot and brought the Chevrolet dealership back. My father started a logistics company after the deregulation of the trucking industry. My stepfather manufactures dental goods. I have a grandfather who started an insurance agency, and an aunt and uncle who started a payroll benefits company.
It helps a ton to have family with experience. because if I come across a difficult issue I have people to ask for help – especially since the oldest person in our company is 26 which gives us a very limited experience base.
How many people work at Shwood, and was it expensive to get started?
At Shwood we have 11 people who work there. Galvanic Design pays our salary, which gives us the freedom to not have to pay for a management team. Every dollar that Dan and I invested into Shwood were our earnings with Galvanic. As a result growing super-fast and not bringing in a lot of outside investment, we have had to reinvest all of the company’s earnings into growth, specifically in inventory. There’s not enough cash to pay ourselves a salary. We’re working for equity, which has allowed us to keep startup costs low as well as keep the company cash-flow positive.
How would you say Oregon State helped you in your business ventures?
The Austin Entrepreneurship Program allowed me to meet a lot of people. I was heavily involved in it my senior year. Anyone special who came down here – I got to pick their brains and get real-world information on starting a business. I was also able to build meaningful relationships with successful entrepreneurial OSU alumni.
I’ve been snowboarding since I was 10. I never would have said five years ago that I’d be running a wood sunglasses company, or a snowboarding company, but I wouldn’t have changed this experience for anything.