There comes a day in the life of every successful startup when the makeshift basement office will no longer do. For Jenna Walker, co-founder of the recently-acquired photobook company Artifact Uprising, that day, in 2013, looked like this:
Her husband Matt was straddled backward on the toilet in an unfinished bathroom with his laptop, taking a customer call in the only place quiet enough to do so. A co-worker was rocking Walker’s 6-month-old in her car seat with one hand, while filling orders with the other. Walker was staring at her computer screen, watching a flood of orders come in, and quietly starting to panic. “It was full-on survival mode,” she recalls.
Soon after, the company joined Galvanize as an entrepreneurial member, moving its staff of four from that crowded basement to the inaugural Golden Triangle campus in Denver. There, they found a sleek industrial office complex complete with a coffee shop and bar, private phone booths, large conference rooms, even a gym. Most importantly, they found an open-air work-learn space full of would-be mentors and other entrepreneurs toiling to turn their own visions into realities.
“It provided just the community we needed,” says Walker, whose creation now boasts a staff of 27, and its own 5,000-square- foot space downtown. “Galvanize accelerated our learning curve and made it possible for us to scale faster than we ever could have in some isolated office somewhere in Denver, let alone in our basement.”
Walker is among a growing number of successful tech entrepreneurs pointing to Galvanize as a key catalyst in their company success story. Four years after opening its first campus in Denver, Galvanize now boasts 2,000 entrepreneur members across seven campuses. Members pay a monthly fee for a pack-in, pack-out workspace, a reserved desk, or a private suite, and gain access to myriad networking, mentoring, and educational offerings. Ideally, they progress from seat to suite as they grow, ultimately graduating to a space of their own. Artifact Uprising, one of Galvanize’s earliest members, is a perfect example.
“They took advantage of everything we had to offer and were not shy about the fact that they didn’t know much about entrepreneurship,” says Galvanize member success manager Matt Zwiebel. “That opened them up to learn a ton from people who had been there, done that and were eager to give back.”
Jenna, Matt, and Jenna’s sister Katie Thurmes had been working together as professional photographers for eight years when they began to notice something unsettling. They spent a ton of time and energy creating photos of their clients’ cherished moments, only to find out later that the digital images were languishing, undeveloped, on a disc somewhere, or had gotten lost or destroyed.
“We started to worry that there was going to be this whole lost generation of photos,” says Jenna, noting how often photos end up sitting on phones and computers. “We decided to take a stand and say ‘print is the best medium.’” Artifact Uprising was born.
The sisters spent a year teaching photography classes and ramping up their photo shoots, stashing away $70,000 to get started. On October 9, 2012, they launched the business in Jenna’s Denver basement with a vision of creating artful photo books and other photo-inspired gifts from recycled paper and wood. They knew nothing about raising capital or courting investors and even less about the computer technologies needed to seamlessly process orders. They made big mistakes. But the business exploded anyway.
“We had no idea how quickly things were going to move,” recalls Jenna. “We were trying to support a customer base with an infrastructure that was in no way ready to handle it, and we really knew nothing about the whole tech start-up culture.”
At Galvanize, her team became immersed in that culture, learning about everything from legal documents to investor fundraising to solutions to software glitches via informal mentoring sessions or impromptu chats with other entrepreneurs working at desks nearby. Relationships were forged and some of those desk-mates became key employees. By its one-year birthday AU boasted a $1 million run rate and had moved into a suite.
In January, 2015, Visual Supply Company, a California-based software developer, purchased Artifact Uprising for an undisclosed amount. But even then the company stayed at Galvanize, moving its dozen employees to an even larger suite on a different Denver campus. “We weren’t sure how fast we would grow,” says Artifact Uprising General Manager Brad Kopitz. “Staying at Galvanize allowed us to focus on growing the company without having to look for a new place to live right away.”
In June, the company did leave the nest, moving its two-dozen employees into its own 5,000-square-foot space in downtown Denver. Business is booming, with AU reaching about 2,300 customers in 96 countries each week. In late August, Jenna stepped down as CEO to spend more time with her daughters and pursue other opportunities. (Her sister Katie remains chief creative officer).
But Jenna says her time at Galvanize is hardly over. She’d love to launch another tech start-up someday and hopes to come back to campus to pay it forward.
“I never could have raised two small girls and a business and learned about tech and ecommerce all at the same time on my own,” she says. “It takes an entire ecosystem of people who have gone before you to make it work.”