- Written by Erika Bolstad
- Published in Tech
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Trevor Mauch seeds a startup hub in Roseburg.
For years Roseburg entrepreneur Trevor Mauch has kept a “life list,” an 89-point inventory of feats he wants to accomplish and goals he seeks to achieve while he is, as he puts it, “full of life.”
Some of the goals are aspirational, like flying in a fighter jet with his dad, traveling to New Zealand and reading two books a month. Yet he has checked off more than a few, too: teaching a college course, owning a house on the North Umpqua River and arriving at more than 100,000 views on his YouTube channel.
This year he finally took ownership of goal No. 47, to “get in the best shape of [his] life.”
“I’m 35 right now. I don’t think it gets any easier.” says Mauch, a fit, former baseball player who uses a standing desk in his office and hits the mountain bike trails, golf courses and fly-fishing waters of Southern Oregon in his spare time.
Mauch surveyed the other people at theLoft, the co-working space he started in 2010 in Roseburg, and where his own real estate software company, Carrot, has been based since 2014. If he hired a personal trainer, would they commit to working out with him three days a week?
The answer was yes, and now everyone exercises together in a gym that doubles as the occasional gathering spot for monthly meetings of the Young Entrepreneurs Society that Mauch and a friend started as a pub gathering in Roseburg in 2010.
It’s there that goal No. 38 begins to sound like it might also one day be ticked off Mauch’s life list: Start a business incubator for startups that creates 10 companies worth more than $1 million each in 10 years.
Mauch’s mission is to turn a rural town known for timber products into an entrepreneur’s paradise. Overshadowed by much-larger Eugene to the north and Medford to the south, that means rents are affordable and the business networks are more personal, he says.
People can make their own way in Roseburg, he says, a mind-set it took a couple of years for him to adopt when he and his wife Carly arrived from Portland in 2008.
“When we were looking at moving to Corvallis or Bend or Portland, we were saying, “OK, you know, we can either inject ourselves into something that’s already created, or we can stay here and be part of building what we want,” Mauch says.
The demographics of Roseburg, population 22,000, are similar to those found in many rural Oregon communities. The town struggles to retain young people; a Veterans Administration hospital draws retirees who bump up the average age of county residents.
It’s a politically conservative place where President Trump carried Douglas County with 66% of the vote. In 2015 some locals protested before and during then-President Obama’s visit after a gunman killed nine people at Umpqua Community College.
Despite its deep and continued roots in natural resource industries, legacy companies struggle: Roseburg Forest Products moved its headquarters recently to Springfield, saying it was too difficult to attract talented executives to Roseburg.
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A nonstop talker who speaks with evangelical zeal, Mauch isn’t the first entrepreneur aiming to give rural Oregon a modern look and feel. The Dalles and Prineville join other communities remaking their economies and amenities to fit 21st-century sensibilities. The slow pace of life in Roseburg, Mauch insists, is perfect for startups interested in slow organic growth — and lower prices.
His own company is the poster child.
Carrot helps real estate investors find leads by selling out-of-the-box websites that maximize search engine optimization. He has about 4,000 clients who pay monthly or annually for such services, ranging from $49 to $149 a month. Mauch, who has 15 employees, said the company will do about $6 million in business in 2018 and is “highly profitable,” in part because rent is just $2,400 a month in Roseburg.
He found theLoft, the building he’s in now, on the corner of Oak and Main in downtown Roseburg. He couldn’t afford all 8,000 square feet, but the previous owner, who had a marketing business, was looking to lease back some office space. They approached the new owner with an idea.
“We said we want to create a co-work space where other entrepreneurs can come and work, and we can share and collaborate,” Mauch says. “Nothing like that was here.”
TheLoft in downtown Roseburg
Mauch first got the itch to invest in real estate as a college student at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, his hometown.
His grandfather owned rental properties, as did a college professor he admired. It’s corny, he admits, but his biggest inspiration was Carleton Sheets, the late-night infomercial investment guru popular in the mid-to late 1990s for promising people they could get rich on real estate without any cash down.
Eventually Mauch found and purchased a four-plex apartment building from a seller who was tired of managing it but was willing to privately finance the sale if Mauch could come up with $10,000 for a down payment.Mauch persuaded his family and friends to loan him the money, at 6% interest. He made back the money in rent almost immediately, and owns it to this day.
That led to the development of Private Money Blueprint, a company he later sold, which teaches people how to find private sources of financing for real estate projects.
Today Mauch sees himself as less a real estate investor and more of a content creator, as are most of the businesses at theLoft. There’s a podcasting and photography studio used to make whiteboard explainer videos. One of the other tenants is Born and Raised Outdoors, a video-production company with a popular series of online hunting videos sponsored by major outdoor retailers.
Mauch also views himself as an instigator of community. One of the first people to show up at the Young Entrepreneurs pub meetings was KC McKillip, then the 22-year-old owner of a pest-control company, who walked in with a clipboard and big dreams for opening a brewery. At the time, there was only one, and it was a small operation with limited availability.
Eventually, McKillip sold the pest-control company and an asphalt business he’d purchased from his parents, and turned toward a signature new economy business. “Getting young people to stay in this community is hard,” says his wife, Savannah, who helps manage the Backside Brewing Co. and the adjacent restaurant.
But she and KC believe the brewery, now one of five in Roseburg, along with a McMenamins, is part of the growing entrepreneurial culture of the city.
“It gets people thinking, ‘I don’t have to leave Roseburg,’” Savannah says. “They get this feeling like, ‘Man, I feel like I’m in Bend or Portland.’”
Another newcomer is Cody Dolan, one of the early employees at GoPro, who moved back to Oregon from the Bay Area in 2016.
“Cody found an ad on Craigslist for a candy shop in Roseburg,” says his wife Mandi. “He said, ‘you want to make fudge?’ And I said, ‘why not?’” The two bought Umpqua Sweets & Treats in September 2016, and a few days later, were invited to one of the Young Entrepreneurs meetings.
The people they’ve met at the monthly pub talks have helped grow their candy business, which has paired up with breweries and wineries for tastings and special products. Now Cody is wary of ever returning to the sort of startup culture he experienced at GoPro.
“Too much growth too fast is not something I’m into doing again,” he says. “Local growth is really fun and very manageable.”
That kind of inspirational messaging is on display at theLoft, beginning with the Victory Bell at the entrance. Anyone with a “win” can ring it, but if you do so for no reason, a sign warns, you owe $1 to the beer fund. There’s often a keg from Backside Brewery on tap. Another local brewery, Two Shy, brews a beer called Scrumptious Carrot Cake Porter as an homage to Mauch’s company.
Mauch himself is the first to acknowledge that the product he offers is not that exciting. “Our business is helping people get leads. The thing that excites us is not that,” Mauch says. “The thing that excites us is completely changing the standard by which all of our customers, whoever works with us, gauge what businesses should be doing.”
Hence the Carrot mission statement, which reads: Add humanity to business and help people save time for the things in life that matter. About that evangelical zeal: Mauch was raised Catholic, but he and his wife now attend a large, nondenominational Christian church called Redeemer’s Fellowship.
“It’s funny because even when I wasn’t all that faithful, you know, between those years of the Catholic side of things, I was really passionate about just how can I be used as a force for positivity?” he says.
Mauch has upbeat advice for other prospective entrepreneurs: “The mindset that so many startups have today is that you’ve got to get funding; you’ve got to make that whole funding circle. But there is another route.”
A less frenetic startup track suits Roseburg’s development pattern. Specialty businesses, including an architectural firm, a bootmaker, photo studios and jewelry stores, line the one-way streets of Roseburg’s downtown.
A Portland developer recently bought the property adjacent to theLoft, a 25,000-square-foot former professional office building that he’s turning into live-work artist spaces. The area is also home to one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the state, the Umpqua Valley.
Roseburg’s downtown is still quiet, though, with multiple large, vacant office buildings. Like larger West Coast cities, it also has problems with homelessness. At 5.6%, unemployment in Douglas County hovers slightly higher than Oregon’s overall 4.1% rate, and a small pool of workers remains a common complaint of employers.
“We need engineers and software programmers,” says Jeffrey Ball, co-owner of Orenco Systems, a longtime employer that designs and manufactures wastewater treatment systems. The company recently raised its starting manufacturing jobs to more than $15 an hour. That helped, Ball says, but they still struggle to find professionals interested in relocating to Roseburg.
Will Mauch succeed in selling a new generation of business owners on his vision for Roseburg: a combination of small town charm and big money potential? “Most of us become entrepreneurs because of the freedom, the flexibility,” says Mauch, who has three children under the age of eight.
“But you can make millions in businesses just like this, anywhere you want to live, in Roseburg, in Grants Pass.”
A version of this article appears in the May 2018 issue of Oregon Business. To subscribe, click here.