Bio: Curt Richardson, OtterBox Founder & Chairman
For OtterBox founder and chairman, Curt Richardson, entrepreneurial drive has always been a way of life. Inspired by his father who is a minister and worked side jobs such as carpentry, boat building and landscaping to provide for the family, Richardson quickly learned if you wanted something you had to earn it.
At a young age, Richardson always looked for creative business opportunities. In 5th grade, he organized neighborhood yard sales. In addition to selling his own things, he sold unwanted items from neighborhood kids and collected a percentage of the proceeds, something his brother refers to as the “first eBay®.” Richardson also made extra money by charging admission at a shooting gallery he set up in his garage.
In 7th grade, he started Curt’s Lawn Service in downtown Denver, Colo. Since he wasn’t old enough to drive, Richardson had to get creative on how to transport his equipment from job to job. He constructed a carrier system on a bike, similar to a side-car that helped him haul the mower and other equipment. From marketing the business, Richardson soon had more customers than he could keep up with so he hired another kid to help out. Business thrived so much that Richardson was even contacted by the IRS!
“My parents were amazing, they loved me and always encouraged me to reach my goals,” Richardson said. “They saw entrepreneurial traits in me at a young age and after taking my first machine shop class in high school, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Richardson soon found himself in Fort Collins, Colo. on scholarship at the Earl C. Martin Academy of Industrial Science, but it wasn’t quite what he was looking for so at age 18, he started an apprenticeship at a local molding company. By 21, he had bought Genie Plastic Tooling and in 1981 he started Richardson Tool and Mold. Other ventures sprung up including Richardson Finch Manufacturing and Richardson International, where he imported molds from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Poland for Mattel®, Display Technology and other US companies. When the international excursion ended, Richardson went back to the basics…his garage. Associated Tooling Concepts was created and soon Richardson was approached by the Wilkerson Corporation to form Associated Molding. Compiling all this industry experience, Richardson created the first prototype of a waterproof case in his garage in the early 90’s and in 1998, OtterBox was born.
“Credit for the name ‘OtterBox’ goes to my partner of 27 years, my wife, Nancy,” Richardson said. “Nancy has always been my sounding board and she has more intuition than anyone I know. I should have listened to her more through the years; it would have saved me a lot of pain and agony.”
“They saw entrepreneurial traits in me at a young age and after taking my first machine shop class in high school, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
For Richardson, family has always been an important part of the OtterBox story. Without the support of Nancy and their sons, Josh and Jonathan (J.C.), the company would not exist today.
“After the OtterBox box line took off, we heard customers wanted to interact with their device through the case so we created a custom PDA line. The case incorporated an interactive screen membrane so users could access controls,” Richardson said. “Listening to our customers has been instrumental to our success and over the years we’ve evolved to the handheld cases we make today.”
In 1999, Richardson became involved with E-Myth. Entrepreneurial Myth refers to the idea that most businesses fail because the founders are “technicians” and are not managers or entrepreneurs, rather they are just inspired to start a business without knowledge of how successful businesses run.
“One of my greatest mentors is Donna Uzelac who has coached me in the ways of E-Myth for years,” explains Richardson. “There have been times where I’ve struggled as a business person because I was the one doing things. I was a technician, working in the business rather than on the business. I not only was a great firefighter, I was an even a better arsonist. By developing an understanding of E-Myth, OtterBox turned to the idea that systems run the company and people run the systems.”
Another role model for Richardson is Tom Paterson, founder of the Paterson Process™. After being introduced to Paterson as well as the processes, systems and strategic planning, Richardson began to use it in conjunction with E-Myth principles.
“I’m always looking for ways to create and build my business. Most other processes are somewhat shallow. They talk about the trophy at end of race, but nobody talks about training for the race,” Richardson said. “Just having an ‘entrepreneurial flare up’ doesn’t mean you know how to run a business. It’s about creating a culture where people want to work for your company, they believe in what they are doing and customers want to be a part of that too.”
“My role over the years has certainly changed from producing molds in my garage to heading a growing company. OtterBox is succeeding on all fronts and it’s amazing to see our culture thrive. The biggest reward by far however is watching employees grow to fulfill their dreams.”
It’s hard to say exactly where OtterBox will be in years to come, but with Richardson’s desire to continually evolve into new markets, the sky is the limit. With the latest exploration in handheld technology, OtterBox has an incredible opportunity to serve a massive population—that is, anyone who owns a cell phone and wants to protect it. With millions owning such devices worldwide, OtterBox hasn’t even scratched the surface.