A home remodeler, a cheese-loving restaurateur, a cupcake baking mompreneur, and a story-telling husband and wife duo took the stage at the Bellevue Club Thursday night to share stories about how they started successful businesses — some during the tumultuous 2008 recession.

Startup Stories

Startup Stories speakers answered questions from the audience. Photo courtesy Natalie Deford.

“It’s great to read (these stories), it’s also even better to see it live,” said Josh Dunn, president of Premier Media Group during the event. “To hear their story, to see their tears, to see their smiles, that is the intent of 425 Business live events.”

Startup Stories, the latest event in the 425 Business event series, featured a dynamic lineup of Eastsiders. Speakers included Jamie Hsu of Lakeville Homes, Lucas and Lauren Mack of 4th Avenue Media, Margo Engberg of Pinkabella Cupcakes, and Kurt Dammeier of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.

Hsu is the second generation in her family to lead the Bellevue-based, award-winning residential construction company as its president. Lakeville Homes was first started by Hsu’s mother in 1985 when women in construction was an anomaly.

After obtaining a degree in architecture from Washington State University, Hsu found herself working in commercial architecture, which she found to be “soul sucking.” Yearning to captain a ship she could steer, Hsu came on board at Lakeville Homes in 2006 and soon after began leading from the helm. She completely shifted the company’s focus from building spec homes to delivering personalized remodeling services.

“Do it scared,” Hsu said of embarking on the road to entrepreneurialism. “Being afraid of the task immediately in front of you suggests personal growth. This is a good thing, embrace it and go for it.”

Entrepreneurial duo Lucas and Lauren Mack initially met at the University of Washington communication department, but it wasn’t until they were both working in the broadcast field at KOMO-TV that they really got to know one another. Today the couple is running their own media company with three young children at home.

Startup Stories attendees left the event with swag bags.

Startup Stories attendees left the event with swag bags.

The purpose of 4th Avenue Media is to help companies define their own stories and share them with an audience. What started with Lucas shooting, editing, and delivering video stories has turned into a successful local startup because the duo realized that recurring revenue was far more important than one off projects.

Lucas’ advice to the audience was for them to ask themselves, “what would you crawl, bloody-knuckled through a field of glass to accomplish?” That level of dogged determination is exactly what is needed in the leader of a startup.

Engberg shared the deeply personal and emotional story surrounding the adoption of her four children before delving into the story of her second foray into entrepreneurship (after 20 years of running a successful house cleaning business).

As her newly adopted children began school, she realized that some children — even in her affluent Kirkland neighborhood — were unable to bring treats in to school for their birthdays. Shocked, Engberg appointed herself the “cupcake mom” and began donating birthday cupcakes to kids who otherwise couldn’t bring treats for their special day.

Today Engberg’s cupcake-baking prowess has taken on a life of its own with a chain of Pinkabella stores, franchises, catering for large companies, and more than 500,000 cupcakes donated to local charities, the latter of which is most important to her.

“I have no idea if I’m profitable,” Engberg said of her bottom line. “We don’t measure our success in a ‘P’ or an ‘I’.” Rather, Engberg said her success is measured in what she is able to give back.

Dammeier knows what it feels like to have a business idea rejected. The cheese-loving restaurateur shopped his handmade cheese idea to friends, family, investors, and other cheese makers without much support. It wasn’t until an evening shopping trip to Pike Place Market — when Dammeier saw his future flagship store for lease — that he decided to go for it anyhow.

Sweets from Pinkabella delighted guests during intermission.

Sweets from Pinkabella delighted guests during intermission.

Dammeier shared several laugh-inducing anecdotes about getting Beecher’s Handmade Cheese off the ground before leaving the audience with his top seven brand tenets, one of which included being remarkable.

“You’ve heard the saying ‘if a dog bites a man, it’s not news, but if a man bites a dog, that’s news,’” he paraphrased. “We try to be the man biting the dog. It’s something that is worth remarking to someone else.”

What followed was a lengthy question and answer session between the audience and the speakers. Topics ranged from finding the first hires for a startup, to how to make the perfect grilled cheese (aimed at Dammeier).

The holiday season is a busy time of year filled with family, friends and celebration. With that in mind, 425 Business will be back in full swing starting in 2017. Be the first to know about exciting new events by subscribing to our newsletter at 425 Business.

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