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Mario Ciabarra’s latest venture is improving the internet

Mario Ciabarra | Founder & CEO, Quantum Metric | Monument/Colorado Springs/Denver

“Ever since I was a kid, you could have singled me out as the entrepreneur in the group,” says Ciabarra, 42. “My father was an immigrant from Italy, and I think there’s a strong correlation with immigrant children starting startups.”

After working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, he indulged his entrepreneurial inclinations. “Any good entrepreneur — or any good human, any person — is always looking for ways to solve problems they face on any given day,” Ciabarra says. “Some of us wonder why it hasn’t been solved by somebody else, and some of us decide to go take action on our own.”

It follows that Ciabarra launched his first startup, a server-management company called DevStream, after moving to Colorado in 2003. A hectic 11 months later, he sold his one-person company, then traveled the world with his wife for six months and came back to Monument with early retirement in mind.

But it didn’t take. Ciabarra instead followed his passion for iPhone apps with two more successful startups. The experience led him to launch Quantum Metric in 2015. “I had this pain point: I couldn’t understand what customers were doing. I couldn’t understand their frustrations. I couldn’t understand how to make a better product.”

The rest of the internet obviously had the same problem. The company’s platform took off almost immediately with customers ranging from Lululemon to Western Union. Quantum Metric is now experiencing “a hockey stick moment” with more than 300% revenue growth in 2019 and a jump to 170 employees from 50.

The crux of the success is aligning development with customer experience. “What Quantum does is help them create better digital products faster by aligning their teams,” Ciabarra says. “There’s a new methodology brewing because of the work we do with them.”

This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine’s annual Entrepreneur of the Year feature. Read more about this year’s winner, Katica Roy, and the other finalists:

Karen Hertz is taking the gluten out of beer

Karen Hertz | Founder and CEO, Holidaily Brewing Co. | Golden

Karen Hertz launched Holidaily in early 2016 to craft gluten-free beers with millet and buckwheat instead of barley and wheat.

After surviving cancer a decade ago, she removed gluten from her diet as part of her treatment plan. Gluten-free beer “was a need for me,” she says. “I was thinking there had to be other people who wanted to do a bike ride and have a beer but can’t, because they’re gluten-free. So far, I’ve been right.”

Initial annual production of 257 barrels jumped to 2,000 in 2019 as the distribution map increased to span 1,000 outlets and the employee count eclipsed 20.

“There are 8,000 breweries in the U.S., and only 15 are dedicated-gluten free,” says Hertz, 42. “Eight of those are in either Portland or Seattle. What that means is there’s a lot of open space, and we’re trying to get beer out to fill those gaps.”

The strategy is paying off. “We are the biggest one in the country,” she says.

It’s all about filling a market need. “[Beer] is such a big part of social life,” Hertz adds, noting an unexpectedly high “level of emotion” from patrons. “When you’re gluten-free, you feel left out or you feel high-maintenance. When people come in here, they’re in tears, they’re hugging me, they’re hugging the brewer. It’s just a really deep impact for people.”

To meet demand, Holidaily opened a 10,000-square-foot production facility across from its tasting room in Golden last year. And as the brewery moves into other states (starting with Arizona in 2020), the forecast is rosy: Hertz projects 5,000 barrels in 2020. “We’re just getting started,” she says.

This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine’s annual Entrepreneur of the Year feature. Read more about this year’s winner, Katica Roy, and the other finalists:

Entrepreneurs create new path for backcountry skiing education

Jeff Woodward and Erik Lambert | Co-founders of Bluebird Backcountry | Kremmling

Three years ago, Jeff Woodward took his brother backcountry skiing near Crested Butte. “By the end of the day, he was just like, ‘Should I buy these skis instead of normal skis?'” Woodward says. “That got me thinking: There’s no good way to learn how to backcountry ski.”

Woodward and Erik Lambert, who bonded over rock climbing and the outdoors after meeting in college, subsequently devised a model for a ski area without chairlifts. At Bluebird Backcountry, it’s self-propelled uphill travel only, with backcountry ski lessons and rentals.

In 2018, the duo developed a website with an online survey about the idea, and were overwhelmed by “massively positive” responses. Then they tested the concept in 2018-19 with three weekends at Mosquito Pass and Winter Park.

For the 2019-20 ski season, they lined up 1,500 acres on a privately owned mountain near Kremmling, raised more than $100,000 via Kickstarter and sold more than 1,100 tickets for 15 days in February and March.

“Skier visits were generally quite good,” says Woodward, 36. “Guest satisfaction numbers are insanely good. People are really having a great time out there.”

For that reason, the duo hopes to open more Bluebird Backcountry mountains in future years. “We’d like to build a small network, like five of them, not 50 of them,” Woodward says.

“We have proven there is a new path for finding a way for people to access and to get education about backcountry skiing,” says Lambert, 37. “People are ready for that. People are sick of traffic and parking lots and gondola to gondola to gondola. There hasn’t been much new in the ski industry in 30 years.”

This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine’s annual Entrepreneur of the Year feature. Read more about this year’s winner, Katica Roy, and the other finalists: