David Orr – Co-Founder of Tahoe Mountain Lab

ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES and have a good understanding of what you don’t know.

Over David’s career, he has worked in sales for various technology companies. In 2012, David invested in and joined an early stage start-up,Torbit. The company was later acquired by Walmart Labs.

Upon arriving in South Lake Tahoe, David has made it his mission to help foster the business community in South Lake Tahoe. To do this he helped cofound the Tahoe Mountain Lab, South Lake Tahoe’s first tech coworking space. He is also Principal, in the Press Project, LLC a commercial real estate company focusing on redeveloping and repurposing distressed properties. In addition to his business involvement, he is the Co-Chair of the South Lake Tahoe Economic Development Task Force, a task force whose goal is to bring over a billion dollars in capital investment to the South Shore of Lake Tahoe.

David has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Davis. He enjoys the great outdoors and enjoys sharing the world with his daughter Annika and his wife, Jamie.

Where did the idea for the Mountain Lab come from?

I worked very briefly for a coworking space just off Sandhill road in Palo Alto. I loved the concept of shared space. It made my work day interesting, and the offices were beautiful. Since I started working for early stage startups in the valley, nice office space wasn’t something I had experienced.

What does your typical day look like?

Mornings are pretty crazy. I’m not fully functional until I’ve had my coffee. I I get into the lab between 8 am and 9 am. The first thing I do is check on our members and making sure everyone’s up and running. Then I put on a pot of coffee and start answering a slew of emails. Generally, if I’m not answering emails I’m working on customer acquisition, or diving into the numbers to see where my focus needs to be in terms of my outbound efforts. Most days I’m able to escape into the outdoors for an hour or two. I’m both an avid snowboarder and mountain biker and being so close to world class trails and Heavenly Ski Resort makes it easy to grab an hour of two of recreation. I absolutely love that about living in Tahoe. After getting cleaned up, (we have a shower in the Lab), I get right back to work. At around 5 pm I head out to pick up my daughter and head home for family time.

How did you bring the idea to life?

Pizza and Beer! Everyone’s a sucker for free beer and food. Early on when we were still in the thinking and dreaming stage we set up a meetup group and started hosting meetings to talk about coworking. We used every group (Tahoe Regional Young Professionals, South Shore Chamber of Commerce, Craft Beer Meetup Group, etc) in town to get the word out that we were thinking about opening a coworking space. Never underestimate the power of free food and drink. It does wonder for bringing everyone together. Once we had enough people who were willing to commit to renting a space from us we pulled the trigger on our first location (2500 sqft). It became clear after running that space for 6 months, that we needed a larger location. 2 years later we are in an 11 thousand square foot building with a couple of million invested.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m really excited about the increase in remote workers. Naturally it’s a trend that my business depends on for its success. I love the idea that people can choose to live where they want without having to sacrifice their business life.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Exercise or what I like to call “active meditation” is number one on my list. Nothing clears my head better than being on my bike or snowboard. This time allows my mind rest. When I work, I’m more focused and efficient after I’ve spent some time outdoors.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I have a track record of being very successful in sales. I fell into a comfortable routine at a job where every quarter I was killing my numbers without having to try hard. I was being paid well, so I stuck around. What I hadn’t learned yet is that having an easy job wasn’t helping me grow. I spent 5 years working for that company and only left when the company failed (it was on the brink of an acquisition that fell apart in negotiations). I learned that sometimes it’s better to struggle and fail than to be comfortable and bored.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Nothing. It’s been serendipitous. My path in life is guided by both my success and my failures. I’m where I am today in part because of both.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

ADMIT YOUR MISTAKES and have a good understanding of what you don’t know. (check your ego at the door). I’ve watched great companies get burnt to the ground by people who were bad at listening.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Form strategic partnerships;from your founders to other businesses and nonprofits. I’ve been able to market and grow Mountain Lab by partnering with others.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Failure to communicate. I think this happens to all of us, but it can be the death knell of a start up. You have to communicate with your clients and your partners. Make time every day to touch base.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Access control for commercial applications. There is a TON of room in that market to undercut the competition. There are some companies out there who are already working on this, but I think there is an opportunity to provide a solution at half the cost. I know, because we built our own at the Mountain Lab.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I really like vacuuming. It’s a weird OCD thing, but nothing makes me happier than a clean floor.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

WordPress, Yesware, Insightly, Survey Monkey, MailChimp, Gmail, Boomerang, Microsoft Office, Pages

I love Yesware and Boomerang. The other’s not so much. I like being able to keep track of client interactions, and stay on top of my email.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This book is a great read, especially if you are a nerd like me who loves reading fantasy.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

When I bought my second home in Tahoe, we moved in next door to a young family who was already living the life that I wanted to live. The very first day we were in the house, they popped their heads over the fence and invited us over for wine. I remember looking at my wife with a concerned look, thinking, “What do they want?” Little did I realize people up here are truly friendly. Alexis Robin (the wife) is a professional business coach who travels the world working with executives of fortune 500 companies. Over the years of knowing her, she’s given me free coaching in the form of friendship and dinner. Ultimately it was her and her husband Arnaud Robin whom I have to thank for encouraging me to follow my dreams.