Michigan native Conor McCluskey, without any formal training, kickstarted a tech firm in 2006 that is among the Springs’ fastest-growing startups. In 2006, McCluskey started a video-email marketing service called BombBomb, which now serves 10,000 paid users and recently moved into the seventh floor of the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Colorado Springs. McCluskey, 37, serves as the company’s CEO. He spoke to the Business Journal this week about BombBomb’s beginnings, its growth and what he hopes will be a “banner year” for the business in 2015.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I grew up in Michigan and dropped out of Lansing Community College the summer of 1998, which is when I moved to Colorado Springs. Not too long after that I started a business in the multi-family housing industry and grew that in the early 2000s. We went for broke in 2003 and went broke, so then I went into local media sales. After that I started BombBomb and bought a cherry orchard in Oregon within the same month, November 2006. Now the orchard is a vineyard where I produce Proper Wines … It’s all direct-to-consumer and we have it at The Famous, MacKenzie’s, Blue Star, places like that.
How did you end up in Colorado Springs?
I was on a mountain-biking road trip and broke my headset by driving it through the overhang at the hotel we were staying at, and I didn’t have enough money to fix it. So I was drinking beer at a kitchen table in Fort Collins when the guy across from me said, “Oh, you’re from Jackson, Michigan? I’m from Jackson, Michigan, too. I live in Colorado Springs. Why don’t you come down tomorrow and I’ll pay you $100 to work with me all day.” So we ended up painting the atrium of the Antlers Hotel together. … That’s how I got to know Darin [Dawson]. He said, “Man, you’re a hard worker. You should move out here. I got a job for you and a place for you to stay.” So I sent home for my stuff, dropped out of college and moved to Colorado Springs.
How did that business relationship evolve into what it is now?
After I moved here we started a company that spring, doing everything from remodeling to painting. We built that up to about a $2 million business in three years and had about 60 employees. … In mid-2002 we just ended up getting taken out. I was 23 and we just didn’t know what we were doing, but Darin and I both learned a lot. We went separate ways after shutting down. That’s when I got into local media, and so did Darin in a different way, but we always stayed friends. Then, when all of this came about, I was trying to get his company to build BombBomb for me and they wouldn’t, so finally I just decided to build it myself.
In your own words, can you explain BombBomb and your role in the company?
BombBomb makes it easy to build relationships using videos through email, text and social networking. I’m CEO, so I run the culture, growing the business and strategic planning.
Tell me about starting the company.
I had lost interest in sales and wasn’t doing something I was passionate about. … BombBomb came about because I had built up my clientele base to about 150 local, regional and national clients and couldn’t stay in front of them. So I started thinking, “How can I send Conor to them,” and I went looking for software that could do what BombBomb does, which is build relationships using video. I found there wasn’t anything out there, so I built my own prototype and the day I sent my first video I had like 70 people call me. That’s when I knew I had something.
How has BombBomb grown since then?
We started out with $9,000 in sales and have doubled our sales every year for the past three years. We’ve increased our headcount every year since then and have about 10,000 paying users on our product in 36 countries and in all 50 states. We just did a big partnership in the UK. We mostly work in the residential real estate business — that’s our main focus.
What do you expect 2015 to bring for BombBomb?
Our plan is to double our business again this year, and to bring on some real top talent that we’ve been recruiting for the past couple years to build out the team. We think we’re going to have a real banner year — we’re hoping to make a big dent.
We’re really committed to Colorado Springs. We have a lot of families that live here, including my own, and we have employees in both Denver and Cañon City right now. We have a little office in Denver, but our main headquarters is going to be here. We see it as a competitive advantage to be here. We might not be able to do all our growing here, but build the coolest place to work in Colorado Springs and you’ll get the top talent.
Having built your business here, how would you characterize the market for young professionals?
I think it has gotten a lot better since 2006, when I started up. … It’s what you make of what you’ve got that really matters, and I think there are plenty of opportunities here.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I hang out with my wife and three kids under the age of 3.