The Entrepreneurial Life (So Far) of Paul Chambers
Paul Chambers started his first business selling candy inside his classroom's coat room in the fifth grade. He was sent to the principal's office for the enterprising venture, but wasn't deterred. In junior high, Chambers became an entrepreneurial publisher in middle school with the creation of a newsletter designed around the PC industry.
"I just wanted to have a business," says Chambers. Web development and technology have been life-long interests, "but business is my passion."
The passion has paid off. At 29, Chambers has earned the hallowed descriptor of serial entrepreneur. Chambers is the co-founder and CEO of Core3 Solutions
, a Bingham Farms-based web development and information technology services firm fast on the grow. That company got its start in 1997, when Chambers' and Core3 COO Ryan Deyer were still students at Troy High School.
Chambers is also owner of two Dale & Thomas Popcorn
franchises -- one in Royal Oak and another at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, representing two of the three retail locations of the Englewood, NJ-based company.
At first glance, IT and gourmet popcorn may have as much to do with each other as skiing and tax preparation, but for Chambers the connection is building on business models that excite him. He spends full work-weeks on both ventures, clocking more than 80 hours a week on average, he says. "It doesn't always feel like work because I love it so much," Chambers says. "It's fun."
In both cases, he says, he found intriguing business models that he thought he could leverage with excellent customer service. Dale & Thomas (the Thomas comes from early investor and legendary former Detroit Piston Isiah Thomas
) offers high-end popcorn with flavors like peanut butter and white chocolate drizzle and cinnamon creme, wrapped for gift-giving or upscale snacking.
The company, founded in Popcorn, Ind.
(no, really), "was trying to become the Starbucks of the gourmet popcorn world," Chambers says. "They were really taking the marketplace by storm. I saw opportunity in terms of gift-giving, wholesale and Internet sales."
Chambers got interested in starting a web development business after his grandfather handed him a story about young people starting Internet companies. Just 15 at the time, Chambers researched financial models, equipment and the market niche he should occupy. His passion won him a $10,000 investment from his grandfather. The company he started promptly failed, he recalls. "I fell flat on my face; I bought the wrong equipment. I didn't know how to advertise."
But the equipment bought from the initial investment came in handy when Chambers met Deyer. The two were intrigued about creating an enterprise that would provide small- and medium-sized businesses with a sophisticated web presence and better customer service than their larger competitors were giving at the time. The two set about creating the foundation for Core3, slowly building business through word-of-mouth. It wasn't long before a steady stream of customers came knocking at their door.
"We were both passionate about it and saw the potential," he says. "We were a young business with very little overhead and could build quality web pages for people...We were the right people at the right time."
Chambers draws more than a little inspiration from his family. His father, a hair-transplant surgeon, patented his technique and ran 16 offices nationwide. His grandfather was a savvy salesman, who gave important lessons on leveraging quality products to drive revenue growth; and his stepfather, who sold calibration tools to the auto industry, provided him with the pearls of management wisdom he uses to this day, he says.
The entrepreneur seems to have chosen his ventures well. Core3 has grown from a three-person web development shop five years ago to a turnkey "one-stop-shop" for customers' web and IT needs. The company has 20 employees and a healthy customer list, including several that are overseas.
And while most companies felt the pullback of recessionary times in Michigan, Core3 kept growing because of a spate of downsized employees-turned-entrepreneurs. "I see them coming to our door, saying 'We have this business, but we need an online presence," Chambers says. "It's a lot of fun to talk with new business owners and entrepreneurs and see their ideas. We truly believe in this region and where it's heading."
Core 3 has grown an average of 20 percent year-over-year during the past two or three years, during the height of the recession. Chambers expects revenue to hit $1.5 million this year, just ahead of new service offerings the company expects to roll out in January.
He declines to give details on what Core3 plans to unveil, saying only that "it's a lot of fun to see where we're going. We're lucky to have such talented individuals that have stuck with us through thick and thin."
If market soothsayers are any indication, Core3 could have a good year, indeed. A recent forecast from Framingham, Mass.-based IDC
says that overall IT spending is building momentum, projecting a worldwide increase of 6 percent, to $1.51 trillion, compared to last year.
More gourmet popcorn is likely to fly off the shelves, as well. After opening his flagship Dale & Thomas store in Royal Oak in January 2007, Chambers opened the Novi store less than two years later, in November 2008. As an industry niche, salty snacks (which includes popcorn) grew nearly 8 percent last year compared to 2008, according to the National Confectioners Association
(NCA). It seems that when recessionary times hit, people eat -- or send decadent snacks for other people to eat.
Treats like gourmet popcorn are "affordable luxuries," says NCA President Larry Graham in a news release. That all means that Chambers (a new father of twins), isn't likely to become less busy anytime soon. Although, some lessons the young entrepreneur has learned along the way may likely come in handy in the days to come.
"Sometimes as a young entrepreneur, you get the feeling that you can conquer the world on your own," Chambers says. "My stepfather taught me to surround myself with people who are smarter than you. I've been lucky that I've been able to do that."
Michelle Martinez is a freelance writer and
and editor who
Metro Detroit businesses and issues for five years. She is also a regular contributor to Metromode. Her previous story was Danotek Knows Which Way The Wind BlowsAll photos by Doug Coombe
Paul Chambers at the Core3 offices in downtown Birmngham