Beginning as a startup company, Indow has now seen 10 years of growth and development. CEO Sam Pardue had the opportunity to share what the Indow journey has been like with Startup Seattle podcast host Christian Gopalan. In this podcast transcript, learn about how Pardue started Indow, the challenges that came with it, and his outlook on its future.

 
Sam Pardue with the Indow insert
 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Christian Gopalan:

Hello, Seattle and Pacific Northwest. Welcome to the second episode of Startup Seattle. In Startup Seattle, we feature leading members of the Pacific Northwest startup ecosystem. We seek to have engaging conversations with founders, investors, and other key players in this community. Hope you find us interesting and keep coming back to support us. On deck today is Sam Pardue, founder and CEO of Indow Windows based in Portland, Oregon. I’ve known Sam for over five years now. Sam, welcome to the show.

Sam Pardue:

Thank you. It’s great to be here and I hope I can share a little bit about the journey we’ve had at Indow with your audience.

Gopalan:

Let’s begin with that. Tell us about yourself. What motivated you to start Indow Windows? Tell us about your company and the promises you’re making to your customers.

Pardue:

Sure thing. I moved out to Portland about 22 years ago to work for Intel after getting my MBA at Carnegie Mellon. I realized, after a few years, that Intel was not helping me learn the lessons I wanted to learn. I needed immediate feedback from the world, so I set out and became an entrepreneur. My first venture was a special effects camera lens manufacturing company called Lensbaby, which I co-founded back in 2004. Lensbaby is still going strong today, which is awesome, though I’m no longer involved in it. I started Indow 10 years ago, which is kind of amazing. I’m having trouble with that 10-year anniversary.

Gopalan:

So what motivated you to go out and do something in the windows space? Did you have a problem that you were trying to solve?

Pardue:

At the time I was living in a 1906 Portland craftsman house that had nice windows, but they were over 100 years old. As an environmentally minded person, I thought I should replace them, because that’s the energy efficient thing to do, but then I had second thoughts about replacing them, they’re quite beautiful. They are over 100 years old, which doesn’t mean that they aren’t good. It means that they’ve lasted 100 years. They were in great shape. I learned that they were made from old growth timber and they had this beautiful rippling glass and craftsmanship. I realized that no matter how expensive a replacement window I got, I was going to lose a lot of the charm of the house. I decided to come up with something else.

I didn’t like the idea of external storm windows, I didn’t want to put those on my house. The Indow window insert was really a solution to a problem in my own home, but the fundamental motivation for me to step down as the CEO of an amazing company that I had founded that was really still in its growth path, was my panic about climate change. I remain equally panicked today, if not more so than I did when I started the company 10 years ago.

Gopalan:

Have you always been a tinker? Is that what motivated you to discover something in this space?

Pardue:

I didn’t really think of myself as an inventor. I’ve been creative with my hands and creative with my mind, but Mark was the tinker guy. The way we work together was kind of an early learning about collaboration, but we both brought different skills to the project. We were working on improving a magnetic system that was using the same kind of gasket that you have on the inside of your refrigerator door. My initial prototype, the one that I made all on my end was magnetic and it worked well, but it was ugly, and it had some terrible design flaws.

Mark was working on a different project at my house. He’s also a builder and he kept on insisting that I should hire him to fix my prototype and make it look better. We were trying to work with the magnetic stripping, but my insight was to get rid of the magnet and make the entire extrusion into a spring and use the spring force to hold the panel in place. So, I drew this up and I sent the drawing off to Mark. About a month later, he completed a prototype. He took my idea and he made it real. Then we prototyped the products and put them in my living room and one step led to the next.

Gopalan:

So let’s switch to a little bit about the current situation here. We are at the end of 2020, a few days from turning our backs to this horrible year in terms of health. How are you and the company handling 2020, did anything prepare you for this challenging time? And what are some of the tough decisions that you’ve had to take? Has COVID fundamentally changed your business?

Pardue:

It’s been super challenging. What has helped us navigate 2020 is a business culture that is intensely focused on continuous learning and growth and a lot of trust in the team. Those are qualities that every entrepreneur should cultivate because they allow you to adapt to whatever crisis comes your way. COVID-19 has been an earthquake that has affected literally every single organization on planet earth. I am incredibly proud of how well the entire team has responded to COVID-19. We’re a factory, so unlike a lot of software companies, we couldn’t just work from home and problem solved. We immediately had to start figuring out how we could work at home safely. I realized that I needed to come up with a plan for our company Monday morning on March 2nd. I was presenting the Indow COVID-19 response plan and it was pretty comprehensive. We then spun up a new initiative, cleanpractice.org, where we started sharing template versions of our COVID-19 response plan. 500 organizations have used the templates available from cleanpractice.org to create their own COVID-19 response plans.

Recently, OEN gave us their GIVE Award, their entrepreneur of the year award for being community minded in our response because we were trying to share what we had learned. What was really interesting was the practicality of incorporating lean manufacturing techniques. When we came up with our own COVID-19 response, we drew upon the skills we already had because there was no guidance at the time. We basically redeployed lean, but instead of using lean to identify and address inefficiencies and quality issues, we used lean techniques to identify and address COVID-19 transmission vectors in the workplace.

As a business, we then looked at the environment, we cut our costs really sharply because we saw our leads drop. We were really worried about the consumer side of the equation. Then we were suddenly worried about our supply chain because we use acrylic and acrylic is now being used in stores and elsewhere for protection. Our lead times on the acrylic we use went from two days to nine months. It was looking very scary, but fortunately the consumer demand came back. Our product is marvelous for window soundproofing and all these people video conferencing from home are dealing with noisy outside environments. We’ve actually seen a lift in our organic traffic and lead captures.

 
Indow headquarters
 

Gopalan:

Excellent. So let’s talk about your philosophy around managing startups. How do you optimize a collection and analysis of data? Do you plot the growth on intuition and gut feeling versus how much you depend on data?

Pardue:

I’m a big believer in the idea that you really can’t manage something unless you can measure it. When we started out Indow, we kind of plotted out our value chain, everything we put in the consumer journey. We’ve always been very thoughtful about trying to understand where in this value chain we can invest our time or money to get the biggest return on investment. But you can’t really have an understanding of that unless you’ve got some sort of data being collected to inform that ROI analysis that you make of what you do next. It’s been pretty challenging to master our value chain, honestly, because there’s so many different moving parts and because it is a mass custom manufacturing business. We’ve gotten fairly well metrics now where every week we have our value chain equation report. We can look at that and know how we’re doing, and we’ve gotten a pretty good sense of the leading characters in our business and how they flow through into manufacturing.

Gopalan:

While doing research on you, I found a number of fascinating things like supporting refugees. What can you tell us about those interests and how it fits in with your company culture and ethos?

Pardue:

That was actually another initiative, much like clean practice. We Hire Refugees was an effort to organize the business community to voice support for refugees. It came out of our personal risk visceral experience with refugees as our colleagues at work. A couple of hundred businesses and a bunch of nonprofit organizations, including most of the national nonprofits in the refugee space signed this pledge. It really came out of this passion for the people we work with. It also came out of my alarm about climate change.

Gopalan:

And the final question. Indow Windows is now a 10 year old company. You have grown the business quite steadily. So what gets you excited now? What superpower do you have now that you didn’t have 10 years ago?

Pardue:

We need to make it easier for people to buy our product. This includes the cost of the product, as well as the transaction costs of the product. An old boss once told me it’s not so important to know the answer to everything, it’s much more important to be able to ask the right questions. I think we’re asking the right questions at Indow, and we’ve identified a path that’s going to allow us to hit a highly scalable period of growth, which is going to lead to a great exit for the company after 10 years. That really gets me excited because we’ve had some very, very patient investors and we really appreciate their support.

Gopalan:

Excellent. On those inspiring thoughts and declaration. I want to thank you, Sam, for coming on to my podcast and sharing your ideas on various topics. And I hope many of the founders and investors who are tuned into this podcast got a few nuggets of wisdom from Sam. I hope to talk to you more in the coming year, Sam, thank you so much.

Pardue:

Well, my pleasure it was great talking to you today and thank you so much and have a great 2021.

Gopalan:

All right. Thank you. Thank you very much for tuning in. You can send us feedback at start-up [email protected] It is [email protected] See you next time.