Way Beyond A Bar
Making An Impact With Start-Up
Sipping on our morning coffee in a local Denver Coffee shop, my brother Kevin and I were waiting to meet with the Public Lands Business Organizer for Conservation Colorado. We had just signed onto a new conservation-minded business coalition called the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance (COBA), and we really had no idea what to expect. It was the Summer of 2016 and Fourpoints Bar had only been in the business of handcrafting and selling real food energy/protein bars for a year and a half. Still a part time start-up, we wondered how we could possibly make a difference; we had no clout; no money to give, and although we grew up in the mountains and shared a passion to protect the outdoors, we were unsure we truly had what it takes to offer a loud enough voice for a mission as important as public lands protection. Fourpoints would have to prove it, just like we would have to prove we could offer the world a better energy bar...and both at the same time.
Some had told us along the way, though admirable, undertaking a conservation mission while trying to bootstrap a product to market would be a distraction, or could even alienate consumers that don’t agree with our point of view. I mean, anyone who has made the decision to start a business knows just how hard it is to build that by itself, let alone pursuing a social or environmental mission before you’ve even proven your concept. We couldn’t hold back though, after all, the reason we had created our bars was to fuel our adventures on the very public lands we saw under attack.
Over the next couple years, despite those cautionary words, we listened, learned, and jumped in to help where we could - mostly event participation, dropping information on people and in our outgoing orders, product donation, TV interviews, and signing onto letters sent to elected officials urging protections. We didn’t have much to give, but protecting & preserving our public lands was too important, we were going to find a way to show that we could make a difference, even as a broke start-up.
The night before exhibiting at our first Outdoor Retail Show in the winter of 2018, I was helping out at a book release event by legendary Colorado photographer and conservationist, John Fielder. After the event I told John how we were four guys with full-time jobs trying to run a bootstrapped energy bar company, and that we were told by numerous advisors that we can’t be for-profit and non-profit at the same time, especially in the early stages. I also told him about our dream of one day being the “Patagonia® of energy bars” and asked how he balanced his conservation mission with his business. He said not to over commit to one at the expense of losing sight of the other, but to do what you can, when you can and “one will lift the other.” Those words gave us the confidence to continue on our dual purpose path; we would follow our hearts into the outdoor industry with a focus on both protecting and fueling outdoor recreation; Fourpoints Bar would not prioritize profit over principle, but aim to balance the two.
The Outdoor Retailer Show had moved from Salt Lake City to Denver in 2018 over public lands issues and we were going to exhibit! We always saw ourselves as more than a natural food item or a first of its kind, prune-based energy/protein bar, rather an outdoor recreational product that happened to be made from healthy real food. This was going to be the show to introduce our bar to the outdoor world, in addition, we were going to host a COBA happy hour focusing on public lands protection and conservation initiatives. We had no idea what we were doing, but we brought our knack for having fun and followed the lead of other conservation minded businesses & non-profit organizations. People came, we emptied the keg, and got a visit from public lands champion, and United States Senator from our home state of Colorado, Michael Bennet! I’d call that a success, and it would propel us into other OR Show happy hour events with a priority on pushing for passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act (CORE) (Learn more about the CORE Act). The CORE Act would provide protection for 400,000 acres of amazing public lands, including designating Camp Hale, the former training ground for the 10th Mountain Division’s ski soldiers that fought in WWII, as the nation's first National Historic Landscape.
At the 2019 Winter OR Show - We doubled the beer, brought in a great DJ and AV setup from our friend DJ Tony at Soundmaster Entertainment, and in conjunction with Conservation Colorado, the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, and John Fielder, we put on a slideshow/party that showcased why these special Colorado places should be preserved for generations to come.
The 2019 Summer OR Show - Looking to move the needle on the CORE Act with an even nuttier event, Conservation Colorado, DJ Tony, and Fourpoints Bar hosted “COREoke” for the CORE Act, in which we sang songs of love and public lands to our cardboard cutout of Senator Cory Gardner, urging him to support the legislation. Like most karaoke, it’s either loved or hated, so to those we drove out of the building, just remember it was for a great cause. (Clip here)
2019 would also be the year Fourpoints would take a seat on the steering committee for COBA and would wade into the legislative game. We joined other COBA businesses in lobbying the Colorado General Assembly to prioritize clean air, clean water, and stricter mining cleanup rules. Our friends at the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC), lead by executive director, Teresa Martinez (who by the way is one of the most inspiring and fun individuals we have met in our business and conservation adventures), invited my brother and I to Washington DC to lobby for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF is the main tool that could be used to complete the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) (Read our blog here), and it has never been fully funded (Read our Op-Ed here). We had never been to our Nation's Capital, and despite our small stature in the business world, we got a chance to play a role in the political process and let our representatives know how vital outdoor economic drivers, like the CDT, are to small businesses like ours.
A business that makes no money can also be considered a poor business, but a money poor business can still be rich with purpose. Stu Swineford, founder of Relish Studio and fellow COBA steering committee member, who had already been instrumental in showing us Fourpoints guys how we could deepen our impact, introduced us to the CEO of 1% For the Planet, Kate Williams. We had heard of 1%FTP, but were unsure what it meant to be a business member. Co-founded by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia®, and Craig Mathews, founder of Blue Ribbon Flies®, it was a movement that began with a pact to give 1% of their sales to environmental causes, regardless if they were profitable or not.
Hell, we were already doing that and we definitely weren’t profitable, so we said why not and signed up.
Now giving back 1% of sales is great, but when you do the math, if you don’t have a ton of sales, it seems like such an insignificant amount, so we looked for other ways to contribute. From adopting and performing trail maintenance on 12 miles of Continental Divide Trail through the CDTC, to selling 4packs of bars that would raise $2,500 to help fund American Alpine Club research grants, we proved we weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty, or to go big!
Continuing that thinking in true Fourpoints style, we wondered, how could we take this a step further and really highlight and help our 1% partners. I blurted to my partners, “we could place their logos on the front of the wrapper! So our fans can SEE who they are supporting, and TRULY get to know the great organizations who are working so hard to protect our public lands; educate on climate impacts, and promote responsible outdoor recreation.” Of course designer opinions were that these types of partnerships belong on the back of a package; that the front of the package is for who and what you are...So we put it on the front. (See Press Release)
Fourpoints isn’t limiting its charitable donations to just the outdoors. The new Tactical line will see 1% of its sales go Troopster®, sending care packages to our nation’s heroes around the globe.
The point of recapping our five year journey to establish Fourpoints Bar as a brand and a product with a purpose, is that a business, no matter how small, can make a difference in an industry, for a cause, and for the planet. And although we hope to change this, we’ve done it without making so much as a penny.
So if you believe that the world is a better place with Fourpoints Bar; you like clean & healthy energy bars from only real foods; pick up a bar, get outside and join us, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, American Alpine Club, Access Fund, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and 1% For the Planet, in making a lasting impact.