From Heptathlete to Programmer then CEO & Founder of Jimmy Beans Wool: Laura Zander Entrepreneurship / Stories / TEDx

You know there’s something special about a person that graduates with a masters degree and enters a PhD program at the age of 21. Constant never ending improvement and hard work are the strengths on which Laura Zander relied to work full-time in College while running the heptathlon in track and studying pre-med and criminal justice. Laura thrived in the learning environment and all but defended her dissertation in sociology at Penn State before moving to the West Coast.

In 1997, she relocated to California and worked full-time on a project in a software company. She met her future husband three months into the job and at night she learned how to program. Within six months, Laura switched companies and earned $70k as a self-taught programmer. Soon after she took a job in Palo Alto and when the bubble hit in 1998-1999, her salary doubled to $150k a year when she became a Senior Software Engineer at the age of 24.

In 2001, LaIMG_0576ura and her husband Doug moved to Truckee and later moved to Reno in 2009. They are big skiers and wanted to spend more time outdoors in the back country, mountain biking and back packing. Initially Laura worked from home as a software engineer for a San Francisco based company but after the 5th round of layoffs at her company she started her own consulting gig in Truckee.

Being open-minded is an attitude that positioned Laura to accept new business opportunities. She agreed to build websites for an espresso cart manufacturer and another company that dyed yarn by hand. With her recent obsession with knitting, she joined the barter club and traded websites for a great deal on an espresso cart and some yarn.

That was the launch of Jimmy Beans Wool. The initial concept sold yarn and delivered coffee all over downtown Truckee. Within six months, the yarn sales were doing much better than the coffee, so she sold the espresso cart on eBay. There was no competition when it came to the yarn and with the perfect real estate location, lots of sales came from second home owners visiting from the Bay Area.

laura z4Jimmy Beans Wool sold yarn online and in person. For the first year and a half, Laura ran the company on her own and reinvested any profits back into the business. At the two year mark, Jimmy Beans Wool took on its first employees and expanded into a second location near ToysRUs in Reno. For five years the business grew and expanded. Laura didn’t realize that both of her store locations were gold mines with traffic from the companies’ prime customer demographic.

Between 2004-2005, Jimmy Beans Wool hit 1 million in yarn sales. It was that same year in 2005 that online sales exceeded those sold in-person. By 2007, the company measured that they sold enough yarn to circle the globe (i.e., 133 million feet of yarn). They decided to close the Truckee location and focus in-store sales in Reno and online.

Last November 2015, Jimmy Beans Wool sold over 2 billion feet of yarn which as Laura precisely calculated would wrap around the globe 14 times. Today, 98% of their sales are online and they also expanded into a much larger building with 3,500 square feet of space. Although their overall growth has been relatively flat in the single digits the last three years, they are now projecting 12% growth from a year ago.

I asked Laura what makes her businLaura Z1ess excellent and she talked a lot about her people. She says that Jimmy Beans Wool has a self-managing, flat hierarchy. Laura believes that every person is and should be treated equal, so that general philosophy trickles down into her company. The top characteristic that Laura seeks in others is empathy. She focuses on hiring the right people with a fundamental respect for every person with whom they come into contact. She wants her team to understand customer frustrations and truly seek to create solutions that are best for everyone.

Laura’s focus for the future is around strengthening the company infrastructure. She wants to invest more in the 50 people who work at Jimmy Beans Wool and prepare them for the demand that will double some projects in the next three years. With a focus to make everyone operate more like a team, company culture is a big priority. Instead of the mantra ‘Command and Control’, Jimmy Beans Wool uses ‘Trust and Track’ which stems from having a fundamental respect and belief that everyone is created equal.

Laura Zander is the CEO & Founder of Jimmy Beans Wool | Follow Laura on Twitter | Watch her speak at TEDxUniversityofNevada | Read her contributions to Forbes | Inc | New York Times

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PC: Laura Zander

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