Jeff D. Jenson is founder and director of Utopian, a short-term vacation rental management company headquartered in Park City, UT with operations in Aspen and Breckenridge, CO, Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, CA, Austin, TX, Wine Country, CA, Lake Tahoe, and Hawaii. In addition to Utopian, Mr. Jenson has been a financial consultant to emerging and public corporations for over twenty-five years. He is a seasoned entrepreneur and has started many companies including Solar Nation, Inc. and as a partner in Karts & Kisks Management, which operated specialty retail outlets in shopping malls throughout the U.S., selling Proactiv skin care products, and which ownership interest was subsequently purchased by Guthy Renker.
Mr. Jenson graduated from Westminster College in 1992 with degrees in aviation and business management. He is an avid sportsman who enjoys hunting, biking, skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, golfing, fishing, and riding horses, and was a competitive swimmer. He maintains his commercial pilot’s license and loves to fly. Mr. Jenson is on the board of advisors of Westminster College School of Aviation. He is married and is the father of two daughters.
Tell me about your early career.
I am a serial entrepreneur and have never had a job. I started working in high school with a lawn care property management business which I sold during college. I started doing investment banking (PIPE) deals in 1991 as I graduated from college and worked in the capital markets sector until 2008. During that period, I took 50+ companies public and assisted in their initial capitalization. In 2002, I was a partner in american kiosk management and ran a company with 50 retail locations in shopping malls across the nation. I co-founded a solar company (Sole Nation) that year and started Utopian in 2010/2011.
How did the concept for Utopian come about?
In 2010, I was trying to decide how to reinvent myself. I took a company public that had a golf centric home exchange program which the transaction was later rescinded and the concept of Utopian was born. I started in Park City where it was immediately evident that a luxury vacation rental model was a good business concept and a weak spot in real estate. The three years prior to that time, I couldn’t find a weakness in the real estate or capital markets sectors.
How was the first year in business?
Rough. I ended the year in the red. I also found that I couldn’t get the inventory to generate rentals and revenue.
What was your marketing strategy?
Mostly VRBO and some third party marketing with wholesalers.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
$487,000 to $1.7 million to $3.7 million in gross revenue.
How do you define success?
Building a team with the same goal in mind, growing responsibly (profitably), and building real estate assets.
What is the key to success?
People, who I define as ideal team players.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be humble, hungry, and smart with people.
What are some quotes that you live by?
The above, “Sleep when your dead”, “It’s a startup, meaning work your guts out for a lot of years for little to no money to build a successful firm.”
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Realizing that I had lost a multi-million dollar net worth in 2009 and that I was starting over. The day I had to call my vendors and employees in and tell them I couldn’t pay them and needed to put them on a payment program.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Never give up, and also realize you can’t do it without any money. Find a good idea where cash flows and go for it.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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