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GQ Contest Winner Transforms Dead Wood Into Eco-Furniture

entrepreneur Corbin Clay / Credit: Douglas Lyle Thompson

Each year in the Rocky Mountains, millions of acres of pinewood are ruined by beetles. All those dead trees pose a significant risk for forest fires. While most see that pinewood as useless, Corbin Clay, owner of Azure Furniture, has found a sustainable use for the beetle-kill pinewood. Clay uses that wood and his carpentry skills to create high-end furniture at his Colorado-based company.

For his efforts and sustainable practices, Clay won $100,000 in the Ketel One Vodka and GQ Magazine "A Gentleman's Call" contest, which rewarded companies based on entrepreneurship, craftsmanship and philanthropy. BusinessNewsDaily spoke with Clay about the start of his company, the benefits of being a business owner and how winning the contest has helped his business. 

BusinessNewsDaily: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Corbin Clay: I wanted be a music teacher.

BND: What did your parents do for a living?

CC: My mom was a teacher. My father works in computer programming.

BND: What's the best part of owning your own business?

CC: Having complete creative control over the brand. Skiing on a Tuesday isn't bad either.

BND: What's the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?

CC: Not legally protecting myself in the early stages of contracts and negotiations.

BND: What was your main motivation in starting this business?

CC: We were able to identity a void in the market and created a product that had an existing demand. I felt a sense of urgency because of that.

BND: How has the Ketel One contest helped your business?

CC: So many ways: the grant, the exposure, the publicity. Most importantly, they’ve validated our mission and helped curate our craft.

BND: What previous experiences helped you in that journey?

CC: The concept of pride and craftsmanship. If you’re going to put your name on something you made, make damn sure it’s made properly.

BND: What was the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome it?

CC: Staying positive through the really tough times. It sounds so cliche, but it is absolutely true. No money in the account, phone hasn’t rung for a while, bills are still due. We have tremendous relationships with our clients, and fortunately, someone always needed that other bathroom remodeled, needed that buffet for their dining table, etc. If we hadn’t stayed positive and optimistic, we wouldn’t have been in a place to do that kind of outreach.

BND: What is the best bit of advice you have for other entrepreneurs?

CC: Identify your niche. You have to ask yourself, 'Why would somebody buy my product over the competitor’s product? Is there a demand for my product?' I'm a big fan of setting up an advisory board with other entrepreneurs, too. It's a great environment to develop ideas and validate existing strategy.

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