BYU alumni follow untraditional routes to business success

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BYU alumnus Curtis Calder created his business, Anson Calder, after working at JP Morgan. (Amberly Asay Janke)

BYU alumnus Curtis Calder worked 90 hours a week at JP Morgan when he was told by doctors he had facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). The diagnosis obliged him to temporarily leave his job on Wall Street, eventually leading him and his wife, Allison, to start their company Anson Calder, which creates leather products.

Calder, along with Thomas Alvord — a co-founder and Chairman of crowdfunding agency Funded Today — has found success in the business world post-BYU.

Mike Roberts, assistant dean and director of the Career Center in the BYU Marriott School of Business, said the business school alumni are incredible and make a huge difference in helping connect the school to companies. He said BYU students are marketable and use their skills in different situations.  

“They are very bright. They can deal with a lot of different situations,” Roberts said. “They are really good problem solvers. Most of them have had to do hard things.”

Curtis Calder

Calder, a 2009 BYU finance graduate, learned how to work long hours and the importance of paying attention to detail from his time at JP Morgan. Calder said his wife was very supportive, despite the long days he worked.

After his diagnosis with FSHD, Calder was advised by doctors to take a medical leave of absence from JP Morgan and participate in things that would keep him active. Calder and his wife pursued their business development for Anson Calder.

Calder first created a wallet out of printer paper during a conference call. He showed his wife afterward and asked her why people did not make wallets like the one he constructed. During his leave, Calder and his wife bought leather from New York City’s garment district so they could create testable products.

According to Calder, he had always wanted to start a business of his own, but hadn’t had the right idea. They decided to start after receiving encouragement from a friend.

“One of our friends, who was a designer at Tommy Hilfiger in the men’s division, saw the wallet at dinner one day and said we just had to sell it,” Calder said. “She was convinced it would sell. We had toyed with the idea fleetingly, but that really planted it.”

The wallets production began after Calder and his wife found pattern makers and studied materials.

“It was a big undertaking, and I don’t think I could have executed it the way we did in any
other city in the world,” Calder said. “The resources in New York City were endless and so convenient.”

Calder said many courses he took at BYU influenced the way he thinks in business. He enjoyed his entrepreneurial elective in the business school and said he doesn’t understand how people start a business without a background in finance.

“My emphasis in finance really trained my mind to see a business from a financial point of view and how to scale a business from the beginning,” Calder said.

Things just “kept falling into place” for Anson Calder in coming to Utah. The company recently opened up a store at City Creek Center in Salt Lake City.

“After discussions with several properties, City Creek gave us a proposal that seemed
tailored exactly to our needs,” Calder said. “We were pretty shocked, but still hesitant if it was a good business decision. Ultimately we decided it was worth the risk, and I’m really
glad we took that risk.”

With his FSHD in a stable condition, Calder hopes to continue making products that simplify users’ lives. They hope to continue to grow online, in retail stores and will likely go the wholesale route as well. He said 2019 will be “a telling year for the future of the company.”

Calder said the best advice he can give to students is to point out to themselves the things they do not know when they start their first job. He encouraged them to seek out mentors and to never stop learning.

“Skills like these are incredibly valuable and the younger you learn them, the more successful you’ll be at work,” Calder said. “People will value you and your contributions.”

Thomas Alvord

Business partners Zach Smith and Thomas Alvord use their company, Funded Today, to help people and companies crowdfund projects. (Nick Thurgood)

Alvord is a three-time BYU graduate with a 2008 undergraduate degree in family studies, a joint master’s degree in public administration and a J.D. in 2011.

After graduation, Alvord created a law firm, but ultimately decided to focus on marketing. He ended up working on several U.S. Senate, governor, and presidential political campaigns. Alvord said he would have continued in this line of work had it not been for the success of Funded Today.

The company started when Alvord’s business partner, Zach Smith, reached out for assistance on a Kickstarter campaign he was helping to consult. Smith and Alvord raised over $100,000 while working together on the campaign.

Another company, Freewavz, asked for the duo’s help raising money after their success with the Kickstarter campaign. Ultimately, they helped reach Freewavz’s goal as well. Alvord said, at that point, he and Smith realized they were onto something. This led them to start Funded Today, where they help crowdfund various projects.

“We help companies launch their new businesses. Over the past four years we have helped 3,000 plus companies raise over $220 million from customers, even before the company launches,” Alvord said.

Inc. 5000 ranked Funded Today the No. 27 fastest growing privately-held company in the U.S. in 2017. Alvord said they are the No. 2 fastest growing company in Utah and the largest, most successful agency in the crowdfunding community.

Since starting the business, Alvord said they have faced the trial of finding opportunities to grow it. He said this is because crowdfunding is declining ever so slightly.

Alvord said although the company is pivoting and looking for new chances of advancement, they have as much of the amount of market share in the crowdfunding space as they are likely going to get.

Funded Today is also looking to grow by offering and developing video and design services, along with providing marketing to Amazon campaigns, according to Alvord.

Alvord said his time at BYU prepared him for his career and starting his own company. He said receiving three degrees from BYU has widened his perspective on several things.

“As a business co-founder and owner, you wear many hats when running a business. The experience at BYU has helped me be multi-dimensional,” Alvord said.

Due to the nature of his job, Alvord said law school was also helpful in teaching him skills he would utilize in the workforce.

“Probably at least once per week I am dealing with a legal issue or contract modification, or some other item where law school taught me incredibly relevant skills,” Alvord said.

More information and stories about alumni can be found on BYU’s website.

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