Mystery Ranch owner advises students at Blackstone LaunchPad

Dana Gleason, owner of the $20 million Bozeman based international company, Mystery Ranch Backpacks, shared stories of his entrepreneurial success during a presentation at Blackstone LaunchPad. Gleason advised students on the importance of marketing and company growth and incorporated personal experiences in his presentation on Feb. 18.

The event, called the LunchPad, brings entrepreneurs and other business-savvy people onto campus to talk to students, faculty and alumni. Discussion topics include the presenters successes and failures, methods of business and tips for effectively establishing their ideas as businesses.

Blackstone LaunchPad is a national non-profit program started and funded by a private investment bank, The Blackstone Group, to help young entrepreneurs gather the resources they need in order be successful. A part of the MSU campus since Fall 2013, the LaunchPad is funded by a $3 million dollar grant to run the program on both MSU’s and the University of Montana’s campuses.

Director of the program Les Craig said the main goal of the LaunchPad “is to create awareness in students and alumni of entrepreneurship as a career option.” Through advising, career coaching and meetings with successful entrepreneurs such as Gleason, the LaunchPad hopes push more students down the road to success with their own business ventures.

Gleason’s appearance at LunchPad was greeted by a room full of a couple dozen students and alumni of MSU, who began by introducing themselves and telling what they hoped to learn from Gleason during the event. Gleason then dove into storytelling, starting with his first, albeit unsuccessful company, Kletterwerks, progressing up to his current work at Mystery Ranch.

He advised students that in order to grow as a company, they need to expand their markets outside of Bozeman. “You have to go beyond the valley,” he said, afterwards telling of his first foray into international markets starting in Japan that began with Japanese businessmen buying and selling his backpacks at huge mark-ups on their home soil.

Having done business in Japan before, Gleason had the network to start selling his product internationally and began to do so with great success. He emphasized the importance of networking and word of mouth market to students. “So many opportunities only come from talking to people and having a network, and that is something that is absolutely key,” he said.

Questions at the end of the interview varied, but one area Gleason talked about heavily was social media. While in support of using social media for marketing, he warned students of such marketing’s limits. “You have to go beyond just being liked. You have to do something that actually matters to people,” he stated, later joking to the crowd, “Social media isn’t so good for, ‘show me a little sincerity, give me your credit card number.”

Though not fully planned yet, Craig and others at the LaunchPad hope that a weekly LunchPad event can be established every Wednesday. Craig will soon be giving a talk himself on body language and its use in marketing, pulling from his past experiences in the CIA.

Students are encouraged to go to the Blackstone LaunchPad for advice on their business plans, contact information for entrepreneurial resources or even just to chat about entrepreneurship and business. Though not a surefire way to owning a successful company, Craig said the LaunchPad is a great way for students to try. “Not everyone is going to be successful, but this is certainly a low-risk opportunity to give it a shot … We are here as a resource to help encourage and steer students down the right path.”