We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeff Hindman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeff, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
What was your thought process behind starting your own business? I’ve always loved the outdoors. Born and raised in Colorado, I put that love into action early, building trails for my Eagle Scout project. As a young professional, I dove into citizen activism, working on grassroots consumer and environmental protection campaigns. Eventually, that led me to Washington D.C., where I worked as a lobbyist & campaign organizer. While I thrived on the purpose of the work, the stress began to take a toll on me physically. I knew something needed to change, so I took a leap and traded in my suit and tie for a tool belt.
I spent the next six years working for a wonderful construction company called Life Craft in D.C., starting out as a carpenter’s assistant and quickly rising through the ranks. By the time I left, I was the president’s right-hand man.
When I returned to Colorado, I wanted to continue working in general contracting and honor my commitment to protecting our planet. At the time, green building wasn’t nearly as prominent as it is now. Since I didn’t see a company aligned with my vision, I decided to create it. With the experience I’d gained at Life Craft and my drive to take risks and grow, I knew I’d be able to rise to the occasion. I founded Cottonwood Custom Builders in 1995, with the intent of being the greenest builder possible, and haven’t looked back since!
What’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
“Better safe than sorry.”
That’s a recipe for stagnancy! No breakthrough or achievement comes without risk! Was it safe to explore outer space? Certainly not! Is it safe to blaze your own trail? No. Is there any way to truly innovate and push yourself while feeling completely safe? Almost never.
Don’t hide in “safe.” Leave your comfort zone, navigate the discomfort. Either you’ll succeed. Or you’ll learn. Either way, you’ll be a step closer to the change you’re trying to create in the world. And you won’t have to lay in bed at night wondering, “what if?”
As our planet faces climate change, we need more people who are willing to take a risk, explore new solutions, and lead us into a more sustainable future. My team does that every day, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career?
Simply put, I believe that if you’re not taking risks, you’re not living up to your potential.
Risk is what raises your game. Growth without risk is impossible.
I’ve been a risk-taker my entire life, long before founding Cottonwood Custom Builders. Embracing risk has shown me that there’s a skill to it, too. You can learn to measure risks more appropriately, build up expertise to improve your intuition, and learn from past failures.
As a homebuilder, risk is everywhere. My team must have a healthy relationship with risk – knowing that it cannot be 100% avoided, only prepared for and navigated thoughtfully. Each time I see us build something we’ve never done before or try out a new green building technique, it’s so rewarding. That’s the best thing about risk… there’s nothing like the feeling when you thoughtfully take a risk and reach new levels because of it.
What habits do you feel helped you succeed?
Success on the big things comes down to consistency on the small things. For me, it begins with taking care of my body. I start each day with exercise and prioritize getting out to cycle, ski, or hike on the weekends. By making sure I feel my best, I give myself the energy and focus to do my best work.
In my day to day, I’m determined. I believe in perseverance and a refusal to quit. It’s gotten me a long way and carried me through challenging times.
Lastly, open communication! I don’t mince words. I say what needs to be said, even if it’s uncomfortable or unpopular. Whenever possible, I opt for a phone call (instead of endless email threads). I seek employees who will embrace and appreciate open communication. Because of all of that, our team is agile, discovers and resolves problems quickly, and has no office politics.
What is the most important factor behind your success / the success of your brand?
Authenticity! I set out to build green homes, and 27+ years later, we are still at it. It’s not a marketing or positioning strategy; it’s what we believe to our core.
In a world where we’re all constantly barraged by marketing messages, we can tell when someone is just trying to sell us something. Greenwashing (businesses pretending to be sustainable for a competitive edge) is everywhere. When people meet us, they know that we’re not pretending. We have a critical mission, and we’re not willing to compromise. A sustainable future needs sustainable homes; we’re honored to be part of getting us there.
What’s the most important lesson your business/career has taught you?
Do it right the first time. In carpentry, we say, “measure twice, cut once.” It’s worth taking the time to slow down and set yourself up for success. And when your human imperfections inevitably slip past and something isn’t right, fix it. Every time. Not only will you have an excellent reputation, but even more importantly, you’ll feel a tremendous amount of personal pride in your work.
Work life balance: how has your balance changed over time? How do you think about the balance?
Earlier in my career, it was a lot harder. Balancing a young company and a young family was challenging; I couldn’t have done it without the endless love and support of my wife Laurie Hindman.
Over time, it has gotten easier. The business is far more established. I’ve experienced enough to know that letting the stress get to me doesn’t help anyone. I don’t take it home with me. And I make sure that I have time to reset on the weekend, so I come back fresh and inspired on Monday.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Like I talked about before, working for Life Craft gave me the confidence to know I could run my own general contracting business. I didn’t want to work for a large organization that didn’t fully value my capabilities. While working for someone else would have been a safer option, I wanted the challenge of working for myself, creating my own opportunities, and ensuring that my work aligns with my commitment to the planet.
I also wanted to lead a company that created opportunities and valued its employees. I love seeing a team of people collaborating on fulfilling work while also receiving fair pay and benefits. Knowing that Cottonwood Custom Builders takes care of the planet and our people gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction.
What are you inspired by?
I’m inspired by examples of and opportunities to:
Make the world a better place. Be kind to our fellow humans. Respect/protect the earth. Give 100% and see the results. Give back to our community.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In my opinion, you can’t have the best time ever in Colorado without getting out in the mountains!
So first thing first, we’d hop in my electric car and jet up to Steamboat for a day of skiing and soaking in the views.
After that, we’d head back to Boulder to grab a rooftop drink at one of my favorites: the Rio! And while we’re packing it all in, we’d finish the day at the BEST music venue, Red Rocks!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I couldn’t possibly pick just one – no man is an island and I’m thankful to all of the people, organizations, and experiences that have shaped me. To name a few… My wife Laurie Hindman, for loving and supporting me on this journey. Kimberly Neill and Tom Roberts, who have been with Cottonwood since nearly the beginning and are a huge part of our success. The architects who design the incredible homes we build, our entire team of project managers and carpenters who keep things moving, and our trades, who go above and beyond to support us in building gorgeous and green homes.
All photos by Hannah Finch Phillips, EXCEPT the rear photo of the modern home with the purple sky, which is by Michael deLeon.