Red Leg: Pioneering an example for young entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs

Words: Janelle Agee

Images: Becca Simonds

As president and founder of Red Leg Brewing Company, Todd Baldwin sets a precedence for young entrepreneurs in Colorado Springs. His passion for business began after serving in the United States Army. When he entered the civilian world in 2009, he started a staffing position in Nashville. After moving to Little Rock, Ark., with his new job, he knew the life he was living wasn’t for him.

“I’m not going to live the rest of my life attached to a desk … where someone else controls my long-term goals and what I want to do,” Todd said.

Shortly after he realized this, the idea for Red Leg found its way into the intricate network of Todd’s brainstorming.

“I come up with a lot of different ideas,” Todd said. “I guess part of the serial entrepreneur is we always have ideas, and we’re always trying to push it.”

Red Leg appeared as the most viable option in his idea scheming, and Todd drafted his first business plan. With a desire to become the official brewery of the military, and keeping in mind the large veteran communities, the location of choice for the business was whittled down to Colorado Springs or Nashville. Finally, at the ripe young age of 28, Todd chose to relocate to Colorado Springs because of the financial and tax advantages. Once here, he hit the ground running, and right away he found the challenge of trying to begin a business in the Springs.

Entry barriers for a new business proved to be more arduous to navigate than initially anticipated. Todd spent the first year getting things together.

“We went to about 50 banks in Colorado and not one of them would give me an SBA loan,” he said.

When that didn’t work, he made a failed attempt to take out a Patriot Express Loan, an earmark loan obtained through the Small Business Administration for veterans looking to start a business. Todd’s relentless, determination and innovation prevailed however, in a gutsy move to personally fund the business.

“We took out basically lines of credit,” Todd explained. “We took out something like 18 credit cards in about eight hours and balance-transferred a $250,000 into the business account.”

And so it commenced. On July 4th, 2013, Red Leg Brewery opened its doors for the first time.

The rush to open left Todd getting as many last minute things done as possible before the opening. He was putting bar tops on two nights before, but after pushing back the opening so many times, this was it.

By the third week we were completely bankrupt,” he said. “We were completely out of money and out of beer and we’re like ‘well, what do we do?’ I had $8 left, and that was it

One hundred and fifty fellow beer fanatics from the community showed up at the door, eager to explore the brewery’s diverse palate. Despite the customers, the financial challenges were far from over.

“By the third week we were completely bankrupt,” he said. “We were completely out of money and out of beer and we’re like ‘well, what do we do?’ I had $8 left, and that was it.”

At this point, many faint of heart business owners might have thrown in the towel, especially after it was nearly impossible to fund the operation the first go-around. Yet, Todd’s unbaiting tenacity would have no such resignation. Using a concept with a remarkable semblance to crowdfunding, he started the “Commander’s Club.” This internal investment opportunity for people acted like a bank for private investors with no equity shares, giving interest in return for the money up front. The brewery decided on a “no family, no friends” policy, just friends of the brewery, and raised an incredible $130,000 in four days.

“People just wanted to see us be successful and help, and that was all from Colorado Springs,” Todd said.

It was the brew community at its finest.

Despite an uphill battle in the beginning, Red Leg is now a thriving local business with an enormous growth trajectory. Currently, the brewery is on a 1000 percent growth pattern, moving from brewing 30 gallons a day in the first year to the current 3000 gallons per week. Pikes Peak National Bank partnered with the brewery, signing a loan for new equipment, and murmurs of a potential need for even more equipment is already on the horizon. Though growing pains can be difficult and even fatal without proper care, Todd continues to handle it in stride,

“It’s really pushed (me) to make sure I’m managing it appropriately,” Todd said.

Already stocked on every military base in Colorado, the brewery is well on its way of its goal to becoming the military’s brew of choice, found on every base around the world.

As the brewery continues to grow, Todd’s inspiration to innovate comes from “the ever-changing millennial palate.” For him, the task is not taken lightly. Todd has an unequivocal desire to remain focused on the art within the beer, hand-selecting grains and ingredients from all over the world.

There’s just so many choices with art,” he said. “There’s so much you can do with a broad and open canvas, and it’s the same thing with beer. Every day we turn on the tank - it’s a new canvas for us to enjoy and have fun

“There’s just so many choices with art,” he said. “There’s so much you can do with a broad and open canvas, and it’s the same thing with beer. Every day we turn on the tank - it’s a new canvas for us to enjoy and have fun.”

The brewmaster also creates pairings to enhance a tasting experience, and new brews are released every Friday. An uncommon blend of business savvy and artisan approach, Red Leg stands out as a local business that will continue to gain local and national recognition for years to come.

Despite Todd’s growing success as a young entrepreneur in Colorado Springs, there’s one thing he is still trying to figure out.

“Why aren’t there more of ‘me’ in Colorado Springs - more young veteran entrepreneurs,” Todd asked. “I think that’s a City of Colorado Springs question. Why haven’t we done more to attract more young people to start businesses here. I wish someone would answer that question for me. If I could ask the mayor one question, I’d ask him that question.”

Ironically, Todd himself already started pushing this in his own way. When the brewery first opened, young veterans started coming to Todd for advice, which he gladly offered. However, he was not prepared for the hundreds of young vets that flooded in requesting business advice. A small business owner with a perpetual honey-do list from the brewery, he wisely understood he did not have the time to continue offering advice in this capacity. Instead, he partnered with several veteran charities and launched a mentorship program which has helped more than 500 veterans get jobs in Colorado Springs in the past two years. In true nature of a shrewd businessman, Todd has many ideas on how the community could be reconstructed to attract more young business owners, including a stepped tax-bracketing system.

What can Colorado Springs do to make our community more attractive to young entrepreneurs trying to come in? I’m not sure our community is ready for an influx of millennials, but at the end of the day that secures our city’s future, and that’s probably a discussion we need to start having

To many in Colorado Springs, the barriers of entry in this city can make it especially difficult for young entrepreneurs to launch small businesses. Without a doubt, Todd Baldwin provides an incredible example for young entrepreneurs, especially veterans, in the city of Colorado Springs. He hopes to inspire those within the city to believe in themselves and pursue their passions through hard work and dedication. His passion for others to thrive is clear, and his question remains: “What can Colorado Springs do to make our community more attractive to young entrepreneurs trying to come in? I’m not sure our community is ready for an influx of millennials, but at the end of the day, that secures our city’s future, and that’s probably a discussion we need to start having.”


4630 Forge Rd

Colorado Springs, CO

80907

(719) 598-3776