Bo Parfet, Founder & CEO of Denali Venture Philanthropy, has significant experience evaluating, conducting due diligence, and investing in a wide range of impact investments. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, and MA in applied economics from the University of Michigan, and a BS in economics from Colorado State University.
Early in his career, Bo served as a Research Fellow at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), and worked on Wall Street as an investment banker in corporate finance for J.P. Morgan. Prior to founding Denali Venture Philanthropy, Bo was the founder and Managing Principal at Iconic Development, a real estate development and investment company where he sourced, underwrote, developed, and managed a portfolio in the multi-family and student housing spaces. Iconic Development was listed as an Inc. 500 fastest growing company in 2012.
Bo is also an accomplished mountaineer and explorer, having climbed all of the Seven Summits, the tallest mountains on each continent, before publishing his book Die Trying: One Man’s Quest to Conquer the Seven Summits. He is a British American Project Fellow, a member of the fabled Explorers Club, and a sitting member on the Board of Directors for a number of companies and non-profit organizations.
How did you get started in this business?
It started when I was a child watching both my mother and father engage in their careers. They both worked very hard, my father in finance at a healthcare company and my mother dealing antique furniture before becoming a real estate broker. In high school, I worked at a car museum doing landscaping before moving onto washing the cars and helping set up for car shows and various other events. It was a truly great experience. In college I worked full-time bussing tables at a nice Italian restaurant, while I taught myself how to invest in stocks. By the time I graduated college I had saved up a nice little nest egg and continued to compound my returns with continued investments.
How do you make money?
It’s pretty straightforward; I save and invest more than I spend each year. I have monthly and annual budgets in order to ensure I’m making the wisest decisions about where to direct my cashflow. On a more philosophical level, I read a great book called “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason. This book was incredibly influential in establishing the foundations of my approach to investing. It remains relevant to my decision-making every single day.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
I became profitable by making it a point to save & invest more than I spend. I also make a solid return on my portfolio by investing in stocks and consistently adding to my investments with each paycheck. I am particularly attracted to investing in stocks that pay a dividend and have good long-term growth. After working for JPMorgan in corporate finance, I started a real estate business that focused on off-campus student housing apartments. Apartments can be great investments and, in fact, we were profitable after our very first investment: a block of 60 apartment units in Boise, Idaho just off the Boise State University campus
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I started Iconic Development in 2007, right before the Global Economic Meltdown of 2008 and 2009. During this tumultuous time, I thought the economy might come to an end at any moment. This colored my many daily concerns during such a dark time period. We kept working our butts off because we didn’t know what else to do. In the end, the hard work paid off, as our investors did very well despite the extreme and unpredictable economic environment.
How did you get your first customer?
My first customer was a student who came in to renew their lease for the next school year. I would love for this to be some wild and entertaining story, but it wasn’t.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
In my experience, most people do not ask this simple question: “Do you know anyone else who would like to learn more about what we do?” Asking this at every meeting or interaction pays off, generating many opportunities down the line. Another strategy I would mention is to ensure there is something iconic and unique about what you do. A fun little example: at one of our apartment communities we managed to install the longest “lawn couch” in the State of Idaho. Believe it or not, people came from all over the state just to see and sit in it. It took our maintenance team one day to build and was the only such attraction at any apartment complex in the whole state!
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
During the current COVID19 Global Crisis, we have had to make many tough decisions. The hardest ones were having to let good people go for reasons outside of everyone’s control. These are unprecedented times and I wish we could develop vaccines much more quickly, but unfortunately, this crisis has and will continue to force difficult decisions that impact all of us unfairly.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
There are many different qualities that make a person successful. A few germane to me:
i. Work Ethic – I am not one of the smartest guys in the room, but I have always been the hardest worker. I don’t mind putting in 60 to 80 hours per week and using my network to get the “best thinking” from domain experts. This kind of commitment is really non-negotiable for anyone who wants to “make it.”
ii. Passion for Something Bigger Than Yourself – For most of my career, I have chosen to work in areas that help make a difference in people’s lives and in the wider world. If you are passionate about what you do, then your work output will naturally have more depth to it.
iii. Integrity – Once, we made an investment with a company and they committed fraud. They had many investors (from very large companies to smaller individuals) and unfortunately, we were one of them. After we discovered the uncivil action, we did everything we could do to make it right for the investors. I have been told that 99% of people would never have done so, but I can’t emphasize enough how honesty in these types of situations will repay you in droves further down the line.
iv. Being in Shape – This might sound strange to some folks, but in my humble opinion, when a person is healthy and active it gives them the energy to be more productive and successful. Of course, this does not mean that you need to run a marathon every month, but just being physically active will deliver clear results and help you in every aspect of your life, whether personal or professional.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
We were an early investor in a company called Tugende. They are a terrific for-profit social enterprise formally established in 2012 in Uganda. Using asset finance, technology, and a customer-centric model, Tugende helps informal sector entrepreneurs dramatically improve their economic trajectory. Tugende operates with more than 460 staff in Uganda and Kenya and has served over 30,000 clients. Together, we have essentially helped move more than 30,000 people from working poverty to lower middle class as part of Tugende’s mission of “Helping People Help Themselves.” I created Denali Venture Philanthropy, with a goal to help move over 200,000 people into the “middle class” and we are well on our way. Exciting times!
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I think passionate entrepreneurs will change, enhance, and fix the world’s great problems. In a small and humble way, Denali Venture Philanthropy will be a part of this movement and there are many ways we can help, like:
i. Sitting on the boards or advisory boards of quality companies
ii. Connecting “Impact Entrepreneurs” with other interested individuals, families, and institutions
iii. Investing a small amount into social enterprises
iv. Publishing articles and papers on the wider movement
v. Speaking at events to help propel the impact investing movement to the forefront of public discourse
What business books have inspired you?
There are so many to choose from, but here are some off the top of my head:
a. Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renée A. Mauborgne
b. Mavericks At Work by William C. Taylor
c. “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason
d. The Secret Sauce: Creating a Winning Culture by Kevin Graham Ford
What advice would you give to your younger self?
There is a quote I heard (I don’t recall where) but it goes something like this: “It takes a tremendous of effort to make a nest egg, it takes ten times more effort to keep it”. I would tell my younger self this. A trademark for entrepreneurs is to go “all in,” but this will either go really well or really badly. I would also tell my younger self to not go “all in” with my balance sheet and stop to think through my exposure.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I am an active mentor to the organizations we consult or invest with. At this moment, however, this area of my life is full and I, unfortunately, cannot take on any new mentees. Needless to say, mentorship is a very rewarding part of my life. I envision spending more time as a mentor later in life, especially when I get to my sixties. There are many sound and thoughtful words of wisdom to share. For me, the following is more than a quote. It is an entire philosophy and my life’s compass which I read nearly every day of my life:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt.