Starting a Business

Spelunking Brought Them a Goldmine

Once these entrepreneurs bought the land they used to spelunk on to start a theme park, they began the adventure of a lifetime.
3 min read

Description: A mountain-region theme park offering cave tours, sky-tram rides, hiking trails and an upscale restaurant
Founders: Steve and Jeanne Beckley, 42 and 44, respectively
Location: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
2005 projected sales: More than $4 million

How they got started: For a decade, Steve, an avid spelunker, had been trying to persuade a mountain man to sell him some land with some millennia-old caves on it. In 1999, the man finally relented, and Steve and Jeanne quit their jobs--he owned an unsuccessful oil-production company; she was working in a corporate job--and moved from Denver to Glenwood Springs. They immediately started a small cave-touring business, driving people up the mountain in a van and guiding them through the caverns. But it wasn't until April 2003 that Steve and Jeanne transformed their independent operation into something quite different: an evolving, growing theme park that revolves around their cave tours. Now, a tram carries passengers up the mountain. From there, visitors can tour the caves, hike scenic trails, dine in the restaurant or purchase knickknacks at the gift shop.

How the company evolved during AOL's reality series, The Startup: The Beckleys' year on The Startup was actually their second year as a full-fledged theme park, and in many ways, their growing pains were over. During that first year, they were hammered by crowds that had to wait hours in line, and they had a restaurant where the food ranged from mediocre to inedible. (Occasionally, hot dogs were delivered to customers--still frozen.) And one day the power went out, stranding their banker, who was en route to the park, on a stuck tram.

During their second year of business, the Beckleys were trying to live down their reputation, and generally, they succeeded, mastering the art of crowd flow and revamping their restaurant to offer classy, yet family-friendly, fare. Customers raved, and Steve was able to persuade the city to let him continue his expansion plans.

But for all the good news, everything wasn't perfect. They had a streaker dart through the crowds one summer day, and a lightning storm once took out the power, shutting off the electric lights strategically placed throughout the caves and leaving one tour in the dark.

What's next? Steve and Jeanne have been working on a detailed plan that involves installing everything from rides--like an Alpine coaster--to an amphitheater, where they'll be able to have concerts. The cave tours are fascinating and an excellent reason to visit, but the Beckleys recognize that to get the public to return, the park needs to grow.

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