Entrepreneurship: Hawaii Be Damned! Corvallisite Cloud Davidson Discusses Risk Management and Change

“I don’t think an entrepreneur is somebody who is willing to take a risk. Anyone can take a risk. Think about it; anybody can. Where the entrepreneur comes in, is once you’ve taken a risk, how you manage it and how successful you are,” says 36-year-old Cloud Davidson, one of the most successful entrepreneurs in town. Owner of both Cloud & Kelly’s and its next-door neighbor The Downward Dog, he knows of what he speaks.

cloudWhile the average age of entrepreneurs in the United States, according to Forbes, is 39, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity comes from the 55-64 age group. Not only were older entrepreneurs the most prolific, but the most successful as well. A detailed analysis of 5,000 start ups that launched in 2004 showed 48 percent were founded by entrepreneurs who were 45 or older, but a full 64 percent of the companies which had survived eight years later were headed by entrepreneurs in the 45-and-up group.

Cloud, however, clearly tips the scales towards success for a new generation of entrepreneurs. “The initial risk, truthfully, has to be sort of half crazy, because it’s a risk.” Without missing a beat, he recalls the very day he took the leap, opening Cloud 9—which later became Cloud & Kelly’s—on Feb. 23, 2007. He had always been a restaurant worker, and his family is self-employed, so “it kind of seemed like the right thing to do.”

Cloud grew up in Shedd, Oregon, where the Davidson family originally arrived from Missouri, via the Oregon Trail, in 1852. Cloud’s brother still runs the family farm. Cloud wistfully compares opening a business to the hardships of his pioneer forefathers. “If you think about risk… this is nothing, this is weak compared to what they did.”

On April 1, 2008—156 years after his ancestors arrived in Oregon in covered wagons—Cloud, who’s named after his Scottish great grandfather, opened The Downward Dog. The space had previously been occupied by The Chippery, whose slogan was “Chips, Dips, and Sips.” Their claim to fame was making fresh potato chips on site. It never quite caught on. The Downward Dog, on the other hand, has been quite successful.

“I definitely had a vision for next door,” Cloud says. “For my sort of vision and taste, I like to be able to manage a smaller space: a bar that was real alcohol-focused, low overhead. A fun little bar, a good happy hour, good music.” While its name harkens a yoga position, Cloud was more keen on keeping with the tradition of successful animal-named bars in town. “Squirrels has been operating for 40 years, Peacock has been operating for like 85 or 90 years, Crowbar has been a popular place, Fox & Furkin had a good run for about 10 years or so… I kind of wanted a sort of institutional sort of bar, to fit into the landscape.”

While Downward Dog and Cloud & Kelly’s share a common kitchen, each location has its own bar staff and unique feel. “Originally, Cloud 9 was a quasi-fine dining place, then we started casualizing the menu and doing live music. I knew what it was, after five years, I also knew there was a lot more to be had with this room.” The decision was made to transition it to an Irish pub. Cloud settled on the name Cloud & Kelly’s, which opened on the Ides of March, 2012. “Kelly” is the traditional Irish spelling of Cloud’s wife’s middle name. “It’s about the feel, what the name meant… the Irish sort of associational branding of the name.”

“Stylistically, it fit into all the things I was after, and I thought and knew would work in town, so I decided to go for it.” They kept about half of the former menu, which had been evolving, and added traditional Irish fare. “Bangers and mash, fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage… standard stuff,” for an Irish pub. Business has, Cloud says, “exceeded my expectations. It hits a broader demographic.”

Looking to the future, Cloud is circumspect. “Creating it, your initial risk, and the design and the opening, and all that stuff—I’ve talked to other owners, that always is the good part, the fun part. Once you get open, like I said before, that’s the real test of the entrepreneur. Anybody can be stupid or crazy enough to open, right? To somehow come across a bunch of money and spend it all, it really doesn’t take anything. But, to actually then operate, to realize what mistakes you’ve made, or what’s not working, and adapt to changes—the delivery of consistent product, the marketing of yourself, management, money, people, time.”

He’s the hands-on general manager of both locations: “I don’t get to go to Hawaii and stuff.” He is able to take weekends off, however, to spend with his family. “I’ve got some really wonderful people, managers, people who have been working for me for a long time. I wouldn’t be able to do that without them.”

Hawaii be damned, it sounds like Cloud has found his own entrepreneur’s paradise, right here in Corvallis.

By Seth Aronson