As the third generation of his family born in Big Sky Country, Scott Billadeau’s Montana roots run deep - and his visionary business ideas are helping to stimulate future economic growth in Missoula.
Scott grew up in the small western Montana town of Superior, and attended the University of Montana (UM) in Missoula, where he majored in both business and music composition. It was early in his days on campus as an undergraduate student that Scott partnered with another student and started his first business venture, Java Bus; a van kitted out with an espresso maker and coffee machine that catered to a customer base of UM students and faculty, as well as the local Missoula Farmers Market.
“It was the early nineties, and the specialty coffee and espresso craze was in full swing, with very few places meeting that demand in Missoula…we were so successful I essentially paid my way through school with coffee sales.”
“There’s absolutely no reason you can’t build a global brand from Montana…the caliber of people you find in employees here is unlike anywhere else.”
- Scott Billadeau, Founder Planetary Desgin
Scott ultimately earned a Master’s degree in music composition from UM, and sold Java Bus to the university before beginning a five-year career as a music composition professor on campus. In 2002, he decided he wanted to get back into business and asked himself the critical question all entrepreneurs face: “what’s next?”
Given his background and success in the specialty coffee world, Scott decided to open a retail store and coffee shop that would bring all the best in the specialty beverage world into one place. He opened the doors of his Missoula shop Liquid Planet in 2003, out of which he now sells an impressive selection of coffees, teas, wines, sodas, and an entire line of beverage accessories like coffee makers and barware.
The deeper level of exposure to the specialty beverage industry spurred Scott to think about how he could improve upon the customer experience, and his research led him to local Missoula inventor Mark Porter. Mark had developed and patented a new kid of French press mug that made it possible for coffee connoisseurs to enjoy great coffee and tea while traveling. Scott and his main partner and investor Lee Poole of Bozeman, bought the rights to the product, and in 2004 used it as the foundation for a new venture, Planetary Design.
Since Planetary Design’s launch in 2004, Scott has been consistently expanding and innovating the product line - often working with Montana-based product design and development firms like Salient Technologies in Bozeman to bring new inventions like the patented Airscape container to market. For Scott, one of the most interesting aspects of being an entrepreneur is bringing these new ideas to light and watching them take form. He compares the process of bringing a new product to market to the process of composing music:
“Innovating an idea or product follows the same process as music composition in terms of taking a small idea and developing it into something really rich and dynamic…you’re expanding into a territory no one else has seen or heard before.”
Over the last few years Planetary Design has received some key support from State resources, including Trade Show Assistance Program funds that helped cover costs at key marketing events like the Chicago Housewares Show and Outdoor Retailer. Scott’s entrepreneurial success has also gained federal recognition; last fall U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker stopped by Liquid Planet to learn more about his story.
Today, Planetary Design employs 15 full-time team members at their 20,000 sq ft warehouse-style headquarters in Missoula, and is working with major retailers like REI, Williams & Sonoma, and Crate & Barrel. The 10-year old company sells their products in 20 different countries. Scott insists:
“There’s absolutely no reason you can’t build a global brand from Montana…the caliber of people you find in employees here is unlike anywhere else. And, our governor, senators, and leadership from our Department of Commerce are all just a phone call away - and they actually answer their phones.”
When asked what key piece of advice he would give other Montana entrepreneurs, Scott responded:
“Put a lot of focus on innovation. It’s incredibly important to continually innovate your products and services. In our business, buyers at trade shows are always asking ‘what’s new’, and we make sure we always have an answer.”