One of Seattle's most revered political fund-raisers, COLBY UNDERWOOD, says being on the youthful side has made for a few awkward moments over the years. "It's a good thing I have a deep voice," says the 29-year-old. "People talk to me on the telephone and think I'm 40. Then they see me in person, and my 17-year-old face, and they say, 'You're not Colby Underwood!'"
But Underwood, who's hard to miss at 6-foot-10, has a surefire way of getting past perceptions: results. "Money talks and bullshit walks," he says.
It sure does. Since starting his company, Colby Underwood Consulting LLC, in 2002, Underwood has raised $46 million for 152 clients, more than enough to make him a go-to guy in these parts. And if you can get to him first, it's often enough to discourage potential competitors.
Underwood's current slate of candidates reads like a who's who of state, local, and national contenders: presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton; congressional candidate Darcy Burner and Congressman Jay Inslee; Mayor Greg Nickels; and City Council members Tom Rasmussen and Jean Godden, just to name a few.
After graduating from the University of Washington, Underwood landed an internship answering constituent letters for Sen. Patty Murray. He quickly realized the policy and public relations side of politics wasn't his bag.
His next internship was working on Gov. Gary Locke's re-election bid. Though he started out as a "coffee-fetching lackey," Underwood says, it wasn't long before he got to sit in while Locke was dialing for dollars. Soon, he was hooked on the craft.
"Fund-raising is taking nothing and creating something out of thin air," says Underwood, who admits to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie. "It's the first thing political campaigns have to do well. CEOs have two to three years to make a new company profitable. We have two to three days."
After Locke's campaign, Underwood got a call from Nickels' people. They wanted him to lead fund-raising efforts for his mayoral bid. "I laughed and said, 'You're joking,'" he recalls. "With only eight months' experience, I didn't feel that I had all the skills yet, but I knew I had the drive."
After Nickels won, Underwood says he realized that although Seattle contained a wealth of political consultants, it had a dearth of professional fund-raisers. So he decided to "jump off a cliff" and start his own company.
"The first thing we bring to our clients is structure and discipline. If it's not written down, it's not going to happen," Underwood says. "We write a detailed fund-raising plan, whom to call, when to call. We role-play how to ask for money, how to follow up, how to deal with being turned down."
Underwood, who now has six employees, says he's grown his business solely through word of mouth—no Web site, no printed material, no P.R. His advice for other entrepreneurs: "Network. Network. Network."
"Create it," he adds. "Understand it. Work it." &mdash Aimee Curl