Chris Gruler is the CEO of Protégé Branding, an online storytelling and branding company that assists online creatives, design, online advertising, and website development. Protégé partially owns Scottsdale Restaurants (a review site for the local eater) and Jubi (a stress-relief nootropic shot that helps to achieve laser focus).
What was your very first entrepreneurial venture?
My very first entrepreneurial venture was a failure around 6th grade. My parents purchased a few packs of water bottles for me from Costco to start, and I would try to sell them individually at our local park, where pick-up basketball games happened daily. It started off well, but then some of the older guys just started taking them right after their game. I never had enough courage to collect the balance on their tabs. It got me in with the older guys, though . . . allowing me to get into the pick-up games. That was a big deal in the Bay Area. Wish I had a service like Stripe or Square at that time though!
What is your favorite part about running a business?
I would say the uncertainty of what each day brings. Every day is different. My daily action items and goals are clear, but the notion of waking up and tackling the unknown is oddly refreshing and challenging.
What part of Arizona do you call home?
The wifey and I live up in Desert Ridge.
How did you come up with the idea for Protégé Branding?
I came up with Protégé while still playing baseball. I got injured early in my professional career so I had a lot of downtime. I started dabbling in domaining and trying to understand the value of building brands for athletes. It has since morphed into a full-scale branding and development company, assisting local businesses to Fortune 500 companies. The other two companies were thought of together with the current owners, who are all of my friends, which makes it extremely fun.
What was the biggest challenge in executing this idea?
In regards to Protégé, marketing and development over the last 7 years has really been generalized. We have had to adapt and continue to provide value where assistance is needed. Each company is different and requires different needs. We bridge that gap for them.
How did you get started in the tech industry?
I’m honestly self-taught in every aspect of business. My failures have taught me a great deal over the last 10 years—and I have a lot. My initial interest in tech was solely around domain names. From there, it blossomed into understanding end-users, analytics, and how to build a brand online in this ever-evolving field.
How long have you lived or worked in Arizona?
The tech industry has boomed here over the last 10 years, which is fantastic. Seeing companies like GoDaddy launch here and flourish is great to see. Mr. Parsons has also done a fantastic job of leveraging a lot of other business ventures in this area, which produces jobs and growth, things I personally long for and admire.
If you could only describe your city with one word, which word would it be?
What’s your favorite thing about living in Arizona?
An hour-long drive gets us to a completely different landscape and weather pattern. Northern Arizona is simply beautiful.
What’s your least favorite thing about living in Arizona?
The rep that Scottsdale gets occasionally about being snobby. There are a lot of good people and business minds in this area. This gets overlooked, in my opinion.
In what area do you think Arizona still has a long way to go?
Maybe public transit? Just in comparison to other metropolitan cities, it seems like we have a long way to go on this. I think overall Arizona is a pretty awesome place.
The foodie scene is growing bigger and bigger by the day here in Arizona. What is your favorite place to get breakfast in your city?
It has been exploding, which we at ScottsdaleRestaurants.com love! Best breakfast spot is an easy one for me. JJ’s Delicatessen in North Scottsdale. Iced coffee—everyday. Of course, I’ve built a great list of other favorites too!
What’s your favorite place to grab lunch?
Tough to list one. Herb Box, Black & Bleu, Coconuts, Blanco Tacos & Tequila, and Farm and Craft, to name a few.
What’s your favorite dinner spot?
Hiro Sushi, Montauk, The Mission, The Gladly, Citizen Public House, and Inde Fusion are a few.
What’s your favorite place to work in your city aside from your office?
That’s easy: Sip Coffee and Beer House. Great place, great owners, and great peeps. Their new spot at their garage is fantastic, too.
Best place for a meeting over drinks?
Honestly, my partner Troy just made a killer list for Happy Hours in Scottsdale. All of these.
What is your favorite memory from Arizona?
I would say the first time I visited here in 2003. I was training at API and was amazed at the weather, how new everything was, and how much cheaper the real estate market was compared to the Bay Area.
What is something about living in Arizona that only a local would know of?
The misconception the rest of country and world have about Arizona. They typically have no clue that within an hour or two drive, you can be in 6,500 ft elevation and a completely different landscape.
Any tips for new Arizona residents?
Try a new restaurant weekly. Do a staycation. Drive up north. Visit the farmer’s markets in the Valley.