From humble beginnings to an industry Titan, Kristi Alford-Haarberg discusses how she began E2 Optics

From humble beginnings to an industry Titan, Kristi Alford-Haarberg has taken her tenacious spirit and catapulted E2 Optics to a premier player in the integrated IT solutions space.

It has been said that the best leaders never intended to be leaders, rather they have a personality which sparks creativity and naturally draws others to them. People work for people, not for a company. This could explain how Kristi Alford-Haarberg, founder, president, and CEO of E2 Optics, has built such an amazing and cutting-edge company.

We recently sat down with Kristi to learn a little more about E2’s founder and her journey from Texas to being a premier player on the integrated IT solutions stage.

E2 Insider: Kristi, you have an interesting path which led you to where you are now. Can you tell our readers a little about your professional background and what led you to create E2 Optics?

Kristi Alford-Haarberg, President and CEO
Kristi Alford-Haarberg, President and CEO

Kristi Alford-Haarberg: After graduating college with degrees in Management and Communications, I started working in a sales position for a technology company. I worked for a cable manufacturing company that manufactured cable assemblies, cable harnesses, and other products. I did not intend to enter the technology industry, but it was lucky because it eventually grew to be one of the world’s largest, fastest-growing industries.

For much of my career, I have held business development and sales positions for large technology companies – including a role working for a Fortune 200 company where I gained a lot of experience and had a lot of professional success. I often found myself becoming the top salesperson at the companies for which I worked.

When the boom started, I was at the Kent Companies and was able to land a large customer – Level 3. This is where I started getting my feet wet on the services side. It was one of the first times that I was selling services and not just product. That is when I got my first experience with things like structured cabling, DC power, and installation. I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed the personal human element of services, and how it required that you craft and create a unique solution and experience for the customer.

Following the crash, I took some time off to focus on family. I started to reflect on what I wanted to do next, and on what I had accomplished in my career to that point. Based on my previous experience, I was confident that I could start a successful company.

I felt that by building a company that shared my values – a company that was very customer focused, that tried to understand customer needs and requirements, and one that brought them tailored solutions which met their unique needs – I would be bringing something new to the market that could grow and be successful.

In 2010, I launched E2 Optics – a woman-owned business in a male dominated industry. I self-funded the business from day one and have since grown the business by focusing on what I could bring to the industry, not dwelling on the barriers that I have faced.

E2 Insider: As a woman in a predominantly male driven industry, were there any challenges you faced when starting E2?

Kristi Alford-Haarberg: I would say that there were several challenges that E2 Optics faced because it was a small, woman-owned company.

The first challenge we experienced was with financing. I was rejected at every turn from banking institutions because of my lack of entrepreneurial experience. This is a barrier to entry for many women-owned and minority-owned businesses – it can be very hard to get the funding and investment that you need to start and grow the business from traditional financial institutions.

As a small, entrepreneurial startup company, we also faced challenges within our industry and marketplace.

In the IT integration and structure cabling installation industries, there are specific manufacturers who make the materials that are essential for the work we do. As a small startup, I was often excluded from becoming a partner to many key manufacturers, which would preclude us from offering warranties to our early customers. It can take many years to become an “official partner” or “certified” by some of these large manufactures, but those certifications are essential to be a serious player in our marketplace.

Finally, I have been discriminated against and overlooked many times since I started the company. There is definitely a “Good ‘Ole Boys” club in the technology and IT integration industry. There have been many times where the company has been left out, where information has not been shared, or when leads haven’t been shared, simply because we’re not in “the club.”

But I never used that as an excuse. I always took those doubts and roadblocks as inspiration and used them as motivation to build the organization.

Kristi Alford-Haarberg and Casey Haarberg
Kristi Alford-Haarberg and Casey Haarberg

E2 Insider: What would you say makes E2 Optics such an incredible company?

Kristi Alford-Haarberg: Hands down I would say our core values and culture. Over the past 12 almost 13 years, I’ve worked hard to create an environment which promotes

entrepreneurialism and a sense of community among my employees. I firmly believe in a bottom up approach to leadership. Meaning, I want each employee to have a voice and not fear bringing ideas to the table.

I strive to create an environment in which my employees have a work-life balance. I want each employee to have work-life balance and to have time for their families and home lives. For me, E2 Optics should be a place where each employee feels valued and is excited to come to work every day.

E2 Insider: 2022 saw you become a Colorado Titan 100. What does this mean to you and how does it help you to lead E2 Optics?

Kristi Alford-Haarberg: It was an incredible honor to be named a 2022 Colorado Titan 100. It’s an amazing program and has led me to meet some outstanding professionals. Through the program, I’ve been able to hone in on my leadership skills and learn new ways to help motivative my team. It’s also helped me to not be so fearful of growth.

Coming from our startup beginnings, growth can be an intimidating thing as it requires more trust in senior leadership and their ability to continue my vision for E2. But I’ve learned that my role as the CEO of this company is to instill in my senior leaders a sense of ownership. My responsibility now is to provide sound leadership, provide a clear road map of goals and objectives, and empower my senior leaders to go out and do what they need to in order to continue on our growth trajectory.

E2 Insider: What advice would you give to individuals thinking of taking the same career path as you?

Kristi Alford-Haarberg: Never give up on your vision! If someone tells you that you cannot do something, don’t listen to them. Rely on your tenacity, beliefs and fearlessness while trusting you will make it happen.  Always remember it’s ok to fail, your failures are what bring you future success.

There will always be naysayers who will try to keep you down. Surround yourself with a core team that helps boost your confidence. Believe in your vision, believe in yourself, and continue to push forward. The only one stopping you from reaching your dreams is you.

For more information about current career opportunities at E2 Optics, click here.