Posts in category "BUSH SMARTS"

Why There’s a Need for Business Stories “From the Trenches”

When I decided to write a book about co-founding BushSmarts.com it wasn’t because I was famous, rich or had some secret sauce that allowed us to get to the top. In fact, we are so very much in the thick of things that even though we’ve crossed some major “fail” benchmarks there’s still no certainty of light at the end of the tunnel.

I decided to write it because I find there’s a huge deficit of in-the-trenches business books that comprehensively assess the vital nuances of starting out.

 

For entrepreneurs, you're often wondering if there's anyone else out there.

For entrepreneurs, you’re often wondering if there’s anyone else out there.


In my case, I had just gotten married and found out my wife was pregnant 6 months after saying “I do.” She had a contract job that was ending mid-way through the pregnancy and I had just started out on my own as a freelancer, that meant our income was about to get cut in half with very little warning. It wasn’t the smartest and most prudent time to partner with someone else in a business venture but we made it work. Besides being #blessed, I attribute our survival to my lifestyle design addiction, allowing us to navigate some very rough seas–for at least 3 years now.

It’s been a little over a month since I started the book process and I’ve already seen two major podcasts interviewing businesses during their pre/post inflection point. 

Huckberry on The Art of Manliness

Coincidentally Bush Smarts and Huckberry have worked together on a few projects in the past couple of years. Their company is a little bit older than ours and has experienced significant growth, despite also being bootstrapped. Their founders Richard Greiner and Andy Forch come from a finance background and filled the need in the market for discovering mens brands riding the line of heritage and style. They discuss their reasons for launching, how they funded and what competitors rose up in the process. A highly recommended listen, as they are also very much in the thick of it. Listen here >

Tracy DiNunzio of Tradesy
on Tim Ferriss Podcast

Her story is fascinating: no business background and a wandering artist with no interest (initially) in tech. She leveraged her understanding of the sharing economy to fund her ideas and was eventually accepted into the LA-based incubator LaunchPad. From there she received $1.5 million in initial funding and has grown since. It was especially interesting to hear how she decided to take the funding route, how it changed things and what her opportunities are for continued growth. In true Tim Ferriss fashion he digs deep and it’s a 3-part podcast. Listen here >

The value of in-the-trenches stories

In childbirth, at the final moment when a woman’s pain is most severe, there is an intense release of oxytocin which not only numbs the pain (barely) and bonds the mother to the child, but also scrubs her memory of the agony. Women joke that this is the only reason that they are willing to have a second child.

When founders acquire their wealth and write in hindsight, it’s almost impossible not to gloss over the fog of war, the fear, the ecstasy and hardships that can go into building a business. Were decisions based on data? When there were equal opportunities or challenges, how were decisions made? What was your family like? There’s so much texture in hearing things first-hand.

Since launching Bush Smarts, I’ve been approached by multiple friends, associates, students and sometimes strangers about what the process looks like, how to fund, how to leave your job, have kids and all sorts of topics. They could easily read the whole business section of Barnes & Nobles but again, that doesn’t give the same effect of someone telling the story at “step one.”

Quitting has its merits

There’s a growing trend highlighting stories of founders, CEO’s and other successful business persons explaining why the left their ventures despite significant income prospects. These don’t often become books, but maybe that will change too.

Marcus Nelson left his startup: Addvocate

Tech Crunch Article
I found Marcus via his brother, in a Dad Blogger’s network that we’re both in. He wrote a magnificent story “Facing Hard Truths” about his decision to leave the Bay Area, specifically to build a better life for his family.

CEO Mohamed El-Erian Quits After Receiving Note from his Daughter

TIME Article
He resigned with much speculation in January, but it just came out that he quit after receiving a note from his daughter highlighting the missed moments of her life. Granted he’s not a small business or startup founder (PIMCO is a trillion-dollar business) but the principle stands that his most-memorable career takeaway will be choosing his daughter over seeing his business endeavors go to full fruition – if such state applies at that level.

Where Things Are Going

Principle, will always matter. Life and business will always require constant reminders of things we already know, because we’re apt to forget, and those texts will sustain as “classics.” They’re the Druckers, Buffetts, Welches and Ferriss’ of the world. But the detail gaps they establish will be filled at one level by the 15 Godin books, the 3 Vaynerchuk books, etc. and at an emerging level by the stories of Huckberry, Tradesy, and I hope soon, Bush Smarts. Written in the youth of their ventures, the stories grow and emerge–providing insight, relevance and direction along the way.

If you want to help make my story happen, I’m publishing through Tucker Max’s Lioncrest outfit. You can sign up here.

For more in-the-trenches on Bush Smarts, I highly recommend our: Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook | Tumblr

BUSH SMARTS: Year One in Review

Since I fell off the face of the blog Earth for a year, I want to recap the past year (Bush Smarts‘ Anniversary was actually November 28) and highlight the ups and downs of running an artisanal camping gear business.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

(If you don’t want to read the whole thing)

  1. New businesses often experience a wide marketing mix of opportunities
  2. Business growth comes from saying NO to some things and YES to others
  3. Invest your time and effort into compelling products
  4. Don’t sweat trolls

BUSH SMARTS

We started out 2013 a brand new company, having wrapped a nice holiday season and riding the wave of a new press piece from Inside Hook. Press follows press, so we received several offers to participate in Fab, ScoutMobShoppe and a couple of others. I also sought out blogs we wanted to be in and wrote them…and wrote them…and wrote them. Eventually we would get responses, and very hesitantly send out samples of our (then handfuls) of inventory hoping we’d get it back (we always do).

Landing a feature in Gear Patrol was huge for us. Not only did it yield a huge amount of qualified traffic, but caused the “food chain” effect and we were picked up by UnCrate, and NotCot.org in the same day. That day’s traffic has still never been matched. The only downside to awesome press, is you never know when it’s coming so we sold out of Bear Stars in a matter of hours, and cutting and tumbling small batches of titanium doesn’t happen overnight 🙂

For a fascinating expose on blog food chains and Jedi-mind trick marketing I highly suggest Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me I’m Lying (affiliate link).

Our next big adventure came in early April, when we ran a promotion with Huckberry. Richard is a stand-up, first-rate guy and took the time to chat with us for an hour and a half when planning our event. His attention to detail and thoroughness sold us, and their marketing really delivered. It was a huge boost for us, and again led to more following and further direct sales on our site.

POPULARITY MEANS TROLLS

In mid-January, we received some biased, negative press from the survival section of Outdoor Life. They called us the “The Most Unbearable Camping Gear in the World,” and then basically just wrote that our prices were too high. The author didn’t testing anything, request information or even contact us. He just ran with it.

After reading Holiday’s book, I realized that this guy gets paid for traffic, so I didn’t take it personally. The funny part is–that article actually brought traffic that made us some sales, so thanks for that surly reporter 😉

A little while after that, a troll bushcraft forum confused the difference between a tumblr blog and sales content. Our tumblr blog feeds into the inspiration section of our site, and some folks accused us of pirating their photos and yada yada. We didn’t take anything that wasn’t on tumblr (shared on 700 other blogs), I happily took their photos off and apologized–and then they continued complaining about our prices and talking about how they could easily replicate our business.

The lesson learned there, is that it’s not worth your time to engage and pander to negativity when running your business. In our case, if the people were offended we obliged them with removing their photos and that settled it. By complaining about our prices, I know they’re not our customers anyway.

SUMMER MEANS CAMPING

Our big product launch last year was the trio of Hammock, Storm Tarp & Trail Tarp. We did a lot of camping to make sure it had the right features, right feel and utility to make it the premier lightweight, American-made Hammock and tarp system on the market.

What ended up becoming one of my favorite camping trips ever, John and I went up to Pine Meadow Lake in Harriman State Park during the cicada invasion. There were so many flying all over the place that it felt like pre-historic time, luckily despite their dull roar they quieted down at night. Also it was the first warm, sunny weekend all year so I saw more snakes on that trip than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We literally had to watch our footing to not step on snakes during the day and I got to see a Northern Timber Rattler.

The real capstone of that trip was when we were about to hike out, we were still packing up and saw a long party coming down the trail. I said “weird, they’re not wearing shirts…actually, probably not pants either.” By the time we packed up, we had to merge into the middle of International Hike Naked Day (kind of NSFW…plus old balls…blech), and hiked with men & women, young & old for a few hundred yards before they branched off for a swim.

THE WOODS CAN HEAL YOU

My Grandfather passed away on July 31st last year, just a few days before our final testing for the hammocks and tarps. I was very fond of him, and went to Maryland the next day to see my family. In May I was there, and had taken the time to tell him and my Grandmother both, with Whitney and Charlie next to me, that we were grateful for how they lived their life, blessed by their legacy and inspired to build a fruitful marriage. We prayed for them, and I left certain that they knew their life’s work was validated in future generations. For me that was good-bye.

The funeral was scheduled to accommodate out-of-town family, and I had to go back to work. It wasn’t easy, but I’m certain that’s what my grandfather would’ve done–make a hard decision with what’s best for your family. Coincidentally, when my paternal Grandmother had passed away, my Dad, brothers and I also made the trek up to the ‘dacks to get away. I knew that I could rely on their solitude and beauty to restore me–the woods can heal you if you let them.

This was every day in the 'dacks. Untangling life ;)

This was every day in the ‘dacks. Untangling life ;)

At 5am the day after I got back, John and I + 2 dudes took the hammocks and tarps out for their final test, a week-long foray into the Adirondacks–canoeing, photoshooting, swimming and Red Red. We paddled to the back of Little Tupper Lake, and then through the marsh to a spot called Rock Pond. After a bit of scouting around we setup camp in a rooty, wooded spot with an awesome rock–perfect for jumping. The weather stayed perfect, which is not always great if you’re testing hammocks, but on the last night Mother Nature joined the party and dumped a helluva lot of rain on us.

I stayed dry and slept like a baby – using only the Trail Tarp, which we recommend only as a light-weather cover (it was seam-sealed, btw).

OPEN THE FLOOD GATES

Later in August, we were given the opportunity to show at the Capsule Show Donut Shop in Las Vegas. It was our first public exhibition and trade show–very big considerations for a small biz. It’s amazing the first time you approach an event with no empirical data, how many things you overshoot, forget or just don’t think about. Luckily, John is an absolute master of planning and preparation.

We were very well received in Vegas, made tons of connections and made a decent number of sales (Donut Shop is a cash & carry section). The people we met and buzz set the pace for the rest of our year, August-onward. Things got and stayed very busy–press requests, sales, promotions, finishing gear designs and of course prepping for the holidays.

capsule-john

Our debut public event.

SANTA WILL SLAY YOU

In a stroke of genius, John built our holiday campaign in September/October so all of our creative assets were ready to go, saving us a ton of time when the rush came later. We had a huge hiccup printing the hammock stuff sacks (custom ink we bought did not adhere to the fabric as promised but we were able to reconfigure, and launch all three still in time for the fall shoulder season. We also found time to release two new bandanas which took a huge amount of design time, but have definitely been worth it in terms of sales: Ram Bandana, Moose Bandana.

In a previous post I highlighted the value of how crucial the right partner is.

John's hard work paid off – everyone loved this image

John’s hard work paid off – everyone loved this image

By early November, we had “settled” on a holiday marketing and event plan. At Capsule we had made friends with Gene Han of Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co, and scheduled weekly shop-in-shops and an event to highlight our cooking products, namely our awesome $4 Sweet Potato Pancakes.

Another great move for the holidays was signing up (and getting admitted) into the Renegade Craft Fair. It was held in downtown Brooklyn the week before Black Friday so we were absolutely crushed with traffic and sales. They definitely hooked us up with a great spot, right in front and a cool space to lay out the goods. It was so much busier than we expected I had to resupply overnight to bring more the next day.

What a blast - Charlie got to hang out with us on Saturday. He was our #1 salesman.

What a blast – Charlie got to hang out with us on Saturday. He was our #1 salesman.

Gizmodo also picked up our “poo” shovel the day before Black Friday…

Realizing the potential for holiday markets, we jumped on board with BK Bazaar and spent Black Friday weekend there. It was overall a pretty good venture for the holidays. The only downside to it though (all holiday markets not BK Bazaar), is when the holidays are your first frame of reference for what to expect at a market, the rest of the year can leave you pretty jaded (but hey we’re New Yorkers). We really enjoyed meeting great people, making friends and developing new business relationships with cool people (e.g. Throne Watches and Awesome Boxes).

BK Bazaar is such a fun event, we've gone back just to say hi!

BK Bazaar is such a fun event, we’ve gone back just to say hi!

Coinciding with the holiday markets, we also bought our first paid ad, which was a sponsored blog post in Brooklyn Based. In terms of ROI it was definitely worth our while–I always recommend if you’re leery of when to start paid advertising, do it at the holidays when you’ll have a higher probability of success. The only downside is you won’t learn as much about your audience targeting because holiday shoppers are in the heavy buying zone (not a great control group).

BrooklynBased also promoted our cooking event at Hatchet Outdoor Supply Co. and several other local event blogs did too. We ran our tickets through Eventbrite, sold out in no time and had a waiting list. Unfortunately rain cut back on the attendance a bit, but lots of people came out–we cooked a ton of pancakes, Red Red and damper.

The last major component to our holiday mix, sprouted from the ether in November. Capsule Market Square is a retail shopping event planned by the Capsule team to offer direct-to-customer access to all the brands in their trade show circle. It was held in SoHo a week and a half before the holidays, and again was a huge success. In addition to a high volume of direct sales, we picked up a few wholesale clients and met some press contacts that have paid off since.

Tying all of the holidays together: We started off thinking we’d do weekend installations at Hatchet and the Renegade. By staying flexible and attacking opportunities we still had weekly appearances at Hatchet, entered two new markets and spent infinitely more time selling to and learning about our customers. BE FLEXIBLE

THREE’s…or FOUR’s COMPANY

Through the holidays, while I was running and recovering from weekend markets, John was plowing through online orders and making things alongside our first intern from the Pratt Institute–Grace Kwok. Having an additional team member adds an interesting dynamic to the shop, in terms of staying on-task and also keeping the products flowing out. Since Grace finished the semester we hired a winter intern and now are working with Alex for the spring. He’s a camper and outdoorsman so that’s also an interesting mix–how hiring “on brand” can line up with talents and experience.

John, making custom suspenders for my very tall friend Chad.

John, making custom suspenders for my very tall friend Chad.

To help with the markets and shows, Whitney joined the team and is now the “official” go-to person when we’re running events out and about. That was hugely beneficial for us, as my work days got longer she was able to be a part of it all and in many cases bring Charlie. In times when he couldn’t be with us, we were and are blessed with a huge community of family and friends from our church and Williamsburg Community Group to stay at our home and watch him.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS AS A DAD

2013 was a great year–a long, hard year, but really a great one and maybe my best year ever. It started so cold and dreary, and really accelerated so rapidly and furiously that 2014 has started with incredible momentum. I learned a lot about work-life balance, and about how being better at my work was not for the sake of doing more work, but for the sake of living a better life. It’s easy to forget sometimes that starting a business is ultimately for the purpose of living a life on your own terms. In 2013, I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted with Charlie and Whitney, but looking back on it my best and most-treasured memories where with them–and that’s incredibly reassuring to me. It’s given me huge inspiration to be better at Bush Smarts, better at Creative Consulting and better at everything else so that I can have more time with them and more meaningful quality time.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  1. New businesses often experience a wide marketing mix of opportunities
  2. Business growth comes from saying NO to some things and YES to others
  3. Invest your time and effort into compelling products
  4. Don’t sweat trolls

Should a Soon-to-be-Dad Start a Business?

This is definitely a tough question and one that every Dad, aspiring Dad and unintentional Dad may have to tackle. Though there is no definite answer, here’s how I approached it and a bit about how things are working out. A big component in my book is going to surround how entrepreneur parents approached the same decision.

John and I had been friends for a few years since working together at Eastern Mountain Sports’ SoHo flagship. We both came from different sides of the design world and we discussed how we might put our backgrounds together to make some cool gear for ourselves. Our first project was the Bear Star, discussed in early August 2011. After some meetings, emails and sketches we were on our way to a prototype, but I was also planning to leave NY at the end of March 2012 to find some new adventures.

Fast forward to early November 2011 when John and I pulled in to Tuxedo, NY and were hiking towards our go-to campsite. Just days before, I’d learned my wife, Whitney, was pregnant. After only 6 months of marriage, this was definitely unexpected and certainly not “planned.”

John became the first person to hear that my wife was pregnant, so this creates the fork in the road. Leaving NY was not an option now, but was it a good idea to start a gear company?

 

Decision 1 : Do You Have Strong Partnerships?

This is the most crucial decision in whether or not you should start a business with a child on the way.

The first partnership starts at home–how are things with your wife/partner? Are you 1000% certain that he/she is behind this decision? How are you going to manage child care? Will someone stay at home? Whitney had a contract job that ended March 31st prior to the delivery. We decided that she would join my freelance work, making both our lives a bit easier. It was a really fun few months!

If your business is going to be a partnership or team, what is their opinion of kids or their understanding of work/life/family balance? In high-pressure environments, there’s a lot of people who have zero understanding of what’s involved with raising children–or preparing to have them. The last thing you want, is to enter a partnership/team and constantly feel like you’re behind because you have to go home at night. Luckily, John loves kids and has been hugely supportive of Whitney and Charlie. It’s important to remember that if we don’t take the time to properly raise our families–none of us would be here!

In your absence, are there people you trust who can help your wife/child along? This can be relatives, close friends, neighbors etc. We are extremely blessed to have a sister, friends, neighbors and an incredible church community who stepped in to help after delivery, offered advice before, gave hand-me-downs and spent the night when I was away. Whitney also started the Brooklyn Summer 2012 Moms which is now over 100 Moms in our neighborhood, with babies in the same age range. It takes a village!

John and I in Ohio, touring the factory that does our titanium cutting.

John and I in Ohio, touring the factory that handles our titanium cutting.

Decision 2 : How Viable is Your Business Venture?

Market testing is important, whether you’re opening a venture-funded web app or a lemonade stand. John and I aren’t number crunchers by nature, but we did extensive visual, marketing and brand research into where things are heading in our industry and in peripheral spaces as well. Because BushSmarts is a hybrid company, situated between the camping and design world, we definitely had our work cut out for us. The good news is, the writing on the wall shows that people are into making the outdoor gear market a little more design savvy, and urban folks dig our rugged style.

Also in this vein, how much experience do you have in the realm in which you intend to sell? Will you need additional education, training, tools or resources? John and I have both been camping and taking outdoor trips for decades, and I’ve spent years teaching skills to Scouts and consumers alike. We both have been working as professionals in the design industry for years also, so our major need in skills was in the account/legal/programming world. This is fairly common though, so for us we felt like making an outdoor gear brand was pretty rational for both of us.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 6.14.34 PM

A younger me, at Scout Camp. Who knew this would lead me to starting a gear company…haha.

 

Decision 3 : How Far are You Willing to Go?

DO NOT turn your business venture into a money pit. Set the amount you are willing to invest and stick to it. If that means a time limit, then set the point at which you will leave the venture if your goals are not reached. It’s way too easy to let ego, pride and selfishness completely submarine your family’s future–and it’s NOT worth it.

Also remember that things change. If your wife/partner or business partner/team is in a transitional state, you have a responsibility to have regular meetings about this issue and stay on top of it. When people are flexible and realistic, it’s very easy to operate a business that doesn’t end up in personal fallouts and implosion. John and I keep a totally flexible schedule about when we work, and we communicate about what we can and can’t do. Never throw your partner under the bus, about anything, ever. We’ve been working on Bush Smarts for over a year and a half, and we still have discussions about how we want to operate. Adaptation is sanity!

Key Takeaway

+ Receive and give grace
    Know that you’re not perfect, and that no one else is either

One of the pastors at my church said that grace is “being forgiven for something for which you don’t deserve forgiveness.” Whether you’re on the receiving end, or the giving end–remember that you make mistakes and your decisions often hurt and inconvenience others. Recognizing this and sending this to others will change the shape of your business.

There are many times when I overstep boundaries with John (being late, forgetting things, making typos and not checking them, etc) and with Whitney (not communicating my schedule, working late, overcommitment) and it’s eye-opening to realize how gracious people are when they’re still willing to put up with you. Have the courage to  forgive your vendors, your customers, your partner, your spouse. It may lead to a radical transformation in your business, and your life.

What’s Your Story?

I’ve written this from the perspective of a self-funded, online-based, cottage industry business. What were the key decisions you faced in starting your business with kiddie on the way?