Posts in category "ENTREPRENEURSHIP"

When I used my strategist brain to plan my wife’s birthday, the result was exemplary.

Ever wonder what would happen if you worked as hard at home as you do at…work?

I don’t hang on to surprises for very long. Whether it’s giving gifts early or revealing the destination before we get in the car, I’m not great at building anticipation. But, this time my wife turned 30 and absolutely begged me to surprise her…somehow.

Complicating the matter is that I threw my business partner a surprise party last June and it turned out great. I wouldn’t say I shot myself in the foot but the bar was definitely higher than normal. To execute a meaningful, memorable birthday for the love of my life I needed to bring my A-game, the same level of focus I take to work every day at Bush Smarts.

The weekend before the birthday, we were at the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn.

The weekend before the birthday, we were at the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn.

I attacked the birthday with three prongs of surprises: a bar night #1, a bakery party #2 and an overnight getaway without our little tyke #3. It felt just like a marketing campaign; her birthday would be “everywhere.” The result was absolutely spectacular, and we reaped the benefits for weeks after (wink, wink).

Timing is Everything

If you plan too early you increase the chance that she’s going to find out. We have lots of friends in our neighborhood that we see all the time. Someone would talk. I did my research, picked my locations and sent invites about 1.5 weeks out via Facebook and Paperless Post.

There’s No I in Team

My wife knows that I’m a creature of habit and if I deviate from the norm then something is up. I employed her friends to help execute the plan. One friend acted as the invitation to the bakery (#2) and another as the overnight babysitting for our son (#3). Other friends bought the cakes and smaller distractions to keep her on her toes.

War is a Game of Deception

The bar night (#1) was a red herring. She knew that she would have some kind of surprise, so I gave her that one early. On the night that we usually hang out with neighborhood friends she arrived to find a note saying everyone migrated to a bar. That was a giveaway, but that’s fine – it was supposed to be that way.

In the spirit of secrecy, I made sure to log out of social media accounts (notifications), didn’t let her see my phone and even skirted around booking the getaway with AirBnB – because we share that account. The easy alibi for “why can’t I see your phone?” is “some of your friends may have a surprise, and you don’t want to ruin it.”

Don’t Punish the Market

My wife is a stay-at-home Mom, so many of her friends can’t go out at night very easily. The solution was simple: the second surprise party for her and all of the other Moms at her favorite pie shop. Friends who couldn’t make the bar night were also invited.

Overall I wanted #2 to be an acknowledgement that I understand how socially isolating it can be to work an odd schedule and it was also a way for our son to celebrate with his Mom. It’s essential to listen to your market, right?

Buncha Moms partying hard at Blue Stove.

Buncha Moms partying hard at Blue Stove.

Be Willing to Sacrifice

Because I had three tricks up my sleeve (plan for the worst) I knew that if she discovered one of the surprises it could work to my benefit, because she would let her guard down about the others.

I almost had to spoil the bakery surprise, because she was running extremely late getting there. My son was throwing a fit that morning and that delayed meeting the decoy friend. I was waiting around the block so that I could dash in and grab my son’s overnight things. It took forever for her to leave!

Dictate the Tempo

Control when and how the experience unveils .

On the day of her birthday my wife thought that I went to work, per usual. When I knew she was on the way to Surprise #2, I texted her saying to be in a certain place at a certain time, in certain attire–also that someone would be at our house to watch our son. That was another red herring; she expected us to go somewhere that night.

Her friends texted me at the end of the party and I arrived behind her out of nowhere with a bag packed for the coup de grâce…

Paint the Picture

The main event was an overnight in Montauk, NY without our little guy. Because I’m a small business owner and the family breadwinner, we don’t get a lot of time alone together.

Checkout: Should a soon-to-be Dad start a business?

I wanted the trip to be reminiscent of our honeymoon (3+ years ago) where we drove across the Spanish countryside eating ham and cheese sandwiches on baguettes, enjoying carefree time.

Weeks prior I booked a small cottage a short walk from the beach. It had a BBQ on the deck and a wood stove inside. As strange as it sounds to non-Brooklynites, having a BBQ is an incredible feature for us. Earlier in the morning I picked up steaks, directly from the butcher and luckily had just collected our CSA the day prior for some potatoes and vegetables. Shoutout to Tim Ferriss / The Four Hour Chef for the recipe on Cooking the Perfect Steak.

Montauk in September: no traffic, beautiful weather and you get the whole place to yourself.

Montauk in September: no traffic, beautiful weather and you get the whole place to yourself.

Normally you would think cooking dinner and doing the dishes would be arduous for a birthday, but again it was a glimpse of our romance before we had our son and like most parents by the end of the trip we were missing the little guy. Variety is the spice of life.

Followup

Needless to say the triple-threat of surprises led my wife to call this her best birthday ever. I enjoyed telling her how things were planned along the way and it was an underhanded encouragement for her to be on-time in the future (so she doesn’t miss surprise parties)!

Going into the plan, I had the same anxiousness as a product launch, but as it unfolded the same joy and sense of accomplishment.

My high-performance business mind transferred perfectly into the ideal surprise planner for my wife, but that’s the problem.

It was sobering to realize how “on point” my thinking is when I’m working but how relaxed I can be (mentally) when going home to my wife and son.

They deserve my best too, so my takeaway is to save a bit more of myself for not just birthdays but the everyday joys that make marriage and kids so rewarding.

If you’re interested in more stories of performance strategy mixed with family life, I invite you to subscribe to my book updates. It outlines great advice in the “big steps” of adulthood and how to keep smiling when you fall down (again and again).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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