I think what truly keeps me going, what keeps me pushing forward, is the thought of quitting. When I think of quitting, I think of “true failure” because, for me, true failure is when you choose to stop progressing. Failure happens when you say, “I quit.”
These past 8 months have been really intense. We went from one guy making 25 hammocks in a basement to making well over 150 in China at a production level that I am honestly super proud of, and it has been one of the biggest emotional roller coasters of my life.
At the beginning of April 2018, I decided that enough was enough and that I needed to do a Kickstarter campaign. People had been asking me for several years at that point if I was going to do a Kickstarter, and I said “no, I don’t think so” well over a thousand times. If I am being totally honest with myself, it was mostly because of pride; I had this belief that Kickstarter was somehow a kind of cheating. But after a while of thinking about it, I decided we probably needed to do one to test if the idea behind Swayy was actually feasible or not. I had plenty of friends telling me that it was a great idea, but sometimes those who are close to us or admire us have a bit of a bias.
After working for about 3 weeks non-stop on the Kickstarter I decided to launch it. I had put a scrappy video together using the footage that my buddy had managed to capture from a little hammock “hang” event we set up, we mostly had pricing figured out, and even had a few media outlets ready to push our brand story. And so with that, we launched.
Two days before the Kickstarter was set to end it was clear we had our first success, at least by the terms I set on the actual page. We were looking to sell $10,000 in hammocks and we ended up selling about $18,000. For me personally, I was shooting for $25,000, but hey, we sold some hammocks.
As the Kickstarter ended on May 10 we had a huge problem. The manufacture we settled on in Dunlap, TN had seriously ruined our plans. I showed up after 4 months of back-and-forth conversations and meetings to find half our sample making materials destroyed, and nothing more than 2 pieces of fabric sewn together as if it was done 5 minutes before I was arrived to pick up our samples. This left me 2 choices: 1) I could give the money back to the Kickstarter backers, or 2) I had to figure out a way to make these hammocks somewhere else. I went for option 2.
I stepped off Delta Flight 298 into Ningbo, China just 5 days after the manufacturing fiasco in TN. This would soon lead to the contracting of 2 factories to make our hammocks. The Eira was to be made in Southern China by a factory who had built quite the reputation-making gear for big names such as Marmot, Big Agnes, and Nemo gear. Meanwhile, the Premus was to be made in Northern China near the city of Hefei by another reputable factory in the hammock making business.
To make a long story shorter, here we are 8 months later, the first batch of Premus and Eira hammocks have been delivered to the customers, and I am exhausted. I hesitate to write this as I know it really hits close to home and honestly, I feel some emotion welling up within me as I write. These past 8 months have brought me to a place of deeper understanding, a realization that it takes a lot more than “me” to get a job done. Without the help of many people, Swayy would still be an idea. I’ve been humbled over and over again by the conversations I’ve had with our manufacturers that were scheduled mostly due to my mistakes and lack of experience. But that’s what this is all about: learning how to listen objectively and then act on what new insight you have, even when it hurts the inflated ego. I am always asking myself, how I can I learn from this, even though it’s never easy.
Swayy has a serious chance at mainstream success. But we could just as easily fail, I could just as easily fail. But as I said at the beginning of this post, true failure only comes when I sit down, fold my arms and say “enough”. And I will keep holding on because I am stubborn and bent to the success of our vision here at Swayy. We want to change the industry, not just keep a few butts warmer. We will make an impact upon those we help create experiences for. But first, I need help, I need a team.
When I went to Germany a few months ago I met a man who seemed to be the investor we were looking for, but in the back of my mind, I still had my reservations. I didn’t have any reservations because of moral red flags, I just had a feeling in my gut that he wasn’t a good fit because he didn’t have any experience in the outdoor or textile industry. But, I persisted on the basis that 1) we needed cash and 2) we really needed cash.
If any of you have ever heard an entrepreneur talk about his or her experience, one thing always seems to bubble to the surface and that is the ruthless conscience of the gut. And, most of the time, our gut reaction is right — it’s our way of finding a path that often seems non-existent to the eyes of others, and sometimes even ourselves. Well, I can honestly say that I am fine-tuning my ability to follow my gut, but sometimes I have ignored it. With this potential investor from Germany, I didn’t listen to what my gut was telling me.
Right after I got back to the States, I called this guy on the phone and we hit it off great. He was an older gentleman, about 65 or so. While we seemed to connect very strongly on what I would consider the foundations of a business relationship, he didn’t know much of anything about social media, e-commerce, or our very complex business model. What he did have was cash, which rendered me blind. I’d even been telling few of my sound boarding mentors that I wouldn’t take money from someone who didn’t understand the outdoor industry… I was pulling the wool over my own eyes! Don’t get me wrong, this man had a mind that worked in vivid numbers; he would work out our entire balance sheet by just knowing a few key numbers, but when it came to social media and online business, he knew nothing.
I didn’t waste my time as much as I think I did. He was able to help push my team and me to a point where we could financially plan at least 12 months ahead, and I even found that we turned a profit this year!
Instead of bringing in the hopeful $100,000 from this investor, we ended up settling on $10,000. I went through a round of probably 10 meetings with this man with the hope that each meeting would be the last before a check was signed. I felt like each time we had a conversation I was being blistered with questions I didn’t know how to answer, but this taught me a very important lesson: I was lacking experience in the world of financial reporting and planning. But, that awareness was necessary. These conversations lead to actionable steps toward a plan that would lay out our financial path for the next 12 months.
I was finally feeling like we had almost made it — but then we had one final issue. The man who was leading our financial planning success, the investor, was beginning to reverse once more to a place lacking confidence in Swayy and in his own understanding of our industry. I mean it makes sense, he is a very well-trained businessman, but when it comes to e-commerce, digital marketing, and the world of textiles, none of it made sense to him. So, he decided to offer us $10,000 for half of the company valuation that I have given to my family for raising $35,000 — the final investment was a fraction of what we were anticipating … This was not going to fly. I responded to him with a rather harsh email that after sending I showed to my team and fellow soundboards — they all agreed that it was a bit brash, but the investor came back seeing eye-to-eye and said that he would be willing to invest the $10,000 at the valuation of our previous seed round, or give us $2,500 for the legal feeds we had incurred it drawing up all the documents to bring him on board and call it a day. When I apologized for my words from my rather harsh email responding to his first offer of $10,000, he said: “It’s ok, I just took it as a well-intended man who has a lot of ambition and passion”. My emotions of potential regret were settled for the time being. I sent him another email containing the buy/sell agreement to attribute him 2.5% for the $10,000 and I got an email back with him asking for a repayment schedule. This really frustrated me because usually investors get paid in 2 ways: first they get a payout when the company is sold or they sell their shares, and the second is that each year the investor gets the option to take 2.5% (in this case) of the profits until the investment has been paid back. I explained this and got an email back, much to my frustration, saying that on second thought he would simply like to just give the $2,500 to pay for the legal fees and call it a day. I was finished, so I simply replied with my address for the payment to be made. We went from $10,000 to $2,500. I am a bit sour, but we did learn a lot.
Moving on now I want to talk about how Swayy has become an integral part of my identity. When I started this company back in college it was the first time a group of people validated an idea that I felt was totally my own — in a way they were directly affirming me. It was the first time that I felt valued in the eyes of others for something created that was totally my own. As time went on, I realized that this once exciting feeling was as fleeting as were the affirmations of passersby. I realized that there had to be a more fulfilling reason why I wanted Swayy to succeed. I then began clinging to the idea that our social cause, giving back to help build jungle schools in Papua, Indonesia, was the reason why I was working tirelessly toward this goal of bringing new products to life. Still, I found emptiness within my striving to give back. Yes, giving back is a noble cause for any one person or organization, but I was trying to fill a void that was seemingly growing larger each day as I tried to fill it with this worthy, but not quintessential vision.
The reason why our “why” never felt right was because the reason why I was doing what I was doing was completely different than what I wanted to admit, even to myself. The real reason I was pursuing this dream had to do with the death of my father, but that was frightening to talk about. I decided to try, to push through the discomfort, and it made all the difference.
I quickly realized that the “why” behind Sway was more than a vision to make a cool piece of gear because anyone can do that. Our mission was more than giving back to a poor village in Indonesia because again, anyone can do that. Our true journey is about giving back comfort, security, and warmth of life in all the ways that we interact with our customers. It is about investing comfort, security, and warmth back into the gear we create, just as so many men have done for me during a time of darkness and disparity. It is all about offering comfort, security, and warmth to those who need it.
About 2 months ago I almost departed from this creed. I spoke at a pitch competition in Loma Linda California and during my pitch to the room and panel of judges, I told the story of how I tragically lost my father to darkness, and how it left me feeling empty of comfort, security, and warmth. I felt many were inspired — the greater the tragedy the more magnificent the triumph. However, after the pitch one of the judges told me that I should leave out the part of my father passing, as he saw it as a distraction and was somewhat inappropriate. I am a pretty controversial guy, but I listed analytically. I soon after decided that he couldn’t be more wrong. People care less about what you’re doing, and more about the why.
This post has been a bit sporadic in its thoughts, but I want one thing to stick. No matter what it is, tell your story, live for others, and never hide the truth of your life. Authenticity works.
For me, this journey has been great, but it has also been very lonely. I feel as if it has taken 100 hammer hits to break through each brick in front of us before it starts to crack and make way to a passage beyond. But we will not give up… We will not quit, and thus we cannot fail.