China: My Business Trip Journal

Ace, Myself and a Hat Supplier/Manufacturer

Ace, Myself and a Hat Supplier/Manufacturer

April 29 — Flight to Guangzhou, China >>

Today marks my third trip to China. My first was 2 years ago when I took a three and a half week tour to learn about Chinese history and business. It was the final 3 credits of my college career and was my first experience with the culture that would soon become a large piece of my life. I had my eyes set on the trip for a year. Because I was working on creating my own company in the textile world, I decided that this school trip would be a great way to potentially meet some manufacturers for Swayy. Well, I went on the trip and the manufacturers that I had hoped to meet never actually came to fruition.

My second trip to China was out of dire necessity as I had sold about $18,000 in preorders for the Swayy Premus and Eira. Our US manufacture had rendered completely hopeless, and so I decided to take a risk and accept the invitations that I had received from several factories interested in manufacturing for Swayy. It was a wonderful trip. I learned the power of a face-to-face meeting and its ability to solidify relationships, in business and otherwise.

This time I headed to China with a twofold mission: to visit the largest trade show in the world, the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China. I arrived with the intent on coming away with new inspiration for several products that we are wanting to create at Swayy and to open my networks to the eastern parts of the world.

This blog post is going to be a bit different. I am going to give you my raw and relatively unfiltered experiences from China in the form of a journal. Each day I will log my initial thought progressions, interactions, and reflections on how it pertains to Swayy’s future. Each time I have gone to China in the past I have come back with a plethora of ideas and inspiration, and I expect no less this time. Buckle up and enjoy!

April 30 — Arrival to Guangzhou, China >>

I got into Guangzhou around 1:00 am due to a delayed flight and didn’t get to bed until about 3:45am.W While driving to the hotel I felt hungry, but couldn’t tell if that was totally onset by the lack of sleep or if I was actually hungry. That may not make a lot of sense, but sometimes you have to travel for 27 hours straight to understand the true disruptive power your mind can play on your stomach when your circadian rhythm is amuck. Once I arrived at the hotel I shaved, took a shower, read my devotions, and pretty much tried to settle in bed, then I woke up at 7:11 am. So much for sleep.

May 1 — Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China >>

It’s about 8:00 am now. Breakfast ends at about 9:30 am down in the lobby and I am not sure if I should go now by myself or wait for Ace to wake and go with him. I will probably wait on him, this guy has done so much for me. There is WiFi is available, but I can’t find the password anywhere in the room. Luckily Ace sleeps pretty deeply — I know I would have been woken up by all the noise I made rummaging around the room looking for the password by now if I were him. Also, I really need that WiFi as I have some potential customers emailing me asking about availability in Australia!

Found the WiFi, it was written on a sticker under the TV.

Side note: This past week we were lucky to have the Australian TV Show “Hot or Not?!” showcase a Swayy hammock. Right now our website traffic levels are about 60/40 (US/AU), and we have sold several so far!

Time for Breakfast…

Breakfast was pretty much the usual. Some cheap white bread with a few eggs and lots of other random noodles, and oh, don’t forget the pasty white steamed bread! But indeed, there was enough to find sustenance to make it through the day!

Man, what a day. We walked the show floor for about 6 hours total. We put over 22,000 steps and 7 miles into the day. I had a few really neat interactions, and one of them was very bizarre. I was walking along the booths (literally thousands of them, the scale here is MASSIVE!) and came across another hammock supplier. The man, whose name I cannot pronounce, asked me what I did and requested a name card, which is what the Chinese call a business card. I gave him one of my “temporary” cards as it has a secondary email I created for this trip. If I were to give out my own personal email, that could spell disaster. Never the less, I handed my name card over to this man and he quickly smiled and said, “Oh! I know your website well. I have been following your progress. I reached out to you on LinkedIn about 2 months ago! Nice to meet you!” So, there you have it. This just goes to show that 1) you never know how far your influence may reach and 2) I am betting he isn’t the only one watching…While we have had some sites claiming to sell our goods, It’s only a matter of time before fake “Swayy’s” start popping up. Anyways, I like to think of this a flattery.

We stopped and talked to another factory that makes some very nice lightweight and water-resistant backpacks. The idea is to possibly take the below design and incorporate it into our hammocks, transforming them into systems that allow you to pack everything in one place. Thoughts on this idea? Let me know in the comments!

Concept Art: Caleb Cook

Concept Art: Caleb Cook

Moving on I found a heavy canvas fabric mill. A buddy of mine has been scaling up a small business that needs industrial grade canvas and so I was glad to be able to help connect him with what he needs. I think we will save him at least 60% on material costs per meter. It always feels great to help out a friend!

After reviewing many, many booths, I decided to check out some of the other halls. There are 5 total halls and each is spread apart by about .5km or so. There are little golf-cart trolleys that shuttle us around, so that is nice. After the trolley ride to hall A, we took a walk into the foods section of the hall. I love tasting different food, so I decided a small detour would be a good idea. I came across some awesome tofu and a giant sculpture of a transformer toy made entirely out of gummy candy… I was pretty amazed.

Ace and I riding the golf-cart trolley

Ace and I riding the golf-cart trolley

Most of the day came to an end by 7:00 pm when we arrived back at the hotel. Ace insisted that we get some food at a local bar and afterward he treated me to a 2-hour Thai massage. I have never had a massage last for more than an hour before, and wow does time fly when you’re being massaged! It was amazing. It started with a foot cleaning and massage, then we were given some very breezy “shorts” and were asked to remove our clothes to put on the garb. Well, Ace said we should take it all off… I was hesitant for good reason as it was basically see-through. Ace put his on and then quickly changed his mind saying “maybe it is better to keep our undergarments on”, I agreed with relief! But other than the sketchy tissue paper shorts, I had never been more relaxed and relieved of physical stress. Not to mention, this massage only cost $50 for two hours. As I said, I have never been to a massage parlor in the US, but I hear they are more like $200 per hour!

After the massage, it was nearly 11 and duly time for bed.

May 2 — Canton Fair in Guangzhou, China >>

Today we visited more of the fair, but instead of focusing just on the outdoor textile regions, we wanted to widen our perspective and explored many other parts of the fair. It was a good chance to get ourselves out of the “outdoor” thought process and think a bit more outside the box. We checked out the stationary halls (yes, paper), the medical devices halls, more food, and even some luggage and fashion apparel halls.

One exciting thing that I was quite fond of and excited for is a company we met with that is making base-layer clothing out of graphene fabric. State-of-the-art stuff. Imagine a base layer of clothing that could conduct electricity and even heat with crazy efficiency. Sounds crazy, right? That is what this stuff is promising. We will definitely be working toward some kind of collaboration with them. More to come on that.

To wrap up the day, Ace and I were invited to a dinner with the COO of a large hosiery company. Most of the meeting was “confidential” as this company is working on some big things with certain American companies that rhyme with grApple… Very interesting to see the other side of how products that become internationally used are developed behind just a few closed doors. I had a fun time listening and asking questions, but I think it would have been more exciting if I could speak Chinese!

After our dinner, I asked Ace to drop me off at the hotel for an early evening. It was 9:10 pm by the time I got to bed, and it was glorious.

May 3 — Meetings via video with Premus Factory in Guangzhou, China >>

This morning we had a conference call with Li, the factory manager about all the new changes for the Premus. For those reading this far down the blog, here are a few sneak peeks:

⁃ Integrated Bug Net

⁃ New insulation weights

⁃ New colors

That is all I will say for now, but the meeting went really well, and we aim to have all final prototypes done by late June and production are done by late July. Keep us in your thoughts as we navigate our second go-round of manufacturing! Last year during the months of May — December it was 100% all the time. So, ahead of us now are of detailed emails and conference calls — something I am not particularly great at — but where there are uncomfortable situations there is growth, and that I am looking forward to along with learning more about how to make this yearly process more efficient.

For the remainder of the day, we took time to work. I worked mostly on my laptop, read some and reflected on the day. Soon enough the heavy eyes came upon me and I fell fast asleep.

May 4 — Biyaun Mountain Park in Guangzhou, China for Sabbath >>

Sabbath! For those of you who don’t know, I am a Seventh-Day Adventist. We are a Christian denomination with various different beliefs, but one of those (my favorite) is the observance of the seventh day of the week, “Sabbath”. It’s a day of rest, reflection, and focus on more spiritual things. Often times I will go to church, read, and enjoy time in nature, but this week was a little different, so we decided to go to Biyaun Mountain Park in the old part of Guangzhou city. What a beautiful place Biyaun was. The park is nestled in the foothills of the city, but somehow so completely set apart from the city. Once we walked into the park you can hear streams rushing by, birds singing, and kids laughing and playing. We began our ascent to the tallest point of the park and there was so much to see. About halfway up we heard a local elders choir singing old Chinese “hymns” about love and reflections on life. A few hundred meters further up the path, we came across groups of adults playing a type of hacky-sack with a feather attached to the end of the ball. (Check out my @seth_t_hill Instagram highlight to see it!) When we were almost to the top we came upon an old temple that a monk had retreated to. There were fish ponds, many stairs and lots of impressive architecture.

Temple in Biyaun Mountain Park

Temple in Biyaun Mountain Park

If there is one thing I like about China the most, it has to be the thousands of years of deep history and culture. When walking among these old buildings I am ever more amazing at their detail, which runs deep throughout the culture. Traditionally no nails are used, only wooden dowels — amazing to think about the feat this really is.

We soon reached the top of the mountain and honestly, it wasn’t that impressive. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it was a nice view, but it wasn’t what I had pictured. This got me thinking about my own expectations of business and life.

Often times we aim for a goal. Once we have our sights set on something and we obsess about it, dream about it, and purse that target with everything we have in us. Along the way, we talk ourselves into believing that once we get to the top it will be all worth it and that it will be the greatest thing we have ever experienced. I know that I have done this so many times in so many ways. What is now striking me more now than ever before is that it’s not about the summit and it’s not about the mountain tops, it’s about the journey it takes to get there. The long nights, the stressful anxiety, the bonding you feel between those next to you, that is what it’s all about. Sure, the view from the top may be amazing, but knowing what came before is the true treasure.

Sunday morning came quickly, and after this joinery to the top of Biyaun, I was feeling very reflective.

May 5 — Guangzhou, China > Chattanooga, USA >>

It’s 5:11 am and as I sit in the back of this taxi that traces through the s city streets of Guangzhou, I can’t help but feel entirely blessed. These are the early days of Swayy and we have come so far. Just over a year ago we had no manufacture and little hope of a future, but now our supply chain is ever growing and our influence expanding. It’s a journey that I really wouldn’t give up for anything. Each day, every high and low, molds me further into the type of man I will continue to become and the company Swayy will be. Life is an ever-changing opportunity for life and happiness and I am so thankful to have the opportunities before me that I do. So cheers to the next step in all of our lives that will help us become who we are meant to be. Stand tall, take heart, and know that your life has meaning far greater than you know. 

Encounter more.


Following your gut is best.

Coming from a rather religious background, I have found that looking for the best in people often times brings about more good than bad, and often times it should be this way. There's a lot to be said when you pick up on red flags that make you feel, well, just uneasy. Today I want to talk about an experience I had over the past few months that could have seriously burned me. I will be changing names in this story to protect those with whom I was involved.

 About 4 months ago I got a phone call from a guy named Mark. Mark had been following my personal Instagram account for a while and was impressed. He had reached out to me about a week earlier than our phone call and wanted to talk about a potential collaboration. As I sat on the phone and listen to this man, two things became very apparent: he was very proud of his accomplishments, and he seemed to offer a lot of potential value to Swayy as a company. He talked about how he had just fostered new collaborations between some very large outdoor brands and how he was responsible for bringing high-profile celebrities into product collaborations with the likes of Nike and Adidas. For me, this seemed a little outside of the ordinary in terms of outdoor industry potential, but I wanted to hear him out. So we set up another time to talk.

 On our second phone call, Mark said that he would like to try and get a collaboration between Swayy, his company (relatively small but still bigger than us), and a very large outdoor brand. For the marketing exposure alone I was more than 100% onboard and I sent him 2 hammocks. However, I had a feeling in my stomach that this probably wasn’t the best long-term move. There was just something about him and the way he talked about himself that was off. However, I moved forward, and we decided to meet up at the upcoming Outdoor Retailer (OR) show to talk about the collaboration.

 When I arrived at OR I was anxious to get on the show floor, but the main reason I decided to go was for these meetings - those 3 days had the potential to be game changers for Swayy’s future. I had emailed all my other meeting contacts and set up times about 2 weeks prior to the event. But, as I arrived, I was still trying to set up a time with Mark. He had changed our appointments several times and then wanted to just “play it by ear”, which I hate doing as it seems to always slow progress. Mark texted me that we should meet the following day around 10am and go from there. The next day came and passed. Soon it was 11:00, then 12:00, and before long the day was gone. Mark said we would meet the following day.

 The 2nd day of the show arrived and it was time to meet. I walked toward the Black Diamond booth, the designated point of contact, and again he was nowhere to be found. I texted him and he said he was at the front of the booth. I walked there, no Mark. I texted him again, “I walked away quickly, I will be right back.” Nearly 25 minutes passed, along with my patience and I texted him again. After another 15 minutes of this rabbit chase, I finally found him. We will leave all first impressions aside, but let me state they were very low. But, as I said in the beginning, I like to think the best of people.

 Mark walked me around the booth and introduced me to a few people. We talked, but not about a whole lot. It seemed as if our meeting was entirely unplanned and almost unexpected. No meeting spot had been reserved, but I thought, ”they are busy, I get it, no worries”.

I called him out on his “success”, asked him what truly made him happy, and why he did what he did. He looked at me confused…

After about 30 mins of Mark telling me once again how “amazing” his position now was and how he was “taking over the industry”, I called him out on his “success”, asked him what truly made him happy, and why he did what he did. He looked at me confused, so I restated the question a bit differently. He said: “it’s fun”. After about 5 more minutes it was clear to me that this was not the reason he was doing what he was doing. He was bent on making it to the “top” at any cost. He didn’t have to say it, it bled right through all the facade as he pointed out multiple people, saying “You see that guy over there, he’s worth 2 Billion. See that guy? 50 Million”. He saw money, I saw regular people seeking for a purpose.

After that “meeting” I was even more confused. I had sent this guy a few hammocks, he said he was going to take a few pictures and that he wanted to do a collaboration. I was under the impression that he wanted to do a collab with his company, mine, and another big brand, but his story quickly “changed” as his “circumstances” changed. I left OR with low expectation and thought to myself, “You know, I will let this fly how it flies. If something happens, great. If not, if he doesn’t follow through, oh well.”

I got back home to TN and began going through my newly gathered business cards and emails. I came across Mark in my notes and decided to reach out. I called him up and I remember feeling like he didn’t want to talk to me. He no longer seemed interested in who I was anymore. I asked him about the collaboration and he said that he was working on a photo shoot and he would share photos as they came. We hung up and left it at that.

Over the course of the next few weeks, he sent me photos of our hammocks in urban environments. They were neat - not entirely fitting our brand, but they were interesting for sure.

A little time after he sent me. those photos, he told me that he was now working for ISPO (a very large international outdoor products show in Germany) as a curator of partnerships and that he wanted Swayy to be a part of a “hammock lounge” at the show. I thought this was a great idea and took him up on it. Several weeks went by with no word from him. Then a text came through; “Hey are you still interested in the hammock lounge for ISPO?”. I told him I was and that we should talk about budgets and details. When I said that he seemed frustrated, but I was lost as to why. “Does this guy not like planning at all?”; I let it go. Once again, a few weeks pass and he sends me a text, "Let's talk tomorrow about the ISPO lounge. I say ok. He says “Not today, tomorrow.”. Semi-frustrated at this point, I say ok. The next day comes and… no call.

So, I wait a day and text him. “Hey, I missed your call yesterday.” He responds “You have a strange way about you”. I literally couldn’t contain myself any longer. I didn’t text back. Mark texts me again, “I am passing you off to my new partner for Blah-ba-de-blah as I don’t have time to talk and deal with you.”

I literally couldn’t contain myself any longer. I didn’t text back.

I decided right then and there that this wasn’t the partnership for us. I felt as if I had gotten no respect, was given no time and was now being passed off to someone else. Perhaps I should have just went with it, but the red flags and the lack of regard for my time and attention at OR, over email, and through text, I was simply done. I texted him, “You know, after thinking about it, I think I am just going to pass on this opportunity. I haven’t felt very respected, etc.” That turned into about a 1.5hr texting match about how I was blowing a HUGE opportunity, then shifted to “you are a risk to my enterprise” . . . we ended to the conversation.

A lot happened over text - I wouldn’t advise anyone to do business like this via text. I have reflected on this for several days now and I am confident that while I could have made this decision a little smoother, I am 100% glad that I am no longer involved with this gentleman. Making decisions like these are somewhat risky, but as a matter of principle, if this decision were to end Swayy as we know it, I would still stand by my decision.

 When I started up manufacturing for Swayy, it took me about 7 different business relationships to figure out that ignoring red flags only slowed our progress. With Mark, I have no doubt that if I had continued along the path of business with him, it would have proved toxic to myself and Swayy as a business. For me, this was a lesson to always follow that gut instinct. It’s never bad to look for the good in people, just be careful not to overlook the bad, regardless of the potential payout.

 

 

Forever infinite.

Whenever I kneel down to do a set of pushups, I know there will be pain, and I know that at some point my body will be screaming at me to quit, but I’ve learned that there’s always one more in me. That same lesson of persistence is something I always try to apply to business. Whether I feel it when I’m doing that 55th pushup or running the 17th mile, I remember that pain is something I can’t control — it will always come and go. What I can control is how I choose to focus my attention.

I’ve been working on Swayy for about 1.5 years full-time now. During that time I’ve come across a varying number of competitors. Some of these competitors I have strongly feared or disliked without even knowing the people behind the company. This is usually because I feel discomfort toward someone or something that reveals my own weaknesses. This is something that has proved a hindrance in the past; it paralyzes my thoughts, freezes them on what I “can’t” or “haven’t” done instead of focusing on what is yet to come.

Simon Sinek recently gave a talk at the How To Academy where he talked about how he was invited to speak at an in-house workshop event for Microsoft. He addressed their highest leaders, who were constantly and staunchly obsessed with Apple, their competition. He quickly contrasted that experience with another he had had when he was invited to give a talk at an in-house workshop for, oddly enough, Apple. The big difference was that Apple talked very little about competition and focused much more about the future, where they wanted to go. What was more intriguing was the story that Simon gave after the comparisons were made.

Simon was in the back of a car with one of the high-level executives from Apple and just for the sake of fun, he brought up the fact that he had just gotten the new Microsoft “Zune” (soon released after the iPod) MP3 player. He went on about how simple, elegant and seamless it was, and ultimately he said to the executive, “I think it’s much better it was than the iPod”. The Apple executive looked over at him and nonchalantly said, “I have no doubt.” The conversation was finished. Apple knew that it wasn’t only about having the best product, but rather have the best message that framed the customer as the hero.

Simon goes on to talk about finite vs. infinite businesses. Finite companies focus on the short-term growth associated with sales and product, but infinite companies focus on the ideals and visions that shape their futures which will ultimately impact sales. I understood that to mean that finite companies create a set of tasks to be completed while infinite companies create a foundation to base ambitions upon, leading to a workplace that thrives upon sincerity and passion, not product and market aggression. Being an infinite company is about setting the stage for the future today.

The reason Apple has been known to be so great in the past is not only because of their unique product lines but more so because they choose to set their focus on the future, not the past; on the customer, not the competition; and on the ideals, not the ideas.

So as Swayy continues to grow I have decided to focus less on the competitor and more on the customers. As we create our place in the outdoor market we will forever focus on how we make steps today that will guide us into a brighter future for tomorrow. Thanks for joining us.

Perspective is Everything

Coming off of the Holiday rush of product sales, high customer engagement, and larger website views, it was a very slow January and February hasn’t been looking too promising either. By the 12th day without a sale I realized two things: 1) I was feeling like we were on the brink of extinction due to a lack of sales, and 2) growth or lack of sales should never determine my mood or outlook — it’s dangerous and foolish.

Although sales have been slumping, as much of retail does after the holiday season, we have a bright future to look forward to. We are currently working on prototyping for 3 new products, 2 of which we plan to launch this year. But, for some reason, sales seem to easily become the main focus of my attention. Perhaps it is greatly attributed to the fact that sales = cash, which is the lifeblood of our business, but I think it is dangerous to let this otherwise necessary part of the business take a tyrannical grip of our attention.

... and as soon as there was an 1-2 day dry spell of no sales, I found my anxiety reaching new heights.

I saw the same thing happen when we launched our Kickstarter. Although $17,000 doesn’t seem like that much now, it was a big deal then, and as soon as there was a 1–2 day dry spell of no sales, I found my anxiety reaching new heights, and I knew then just as I know now, this has to stop.

I have listened to a great many podcasts on the topic of business. These podcasts give me a chance to think about different issues that businesses face at different times in their journey. Big or small, all of the problems feel big at the time of the encounter, but appear smaller as time passes. For example, when Netscape went public in August of 1995, the company soon became worth more than I think even Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark could have hoped for. What they were then faced with was trying to keep employees focused on their jobs and less on the stock price. For those who know, Netscape was, at the time, the best performing tech stock and lead the way for the first .com boom. This left many employees at Netscape dreaming about how much their stock options were worth, which was exciting, but also dangerous. Usually, as stock prices rise, so do morale and excitement, but in the case that they dropped. Anxiety set in. This is a great example of how allowing moods and attitudes to be affected by any one business metric is foolish and unnecessary.

If we keep our emotions and expectations in check, we will have less emotional stress to work through.

Business, just like our lives, has many ups and downs. Through the ups and downs, the yes’s and no’s, the acceptances and rejections, it is always important to keep a level head. Knowing that waves come and go with the tides helps me keep a resolve to make decisions more along the lines of logic and data than with emotion. For example, when I first began Swayy I soon realized that finding a manufacturer for our gear was one of the hardest tasks to be completed. After 7 different attempts that seemed as if they would work, I realized that suppressing excitement about a success that seemed within reach was a good thing because often times rejection was just around the corner. On the flip side, the same was true when a definite “no” seemed inevitable. If we can keep our emotions and expectations in check, we will have less emotional stress to work through.

Packing these ideas up into one pretty package isn’t very easy, but if I had to give a few words to adequately wrap up my main point, it would be this: Work hard, expecting nothing. Let emotions play their part, but never let them control the decisions that need to be made. Emotion has a part to play, and it is a weighted force, but never let it take the reins.


Kickstarter: 3 Do’s and Don’ts

So I recently finished shipping out our 2 products from our Kickstarter back in May. It has been a serious and long road, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. With that being said, here are a few DO’S and DON’TS when it comes to Kickstarter:

DO’S:

1. Make sure to keep it simple

2. Make sure you can deliver

3. Make sure you have fun

UNPACK:

1. If there is one thing I could change about the way I started off my Kickstarter journey, it would be to simplify. In the beginning, I had 20 different rewards, of which only about 13 had anything to do with the actual product I was launching. Keep it simple and only sell/promote what you are launching, not tee-shirts and stickers.

2. Make sure you can deliver on your time tables, but make sure you can actually deliver! I had to drop our 1 and only manufacturer 10 days before the Kickstarter even ended. Luckily I had people in China knocking at my door wanting to make our product. We came out on top, but it was a RISK!

3. This is most important to me. If you aren’t happy with what you doing, if you don’t love the process, then don’t bother wasting your time. Business is all about putting out fires and talking to people about the same thing, over and over, 24/7, and that is not a joke. 99% of the people I meet on a daily basis ask “How’s Swayy doing”, and if that will get old to you, if you don’t like talking about the process or your product, don’t do it.

DON’TS:

1. Don’t pick more than 5 SKU’s

2. Don’t put all your manufacturing eggs in one basket

3. Don’t get too ambitious with your delivery times

UNPACK:

1. Minimum Order Quantity — that is about all that needs to be said about this line, really. We originally offered 2 sizes, in 4 different colors of 2 different products. That means there were 8 different SKU’s for 2 separate products. In the world of textiles, that means you better have a TON of cash. Our MOQ (Minimum Order Qty) for fabric is usually 1,000 Meters, and if we go below that we have to pay extra fees for literally everything under the sun. Word of advice: go with what you know you can sell a lot of. I had to change and call about 40% of our customers to persuade them to move to one color. #nightmare

2. I referenced this in “DO 2”, but make sure not to put all your faith into one manufacturer or brand partner. More often than not, people aren’t able to deliver on their word. Don’t get me wrong, I love people and often think the best of them, but when you are talking about tens of thousands of dollars, it’s best to have a clarity rate of 100% wherever possible, especially in the realm of product manufacturing. While we started with 1 manufacture in the USA, we ended up delivering products made in China by 2 different factories. And that’s not including the manufacturing of all our raw materials. Let’s just say our supply chain is incredibly complex!

3. This one I say with much confidence: Don’t feel like you have to deliver 45 days after your campaign ends. If you have that ability, then by all means, knock it out of the park! But, most Kickstarter backers understand that Kickstarter is a place of testing out ideas to see if they can work. We said we were going to deliver in October, and 1 of our 2 products made it by November, the other, however, didn’t make it until mid-January. It’s a long story, but the factory responsible for product #2 delivered WAYYY late, like 2.5 months late. But, it happens, and it’s out of your control, so you might as well give yourself some extra time for when stuff happens. Plus, people are never upset if you’re able to deliver early.

If you guys ever want to hit me up for some advice or have any questions about business or manufacturing, let me know! I’d be happy to chat.

Seth, Founder of Swayy

T: (828) 448–8767

E: seth@swayyhammocks.com


If I quit, I fail.

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.


Redefining the "Why"

This month I want to focus on two topics: the first is my new-found understanding of the “why” behind Swayy, and a challenge I am currently facing.

At the end of September, I was boarding a plane bound for Berlin, Germany. An entrepreneurship conference called Hyvecamp was going to take place there. Several friends and one mentor, in particular, suggested this would be a great opportunity to check out. I decided to go and was fortunate enough to have my plane ticket paid for.

I arrived in Berlin a few days early and decided I would use that time to prepare for the business pitch event that the entire event was set to launch upon. I was told that Hyvecamp is a place to come with your ideas, build them, and get some honest feedback.

I arrived at the meeting place for the opening pitches, waited my turn, went up to pitch what I had practiced… I hated it. My slides had way too much information, I didn’t know my audience well — it just all fell apart. But, as the weekend continued, I found solace in those who were attending the conference. Many of those who attended were upbeat, blunt, bright, and positive.

Blunt is the thing I admired most during the conference because along this journey I have grown weary of all the praise for “doing” something. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful, but those who flatter others have the ability to pat the back of someone right down into a hole of distortion. Interpretation: flattery is kind for a second, but then it becomes a form of betrayal.

I don’t know exactly what it is, but almost every time I fly abroad for some sort of event or conference I become acutely self-reflective and aware of the thoughts within my own head and the perceptions of others towards me, or so I think. Perhaps it’s because the lack of sleep gives me a bit of more solemn perspective, I don’t know, but I do know that this particular event was scheduled right upon the 10 year anniversary of my fathers passing, which most certainly had a deeper effect on the self-reflection aspect of it all.

During one pivotal moment at the conference, I was approached by a guy named Lorand Szasz (@lorandsoaresszasz on Insta) who among other things, is an entrepreneur who says it like it is. He came up to the table where I was working during one of the break-out sessions and challenged me to identify what and where my true focus was. He looked me in the eye and said: “you idolize the product too much”. And he was entirely and unequivocally correct. He went on to ask me, why had I really been working on Swayy. Without much thought, I said that I liked investing in people the same way that so many men invested themselves back into me during the time when I was fatherless. During that tragic time when I was 16, I lost most of the comfort, security, and warmth of life, but those influential men gave it back to me. That’s the same experience I want to give to those I interact within the business world, but even more; I want to give that same experience to our customers not just in the products that we create, but in each interaction we have with them.

When I started Swayy I was clueless on the real “Why” of what I was doing, but I have found out over time that it is a way for me to re-invest the comfort, security, and the warmth of life back into something physical: products, but more importantly, people!

The conversation I had with Lorand brought it all home for me — Why does Swayy exist? why do I push every day to make something better than myself? Because I want to give back the comfort, the security, and the warmth of life to all people. Will we sell a lot of hammocks on the way? Sure we will, but that’s not the core, it’s a by-product of the experience we foster and create.

As the conference came to an end I gave my final pitch and it went better than I could have ever imagined. I went in, gave it to God, said my piece and the story of my life, and my “why” played out. I won first place. I had 3 parties that were interested in investing at least $100,000 and I was on cloud nine. (Spoiler alert, we didn’t get $300,000). What made me truly happy was the validation of my journey, my experience, and my vision. People saw the future I was painting, and it inspired them.

Walking away from that conference I learned so many things in such a short period of time. I was so incredibly happy, but this was only a battle won in a war that continues to campaign.

Once I got back to the US and started conversations with all the investors, but one of them I focused on because I was told they were very interested. We began talking and it honestly seemed as though we would sign a deal the in the first few days, but life happened. The investor I was talking to got sick, then he had a big business issue, then I had to travel and the fire that once roared seemed to fizzle as our communication fell by the wayside, and that is where it lies. I have been talking with him for several months now and I’m still not sure how much of an investment Swayy will receive, but I can say that it will be less than $100,000. But, that’s ok because no matter what, Swayy will become what it is intended for. We have been able to raise about $25,000 over the past 2 months from family, and that’s a blessing I don’t want to undermine because even if the big investments don’t come, we’ll find a way.

I would say this is a direct reflection of how I am feeling right now. I am tired. Anyone who says that Entrepreneurship is easy is up to their ears in delusion or they’ve never done it. But, even though some days seem like there may be no tomorrow, I want to be clear on one thing: I love what I am doing and I know that it’s at this point when most people fall off the bull. But I get to wake up each day and plan out how I am going to use my time that day. I get to talk with people from China on a regular basis to build products that are going to shift the way people think about camping and the textile industry as a whole. I get to live cheaply in a tiny house and work on my baby and I have a wife that comes home to me each day that cheers me on, so why should I complain? What more could I ask for?

Here is a short video I made just a few hours after the Hyvecamp win in Berlin, Germany. I would love to hear your thoughts.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/BoglnTYgw-7/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=16k569v92sejt

A Bear Stole Our Bag!

I would like to ask you to do something. Stand up (if you are already standing… perfect), take a few steps to the closest door, step outside, take a deep fresh breath of air and look toward any plant or wild thing you can see. Now, take a hard and intentional look at that piece of wildlife. Study how it stands. Listen to how it moves. If you can, touch it and feel the textures running across your fingertips — smell it.

The outdoors is a majestic set of living things to behold. Everything has a part to play, an order to submit to.

If you adopt the pace of nature, you will find that her secret is patience. If you look deeply into nature, I believe you will understand everything a little bit better.

These statements are not entirely my own, they are fragments of Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Muir. Each of these men walked very different paths in life, but each understood one singular thing: nature is, at its heart, patience, knowledge, and wisdom.

One of my very first memories of the outdoors was a winter day. I was probably 2 years old and we had just had a fantastically heavy snow. My mother had me all buttoned up to the point of suffocation and after she rose from her knee to give my coat zipper one final upward tug, she opened the front door in front of me. Towers of white at least three times my size lay silently before me. As the shimmer of sunlight hit my eye from the sun bouncing off that freshly laid snow I was speechless. I remember watching wind-loosened snowflakes wisp against my boots and onto the rug. I looked up and couldn’t imagine how something could be so perfect. I held back even from my first steps as I knew it would somehow mar the beauty before me. But, the kid I was, I dismissed that silly feeling from my mind and dashed ahead. After playing for a while I was sledding with my mom. After a few runs we were laying on our sides facing one another under the apple trees and she showed me something I will never forget. She said to me “Grab some snow. Now take your other hand, point a finger and spread out the flakes until you can only see one. Try and look closely at your palm, what do you see?” As I tried to focus my eyes, I could barely believe the intricate structure that lay in my palm. The most beautifully crafted design, and another next to it, and still another. No two snowflakes were the same, not one. I couldn’t fathom how this was to be. But I do know one thing, it was inspiring.

Whether it was winters in the snow, always getting a high when the white stuff fell, and then falling into a mini-depression as it melted — whether it was the perfectly crunchy brown fall leaves that left a satisfying feeling as you stepped on them — whether it was the summers of Sabbath hikes around the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, I was always enjoying, always exploring, and always learning new things. Nature taught me that things grow, things died, and things grew again. Just like my own life, it was a cycle.

Another experience happened to me just a few days ago. My wife Ashley and I decided to embark on a spontaneous backpacking trip to a magnificent place called Black Balsam Knob just off mile 420 of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. We drove for about two and a half hours toward the mountains. As we peaked above 6,000 feet, we were taking in all the beauty of the fall leaves were starting to show. We pulled off the parkway, threw the car in park and packed up. As we began our short ascent to about 6,800 ft we took a few deep breaths of the clear mountain air, right before a sudden wind kicked up from the west and drove in a thick cloud of mist so thick it deafened almost all sound. It was awesome.

Seth

Seth

As we hiked across the ridge from bald to bald, it felt as if we were the only ones on the trail. Every now and then, the clouds broke enough to show us a few day hikers and thru hikers further up the trail. We peaked over the third bald and the mist began to condense into a bit of rain and before we knew it, it was pouring on us. Not entirely sure which campsite we would find, we made a quick move off the main trail to a little grassy knoll. It was perfect as any, so we quickly took off our packs, whipped out the tent bag and after about 7 minutes our camp was set up. ( I know what you are thinking, “No SWAYY?!” In fact, that is correct. I have sold all of them, including the prototypes…)

Ashley

Ashley

Before long, Ashley had set up our camping stove to cook a long-awaited meal. We were making soup and a few hot dogs to keep it simple. It was about 6:00 pm by this time and as the evening turned to dusk, we began packing up our food bag for the night along without other things and gently set them outside the tent leaning toward my side of the door underneath the rainfly. We zipped up the door and were in our sleeping bags by 8:00 pm. We talked for a while, you know like married people do. Sometimes we like to call ourselves old people because we are often in bed by 9:30. This Saturday night was no exception. By 9:00 pm I was out cold — the wind was howling consistently as it lulled me off to sleep, and as my eyes grew heavier and heavier, it wasn’t long before I was sleep.

Then… I heard it. From the deepest part of my dreams, I heard my food-bag being ripped away from under the rainfly where it lay right beside my head. I cannot explain in words how terrifying that sound was, just knowing what had just happened. I literally flew out of my sleeping bag to an upright position and looked over to my wife. When our gazes met, her eyes were as wide as the oceans and her skin as pale as the moon. She looked at me, and I looked at her and we both said almost simultaneously, “ A BEAR TOOK OUR BAG!”

Now, I am not one to carry a gun, or even own a gun, so I grabbed my underwhelming three-inch knife and flashlight and said, “I need to go out and get it! It can’t get away. I am going to open the tent door and make a lot of noise.” One would have thought that I had just been pronounced dead at the scene because Ashley in that moment had about as much faith in my taking out that bear as I could extinguish the sun.

They say the fight or flight mechanism kicks in at this point of any journey, and I was sure ready to kill that bear. But just seconds after, I was so scared that I could barely see straight. All I knew was that we need to get all food away from our tent and do it fast. So, I unzipped the door and beamed my flashlight into the misty darkness. There was nothing to be seen. Then, I looked down by my knees in horror to see a bag of food trash, still sticky from the ketchup and mustard! “Ashley, we need to get rid of this” I announced as if there would be any opposition. I picked it up and hurled it into the air, only to watch it drop 10 ft or so from the tent door. I must say, my accuracy of throwing seemed lacking in those crucial moments. But, it wasn’t 20 seconds later that I saw a horrifying form. From the mist, I saw the broad shoulders, the pointy ears, and the heavy breathing snout of a black bear. By this point, I had my plastic knife holster and a frying pan in my hands. I began to screaming yelling and hitting that pan and knife with all my might. In fact, I hit the pan so hard that it bent in several places. For some reason, I began making bear noises, very loudly, probably inviting the bear closer. And for a rational I will never know, my wife began to say “NOoooo!” almost as if she was talking to our dog nibbling a shoe against her will. You know, that way you say “noooo” almost elongated with a lower tone as if to reprimand the dog. The only problem is that this was a bear, and it didn’t seem affected in the least. In fact, he grabbed the food and backed away as if we were doing some kind of shady deal.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night. I stared out that tent door for an hour straight, waiting for the bear to return. Every sound from then on out was the sound of my impending death. Needless to say, we did not die. We just woke up to a beautiful sunrise with no food to enjoy it. But, as the sun came further over the mountains I found that all my sense of fear seemed to vanish — it’s funny how light does that. I finally gathered enough courage to go searching for our pack and sure enough, about 20 yards from the tent lay our pack, slightly ripped and completely liquidate of all edible substance. The trash that I threw to the bear the night before was closer still.

Despite the craziness of this adventure, I wouldn’t have changed a thing if I could. It bonded us, my wife and I. It created an experience that I could never forget, a memory that I will cherish forever.

In reflection, I believe there is a reason that most love nature: because it’s where we were meant to be. I believe it is where our greatest ancestors started life, surrounded by the wilderness and nothing to do but camp and enjoy the nature in front of them.

Growing up with an emphasis on the outdoors has taught me how to be a man. Working with living things has made me smarter, has increased my empathy, and inspired the creative imagination station that sits between my two ears. For me, nature shows me what it means to be loving. And where there is love, that is where I want to be.