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.

Bias: How it affects my business.

It’s been a while since I was last able to write a blog post. Summer is quickly coming to a close and that means a new holiday season. With each season come various retail trends, and I have been preparing to take advantage of the fall and winter time trends as much as possible.

Since the last blog post, a lot has happened. The start, let’s catch up on is the Outdoor Retailer show in Denver Colorado that happened back in late July and then we will just let it flow from there.

The Outdoor Retailer show was, to say the least, amazing. This was the second OR show I attended. The first one I attended took place back in November 2017, and I spent most time finding my bearings and attempting to locate new suppliers — while I still haven’t completely found everything I had set out to, the trip in July proved more successful. I had a plan.

Over the past several months I have been working busily to set up manufacturing in Asia so that we can fulfill the Kickstarter orders as well as the pre-orders that we have continued to collect. If you’ve been following the SWAYY journey, you’ll remember that three days before the Kickstarter ended I boarded a plane for China to visit a couple of factories — imagine an interview process that is morphed with “show’n tell”. I went because making our gear in the USA, unfortunately, didn’t work. We had to let go of our one manufacturer because they simply expressed that they could not fulfill the obligations that we both had set out to accomplish.

Once I arrived in China, I visited two factories. The first seemed more promising than the second, so naturally, I made the decision to go with the first. It was located near a port and the factory floor had plenty of space for expansion. By the look of it all, it seemed like we had finally struck a solid opportunity. Looking back on it now, I realized that my personal bias toward someone who could speak better English was the main factor in my decision of choosing which factory to use. There was an English speaking man who owned 50% of the factory. I thought that speaking the same language promised solid communication… I was wrong, and later it came back to bite me. Just three weeks ago we ended up letting go of this factory also, and it was the best decision I have ever made. In lieu of this decision, we called up the second factory to the north and had begun a new business relationship.

Bringing things to the present now, the northern factory has been working with us a blazing speeds! More importantly, they are highly detail oriented. It’s nice to finally be in a spot where I am making the mistakes again — I would much rather be the ignorant guy in the room than the smarter one because that’s how I learn best.

This change has been a breath of fresh air. We finally have a manufacturer who knows how to get things done and is teaching me a great deal about how to dial in a product to a point of mass production. But, as of 2 weeks ago, we were still held captive by one not-so-small issue: this new factory to the north was able to make the Premus™ only, not the Eira™. That brings us back to the OR show last month.

Our (Aldo and I. Aldo has been helping with a lot of planning and keeping me in line.) plan was simple: find a manufacturer for the Eira™ and called it a good show. I was, more or less, freaking out inside because we were selling something that we really didn’t have any way of making on a large scale. But, we were tremendously blessed by our partners at DownTek® — they supplier of our down feathers for the Eira. Their amazing team gave us an introductory meeting with a fantastic sleeping bag manufacturer who has worked with the likes of BigAgnes®, L.L.Bean®, Nemo® Gear, and other quality companies. We had the meeting and sure enough, despite our lower order volume and company size, we were able to start a relationship that is doing great! This company will be manufacturing the Eira™ and we couldn’t be more grateful, they are even going to be adding in their patented technology to better keep the down feathers distributed amongst the baffles! In short, that was most of OR — find a manufacturer, size up some of the competition, leave SWAYY patches and stickers in every bathroom and on every sitting table area. Veni, Vidi, Vici: we came, we saw, we conquered.

Encounter More,

Seth Hill

Founder of SWAYY


Patent Protection: Friendships Hold Up  Better

Patent Protection: Friendships hold up betterThe first question most people ask when I tell them SWAYY's story seems to ring in my ears on a daily basis, and honestly, I think it adds more legitimacy to a brand than actual protection. The question is: “Have you gotten a patent yet?”

I decided a few months ago that filling out an application for a patent provisional here in the US (patent protection for 12 months with very little up-front cost) would be a good idea for several reasons: first, it adds legitimacy to the SWAYY brand, and secondly, it allows me to shut down the question of “Have you patented your idea yet?”.

Over the past few months, all this talk of patents and legal protection has caused me to reflect on what it means to be doing business in China and the kind of work relationships one should expect. Should I get a patent in China? If so, how good would it be? Should I mistrust my manufacturer in the first place?  Do I have the capital to enforce any legal action if I was cheated and ripped off? For that matter, could I do anything if something were to happen to us in the states?

One thing has become abundantly clear to me that much of the world throws by the wayside: people are people, and it’s much harder to rip off someone who you know as a friend. And I mean a real friend — the kind of friend who sends you photos of their toddlers and cracks funny jokes with you. I believe that friendships hold up much better than any stack of ink and paper held together by a three-ring binder. Friends are bonded by trust, respect, and a deep understanding for who you are and what you stand for.

A piece of wisdom that is becoming increasingly apparent is that your network is your net-worth. I am incredibly fortunate and blessed to have the connections that I have today. Just to give you an idea, I have confirmed that there is only one degree of separation between myself and influencers like Richard Branson, Snoop Dog, Michael Jordan, and Barak Obama, which is beyond crazy… or is it? Does this really mean anything? I would argue not until I get to know them, but the possibilities are exciting. 

I am here to offer some encouragement. I believe that today, this week, this year, is an incredibly amazing time to be alive. You can literally meet anyone and become anything. I am optimistic because regardless of who you are and where you sit, you have an opportunity to learn from the largest database in the world, the internet, and create value for others on a scale that ten years ago would have been laughed at!

That being said, each day I get up and I have one purpose. It’s not to make the best hammocks in the world (although that is a goal). My purpose—SWAYY’s purpose—is to build relationships that are long-lasting and create value for everyone involved. Being able to help others is equal to adding value. For example, connecting a designer with a project means adding value. In all we do we should add value, period.

Being an entrepreneur is all about making friends, connecting others and bringing value to anyone and everyone. Do you want to be an entrepreneur? Do you want to make a difference? Then here’s to step #1: Get up, get out, and go build some friendships — you’ll be amazed at where you’ll end up.

Encounter More,

Seth Hill

Founder of SWAYY

p.s. This month The WAYY Vlog is a bit longer, but it tells a bit more of the in depth story of SWAYY. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Click Here for the VLOG!

 

Build Your Character & Ask Questions

I am finding that the more I am exposed to the realm of Entrepreneurship, the more I realize that no one really knows what they are doing, me included. I don’t claim to know it all, and I don’t even think I know much of anything, except this one thing: picking up a piece of trash off the sidewalk says a lot about a man and the character he obtains.  

I realize that the past few sentences may not make much sense, but think about it - picking up the trash has a lot to do with who you are. You see, each day I wake up I start an internal battle with self. I crack open my Bible because I believe that whatever I put into who I am will find its way back out. I am inherently selfish, all of us are to some degree or another. Whatever we put in, what ever we listen to, whoever we talk to, and where we walk and spend our time: these factors put pressure on our character to either build it up to integrity or smash it down into destruction.

Entrepreneurship for me is meeting a lot of people and asking questions. I deliberately ask questions at times that are super difficult muster, not because they are fundamentally difficult to articulate, but rather because they show my true ignorance in a particular area.

Yesterday I met with Dawson Wheeler, one of the great men responsible for growing RockCreek, an outdoor retailer based in Chattanooga, TN, to what is is today. Because of a successful exit some time ago he is no longer involved. While talking with Dawson I realized that three to four times per minute he would use jargon and terms that absolutely flew over my head. Let that sink in. I have been in the outdoor and manufacturing space for about four years now and still, I have a knowledge base that could only fill up a 5mb thumb-drive. BUT it absolutely doesn’t matter! I was able, through much practice, to ask “ignorant” questions and be humble so that 1) I could keep my own pride in check and 2) so I could learn something. I think learning has just as much to do with the learner as it does the teacher.  In fact, it may even be closer to a 70 and 30 split, with the learner carrying more responsibility. When a teacher is explaining some principle or concept, they have an idea of what they think you might be thinking and how you should apply it to your life – this can be problematic. It is the responsibility of the learner to take the information they have been given and apply it to their own unique set of circumstances - critical thinking is indeed CRITICAL!

Imagine this:  You are listening to a radio show.  After a while, you begin to imagine what the host looks like, right? Then, all of a sudden, you see what they really look like.  Most of the time, our minds draw a vastly different picture from reality. The same is true with learning. When we listen to the “teacher” or “mentor” we begin to draw pictures, and those pictures aren’t bad. I say this to encourage you because if your “mental picture” doesn’t match someone else's, especially the teacher, that is a good thing! It means you are discovering the world and making sense of it in your own way.   

Anyways, that is the thought for my week. I am constantly meeting new people with various levels of experience and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When people told me about Chinese manufacturing, I drew a picture in my mind and once I was met with the reality of what it was actually like, the two pictures merged into one. This is the way we are, so don’t fight it. Build your character, be humble, ask "ignorant" questions, and draw your own conclusions.

Click Here for the VLOG! 

Also, last thing before I go. I’ve recently had the awesome pleasure of getting to know a man by the name of Stephen Meeks. He is a real genuine man and I have grown very fond of him as a mentor and leader. He is currently starting a company called Manabouts. Stephen believes that being a man is far more than being a male. I couldn’t agree more in that manhood is a matter of the heart and great discipline. Manabouts has a mission to guide fathers and mentors in leading boys into true manhood. To do this, Manabouts created an unforgettable experience and awesome field guide that aims to lead you and your son along a journey that you cannot easily forget. In the busyness of todays world it can be hard to find meaningful time with your family, let alone sons. Stephens Manabout course helps fathers and mentors create a life changing experience that ushers boys into manhood.

Encounter More,

Seth Hill

Founder of SWAYY

 

 

 

Manufacturing in China: How the Chinese SWAYY’d Me.

As I begin I would like to make an introduction that is more or less a disclaimer: I am an American and I take pride in the fact that I live in a country that lifts freedom and liberty above dictatorship and popular opinion, even if at times the fabric of our great country is deteriorating. That said, please read on and know that these are opinions formed from my own experiences.

Just a few weeks ago, I was boarding my first of three planes headed toward Ningbo, China. Time had forced my hand to make a key decision before I had even left: To manufacture in China.

When I started SWAYY in 2014, I had a romantic view of manufacturing, especially of the textile industry. I had great plans to employee Americans, pay them well, and bring the dying skill of technical sewing back to the U.S., especially in the south. After my first contact with a medium-sized sewing establishment of about forty sewers, I was turned down, not too big of a deal as I figured that this would be a trend— be denied several times and then strike a business deal. However, after seven manufacturers and years of wasted time, I learned a great deal.

One lesson I learned is that Millennials (yes, I am a Millennial and proud of it) are not the first generation to suffer from “entitlement syndrome”, sorry to burst that bubble. There is a great saying that goes something like this: the industries right for disruption are those that are fat and happy. If American business can be compared to an industry, guess what? It’s fat and happy. With this disease comes entitlement.

Over the course of three and a half years, I worked my way down the eastern sea-board of manufactures. I was constantly met with the same scenario: I would approach a sewing establishment.  They would be interested. I would show them the prototypes; they would ask for more information. I would give them a sample and materials; they would be interested. I would wait… and wait… Waiting… Waiting… Nothing.

Once they found out that I wasn’t going to be pushing 20,000+ units in the first 6 months, the silence began. If I phoned, I quickly realized that no one had the courage to tell me they weren’t interested; instead, they strung me along. Sadly, it took me, 7 different manufacturers, to learn my lesson. On the 7th try I had sent 2 production-ready prototypes, $400 in materials, drawings, and a dash of personal encouragement to a “quality first, made it USA ra ra ra!” facility. After 4 months I was finally on my way to pick up the 2 new promised prototypes. I arrived to find some of my material damaged and a 3%, a half-baked prototype that was grossly unfinished. To say the least, I was very upset inside, but I gave them another chance. Well, it was my mistake and once again I was left with nothing.

By this time, we were over 60% the way through our Kickstarter and I had no manufacturer in place. All of my eggs had been placed in one basket, and the basket was set on fire and punted into a black hole. So I had a decision to make — do I try to hire a few people to help me make the products, or do I go to China and visit a few factories that have been inviting me over to give them try? Well, as you already know, I decided to go to China.

In general, expectations can be quite dangerous. When I have had expectations in the past, I have often been left feeling incredibly let down. However, I tend to still have them and I am not totally sure that I will ever be able to live a life without them. While on my way to China I had expectations, fairly intense ones as I expected to have at least one sample produced from each factory I visited before returning home. Long story short, the good friends I was blessed to meet completely and utterly blew my expectations out of the water! In fact, I was able to have 3 prototypes made in a matter of 2 days from one factory, and 2 from another in a day and a half. WOW! And to think it took nearly 4 months in the U.S. to get a half-baked prototype . . . this absolutely blew me away. What really stood out to me was the rapid pace that the Chinese were able to combine my verbal ideas with the physical product samples in such haste. It’s not that the Chinese quality is all that better to be honest, although the skill pool is much larger there, but the level of execution that was able to be accomplished added tremendous value.

Here's another thing; while I was in the country I didn’t have to pay a single dollar for anything. My room, food, transportation, everything, was all taken care of. I wasn’t even allowed to lift my suitcase into the cars that picked me up — I was treated like royalty. And after reflecting on the trip I walked away amazed at how incredible the art of building relationships in China is. They know how to serve and to serve well!

Ever since I was a young boy I have loved the idea, concept, and materialization of factories and assembly lines. The TV show How It’s Made was a key inspiration in shaping how I think today, and I still get butterflies when I walk through various factory floors — yes, I am serious!

In my opinion, we beat the drum of American capitalism while our march is out of cadence. I believe it’s time to get back to being a humble nation, speaking kindly, and making a difference with our actions. Are the working conditions in China less than that of the U.S.? Yes, most factories don’t have AC. But here’s a news flash: AC isn't needed to make great things happen.  Ask the Egyptians, the Romans, or the Israelites! Sure, climate control makes life more enjoyable, but seriously, we have grown so self-consumed about what makes us comfortable that we have soured our ability to work with our hands and get dirty! The factories I visited had full-time cleaners who circled the entire factory to keep things tidy. Is it perfect? Not at all, but the grit and work ethic that flowed from the places I visited was overwhelmingly exciting. Want to make a difference? Work hard.

As I step off of my soapbox, I would like to say that I do love America, but I believe in an America that isn’t afraid to work and, more importantly, serve! God has blessed America, so let’s not squander our blessings. 

Anyways, these are my thoughts and reflections about China. Lots of other fantastic things happened and I learned a lot. This trip humbled me, and I am motivated to help and serve others better now. Yes, the Chinese want my business and they see potential in our company, but let’s not forget, our first orders will only be for around 100–200 units. Considering the fact that they usually operate with companies working with thousands of units of a month, ours is a small contract. I guess they see something in SWAYY - I am still trying to figure out what that is. I do know one thing though: China is a wonderful place with a lot of loving people, so let’s not easily throw the “Made in China = Cheap” stereotype any longer because I can attest, a lot of great skill can be found there. They have enabled our consumer-based economy to grow so much and so quickly. Keep pushing, keep serving, keep humble.

Encounter More,

Seth Hill

Founder of SWAYY