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.