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


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

 

Funding, Kickstarter and Brand Partners

The older I get, weeks begin to feel like days and years like months. I will admit, I am having a hard time being consistent with these blogs because as soon as I click "save & publish" on my website, it seems a month has already past! These preceding thirty days have been a bit of a rollercoaster. I have been on one end of the spectrum feeling like the world is in the palm of my hands, and then other times I have felt the world is crushing me in the palm of its hand!  Nevertheless, here I am, and I have a lot of news to share.

The biggest news right now has to do with our current funding round. Since the better part of October, I have been working with and pitching to a group of potential investors for SWAYY. This will technically be our second round of seed funding if all goes well, but it will be the first from investors outside of my own immediate family.

Just three weeks ago I had two hammocks, one hammock stand and backpack on my back, walking into a fancy building downtown feeling, quite honestly, very out of place. As I shuffled my way to the sign-in desk, a kind gentleman in a black suit asked who I was there to see. I rattled off "I am here to see the Lighthouse CFO Group." He wrote down a few notes and directed me to the third level of the building.  As I stepped into the elevator mashing the number “3” I took a few deep breaths and sent up prayers - I was nervous. However, all the nervousness settled as I met the group of three investors who were much different than I imagined. They loved the product, but they were interested in me and who I am. I find it so much easier to answer questions about my “what” and “why” than simply spouting off numbers.

If there is one thing I have learned throughout this entire entrepreneurial journey it is this: every situation I have thought was going to be scary hasn't truly been. In fact, more often than not, the presentations or interactions I seemingly fear the most have been the ones I enjoyed even more! Big pitch competitions, investor pitches, meetings with people WAY out of my class - all of these experiences have proven to be enjoyable and exhilarating. This, more than anything, proves to me that I am exactly where I should be; I love working with people.  

Moving on now, I want to tell you guys about two encounters I had this past week.

First, I want to talk about Amari. Amari is a 14-year-old who I know is going to go far in this life. As I was sitting in the vacant library on the campus of a local university (it was spring break) I sat on the second floor of the building and couldn't help but notice a young boy walking around. As I worked, I saw him weave in between the bookshelves and as he walked close by me, I took out my earbuds. I asked him what he thought of social media and what platforms he used most.

"Do you use Instagram?" I asked. "Yeah, and Snapchat too. Those are the two main ones" he said. "What about Facebook?" I questioned. "Nah, no one uses it much any more" he replied.  And he had a good point; stats are showing that his age group primarily uses the platforms he mentioned.

He went on to tell me that his mother was working and that someone had dropped him off at the library for a few hours (he had just gotten out of school for the day) until his mom could pick him up. He then asked me what I did, so I told him about SWAYY. He said, "Wait, so... Are you a CEO?" with his eyes widened and eyebrows raised in astonishment. "Yeah, I am," I said, and I handed him my card. He read the back of it. "Wait, you’re not a CEO, you're a Chief Executive Offi... OH! That's what that stands for?!" There was amazement in his voice. I couldn't help but laugh. 

It's pretty wild how a lot of the time the terms we use are so quickly and widely adopted that the exact meaning or understanding of the world becomes an intangible feeling or perception. I am not sure why this impacted me so much, but it really did... After talking for a few more minutes, I officially hired him as a commission salesman for our hammocks. Later that evening he texted me on my website and said "Hey Seth, thanks for offering me a real job today. My mom said I should ask for at least 15% commission instead of 10%, but I am totally fine with 10%." I told him that we could work out a deal that allowed him a 15% commission after he sold 10 hammocks. He was happy. 

Kids are amazing.  Kids are resilient. They are ambitious! We need to empower kids more. Why should we wait to be a CEO until we are 50? Because we need "experience"? Let me ask you a question: what does a kid have that a 50-year-old doesn't? TIME! What does an adult have that a kid doesn't? EXPERIENCE! Guess which one of those is attainable no matter your age? That's right, experience. Empower kids - they can often lead effectively, and they are forward thinking. 

The next and final encounter I want to talk about just for a brief moment is one I had with Caleb. Adam is one of our best customers, but he wasn't a satisfied one. Caleb sent me an email this morning describing how he had a really rough time with our product out on the Appalachian Trail. This was one of the hardest emails for me to read, but it powered my passion even further - I want to make the best quality products!

SWAYY is still very much a startup company. I am doing all the accounting (not very well), marketing, social media, website development, UI (user interface), UX (user experience), manufacturing set-up, supply chain logistics . . . the list goes on and on. It is very hard to get a product that I am happy with while I am juggling all of these flaming swords. Are we improving? Yes, by leaps and bounds. But we still have so far to go. The reason I say all of this is because being an entrepreneur is really hard, but man, when you get a solid customer who will complain freely, I JUMP FOR JOY! If customers take the time to write an email that is several pages long with instructions on how to make your product/service better, count your blessings, it means they care! Thank you, Caleb.  You are the reason we exist.

I am quickly running out of room and time and am in a bit of a hurry, so I am going to set the pace to double time for here on out!

SWAYY is planning a Kickstarter launch to release our newest product, called the Eira, in April of this year. Right now we are in a flurry of activity trying to stay ahead, settle new supply chains, solidify new partnerships, and more. Something I am excited to talk about though is our new brand partner, DownTek.  DownTek is a water-resistant down that will be guts and glory of the Eira (3.1lbs, includes a hammock, rainfly, straps). We are super excited about this partnership because it creates value in our brand, value in our networks, and value in the overall products we create. DownTek has been kind enough to offer their PR team to help get the word out, so if all goes as planned, you just might see some SWAYY products in Wired, Outside, or Backpacker Magazine. Keep your fingers crossed and keep spreading the word!

Things are moving and I am excited to be doing what I am doing. In conclusion for this month’s blog post, I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much for your help and encouragement. While the entire entrepreneurial scene may be glorified and seen as an awesome career where great highs and creative ambitions seem to flow endlessly, that isn't the case most of the time. Don't get me wrong, I love that I do and I would have a heart attack if I couldn't do what I am doing, but what gets me up each day is the people I have an opportunity to influence, and the chance to make a dent in this world for the better.

Talk soon. And remember...

Encounter More 

 

It's Never Black and White

I remember as a young boy and looking to my parents with an overwhelming sense that they knew everything. I mean, they were adults - adults have it all together and know how to make life flow from meal to meal, day to day, they knew how to make it all happen. I never really questioned much of how things worked and why they happened, but I did know that they happened. 

About a week ago I was walking the show floors of the International Outdoor Retailer (OR) and Snow Show and as I walked through the lower levels of the convention centers that were dedicated to suppliers, it all began to click inside my head. No longer was this industry so black and white to me. Everything had a process, a purpose and yet a very disorganized feel.

Imagine a big building with three main levels. The lower level is the base for all suppliers. The middle level is filled to the max with up and coming brands from smart outdoor clothing to electric dirt bikes. Then, on the crown of the establishment, we find the main show floor for the "big wigs", the "gearheads haven", or in other words, the multimillion (sometimes billion) companies like Marmot®, The North Face®, Patagonia®, Etc.   

Remember how I said that when I was a kid I saw the world in black and white and thought my parents absolutely knew it all? Well, if this makes sense for me to say, we as consumers are in that same boat. I remember I used to walk into any gear story, RockCreek, REI, Academy, Dicks, whatever, and I all I saw where clothes. I saw no process. I saw no trial and error testing phase. I don't even think I stopped to ponder what each material was made of. Now... Wow... I don't even know where to begin, but I can honestly say that I will never look at any garment or any piece of outdoor gear in the same light. 

I decided to go to the OR show on a whim and hope of one of our SWAYY Premus™ hammocks shown at the Primaloft® booth. (Spoiler alert: it wasn't displayed at the booth. #getitinwritting). However, from this amazing trip, I have accelerated my learning leaps and bounds more than I would have just sitting at my dining room table at home wishing away my time. Sometimes, you have to get up and move, and that is when the miracles and heavenly guidance come. It is always impossible to steer a horse that isn't moving. 

So what happened? A lot. But here are a few bullets to give you a feel:

  • Potential new brand partners with DownTek® insulation
  • All new suppliers for fabrics and hardware (except titanium) 
  • New SolarCore® (NASA Inspired Insulation) partnership 

The OR show was an eye-opening experience and I doubt I will ever look at any textile industry company the same way. While I do believe that the process of creating gear product is only as complex as you make it, I do know understand more fully the great deal of thought, planning, and logistics that is placed into even one jacket being manufactured. 

Switching gears now, I just want to say that we almost moved into our new manufacturing facility and are making samples today! A lot has to happen in the few months to make it all come together, but that is always the exciting part. Stay tuned and I will keep you updated. 

In closing, I need to leave you a short itemized list of things I am doing right now, but don't have a lot of time to write about:

- I will be officially pitching to potential investors here in the next week.

- Manufacturing process planning is 70% done. Once we get to 90%, we are hitting the launch button!

- Shooting a video for Kickstarter (more to come on this latter - new products are coming), so get stoked! 

Thank you for all the energy and support! Stay cheerful and remember...

Encounter More

 

 

Reflection and Progress

As I begin this month’s blog post, I want to shed some light on my past.

My year as an overseas humanitarian worker radically changed my perspective on what life and opportunity truly mean. I lived off of $50 per month during that year and finally understood what “American Privilege” meant. I think that "American Privilege" sometimes carries a negative connotation, but I think it is probably one of the most positive pieces of my story. I could have just as easily grown up in South Sudan where children are exposed to the inner workings of mass murder plots and the terrors of kidnapping before they ever encounter a simple and filling breakfast meal. With this knowledge, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of those around me and around the world.

My aim to is to give wealth to those who have been enslaved by ignorance due to a lack of schooling, enslaved by poverty because there is no chance for opportunity because the only way to grow in prominence is by paying off the higher powers, and finally those who are enslaved to misdirection and darkness because they haven't heard of the beautiful narrative of a God who so loved them that He sacrificed His son so that they may forever be rid of bonds that keep them.

Ok, I am stepping off of the soapbox now and on to the updates...

SWAYY just whirled through the busiest time of the year, and we experienced our first real growth and with growth came some pain. We recently made the decision to change the material used for our 1" webbing tree straps because the old was having some issues. We decided to switch to a new type of polyester and Dyneema blend called Polypro. This was a hard lesson learned because as a maker, I want everything to be perfect on the first try... In reality, though, this is impossible. If it was, how would innovation happen ? We decided to swap the strap material because we had a customer report a failure, which is never easy to take. Upon further conversation with this customer, I was hurt because he basically said: "the material you are using for the webbing, it's terrible." I became a little defensive and wanted to blame it on operator error and I may have done that a little bit, but I soon realized want an important lesson this could be. I realized that my pride should never step in front of innovation or improvement of any kind. As I write this it sounds silly that I had to experience this lesson to learn it, but indeed, I had to take the long way.

Another order of business that I really want to share is about the (OR) Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in Denver, Colorado this January. Several weeks ago I talked with our brand partners at PrimaLoft™ and they mentioned the possibility of showing our products on their show floor at the exhibition; the only problem was that I had just requested them to send back the demo I had sent them! Big mistake, to say the least. After picking my pride off the floor I asked if there was anything we could do to get our hammocks sent back out to them. There was no definite answer, but I was told that if I could get a pass to the OR Snow + Show and I stopped by, then we could possibly have a discussion about showing it, so that is that. Patience: I am learning patience!  

With the possibility having  SWAYY products shown on a show floor where giants like PatagoniaThe North Face, and Big Agnes are flexing their muscles, I couldn't resist and instantly looked into getting a ticket, only to find out they are $550 per person... I called up an old friend from the textile industry and asked her if she knew of any way to get in for less. She told me there was, but I had to register as a buyer. I looked on the OR website and sure enough, it was free: all you had to do was to enter a few documents and they should push you right on through. Well, 24 hours later I got an email saying that I didn't qualify. Determined not to give up I called the number from the site, asked for a registering specialist, told him my story, and received the phrase, "Please hold."... Waiting in silence I tried racking my brain to find a solution. "Could I just show up and try to walk it? Or maybe I could try to go as a worker with our brand partners? No... Maybe I cou.." *CLICK* the cheap music on the other lined stopped and I heard "Mr. Hill, I now have you registered as a buyer for the snow show at no cost, have a great show!

With a little persistence and divine help, I was off to the races just like that. Now all I needed was a plane ticket, a room to stay in, and a method of transport. Long story short I got an $11 plan ticket using miles and a free place to stay all within that week. Can I get an Amen?! I think this show has a lot of potential for SWAYY. We can find new customers, brand partners, suppliers, sources, the list goes on and on. I will be updating you soon on that, so be on the lookout across all of our social media platforms.

Over the past week I have been working on a new kind of business lead that I want to note, and that is our progress in receiving a license for government contracting. This has been a very laborious process, to say the least, but could potentially be a great form of funding for SWAYY. We are aiming to register as an (8)a regulation small business so that we can be eligible for small business set aside contracts for the military. Every year the U.S.  Government allows for approximately $400 Billion dollars in military spending, and a portion of that goes to contracts that only (8)a businesses can be awarded. I have heard from several sources these contracts are given to the first bidder 9 times out of 10. More to come on this later so stay tuned! 

And that leads us right to our last update point. The fellow who introduced me to the process of applying to become a government contractor is actually our account manager at Dunlap Industries. We are now working closely with Dunlap Industries to create quality customer zippers that we can outfit into our hammocks. This will allow us to increase the quality of our products while also keeping operations close to home as this factory is only a few miles from our new potential manufacture in Dunlap, Tennessee. 

Well, that wraps everything up! I will be posting updates as we move along, so tune in and remember...

Encounter More

 

 

The Beginning of Retail

Walking outside this morning felt less like fall and a bit more like winter. For obvious reasons, these colder temps allow our company to strut its stuff. After all, we do make insulated hammocks. To state it simply, I am really excited about the opportunities there are right now.

Over the past few months a lot has been going on, but there is a new scent in the air, and it smells like money. Now, I don't want people thinking that SWAYY is all about making a quick buck; anyone who actually knows me, Seth, the guy writing these blogs, will tell you that I am driven by the purpose that I feel called to: to make the world a place of equity. I love helping people. However, in order to help others in the business world, you need money, plain and simple. Does this mean that the only way you can make a difference is by summing up a ton of cold hard cash? No, not even in the slightest. Yet, the reason I say that the air smells like money is that we are closer than we ever have been to making this entire dream of SWAYY a reality. It's only a matter of time before sales take off, and I mean REALLY takes off; I can feel it.

All of the pieces are in place to fulfill a large number of orders. Are our systems perfect, by any means? No, but we do have the connections and manufacturing potential to respond to orders in roughly 4 weeks of turnaround time. This means that if we get 100 orders tomorrow, we can have the fresh and warm hammock in your hands in just about a month. While this doesn't fit our society’s "Amazon Prime" mentality, it does fit a startup, and I only see the lead time decreasing as we grow our business. 

This past week, I announced two big steps that SWAYY has taken to improve our marketing: SWAYY hammocks are now officially listed on Amazon, and we officially occupy space in the stores of our first retailing partner, L2Outside (Live Life Outside). This process has been a journey, to say the least; especially with Amazon. I had no idea that Amazon had such a learning curve for those who wish to be a seller (aka list their business). The journey with L2 started about six weeks ago. As time went by, we drew up a simple contract, and I took the products downtown to their store. Once I arrived I worked with Kat, a store worker, to hang up the hammocks and have them glistening in the storefront window. I must say, there was a sense of pride and accomplishment seeing a SWAYY hammock grace an actual display window. Take a look and see if you can find the thing that looks like a bright yellow banana. 

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Over the past month and a half, our focus has been on establishing a relationship with Precision Aerodynamics, a potential manufacture. In the manufacturing world, a great deal of conversation, at least in the beginning of negotiations, revolves around the cost of materials and labor. That is why we have been working to create a time-lapse video that shows exactly how we make our products. This, in theory, will give the guys at Precision enough observable data to give us an estimated cost of production. Once we have this number, we can finish our financial forecasts, which will enable us to take the next step towards funding. Once this has been completed, we can finish the full patents... Notice I mentioned the full patent: this gives us protection for multiple years, however, we have just filed the patent provisional, and should be protected for one year if all goes as planned the next couple of weeks.

We’ve experienced a whirlwind activity, but at the same time we are playing a waiting game.  We are making the most of this lull by reflecting, strategizing, and building our relationships. After all, it's not the money that moves the mortar, it's the people.