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.

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

 

 

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. 

IMG_0734.jpeg

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.