camp

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.

Finding Ourself

When I think back to 2013, when this entire idea came to life, I never would have guessed that my personal identity would have so meshed together with SWAYY. 

The past month has come and gone in such a blur that I am having difficulty elaborating on the bullet points that lay etched into my notebook beside me. As I type out this sentence I am trying to decide how professional or personal I should get, so why not share a bit of both?

I am dedicating this post to all of my peers and fellow Millennials who feel the pressure to make a stamp on this earth. So here is to you - push on and overcome self.

First, what a fantastic phase we are finding ourselves in right now. Just a few weeks ago we won second place in the "Will This Float?" competition that was featured during the startup week in Chattanooga, TN. What a blast! This has lead financing deal that could potentially make the SWAYY legacy grow wings, BIG WINGS!  

We have been working with a company called Precision Aerodynamics. Don't be fooled by their website - even though it may be ancient, these guys put out some serious quality and the best part is that they are located right in our backyard of Dunlap, TN. We are set to start manufacturing with them as soon as a few other pieces fall into the place concerning our patents and the financing round.

We have also been working with a company downtown Chattanooga called the Lighthouse CFO Group. Hats off to these guys as they have been assisting in the gathering and creating of a few key projections that will allow us to float under the torrential rain of investor questioning. Seriously though, they are literally walking me through this process and to be honest, I have never felt so underprepared and ignorant on the subject of finances. However! I am determined to learn and always fall forward. More to come on this...

A bit of bad-ish news. The potential manufacturing deal that seemed so glorious and hopeful just a few weeks ago is now a giant flop. Turns out the manufacturers that were interested in selling various products under our brand just signed a contract with the largest sports shoe brand in China, so with little hesitation, we were dropped to the floor. No worries! I am happy to have learned a little more about Asian manufacturing and what to look for. As a bit of a side note, these experiences have changed me in one fundamental way that has helped me to be more successful: I now know that whenever a great opportunity comes along that I should always seize it! However, I have also learned the importance of keeping a level head just in case the opportunity doesn't work out. 

In other news, and I literally mean the news, we were featured on News Channel 9 Chattanooga for their "Made in Our Hometown" segment. Long story short, I got a facebook message a number of weeks ago from the producers asking if they could do a story on SWAYY. Of course, I said yes and I am super thrilled with how they portrayed us. If you get a chance you should check out the video in the link directly above. 

One part of my job that I really enjoy is the opportunities that crop up that I wouldn't have suspected. Over the past month, I have been asked to speak three times for Fruition Lab, 1 Million Cups, and an Economic Development forum panel downtown Chattanooga. See below for a little glimpse of what each is about:

Fruition Lab is a "conference that brings together experienced entrepreneurs from across all industries and business backgrounds to give anyone the opportunity to learn from some of the country’s leading startups and the go-getters behind them." ...After writing that little snippet from their site, I am questioning why they asked me to speak, but nevertheless, they did, and it was a fantastic experience! I learned so much. Being able to reflect on my past experiences brought so much value to perspective going forward. 
The Chattanooga Development forum was a short panel discussion where I was able to tell the story of SWAYY and how I thought Chattanooga was doing in helping us grow. It was a fun talk and lead me to be able to network with the head treasurer of Unum, the CFO of Erlanger Children's Hospital, and other key leaders in the area. I will update on those meetings later! #networkingworks
1 Million Cups  is a national organization with hundreds of chapters across the United States. Each week on Wednesday mornings, one or two early-stage businesses present their companies to their communities. I was asked to speak at the meeting on November 8th, and it went so well. This event allowed me to expand my thoughts on why I am building SWAYY and how it brings me personal joy. I was able to connect with several key individuals with valuable outdoor industry experience, and I am stoked to see where this leads.

Well, that pretty much wraps things up. As I move forward on this journey I am constantly finding out a little more about myself and what I am capable (and not capable) of. I could write pages and pages about my experiences, and while I truly want to, I am saving that for my book that I just started writing. Yep, a book. Stay tuned.

Finally, for the sake of fun. Here is a list of awesome things that are in the works:

- SWAYY Eira is set to launch in Mid December... This is the "half the weight, half the size" of the Premus, fully insulated hammock. Keep an eye out - the Eira comes with the hammock, straps, and a rain fly! Look for it in backpacker magazine. (fingers crossed) 

- We are now on the first page of Google when you search "Insulated Hammock". Go ahead, try it out! I have searched it a few times just for kicks and giggles.

- We have office space! We will be working out of the sixth and seventh floors of the Edney Innovation Center downtown Chattanooga. Shoot me an email and come say hey! Address: 1100 Market St, Chattanooga, TN 37402

- The SWAYY nSync (rain fly) just released on the website (unofficially). No, it's not a play on the nineties boy band. This system is super awesome and keeps you out of the elements. Forget the tent, bag, and pad and Keep an eye out for the video!

- We are working on hiring soon! Do you know anyone with really awesome marketing skills? Financial planning skills? Send them our way!

Thanks to everyone who has been growing with us. Each day I am lifted up with the awesome stories from our customers, soon to be customers and those who just care about our mission.

Word of advice for today: Your biggest competition is yourself.

Encounter More

 

 

 

 

Will This Float?

Time flies when you are having a good time. A lot has been happening in the past month. . . 

First things first - SWAYY is among the eight finalists that have been selected to share their pitch at The Company Lab's annual "Will This Float?" competition! How awesome is that? The event will take place Monday from 6 to 9 p.m. at River Place, located at 2 W. Aquarium Way during the first day of Startup Week in Chattanooga, TN. You guys should totally come out and show your support! Click here for tickets. 

We have one main goal for this competition buzz – to get people talking.  Word-of-mouth benefits a small company like SWAYY in literally dozens of ways:

1. It helps us generate sales

2. It widens our networks. It is amazing how so many people will knock on our door to see how they can help when they hear about us, our products, and our visions. 

3. It puts us in front of potential investors. If I am being completely honest, we are not to the level of "sustainability" that I would like, but I hear this is relatively normal for startups - I want to live outside of those norms. Bring on the sustainable growth!

4. It helps me (Seth) learn how to better pitch the mission and vision of SWAYY. Public speaking is a huge thing for leaders in the world of business. Being able to cast a vision through verbal pictures is huge: it is what inspires those on your team to get up and make decisions. 

5. It's super fun. I love talking. My mom sometimes calls me a "Chatty Kathy", but let's be real, who doesn't like talking about their passions and experiences?

6. It's therapy.  Being able to express to others your past, present, and future goals helps bring in confidence and encouragement from others, and that is ok! The day of the pitch is the 16th of October. The day of the pitch is the 16th of October, which happens to also be the anniversary of my father’s passing. Honestly, I can't think of a better way to spend the day! 

7. It's educational. I can say with confidence that I will make mistakes on stage, that is a no-brainer. What I am thrilled about is that I can learn from those mistakes, showing me how to make the next pitch even more impactful.

I have started negotiation talks with several retailers in the Chattanooga area this week. This past Friday I meet with the buyers of RockCreek. Our main goal was to explore the retail opportunities and to find out what it takes to get a product on the shelves. Our meeting went very well. We were able to secure official invitations to the many events that RockCreek hosts in the TN area. Also, we will be revisiting in the coming months about the opportunity to test some of our products in their stores. More to come…   The retailers that we are most excited about so far are RockCreekL2 Outside, and RAK Outfitters. Keep an eye out for updates on all of these retailers. 

Finally, I have been talking closely with a potential manufacturing company overseas. They have the capacity to help us out, unlike the other six manufactures we have been wrestling with. The most exciting part is that they specialize in making backpacks. This is a great opportunity because they willing to work out a synergistic deal where SWAYY will sell some of their backpacking packs for a royalty in exchange for solid deals for the production of our hammocks. The bottom line is that we need to find a way to grow in production without going bankrupt or sacrificing obscene amounts of quality - this may just be the big break we need.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on right now. I can’t wait to see where all of this activity leads our company, and I look forward to sharing more exciting news with you in the future! Keep an eye out across our social media platforms and we will keep you updated. And remember…

Encounter More