entrepreneurship

Am I Delusional?

According to WebMD, Delusional disorder is a type of mental illness where people can’t differentiate what’s real from what is imagined. Essentially, they have unshakable beliefs in something that isn’t true or based on reality. I think I have it.

This past week I called an influential mentor of mine. He is the leader of what I would consider a very powerful organization that enacts positive change in over 60 countries around the world. This man has been leading this organization for several years and has well over 26 years of experience in his field. I called him with a very specific purpose in mind: I wanted to know if he wanted or would consider me to lead his organization after he retires.

As we talked on the phone, I finally conjured up the courage to bluntly ask him my question. I’ll paraphrase, but it went something like this: “We’ve been friends over the past several years and there have been some informal comments that we exchanged that have lead me to believe that you might want me to uh… lead this organization. Is that true?” In a very blunt and forward fashion, he said no, and I had never felt more embarrassed. But why?

After a few awkward moments on the phone, this very kind and gentle mentor of mine could tell how I was feeling, and he was very encouraging. Shortly after, we hung up the phone.

I’ve pondered the conversation for days since and have learned something startling. As I compared this experience with a few other instances in my past, I began to realize that this type of misunderstanding, this delusional thought process of believing that I was sought after, was one that I seemed to create on several occasions. Specifically, when it came to positions of power. I’d felt and experienced one reality in which I was the center of the story, but in all reality, it was all a falsehood.

Retrospectively, I’m happy I had the courage to talk to my mentor and layout all my cards. I thought I had a royal flush, but I got flushed. It brought me to the very important realization that I am not the most important guy I know! Seeking the admiration and affirmation of men is the wrong type of motivation and will never lead to a healthy position of leadership, hands down.

This past week I was reading Patriarchs and Prophets, a book about many historical kingdoms passed and their leaders. In the last chapter of the book, it talks about the last few reigning years of an Israelite King by the name of David. I found a lot of rebuking power in it, for reasons I think you will understand. It reads (emphasis added):

“The history of David affords one of the most impressive testimonies ever given to the dangers that threaten the soul from power and riches and worldly honor — those things that are most eagerly desired among men. Few have ever passed through an experience better adapted to prepare them for enduring such a test. David’s early life as a shepherd, with its lessons of humility, of patient toil, and of tender care for his flocks; the communion with nature in the solitude of the hills, developing his genius for music and poetry, and directing his thoughts to the Creator; the long discipline of his wilderness life, calling into exercise courage, fortitude, patience, and faith in God, had been appointed by the Lord as a preparation for the throne of Israel. David had enjoyed precious experiences of the love of God, and had been richly endowed with His Spirit; in the history of Saul, he had seen the utter worthlessness of mere human wisdom. And yet worldly success and honor so weakened the character of David that he was repeatedly overcome by the tempter.” PP 746.2

What did I find rebuking? Well, David had 1 thing that I have realized I have been lacking: Patience — knowing that his future was dependent on his ability to toil and have faith in God during the moments at hand.

As embarrassing as the experience was with my mentor, I think that my desire to be needed and wanted is normal, just not to the detriment of delusion. There’s a reason we have expressions like “man, I really put my foot in my mouth”. For me, my uncontrolled desire to be needed and wanted by the hearts and minds of men is one that has lead me, time and time again, to a place of delusion. So then, the question becomes this: how do we harness that desire and mold it into a tangible plan? By dousing it with patience, self-reflection, and candor. Nothing keeps me in check more than an honest conversation with someone whom I think “wants” or “needs” me.

Do I think it is wrong to be ambitious? No. Do I believe that it is wrong to want to be a leader? No. I believe that if my motive for wanting to lead is to impress the men and women around me as to bring some sort of praise and self-satisfaction, then it is wrong. There is a reason why some of the best leaders throughout time have often sought to step away from that platform and have not desired it. After a selfless leader stands at the helm of a ship that is responsible for the lives of many, directly and indirectly, they realize that the task ahead them is one that cannot be measured by anyone metric and it is in fact, a very hard thing.

These past two months have been trying. It’s hard to admit it, but for a short while, my wife believed in Swayy more than me. I had felt very sorry for my situation that we just couldn’t seem to find the right person to “join the fight” and my innate desire to be “needed and wanted” made it all that more complex within my mind. I thought I found the answer to all our problems, someone who could come in, add value and in some ways, lead me. I’d been talking with a man whom I put a lot of hope in. I believed that he would be the missing piece that we needed to create more products, bolster our business relationships. However, what I was really searching for someone to share the load with, someone to lock arms and brace for the impact that the future is sure to bring.

After 2 months of conversation, he said no. But I realized something: I was, once again, delusional. I had placed so much of my hope into this one figure that I lost sight of what I knew to be true. Up to this point, all that Swayy has become is due to the many relationships I have been able to be a part of. It’s never one man, it’s never one thing and it’s never one mindset. To build a company, to become a leader, is to strive forward with a vision that many people rally behind. I know that if I let myself be so affected by every passerby that it leads me to a place of unfocused vision, which means I have already failed.

I am still at risk, but my delusion has currently vanished and made room for sober reason and reflection. Do you know what an antithesis of delusion is? It’s honesty, surety, and finally, success.

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.

Side Note #1: Here is a picture of Ace and his cousin from Hefei. Super awesome guys! If you look close in the background you might see another American hammock company!

(From Right to Left) Ace, Me, Ace’s Cousin, Li

(From Right to Left) Ace, Me, Ace’s Cousin, Li

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.

Side Note #2: Here is a cool video I took inside a potential supplier factory for the Special webbing we use for our hammock suspension systems:

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. 

Side Note #3: This is Ace’s cousin’s son. This little guy followed me around the factory some, and he stole my heart. What a fun kid!

Li’s (Ace’s Brother) Son.

Li’s (Ace’s Brother) Son.

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

 

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