Five years of struggle.
Five years of doubt.
Five years of fear.
Five years of shame.
Five years of later.
Five years of maybe.
FIve years of anxious.
Five years of patience.
Five years of hope.
Five years of CHIEF.
What a ride it has been. Sitting at my desk in my parent’s home between my second and third year at the University of Virginia, I honestly don’t know where the audacity came from when I announced that I would be starting my own brand. Sure, I had thought about it since the third grade, but nothing more than simple musings of business ideas.
Five years later, it's pretty cool to see how far this brand has come. We have an actual website, product on hand, fans of the brand, and things are moving in the right direction. While this is only the beginning of what’s to come, the stark contrast between sitting at my desk five years ago sketching a backpack and doing the exact same thing now is exciting. On one hand, I saw no progress for over a year, while on the other, I can bring a finished product to life on Kickstarter in the exact same time frame. That difference is everything to me. I have learned so much in these five years and I can only begin to highlight the key points, but I’d like to touch on the five most important things I learned along the way.
- A sketch is not the same thing as a tech pack nor a pattern
I drew my first product sketch for a YETI product in Paint on my school laptop during my first year of college. I was rather proud of it then, thinking I had thought through all the details, and even added the necessary measurements to the drawing. Looking back, it’s amazing they gambled on me at all and gave me an internship that summer. What I failed to realize at the time was that my drawing, however detailed I thought it was, was nowhere near where it needed to be to be produced. Fast forward to spring of 2019, I reached out to a designer named Adam. With some recent funding made available to me through the Pike Fellows program at UVA, I was able to have Adam help me piece together my first tech pack. Prior to that, I figured I just needed a detailed drawing. A few months later, I finally had my first prototype on my doorstep. It would be another two years after that before I learned that a pattern was an entirely different component, and actually detailed the pieces to construct the product. It’s been a fun ride.
- Marketing, Advertising, and Sales are just as important as having a great product
My naive self was of the opinion that “if you build it, they will come”. Unfortunately, the saying should be, “if you build it, create multiple campaigns to reach people on social media, capture their contact info, retarget them with email ads, they might come”. Oh, and you should post organically three times a day, everyday, for weeks on end. And attend some shows. And giveaway your product to potential influencers. And design campaigns that further discount your product just to capitalize on all the traffic you’ve now accumulated. It’s an endless game, but I do enjoy playing.
- Website design and development are worlds apart
With my background in ux design through my systems engineering degree, I figured designing my website would be a breeze. After all, I can create beautiful mockups in figma, and even on webflow, but Shopify presents a whole different situation. Even though I can manipulate code pretty sufficiently, it's not the most user friendly space to work in, and translating my design to the actual page builder is a much bigger challenge than I initially expected. In its current state, our site is a long shot from where I would like it, but it will have to do for now. Which leads me to my next point.
- Great design isn’t everything, but it is important
My obsession with perfection must be quelled by my desire to actually finish the project. All things being equal, I would iterate indefinitely on all my designs if given the opportunity. I have no problem continuously starting over in an effort to take another step towards perfection. But I’ve realized this is my fatal flaw. Since discovering my willingness to go back to the drawing board was inevitably pushing back my timeline, I have since had to wrestle with the fact that my pursuit of perfection is great, so long as I still manage to hit important milestones along the way. For example, I spent months designing my website, on different platforms, contemplating building it from scratch, and neglected actually putting it out in the world. When I finally forced myself into building it on Shopify and working within its parameters, I was actually able to handle the operations of my business in a single place, and therefore, finally able to process my Kickstarter orders and begin accepting new ones.
- Patience, relentless determination, and a bit of grit goes a long way
Had you told me five years ago that I would work on this business for over four years before seeing a dollar in sales, and then almost another year before actually receiving inventory, I would have called you a liar. In fairness, I did also graduate from college, experience a global pandemic, move from Virginia to Austin, from Austin to Houston, then ultimately back to Austin, start a new job, and switch products halfway through, so I try to cut myself some slack. Excuses aside, I have wanted this more than just about anything. I told myself that I would never quit, never take shortcuts, and never sacrifice my morals to get this done the way I’ve always envisioned it. It’s always been so much more than a great pair of pants, or even the perfect waterproof backpack. But that’s for later. For now, we celebrate the grind these past five years have been, and look forward to the next five years. The best is yet to come.
I’d be remiss to not thank everyone who has helped me up to this point. To my family, especially my parents for their support. It’s not an easy thing to welcome your adult son back home when he tells you he’s going to start a business. To my friends and friends of friends who jumped on Kickstarter the minute it launched and ordered QuickDraw pants, y’all are awesome. To the strangers who blindly put their trust in me to deliver an incredible product, I can’t thank you enough. To everyone I have ever consulted for advice, your wisdom has been invaluable. To Emily for sticking with me despite the failures and endless elevator pitches, your encouragement means the world to me. To those who have volunteered their time to help me in any capacity, I can only begin to tell you how much that means. I pray that one day I might make each and every one of you proud.
Until then, I invite everyone to celebrate with me. We are just getting started and there are many adventures to come. Make sure you gear up by grabbing two pairs of QuickDraw pants. I will toss in the third pair free. Just use code “FIVEYEARS” at checkout.
After all, you need to be ready for any & every adventure.
May mountains move before you,