4 Things I'm Grateful for as an Entrepreneur
I quit my 9-5 in late 2017 to be all in on pursuing my American Dream – growing Outdoor Element. I knew going in that the journey ahead would be a steep and risky climb...albeit calculated.
What I didn’t realize is how much I’d love this journey. Struggles and all.
Reflecting on the past year, I’ve compiled a list of 4 things I’m grateful for as an entrepreneur.
1. A demanding work schedule
Yep, you read that right. I’m so grateful for the opportunity for a full to overflowing schedule--even if it’s exhausting at times.
I read a study indicating that busy people are happier than idle people. I personally discovered it needs to be "meaningful" work and not just "busy" work. I also discovered that my best-self is not the guy who does whatever I want. My best-self is disciplined and full of parameters.
Daily exercise is part of my regimen as an entrepreneur. It helps me manage stress and allows me to achieve daily goals. Currently, I have been on a treadmill due to weather and a couple of bad knees in rehab, but I can throw down a treadmill 5K like no ones business. I just broached the sub 19 minute mark ...which is kinda fast for an old guy.
On the business side, in just six weeks this fall, we logged 7,600 miles driving from Denver to shows in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida and another 2,600 miles in air travel.
Lots of travel time! And of course that doesn’t mean the work goes away. It just travels along with me, waiting to be done when I’m not presenting at a show or in meetings with potential buyers.
This looks like late nights, early mornings, and connecting to hotspots while riding in the back seat at my makeshift desk during long drives. Thanks to all McDonalds broadcasting free WiFi a good 30 feet into your parking lots. I'm so grateful for my business partner, Joe, and my wife, Noelle, for being designated drivers on road trips so I can safely work on my phone and laptop while traveling.
That was all just this fall. Let’s back up and take a closer look at the whole of 2022.
We had the privilege to participate in two accelerator programs: the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator and REI’s Navigate Program – that’s over 24 weeks of instruction time crammed in between running a business! I love all the growth, networking, and mentorship we have enjoyed.
Pictured are cohorts and team of the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator 2022 (left to right: Tanner - ICELab, Margaux - Lume Six, Michael - Outdoor Element, Mariana and Mike - Alluvia, Joe - Outdoor Element, Erica - No Limbits, David - Moosejaw)
OE was one of only 10 small businesses chosen by Moosejaw as candidates for their Outdoor Accelerator. The 10 businesses were then narrowed by public voting and Outdoor Element was selected as one of the four winning businesses. We are still so humbled by the love and support of everyone that voted for us.
We attended onsite and virtual workshops in Gunnison, CO at ICELab from end of May thru June. We learned so much and our time in Gunnison with the Moosejaw cohorts and team was amazing!
Big thanks to David Assad and Tanner Whiteford for all the time and energy they put into running this program. And another special thanks to Eoin Comerford, CEO of Moosejaw who literally sat down with our cohort and taught several sessions with us (also broke bread with us 2-3 times).
It's one thing to be the "title" sponsor for an accelerator program; it's a whole new level when the CEO spends hours of his life getting to know each participant on a personal level. The last day, he and the CMO spent two hours each with all 4 companies (yup, that's 16 hours of Chief Officer time with 4 small businesses) giving direct and insightful advice concerning features of our companies. The time and attention of these individuals was unparalleled.
I walked away from this program so pumped and excited for the future of Outdoor Element. The Moosejaw peeps are as cools as they appear to be on their social channels. Moosejaw (@moosejawmadness) • Instagram photos and videos
In mid-summer, we won entry into REI’s Path Ahead Ventures Navigate accelerator program! We were one of the 6 businesses chosen to participate out of the 150 that applied, and it is truly an honor.
Pictured are REI Navigate Cohort learning from business owners and mentors.
(left to right Kobe - Kobee's, Raquel - Alpine Parrot, Livio - Allmansright, Mitch, OYA, Mike - Outdoor Element, being taught by Mina - with REI and founder of Hero Clip, Daveyon Ross - founder of ShotTracker, Jason Mayden - founder of Trillicon Valley, Dylan - with R/GA)
Path Ahead Ventures partners with founders of color as they further their growth in the outdoor industry. Dan Kihanya, director of REI Path Ahead Ventures explained, “We’re excited about the products and perspectives they are bringing to the industry and look forward to partnering with them for their continued success throughout the program and beyond.”
We just completed the 16 weeks of classes, workshops, seminars, and lectures. During those 16 weeks, we were introduced to over 70 mentors and founders in the outdoor industry! It was a bit overwhelming and extremely enlightening.
We also participated in hikes, a service project, and a pop-up shop in their flagship store in Seattle, WA. There is nothing like building strong bonds by working and serving together.
Path Ahead Ventures’ Navigate program was developed in partnership with R/GA Ventures and has provided us with a customized learning experience tailored to our needs.
Each participating company received a $25,000 equity-free grant and we are now considering additional equity funding opportunities from both Path Ahead Ventures and R/GA.
Both accelerators provided great insight personally and professionally, and helped us to see how to grow our small business.
Throughout the year, our schedule was filled with many shows and expos.
Pictured are Joe & Mike in Bentonville at a show.
Mike at pop up event in Seattle at the Founders' Market by REI.
This year, we added a new expo to our list: the KOA Expo. Typically for any show, we pay a booth fee and setup to pitch our products. But the KOA Expo is different. To get in the KOA Expo, you must apply, undergo a review, be unique, very novel and fit into their prescribed niche.Only 138 vendors are invited. We were so honored to make the KOA cut.
Look for OE gear when you hit your next KOA visit...and if you don't see our product then please recommend it😊.
Great times at the KOA booth
It’s such a fallacy to think if you’re self-employed then you have loads of “free time”. I mean you do get to set your own schedule, but free time must be carved out. ...or is it carved in?
It’s honestly a challenge to know when to say when. There’s always something I should be doing, designing, following up on, writing, etc.
On my most recent road trip, I decided to bring my bride. There’s only so much that a supportive spouse can take before the relationship is strained. It was rewarding to have some time together. We listened to lots of podcasts, read books in the van, talked about our children, planned for the future, ran on the beach, and worked our hineys off.
I’m not perfect, but I try my best to keep my priorities in check. My bride is way on the top of the list. Clearly, Noelle has been the best decision of my life.
Noelle and I getting in a run before the start of a trade show.
I try to dovetail work in all of my daily activities. On our way from Colorado to Tennessee for a show, we pulled into a Buc-ee’s to fill up. I do my best to never an miss an opportunity to make a pitch, I went in and then came out looking like this…
Firebiner would be a great addition in all Buc-ee's, just sayin'. I might be having too much fun with this "work" life.
I'm pretty sure I put in double time most weeks, but I love that I’m available to support my kids and be a presence in their lives. Even if I embarrass them a bit.
Sometimes I go to my kids’ cross-country meets dressed up as their unofficial school mascot – go wolves! I love being able to celebrate my kids’ successes and hard work.
I try my best to get my kids to embrace the mantra, "discipline always beats talent" and to always embrace the process. Like spending time with the family, success is never an accident. As an entrepreneur planning is critical for any worthy endeavor.
Another great payoff is when your loved ones celebrate your success with you.
2. Opportunity to glean from amazing people
This year, I’ve met so many amazing people who have given me insight and hope for the road ahead. I couldn’t possibly mention all of them. Reflecting on it, I'll use the analogy of an experience I had long before starting my own business.
In high school, I ran cross country. It was at a local Hillsboro, TX meet and Coach Williams, gathered the team to pump us all up, as all great coaches do. Within the team circle she looked me in the eye and said, "it's okay to lead Mike."
I must have looked puzzled or she heard me whisper under my breathe "what?" because she looked right at me again and said something like, "You know. Be in the front and win the race."
Her words rocked my world. Until then, I didn't know I belonged in the front. She gave me both vision and permission. It was the only race I ever won in cross-country.
Her words still ring true in my entrepreneurial ears to get out, be confident, be uncomfortable, surprise myself. It's amazing how I can be both confident and uncomfortable at the same time.
I love the mentors in my life that push me to these growing moments. Justin Su'a said, "You grow through what you go through." Most of us just don't want to go through hard times which sadly causes us to miss out on so much growth.
When we foster the right relationships in our lives, we are forced/encouraged/mentoreded to go through character building moments. These amazing people provide me the vision and permission to succeed. I get that same boost meeting fellow entrepreneurs as we co-congratulate one another in chasing the American Dream. Don't miss an opportunity to glean and learn from others.
I am so grateful to learn from some of the greatest minds in the outdoor industry. Entrepreneurship is a constant lesson in learning. I am so grateful for the lessons learned at the feet of highly successful women and men in the industry by attending the accelerator programs this year.
Amazing mentors Mina with REI and Dylan with R/GA
The organizers of the accelerators bring in experts to lecture on business, as well as founders of successful outdoor companies to share their insights. I loved hearing of their backgrounds, successes, follies and struggles.
It’s never fun to talk about fails but it was so tangible, relatable, and inspiring to hear these highly respected founders share in some common struggles and that with perseverance, planning, and good luck we can overcome them.
I’ve learned more about wholesale, ideal margins, how to manage & define success, company readiness, understanding capacity and how to ramp up, how to talk with buyers, logistics/supply chain, marketing and investment, what’s powerful in advertising, user generated content, influencers, strengthening our tribe, and establishing a rich culture in our work environment and so much more.
A standout moment for me was in speaking with Jason Mayden, the creator of Trilicon, a former designer with Nike, and currently working with R/GA. Jason sat me down and taught me, “When going in to speak with investors and big business, you have the control,” because the creative person is the one bringing ideas to the table. He expanded that we forge our own path; we have our own ideas of what success is. We don’t need to give that over to any investor unless it's with terms that all parties agree to. The entrepreneur is the creator, the asset, and ultimately is in control.
I also loved how Jason brought God in so naturally in our conversation. He attributed much of his success to God and yet did not force any of his beliefs on me. I feel the same and appreciated his openness and witness of God’s goodness.
3. Meaningful growing pains
I've hiked 16 or so 14ers, specifically Colorado mountains (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet above sea level). Everytime I get above treeline, around 12,500 feet, each step becomes a struggle.
I don't know why, but I love this feeling. Each step is painful and with each step I grow in altitude. It's almost like a microcosm of my life. I wasn't raised with a silver spoon nor was I was ever the smartest person in class but I have never been afraid of work. Sometimes it means late nights or collaborative efforts but it always results in meaningful growth.
I am so grateful that 2022 has been a year of great growth for OE as we’ve grown our team and our product line. This year our team grew from just Joe and I to include Dan in IT, Maylynn in Marketing, Nick in Sales, and Kelly in Operations.
Delegating isn’t easy for me. It’s hard to hand over responsibility, but I am so glad I am! Delegating some of the daily tasks has freed up critical time for me to be creative again!
Within 4 weeks of just delegating marketing, I was able to design 4 new products! They’re now available: the contour feather, omni-tensil, fire flute, and folding feather. (Pics are linked to more info about each product on our site.)
As humans, it's in our DNA to be creators. It fuels us. It looks different for everyone. Maybe it is playing an instrument, organizing an event, populating data in spreadsheet, whatever makes your heart sing when you create…that is happiness. For me it is designing gear.
My advice: Schedule creativity time. Discipline opens your creativity so schedule it and make time for it. I heard that Van Gogh at his height was painting more than one painting a day. He didn’t wait for inspiration. He practiced his craft daily. I'll say it again, discipline wins over talent every time. So, block out the time you need and then do it.
Another valuable lesson learned this year: recognize that thinking is working. So, ponder. Think. Reflect. It can be powerful. Be sure to not stop with the thought.
Your miracle will happen but it requires action. Don't leave your miracle on the table with only a stroke of revelation. Gotta act upon it to make change. It will be painful and it will be worth it.
Growing is such a blessing.
4. Support of others
It’s so easy to become discouraged when pitching your creations and getting “no’s” but hearing that “yes” and encouraging feedback while learning along the way…100% worth it. Will Smith said, “If you're not making someone else's life better, then you're wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.”
I have felt this support; it's empowering. I’m so grateful for every supporter, customer, cheerleader, mentor, family member, and friend. We simply wouldn’t be where we are without each one of you.
My bride has been at the root of my support system. I left a "good" paying job in aerospace to chase the American Dream. I was not willing to quit the traditional 8-5 unless Noelle gave me the thumbs up. It was probably 6 months of her praying before that thumbs up came. As we dissolved most of our savings, she has been the bedrock of my support.
There have been plenty of stressful days, me doing odd jobs, and Noelle working as a hair stylst to make the bills. She knew what I was getting us into as I made this move. I could not have made it this far without her unyielding support.
If you are thinking about entrepreneurship, make sure your support system is in place. Jim Rohn famously said, "You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with." Surround yourself with honest, encouraging, fun, hardworking, good peeps. It will only serve you well. Then remind yourself you need to be honest, encouraging, fun and hardworking.
Make your community better. In my journey, it truly has taken a village to build this dream. My whole paradigm of buying habits shifted once I became an entrepreneur. I now regularly write positive google reviews when I have a good experience with a small business.
I challenge you to find a way to support a small business. It will mean more than you know. Write a Google review, Amazon review, tell a friend about the business, subscribe to a newsletter, follow their social channels, engage on their social feeds, there are so many ways to offer support, and most of them do not require your wallet.
YOU are what makes this journey the adventure of a lifetime.
THANK YOU!Michael Mojica
CEO, Founder & Chief Dreamer