When I was 26, I decided to start a business on the internet with the goal of escaping Corporate America.
My big idea was "Toasted Rye", a business selling dog bandanas and matching hats for dog owners.
My inspiration came from a farmer's market in Nashville 3 years earlier.
My now-wife, Chels, and I would buy hand-sewn dog bandanas from a local vendor. The bandanas were soft and durable with eye-catching, seasonal patterns that looked fabulous on our then-2-year-old chocolate lab, Jameson. We were regular customers.
The vendor was a white girl in her 20s who was running this fit-it-all-in-your-trunk one-person operation that looked so exciting and doable to me.
The bones of her business looked so simple:
I saw her business and thought: I can do that.
The idea sat in the back of my mind for a few years until I arrived at a tipping point in my life. I was 4 years into working a corporate job and felt my complacency rising by the day. The 6 month spice of a job change wore off and all I wanted to do was hit my sales quota and be left alone. Not a good mindset.
I was desperate for a life of creative thinking and idea building. Corporate America had tricked me into believing I could get these through my sales job. It wasn't happening and I had given it enough of a chance. It was time to mix shit up and create my own spark.
I dug my sister's old sewing machine out of my mom's basement and headed to YouTube. I bought fabric and thread at JoAnne Fabrics, created an online shop on Etsy and was off and running. Boom! I had my spark!
Simply taking action on my wild ideas turned the key to my soul.
I now had something to think about, work on, learn through, build with, try, fail and improve. I was IN THE GAME! I felt like a Secret Agent living a thrilling, double life.
One part successful corporate salesman at the top of my team's leaderboard. One part creative internet entrepreneur building something in my basement that was about to go worldwide. I felt like Batman.
I'd wake up, throw my work laptop and a few bandana orders into my blue North Face backpack and hop on the 7:12am Market-Frankford subway line from Fishtown into center city Philadelphia.
Gary Vee's voice pierced through my AirPods. My mind was charged with business lessons and belief in a new reality. I was deaf to the screeching breaks of the rickety subway car and blind to the empty glaze across the faces of the other passengers on their way to their corporate cages.
It was a 17 minute ride to 30th Street Station. Just enough for 1 or 2 short, high energy podcasts. I'd get off and walk to my building with a pep in my step that I'd only seen in the movies. The kind where one person hears music that no one else does.
I'd drop my orders in the lobby's Outgoing Mail bin, take the elevator up to the 15th floor and sit in my cube all day selling payment processing solutions to doctor's offices over the phone. I may have looked like another Corporate Drone, but I felt different. And I had good reason to.
When the clock hit 5pm, I'd take the subway home with Gary Vee in my ear again. My evenings were spent sewing bandanas or working on ideas to improve marketing, sales, production and fulfillment.
A week with more than 5 sales was a huge win for me. The bandanas took me 30 minutes to sew and not one piece of the business was optimized. I was often stressed to the point of tears, battling constant feelings of doubt and stuck staring at financials that didn't suggest anything was actually working.
When I could figure out getting sales, I was making around $10 bucks an hour. I hit $2k in monthly revenue one time and it came with over 40 hours of sewing to fulfill the orders. There were months well under $100 in revenue and plenty of months in between. It was never about the money though.
Toasted Rye was my sandbox to take action on ideas, break though insecurities and practice acquiring skills.
3 years and dozens of business evolutions later, my notice is in at my corporate job. I'm going for it.
All because Toasted Rye got me In The Game.