November 04, 2018

Business Card Reality

Hitting some of life's hurdles?  That's OK.  We all do, and usually it's a sign that you just need to adjust something rather than quit.

Failure (and sometimes a long string of failures) is more like a guardrail on the path to success than it is an exit ramp to permanent parking. 

As long as you keep bouncing off the guardrails and continue moving forward, you'll get where you're heading.

Lee and I found an old business card the other day.  Bright red with electric blue, it was from when I was cleaning the bottoms of racing sailboats, back in '02.  The business was called Hot Bottoms, and basically required that you not mind working hard while cold and wet, often in the dark.

Hot Bottoms Boat Cleaners


Having had a bit of experience in that realm for considerably less pay, it was a fun job for a while but eventually ended in failure, luckily (for the richness of the experience) in a spectacular way.

Part of the job involved breathing from what scuba divers call a hookah.  No, not those multi-person pipes you see in Arab restaurants, a hookah in the realm of diving is a mouthpiece connected by a long hose to a compressor kept on the surface. 

You use a hookah to push air from the surface down to where you are.  This way, you can breathe while scrubbing away on the bottom of someone’s boat without having to constantly fill and re-fill scuba tanks. 

On the day the business failed I wasn’t actually diving. I had a fully stuffed up nose and couldn’t clear my ears.  I had contracted to clean a boat, which meant I had to find a replacement.  Enter my girlfriend (now wife, despite this incident), Lee. 

Lee had learned to scuba dive in the Maldives, a far cry from the cool and murky Pacific waters of San Diego Bay.  Despite the songs and TV shows, the Pacific around Southern California never actually gets what you would call “warm”.  The mid 70s are cause for general celebration here.

Gamely, Lee said she’d do the hull cleaning while I watched the compressor to make sure it was working.  She wasn’t super stoked about it, but under that sparkles & unicorn exterior she’s about as tough as they come, so she wasn’t complaining.

That is, she wasn’t complaining until the compressor turned itself off while I was talking to a potential new client who had just walked up and distracted me. 

It’s funny how quickly time passes when you’re out of air underwater. 

[Lee commentary here: I was literally at the keel (the very bottom) and felt the air turn off.  I bounced my way along the hull of the boat through the very murky water to the top to find Nik with his back turned, just a-chatting away. It was one of the most ungraceful things I have ever done]

Lee was on the surface less than 10 seconds after the compressor cut off, which felt like 90 percent of the rest of her life to her.  She comes up to see me talking to this new client.  I’m trying to make the sale, but also backing away so I can get to the compressor and figure out how to turn it on again.

After observing the exchange of a few terse words followed by a longer (and more spectacular) harangue from my sweet bride, the new client decided he actually didn’t want our services. 

I got the compressor working, Lee went back under to finish the boat, and when it was done we finished the business.  It was one in a long list of finishes, flourishes, and failures when it came to business.

A long list of failed or less than billion dollar businesses.

There was the camel farm Lee was fired from, the West African expedition company she shut down when her partner was killed, the loan and notary businesses that tanked along with the real estate market in ’07, and the t-shirt business that drove us to declaring bankruptcy.

But wait, there's more!

There was the ATM business that paid our mortgage but was so much like a W2 job that we sold it, a brief business trying to build sustainable homes in Iraq, a match-in-a-hurricane run at a welding business, and then a long list of short term security contracts that stretched from the too-good-to-be-true to the abysmally boring to the downright weird. 

Try guarding the Black Pope as he meets a First Nations tribe to do a site visit on mining tailings from a World War II era mine that may or may not be worth a few billion, just outside of Reno Nevada.  Yeah, that weird.  I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the Black Pope and the deal wasn’t about mining tailings.  Still, it paid well and the client even gave me an extra $100 in cash at the airport in, as he said, “slot machine money.” 

Of course, that weirdness and wildness with all its attendant success and failure is just business.  The “magic success formula” requires only three things, with one of ‘em always out of your control.

First, you need hard work.  Second, you need to be smart enough to see and capitalize on an opportunity.  Third, you need to get lucky.  The worse you are at the first two, the more that last one helps. 

What Lee and I have learned over 20-odd years of running various business in various states of success and failure is that it’s only worth focusing on the work & smarts part.  Luck comes and goes.

The good news is that as long as you work fairly hard and make enough smart decisions, you can hang in there until the luck comes. 

It’s been a fun (and sometimes un-fun) way to pass the time, and running our own business has allowed us a lot of flexibility we wouldn’t have otherwise had, from learning how to paraglide to learning how to knife fight to never waking up to an alarm clock except for early morning flights to (usually) fun new places.

Running Paleo Treats in particular has been about the most success we’ve had; it’s been a going concern since 2009 when we started it, and while we’ve had our lean and fat years, we’ve always enjoyed just how much it helps folks out to have a clean dessert that won’t wreck their diet (or their life.)

It ain’t the easiest life, but it’s the path we’ve chosen, and it’s a hell of a lot safer than depending on a distracted partner when you’re down in the depths of San Diego Bay.

Just wanted to share with you part of our entrepreneurial journey and inspire you to pivot when you need to and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give up!

To your business, your health, and your stoke with life!

Nik & Lee

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Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

Too much reading...
How about dessert?

Too Much Reading...How About Dessert?

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