I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit for as long as I can remember, and have always found enjoyment in building things from the ground up—creating tangible things from ideas. Add in the potential of unlimited upside that comes from being your own boss, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a fascination that’s had a hold on me for decades.
When I was a kid growing up in the beautiful state of Maine, skiing was all I thought about. My mom strapped my first pair of skis on me when I was about 5 years old, and my obsession with the sport grew in intensity with every season. Even during the off season my friends and I would dream up ways to stay on skis by grabbing an old beat up pair and heading to the local sandpit. (If you do it just right, sand can make a pretty decent stand-in for snow!). As a teen I dreamed of the day I could open my own ski shop. The fall after graduating high school, I headed north to work several winters at Sugarloaf USA (hands down one of the absolute best ski areas in the Northeast!). Working at ski shops and the rental shop—not to mention 100+ days of ski time every season—only served to intensify my goal of becoming a ski shop owner. Fast forward about five years and that dream became a reality when I opened up my very own ski shop in picturesque Bend, Oregon.
Unfortunately, after a few seasons, the reality of relying on the fickle temperament of Mother Nature for your livelihood proved to be tricky and I decided to close up shop. It was bittersweet, but I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to cross that bucket list item off my list.
After my first real taste of full-fledged entrepreneurship, the idea of a regular paycheck, steady hours, and the promise of less stress was, I have to admit, pretty appealing. So, I had a relatively short stint at our local sheriff’s office. Unfortunately, the structure and rigidity of the job was way more than my ADD-leaning tendencies could handle and I eventually caved to the urges to be out on my own again. I left the SO and worked as a health insurance broker. Shortly after that, however, I received a health diagnosis that would have a sudden and lasting impact on the trajectory of my working life.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with celiac disease. This forced my ever-supportive wife and I to make dramatic changes to our diet and lifestyle—at the time whole wheat bread was at the top of our “healthy foods” list. Sadly for me, there were very few gluten-free options at the stores back then. What options there were, were well, inedible. Thankfully, my wife, the amazing cook that she is, dove head first into working with these new, previously-unknown-to-us gluten-free ingredients, creating recipes that were delicious and didn’t make my stomach feel like it had a vendetta against me.
During an event at our daughter’s preschool, my wife brought some of her freshly baked gluten-free cookies for the kids. They were a huge hit and a parent asked where we bought them so she could pick some up for her child. That single request was all the motivation I needed and a short time later, the Celiac Maniac bakery was born. I remember being excited and thinking we had hit the jackpot—we had a viable business idea and I would soon be on the road to better health.
What started as a little gluten-free cookie production, selling frozen cookie dough balls, quickly exploded into a full-blown wholesale bakery. Within months we were selling three different flavors of frozen cookie dough balls, three different flavors of English muffins, pumpkin bread, banana bread, and pizza crust. Our products could be found in Whole Foods stores throughout the Northwest, local health food stores in Oregon and Washington and local farmers markets. We were shipping English muffins all over the US—in about 18 months we sold more than 30,000 English muffins and 10,000 cookie dough balls. After tons of requests to ship more stuff (everything was frozen up to then), we created dry mixes and started shipping those all over the country as well.
But, even though these gluten-free products were tasty and considerably healthier than anything else we could find in stores, my health would soon force us to switch gears. Again. (When we closed our bakery, my wife put all her recipes in her first cookbook, the wildly popular The Healthy Gluten-Free Life: 200 Delicious Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free & Egg-Free Recipes)
After following a gluten-free diet for about a year, I wasn’t feeling as great as I thought I should. As I searched online in an effort to figure out why, I was noticing that there were a lot of people posting about how amazing they felt after going gluten-free for just a short time. I became increasingly frustrated thinking I must not be doing it right or maybe there was something else wrong. I spent countless hours researching and trying to figure out why I wasn’t feeling any better. Eventually, I stumbled onto this thing called the Paleo diet. Desperate to feel better I gave it a shot. The results were phenomenal and almost immediate.
Since my job was to market and sell the products my wife was making at the bakery, making this dietary change to Paleo began to weigh on me. The products we were making were definitely healthier (and tastier!) than other available options, but I started having a harder time promoting them since I was no longer eating them myself. Fortunately, my internal struggle was happening at about the same time my wife was getting seriously burned out as the sole baker of our little operation. It was the perfect time to move on to a new project.
The idea of doing something that centered around Paleo was very appealing to me. It had helped me improve my health issues in a matter of weeks and there was very little information available at the time. Unless you knew to specifically search for it, it was hard to find. I wanted to make it easier to discover for people like me who could benefit from it. My vision was to create a magazine that would be sitting on a store shelf, staring would-be readers in the face as they waited in the checkout line. Just one small problem—I had zero clue on how to start, launch, put together, or publish a magazine.
That didn’t stop me.
I decided to start Paleo Magazine the last week of March 2011. On April 1st, I started selling subscriptions to a non-existent magazine, and our first issue was mailed out to subscribers in May. Because I had no experience when we started it, I had to be resourceful. I had a high school friend who had graphic design experience help me with the first few issues. After that, I was comfortable enough to take it over and started doing all the design work, and would continue doing so for the first couple years. I was also a one-man operation for all the customer service, all the marketing, all the ad sales, all the distribution, all the work with the printers and contributors, everything. It was a ridiculous amount of work, but nothing could beat the feeling of holding a new issue in my hands. Talk about creating something tangible from nothing but ideas.
Over about a decade, Paleo Magazine was a full-time job for me. During that time it morphed, changed and grew to reach more readers than I ever thought possible. Eventually my vision was realized and it could be found on store shelves throughout the US (as well as a dozen other countries) and had subscribers all over the world. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the brightest minds and thought leaders in the Paleo-sphere. Publishing that magazine helped me develop and cultivate a whole new set of skills and recognize new subjects and interests that I have become extremely passionate about. Jumping in blind, and forcing myself to learn to swim or drown, was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’m now focused on using these skills and areas of expertise I’ve developed to work with business owners to help them share their stories, connect with more customers, and grow their businesses.
Over the last couple decades, I have had many ups and downs, and numerous successes and failures when it comes to launching and running businesses. Throughout it all, though, I’ve never lost my appreciation for beginning each new day recognizing that the opportunities and potential for that day are literally endless. I’ve learned that if you keep that optimistic perspective, you embrace that promise of potential, you will have the strength to weather the dips, hurdles, and hardships life may throw at you.
I’m excited to hear what you’re passionate about and how you plan on wringing every possible piece of opportunity out of today.