From dealing with the devastating effects of childhood trauma to struggling with chronic anxiety, Blue Ocean Life Company’s founder Mike Coughlin’s pursuit to live a happier and healthier life has been relentless. Whether in life or in his career, Mike was forced to adapt to difficult circumstances all in pursuit of a better tomorrow for himself and others while keeping the memory of his deceased older brother as his driving force.
After quitting his job to form a digital agency and a bitter business break up, Mike found himself low on funds and begrudgingly moving in with his parents, who had just moved near the serene beaches of Cape Cod. While spending time on Cape Cod, Mike would go to the beach during periods of high stress and anxiety not realizing that getting closer to nature would prove to be the solution to many of his problems. As a child, Mike recalls that his father once told him that salt water heals all wounds. As an adult and in an unexpected twist of fate, Mike would learn that that old wives’ tale was, in fact, backed by science.
As Mike started to feel the mental health benefits of a location independent lifestyle and a non-corporate way of thinking first hand, Mike was inspired by his life events and nomadic travels to form a company whose sole purpose was to promote positive mental health, especially for those who need it most. In forming the Blue Ocean Life Co. Mike believes that his way of thinking and unique perspective on life – running contrary to many in modern day society – can inspire people to find happiness and overcome their own struggles no how insurmountable they may seem.
How long have you been an entrepreneur?
I left my last full time job in May of 2010. So going on 9 years now across multiple ventures.
What does leadership mean to you?
In my view, leadership should be about inspiring people to help others. I think in the business community, people often view leaders as the ones who are the best at maximizing profits, but I view the best leaders as the people who can maximize social good. I think business owners and leaders that create or lead organizations with a mission to help other people or solve real-world problems are the best leaders. I also believe the best leaders treat everyone with courtesy and respect, regardless of their social background or position.
What do you think makes a strong leader?
I think strong leaders aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo despite criticism, are able to adapt to adversity, and show a sense of purpose and compassion in what they do in their personal and professional lives. If you look at great leaders throughout history, including the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., you’ll see that they were compassionate, uniting, and forged ahead despite tremendous adversity and criticism.
How did you come up with the concept of The Blue Ocean Life?
The most interesting thing about Blue Ocean Life Co. is that it probably wouldn’t exist had I not gone broke. Back in 2013, I had a falling out with my former business partner who told me I had to leave the digital agency I had worked on building for nearly 3 years. After being told to exit the company suddenly, my salary disappeared and I was getting buried by mounting legal debt, which I couldn’t afford.
As a result of this difficult financial setback and extremely emotionally taxing event, I reluctantly had to move back in with my parents when I was 29. My parents had coincidentally moved to within a mile of the beautiful beaches of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, and when living there, I frequently went to the beach during periods of high stress and anxiety.
While spending time near the ocean, something magical seemed to occur as it seemed to help reduce my symptoms of anxiety, something which seemed like a tremendous breakthrough as I had battled with chronic anxiety for most of my life due to a childhood tragedy. As my curiosity grew and I started researching the topic on Google, I discovered that there were scientific studies that showed that being near the ocean had a positive impact on my well-being. As a result, I stumbled upon a book called Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Blue Mind, and another book I had read, coincidently entitled Blue Ocean Strategy, which I used to improve my business acumen, both converged to plant the seeds for what would ultimately be a new business concept.
As all of these ideas and omens mixing around my head, and my financial situation began to improve, I started to travel to beachy and warm locations to work because it was something I always dreamed of doing as an aspiring nomad. As I began to travel more often, I started sharing scenic photos of oceanside views on Instagram. One day while sitting on the beach near Miami during an otherwise freezing January day in the Northeast, I used the hashtag #BlueOceanLife to describe the life I had started to create for myself. I would later register the instagram account for @blueoceanlifco, sharing photos during my travels, and later registering the domain and finding a drop shipping provider to produce and ship clothing.
I sat on the Blue Ocean Life concept for years, not knowing if the business could be a success, while still struggling with work related anxiety. As the entrepreneurial work stress of doing freelance work became endless, I finally made a decision to pave a new path in October of 2016. That’s the point when actually started to change my long term goal to making Blue Ocean Life Company a successful brand with the aim of creating a business model that was better for my mental health. So far the journey has been very difficult, but I’m still optimistic that the decision was the best thing for the long term.
What makes the brand stand out in the fashion industry?
Our brand so much more than just a clothing brand. Blue Ocean Life is a community of people with a unique way of thinking and living that runs in contrast to many in today’s modern, stressed-out society. Our mission is to promote physical and emotional well being by advocating for lifestyle changes that bring us further away from unhealthy modern behaviors, such as stressful corporate battles or excessive technology usage, and closer to a more natural and healthier way of living.
Each of our styles are meant to serve as daily reminders for ways to improve wellness and mental health. For example, products in our signature “Healing Wave” collection should serve as daily reminders to spend more time by the ocean to improve well-being, while we are also looking to donate a portion of our sales to non-profits that support mental health causes, which is something we hope to roll out very soon.
Lastly, we have a unique business model where we are leveraging the people in our community and our customers to actually help build the company and brand itself. We are tapping into the skill sets and expertise of fellow “location independent” freelancers and like-minded individuals, who do not subscribe to the corporate way of thinking, to help on all aspects of managing and building the brand. For example, we have contributors sharing their travel videos and photos with us, some featuring our products and others scenic landscapes, which we then share to our followers on social media. We’re also seeking other contributors to help on web design, product design, blogging, and more. As members of the community, contributors get special discounts on products while also being able to network with other people in the community.
In a way we are taking a page out of the playbook of FUBU, which was for created for and by a specific community (i.e. For Us By Us.) We see ourselves as the original location independent and wellness brand created for us by us.
What is your favorite book? Why?
It should be no surprise that my favorite book is Blue Ocean Strategy as that book served as one of the major inspirations for the creation of the brand. Not only did Blue Ocean Strategy train me to think differently about business but also about my life in general. The book argues that nearly everyone who grows up in our modern society is taught to compete head-to-head in an effort to attain optimal success. In other words, society teaches us to believe that the pursuit of success is a zero-sum game, where someone must lose for someone else to win. The book argues, however, that most people have it all wrong. In the business world, they recommend that firms should be looking for ways to create uncontested market space, creating new demand rather than competing for existing demand, while basically making the competition irrelevant.
In forming the Blue Ocean Life Company, I’m not only using a Blue Ocean Strategic approach to growing the company, but I also adapted the same concept to real life and the pursuit of optimal wellness as part of our core mission. I felt that too many people get caught up in the corporate and societal pressure to make more money and have higher status than their peers, and I felt that’s what has become a big driver of the overall increase in stress levels in our society. For that reason, Blue Ocean Life became a way of thinking that was all about creating your own unique form of happiness rather than worrying about trying to compete with others for higher social status or wealth, something that causes most people a substantial amount of distress.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can pass along to other entrepreneurs?
I would advise most entrepreneurs is to not underestimate the opportunity cost, (i.e. lost wages) that you may incur by starting a new venture. Even though you may start a low-risk business model like mine, with no overhead and very little debt, you may have to take a significant pay cut. This is the biggest thing that I underestimated. I thought I was going to be making the same money I was making at a full-time job right out of the gate, but it was a long and tumultuous journey just to get to back to the point where I was when I left my last job.