Accept that you are not in control. Plans are helpful. But nothing goes according to plan. The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you can effectively operate in the fast-paced startup environment. Focus on moving forward, not moving in a straight line.
Keep the faith. Why not you? Why not this team? Believe it can happen and then go do something about it. The odds may be slim, but there is hope. Cherish that hope. Protect it. And you just might prove to yourself, and to the world, you have what it takes.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Timothy Grovenburg.
Timothy Grovenburg is a U.S. Army Veteran and the Founder of Easy Company Outfitters, a boutique apparel brand delivering premium vintage Hawaiian shirts and beach lifestyle apparel. The company is known for producing 100% American-made Hawaiian shirts and apparel that help support surf therapy programs for Veterans with PTSD. After a 250% overfunded Kickstarter campaign in 2020, Timothy and his team completed their first production run and open their online store on Armed Forces Day, May 15, 2021.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Easy Company Outfitters exists to help remind people of how hopeful life can be. Our inspiration comes from the little-known origin story of the Hawaiian shirt: this staple of American summer wear was popularized by WWII Soldiers returning home from the Pacific theater. We believe that a simple piece of cloth was more than just a shirt — it represented a belief that every moment you’re given on this earth is a gift.
I discovered this story in 2018 when I joined the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, KY. I thought — this story has a message of hope that more people should hear — someone needs to tell it. But who was I to spread that message? I knew little about fashion, had no investors, and was headed out on a 9-month deployment to the Middle East.
Then, there was a moment in Iraq when I didn’t think I would come home. And that experience motivated me to make good use of the time I’d been given and provided me with the courage to start Easy Company Outfitters as a platform to spread a message of hope.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We believe the heart of America is the community found within America’s heart. Our nonlinear journey from idea to launch has been positively impacted by hundreds of individuals, and we have benefited greatly from allowing our community to shape this direction. But if I were to identify one moment of impact that was exceptionally powerful, it would have to be the morning of January 8, 2020.
I was in Erbil Air Base Iraq when ballistic missiles exploded outside our compound. In that moment, for the first time, I had to face the thought that my time might be up. And what I learned was that, in the end, all you’ll regret are the chances you didn’t take.
That experience reminded me to make the most of my time, just as those WWII soldiers had been reminded to do the same. So I got to work and created what would eventually turn into the products you see today.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I envision a world where everyone cares for their neighbor by taking the shirt off their back, or in some cases, by putting one on. If our story can inspire even one person to make a positive change in his or her life, then it would be worth it.
I think my friends and family would say I have a calling towards service and a natural tendency to help people who are struggling. Easy Company Outfitters is just another way for me to express that behavior and remind people that there is always hope. I doubt that makes me a natural-born entrepreneur, but I do think a calling to help others has provided the fuel to continue on this journey.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
When I was in college I interned at a small startup company in New York City. We worked in the front half of the founder’s apartment, and he lived in the back half. The company had limited sales, but it had a great product and a team that believed in the founder’s vision. A few years later the company found great success and was eventually sold to a strategic partner. That founder is still a mentor of mine, and someone I look to as an example of what is possible when you surround yourself with a great team.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We support American Veterans with PTSD by partnering with surf therapy organizations that provide recreational, community-based treatment. Many of us understand the physical sacrifice that military service members make for our country, but we often forget the mental and emotional sacrifices they make as well.
When considering treatment for PTSD, the options can be daunting — hospitalization and prescription drugs may not feel like the right answer. That’s where surf therapy comes in. Surf therapy uses the positive energy from surfing to bring stability and balance back into the lives of Veterans. It uses physical activity to improve mental health and reduce negative mood swings.
Each item we sell supports surf therapy programs that help Veterans fight PTSD by finding balance — in life and on a surfboard.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I still have a lot to learn about business, leadership, and a host of other topics. But I believe the below character traits have been helpful as we found early success with our Kickstarter and now as we open our online store.
- The ability to coach and motivate people. My leadership and management skills are in a constant state of self-improvement. But regardless of my own shortcomings, one thing I can say with 100% certainty, is that I care deeply about the team at Easy Company Outfitters. I believe leadership is the ability to make someone else’s goals your own. I remind my team, as often as possible, that I am here to serve them. To me this is not only the right thing to do, it is also good business. There is simply too much work for me to do on my own; I need a team.
- A belief that you belong. The odds are stacked against you. Almost all of the statistics on startups and entrepreneurship point to one conclusion: you will most likely not succeed. But you have to follow your dream anyway. I am willing to pay the cost of trying and failing. What I can’t bear to pay is the thought of sitting on the sideline and never discovering what could have been. You deserve to fulfill your full potential. Believe it, with all your heart, then go out there and do something about it.
- Never compromise your integrity. Trust is at the center of everything we do. Our customers trust us to deliver a high-quality product at a fair price. Our team trusts one another to row in the same direction. And our families trust that this is a noble journey worthy of our time. Many entrepreneurs will undoubtedly be presented with temptations to take a short cut. But these are not opportunities to cut corners; they are opportunities to show your resolve.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I think it’s unfair when people say winners win and losers lose. If you try at something, and it doesn’t work out, you are not a loser. You are not a failure. You still matter; you have value. And you can try again.
I played football in high school and college. It seemed very normal to me to view starting a business as a game with the ultimate objective of achieving some kind of win. But now I realize that is neither healthy nor accurate. I believe it is far more productive to define success as your ability to stay true to your core values as you navigate a competitive, and oftentimes unforgiving, business environment. If you can do that, I think you will ultimately create value for customers, team members, and investors.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Know your why. Why does this company exist? Why are you spending your nights and weekends working on this project? There is a great opportunity cost in starting a business. It means time spent away from family and friends; time that you cannot get back. That is nothing to be afraid of, but I think it is something that should be respected and discussed honestly.
Easy Company Outfitter’s “why” is to remind people of how hopeful life can be. We do this by helping Veterans with PTSD through surf therapy programs and supporting local communities with our 100% American-based supply chain. We believe this is a noble cause that is worth our commitment, regardless of whether people buy our Hawaiian shirts.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
The craftsmanship of our All-American supply chain delivers high-quality, long-lasting products you can feel proud to wear. This is not the easiest way to make Hawaiian shirts, and it certainly is not the cheapest. But we believe in honoring the heart of America, and this was the only way we knew how to deliver a product that would live up to the title “America’s Hawaiian Shirt”.
We are 100% transparent with our supply chain. We tell our customers where our cotton is grown, where our textile mill is located, and where the final fabric is turned into wearable apparel items. I think this commitment to transparency has positioned us well to be a trusted partner in the broader textile industry.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
The idea of supporting our community is a big center of gravity for this team. Whether that’s our community of Veterans, the local communities of our vendors, or even our wider sense of community as Americans. We want to be a positive influence on the communities we belong to, and our relationship with these communities is based on trust. And once we have established that trust, we cherish and respect it.
Entrepreneurs work for months, or even years, to launch their business and begin building that trust. Violating it would not only be morally wrong, but it would also be the fastest way to wash away all of that hard work.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. I could say more, but I think I’ll just leave it at that. Think about it.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
I believe it is important to celebrate the highs and acknowledge the lows. Your path as an entrepreneur will likely have twists, turns, stops, starts, ups, downs, and other hurdles put in your way. These obstacles will undoubtedly test your resolve and commitment to your mission. But if you believe in your cause then you will find the strength to persevere. You can do this.
I also think your comment on the amplification of the highs and lows is a fair perspective to share. A startup is often fierce in passion but fragile in experience. You are building a foundation with a storm just off the coast. It will be stressful, time can be limited, and you will almost certainly not have all of the information you desire. But I think a way to successfully operate in those environments is to take it slow and stack up the small wins. Eventually, the foundation will be built, the house can begin construction, and you can get inside before the storm hits.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
We launched a Kickstarter in July of 2020 with the goal to raise 10,000 dollars for the first production run of American-made Hawaiian shirts and apparel. Within the first day, we had reached our initial goal, and we finished the campaign with 25,000 dollars in funding. It was very humbling to see the outpouring of support from our friends, family, and even strangers who believed in the worthiness of our cause. The team feels a deep sense of responsibility to our backers and translated their selflessness into fuel for our mission.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
When we first approached the textile industry with our idea to make 100% American-made Hawaiian shirts and apparel many of the vendors said it would not be possible. We were told that we couldn’t possibly find reputable manufacturing partners that would help a small brand at a price point we could afford.
But we did. Our Chief Operations Officer, Steve, was absolutely relentless when it came to finding suppliers who shared a similar passion for the American manufacturing industry. Part of our mission is to ensure our customers’ dollars contribute to local communities across the United States. It was a daunting task filled with moments of frustration, but we took it one step at a time and eventually assembled a world-class manufacturing network right here in the USA.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
The team at Easy Company Outfitters attacks problems by pulling together. We accept that the world is going to deliver us problems. But we also understand we stand a better chance of solving them if we work together. When Steve was having a tough time finding manufacturing partners, we didn’t blame him. We supported him. And encouraged him to keep searching, keep fighting, and eventually, a solution would present itself.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Build a great team. Sometimes things will go your way, sometimes they won’t. That’s life. Getting through those tough times is a lot easier when you have someone to help pick you up. The secret to building a good company is attracting great company.
- Establish mission clarity. The boat moves faster when everyone rows in the same direction. Cash is king and time is never on your side. Ensure your team understands their responsibilities, so the entire group can get where they need to go before time runs out. As a leader, your people should be your number one priority.
- Maintain a long-term perspective. It can feel like you are surviving month-to-month, week-to-week, or even day-to-day. I get it. But great companies are not built overnight; it takes time. Remembering that this is a marathon, not a sprint, can help bring down your stress level and help you realize you are in fact making progress.
- Accept that you are not in control. Plans are helpful. But nothing goes according to plan. The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you can effectively operate in the fast-paced startup environment. Focus on moving forward, not moving in a straight line.
- Keep the faith. Why not you? Why not this team? Believe it can happen and then go do something about it. The odds may be slim, but there is hope. Cherish that hope. Protect it. And you just might prove to yourself, and to the world, you have what it takes
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I put my faith in people. We can do extraordinary things when we work together. I think a fair way to observe resilience is to reflect on how much stress can be placed on the fabric of a team before it tears. The fabric can stretch, bend, twist, maybe even become unrecognizable at times. But it should never tear. The same is true for a resilient team.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
When I played football, my coaches would often say: bend don’t break. That was their way of communicating the importance of a resilient attitude, and I think in a lot of ways it is still applicable to my life today.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Whenever we are presented with a difficult situation, I try to always see the problem relative to its impact. With so little support around a startup company, it is easy to fall victim of catastrophizing small problems. If you tend to exhibit this behavior, then I would encourage you to bring on a teammate that can help provide a more balanced perspective. At Easy Company Outfitters, I have Nick, our Chief Marketing Officer. He is always the first one to say why things are going to be ok, and our team has benefited greatly from his positivity.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
As an Officer in the military, I was provided with rank that placed me in a position of leadership. But it did not make me a leader. I had to earn that right. And the only way I knew how to do that was to start at the bottom and do the hard tasks that slowly earned me the trust of my Soldiers. Over time I learned the only real difference between me and the other Officers was the attitude I brought to work each day.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” I admire that quote because it takes the entrepreneurial journey, which is oftentimes discussed from an outward perspective and turns it inward.
We have the power to choose how we share our gifts with the world, whether that’s our intellect, generosity, kindness, or any other form of impact. None of us know how much time we have to live out our lives. Starting Easy Company Outfitters was my way of expressing gratitude for each passing day and doing my best to live up to the light I have.
I would encourage anyone reading this article to go on their own journey, and if you do it wearing one of our shirts, we’ll be with you every step of the way.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find us online at easycompanyoutfitters.com or on social media @easycompanyoutfitters.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!