This is part of my new interview series, designed to demonstrate the wildly varied ways we can live, work, and chase our dreams. Please keep in mind that, since these are interviews, the opinions, methods, and websites contained within do not necessarily reflect my own views or experiences. (Which is, in my opinion, part of what makes them wonderful.)
Tell us a little about yourself and your company.
My name is Tom Grayson and until late 2013 I was a commercial and industrial electrician for 10 years. I worked a very demanding and at times very dangerous job at an oil refinery in Northern California. On my weekends and time off I also worked as a tandem skydiving instructor and videographer.
After receiving my ten year congratulations package, I gave my employer my two-weeks notice and ventured out to begin to skydive full-time and start my new business, Safeish Clothing.
Safeish Clothing is an athletic apparel company that’s really about bringing every sport, adventurous hobby, and adventurous soul into one collective group. Safeish is a mentality that is embraced by every adventure-minded individual. How many times have you started an adventure by asking yourself if its SAFE, only to answer yourself, “well, it’s safe…ish,” and take the adventurous plunge anyway?
Tell us about quitting your job and starting your new self-employed, adventurous life. What made you quit? And how do you feel about the switch?
Quitting my very secure and stable career was one of the scariest things that I’ve ever done in life. In ways it was scarier that my first skydive or BASE jump. But never in my life was I more convinced that I was doing the right thing for my happiness.
Life in the shop at the refinery was very political and success was not determined by ability or work ethic; instead, getting ahead was a very mentally exhausting game of betrayal and lack of morals that I was not willing to play. The personal rewards of taking someone for their first skydive and being a positive part of expanding an individual’s view of what is possible in this world far outweighed a thankless job for a faceless corporation. The passion and gratitude that I get from skydiving students always reminds me that I made the right decision when I drove out of the refinery gates for the last time.
How did you save for/finance your company?
One thing that a stable career working for a large corporation does offer is a retirement plan. During 10 years of working long hours, I would always contribute to my 401k. Once I decided to quit, this was my ticket to starting my business (despite the fact that retirement plans heavily penalize you for early withdrawals).
With just enough money to slowly start Safeish, I have been able to get the attention of many extreme athletes in the skydiving and BASE jumping community. Being a part of this community was a great help in the acceptance of the brand.
We have had offers from outside investors, but at the moment Safeish is completely independent and growing at a pace that sometimes seems overwhelming (though, that’s not a bad problem to have in a small business).
What do you love most about what you do?
This is a question with so many answers. The independence of being able travel to expand the company, meet new people, and literally be expected to be an extreme athlete representing the Safeish lifestyle is so amazing that its hard to explain. Much of 2013 was dedicated to an expedition and marketing trip that took me to Switzerland, Malaysia, Canada, and on several trips around the United States. When I see the look on the faces of people that see the brand and are relieved that the mentality of what they do has finally been given a name, it is a very gratifying feeling.
Your career has you traveling all over the world now, right? Where have you been? Where are you off to next?
Like I mentioned, 2013 brought me to Switzerland, Malaysia, and Canada. In 2014, we plan on going back to Switzerland in the late summer for The World Wingsuit BASErace. We also have a couple of countries that we expect to visit more for marketing and production reasons.
What tips do you have for people that want to quit their jobs and start a business?
I would advise anyone wanting to chase the dream of starting a business to be very aware of what is actually needed to make your company grow. Skills and knowledge of laws, business practices, and even a tech-savvy background will ease many stresses that you will encounter. Being even mildly self-sufficient when it comes to organization, graphic design, and marketing will be a huge help. There will be days that you doubt that things will work out; just remember that you were courageous enough to take the risk, so be courageous enough to stick with it and embrace the hard times.
What are the hardest parts about making the leap from full-time employment to skydiving instructor and badass business owner?
That would definitely be staying focused on the fact that there is still a business aspect to my life. Sometimes I feel that my life is very surreal. Its easy to get distracted when you have the ability to travel whenever someone invites you a race, event, or expedition.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m always in business mode. Networking, planning, and executing these adventures in a manner that reflects a positive image for Safeish Clothing is a constant thought in my mind.
Anything that you wish you knew before?
The plan to cut away from my career was a decision that went from plan to execution in such a short time that I really didn’t do as much planning as I should have. In hindsight, I would have taken business classes or become much more fluent in graphic design. But life is an adventure. It’s the not knowing what is coming around the corner that makes it so interesting. Taking risks is what Safeish Clothing is all about!
Whats next for Safeish?
Right now we’re expanding the sports that we are in. We have a MuyThai fighter that has a title fight in Reno Nevada on March 14, interest is growing for us in professional rodeo, and the word about Safeish has only begun to spread. Its going to be a very active year of social media,video productions, and marketing. And, at the same time, we are looking to expand our product line and are starting to work with new manufactures. We are expecting great things in the next few years.
A HUGE thanks to Tom for sharing his story. Any questions about Tom, Safeish, or the journey? Toss them in the comments.
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