Five years ago, Rich and I were freezing our butts off on a rickety chairlift on the backside of Squaw Valley when we decided to go for it.
Looking back, we were far too naïve to know exactly what it was, but we definitely knew what it wasn’t — cranking out spreadsheets for 90 hours each week for the rest of our lives. Still, gaining the courage to leave our safe, lucrative jobs wasn’t easy. As Jerry Seinfeld might say, it was like tipping a vending machine — you don’t just push it over, you have to rock it back and forth a few times.
Having discussed our idea over countless Anchor Steams after work, we knew in our bones that Huckberry needed to exist. There were men’s stores, sure. Adventure magazines, too. Yet nothing out there spoke directly to us — 25-year-old guys who lived in the city but lived for the outdoors — and we envisioned a brand that was equal parts store, magazine, and inspiration to help guys suck the marrow out of life.
So in the summer of 2010, we left our jobs, invested $10,000 each from our savings to form Huckberry LLC, and set out to scratch our own itch.
For us, the action is, and always will be, the juice.
We chose the name Huckberry because we both loved Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and thought Huckberry was the perfect totem for the spirit of adventure we wanted our brand to embody. More practically speaking, Huckberry.com was available on GoDaddy for $9.98 and Huckleberry.com was not.
We hit the trade-show circuit and sold our favorite brands on our vision. Most looked at our self-designed business cards, smiled with amusement, and said no. Though enough said yes, presumably taking a chance on us not because of where we were, but because of where we were going.
Inspired by 37 Signals’ (now Basecamp) Bootstrapped, Profitable, and Proud blog post series, we decided not to pursue venture capital. We wanted to build our business on our terms. Towards Patagonia and its organic Let My People Go Surfing brand, and away from the VC-fueled boom-or-bust brands that were chasing it.
So we hustled. Working out of our apartments, we read Photoshop for Dummies cover to cover, and designed Huckberry 1.0. Our friend’s younger brother, Jimmy, helped code it between classes during his junior year at UC-Berkeley. Our first website wasn’t pretty, but it worked, and as a mentor once told us, you always throw out your first pancake.
In April 2011, we flipped the switch, and Huckberry.com went live.
Our community began to grow…slowly. We couldn’t afford to advertise so we got creative and partnered with the Art of Manliness (thanks again, Brett 👊) and Outside magazine. Brands began to ask how they could get featured on Huckberry. When our apartments started to overflow with inventory and cardboard boxes, our roommates and the local barista suggested we get an office. So we rented one in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood for $600 a month. We felt like kings; it didn’t matter that our castle was only 296 square feet (well, ~350 square feet if you include the bathroom).
We built our team. Ali joined. Jeff. Alex. Even Eli, our local barista. No prima donnas in that group. Every day at 4 pm it was pencils down and packages out in a blitz of boxes, beer, and tape. At 5:25 pm, we’d carry each box down to the street, grab a mail cart, and push it uphill both ways in a blizzard to the post office. If you’ve ever lived in San Francisco, you know the uphill both ways part is true.
When our inventory began to overflow into our bathroom, we started looking for a warehouse. When we had to store inventory on our roof overnight, we really started looking for a warehouse. In the spring of 2012, we found one in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood, and not long after moving in, Ali decided it could use a 12-foot rock wall.
Writing all of this in January 2016, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over three years since Ali, Buddy, and Sy built that rock wall in our old warehouse. It feels so close, yet so far away (if you recognize that we just dropped some Hall & Oates, good on you).
So much has changed. The tens of packages we used to ship a day are now thousands. Our team has grown from six cold souls wearing ski jackets in a 48° degree warehouse to 50+ strong working in a (heated) office in the Design District. In this past year alone, we launched our Ambassador Program, introduced our Artist Spotlight and Field Guide series, shipped our first print catalog, and partnered with our friend Chris Burkard for the next installment of our Explorer’s Grants.
Still, the important things remain the same. As Apple founder Steve Wozniak once said, all the best things that I did at Apple came from a) not having money and b) not having done it before, ever. Every single thing that we came out with that was really great, I’d never once done that thing in my life. Woz would be happy to know that as we approach our fifth anniversary we’re still a) 100% bootstrapped, and b) hustling to build the most inspiring, creative, and profitable company in eCommerce.
We’ve always believed that a Jedi draws his strength from the Force. That our customers are Huckberry, and we’re just the stewards. And as a 100% customer-funded company, this couldn’t be any more true. They’ve been in our corner from day one, bearing with us through our growing pains, false starts, and the time I accidentally Instagrammed six pictures of the inside of my pocket while dancing with my wife in Vegas (blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol).
I think Rich and I now realize that when we decided to go for it that day at Squaw, that it was an adventure. That for us, the action is, and always will be, the juice.
The road ahead is unpaved but open, and we can’t wait to share the journey with you.
See you out there. [H]
PS — Wanna join our team? We endeavor to build the most inspiring, creative, and profitable company in e-Commerce and are always looking for smart creatives to join us. If you’re interested, you can apply here.
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