Over the years, I've tried numerous upland vests and had frequently witnessed other hunters in our group rotate vests in search of a better option to meet their unique needs. I had been pondering this observation on the drive home from our annual South Dakota pheasant hunt while chewing on things I wished I could change in my latest vest. As I pondered possible solutions to the problem, I posed a question to Jerrod (Hunt Redi co-founder)..."what if we could create a vest that could be configured differently for each person?"
As I began to explain the idea in more detail, excitement started to build and the ideas started flowing...some good, some that have long since hit the cutting room floor, but the opportunity to pursue a passion project was undeniable. As that upland road trip came to an end, we proceeded to transfer guns, gear, and his labrador to his truck, shook hands, and committed to each other we would begin researching the idea in earnest. That discussion was the spark that fueled the last few years of R&D, field testing, sleepless nights, and finally, our recent launch at Pheasant Fest 2020.
I once heard a good idea is only 10% of a new venture, the remaining 90% is all about execution. It's been my experience that sentiment holds pretty true. While that statement is easy to comprehend, it's much more difficult to achieve as the grind of a new venture WILL wear on you. Both Jerrod and I have backgrounds that provide a solid foundation for various aspects of business operations, IT, product development, project management, etc but neither had experience in apparel/gear manufacturing, cut-n-sew shops, relevant vendor connections, etc. In some ways, this has been a tremendous blessing as we had zero preconceived notions which provided the ability to look at problems from a unique angle, ask questions without historical "baggage", and propose ideas from a completely different perspective. On the flip side, we had to rapidly learn fabrics, industry lingo, all new processes, and make a lot of connections...we are still and will be learning for the foreseeable but that's also been exciting!
As I started doing research in the beginning, I immediately began to absorb a lot of data and while Google can be a tremendous asset it can also provide the proverbial "drinking through a firehouse" situation that may be even more debilitating. After stumbling around and fumbling through what I thought were potential leads, I realized a mentor or key partner that we could truly collaborate with and trust to help at least point us in the right direction could be extremely beneficial. Not having a background in this industry, most of my personal business acquaintances could help in various strategic activities around planning and execution of business strategies but wouldn't be much help in the specifics of a new industry.
I remember this was the first hurdle for me personally as it seemed like there was so much I didn't know and so far to go and I wasn't sure I would be able to cover the necessary ground, at least in a semi-reasonable time. My dad used to tell me, "son, if someone is going to do it, it might as well be you...", which was his way of letting me know that I was just as capable as anyone else and never be dissuaded from a dream or goal. With a bit of fire back in the tank, I began to consider those that have been successful (regardless of whether I personally liked or even used their products, I figured success is success) and thought maybe I could learn from their journey. End of the day, if you're going to dream, dream big so companies like Yeti, Sitka, KUIU, Mathews Archery, Gunner Kennels, Elite Bows, Under Armour, etc all started coming to mind.
My next step was to begin reading case studies, articles, scouring corporate web sites, really pursuing anything I could get my hands on in an effort to get clarity and potential connections that would open that door. All the hours and information uncovered was very beneficial as I learned a ton but I still couldn't get the stars to align to crack that door. I was struggling and while learning, I was beginning to churn which highlighted my need to really make that contact to bring clarity and get me started down the right path. For what it's worth, you can read about the "how" all day long but actually getting the right person to answer the phone or reply to your email is quite another...but I remained unwavering in my dream.
Without any solid leads, I took a leap of faith simply started knocking on virtual doors at numerous companies that inspired me in hope that someone would remember when they were the dreamer and be willing to extend a hand back to help the next generation. This exercise is where various technologies available today and social media platforms were an extremely valuable resource.
After throwing what I considered a few hail mary attempts, it wasn't very long before a door opened with a reply from a key individual at one of the companies on my inspirational short list. I will not name the individual or company, as per their request, but I will say they provided me with direction and encouragement that without question helped me overcome my first major hurdle. I'll be forever grateful for the time spent sending thoughtful advice. A few minutes from a stranger was the nudge that got me over the hump and on to the next challenge...take the time!
More posts on the Hunt Redi journey will be coming soon, until then, keep following the hunter with the longest nose!
Image: founder Jerrod Stewart admiring an upland inspired sunset while doing some early prototype field testing of the Deviate Upland vest with his labrador, Chief.