“Why are you starting your business? Is it to make a fortune – or is it make a difference? Are you seeking your passion, or just a profit? If you’re just pursuing money, you’ll probably fail. As an entrepreneur, there will be many times you’ll be hemorrhaging cash. If your primary goal is to accumulate wealth, shelling out your hard-earned cash on a bleeding business gets real old, real fast. But if you’re truly passionate about your pursuit – whether it’s surfing or eco-tourism or video games – then losing money doesn’t sting as much. It feels like you’re investing in something you love. It’s better to be poor and happy, than rich and unhappy.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Ragsdale of The 30A Company based in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. “30A” is a brand that celebrates small town beach life along Florida’s Gulf Coast. 30A has 900,000 Facebook fans and its inspiring videos, photos and stories reach millions of beach lovers every week. 30A’s new “Dumpster Diver” shirts are made from recycled plastic bottles and are already available in over 100 retail locations nationwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your "backstory"?
I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I grew up Cullman, a small town in north Alabama. I graduated from The University of Alabama with a Masters Degree in Advertising and Public Relations, but despite my desperate attempts to find a “real job,” no one would hire me. So I took out a $5,000 business loan, bought a Mac computer and started doing freelance copywriting and graphic design. My new computer came with an AOL disk and 10 free hours of time on something they were calling “the Internet.” This was in 1994, before the World Wide Web was created. Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Ebay, MSN. None of them existed. AOL was in third place behind CompuServe and Prodigy. I was hooked. On an inspired whim, I FedEx’d a proposal to AOL for “Hecklers Online” – what I billed as the world’s first interactive comedy site. A few months later, I got a call from AOL, expressing interest in the idea. Along with my friends, we created one of the era’s most successful interactive entertainment studios, employing dozens of writers and animators and attracting millions of followers. I learned how to build branded online communities with devout followings, something that would serve me many years later when starting 30A. After the wild success of Hecklers, I endured a long series of entrepreneurial strike-outs. I was demoralized and needed a change of scenery. I always dreamt of living at the beach, so our family of six packed up and moved to Florida, without knowing anyone or having any inkling what would happen next.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
I originally designed the 30A business based on principles that Timothy Ferris outlined in his best-selling book, “The 4-Hour Workweek.” For the first seven years 30A didn’t have any employees, or an office, or physical assets of any kind. Instead, I built a reliable revenue stream and a business that I could literally run from anywhere. In 2011, also as Ferris prescribed in his book, Angela and I pulled our kids out of school, and we traveled around the world for nine months. We experienced adventures ranging from cooking lessons in Budapest to exploring snow-covered caves near the Syrian border to being guests of honor at a wedding in Rajasthan to being evacuated from our home during a prison riot in Bali. Ninety-nine percent of our fans never knew – or even cared –we were gone. By 2015, it became clear that the 30A brand was ripe for national expansion. I teamed up with my partner JoAnn Ribaudo. We hired a world-class team, opened some 30A retail stores, launched our recycled apparel line and introduced 30A to a national market. The growth since then has just been incredible.
So how does your company help people?
30A is a brand that celebrates the small-town beach life our families enjoy here along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Our company name was inspired by several “alternate routes” that branch off Florida State Road 30, a 285-mile two-lane that strings together dozens of sleepy little beach towns. We have a 24/7 beach radio station our own craft beer called “30A Beach Blonde Ale” by Grayton Beer, a family of 30A Wines by Mercer Estates, 30A Honey, 30A Coffee, and over 250 other 30A-brand products ranging from our recycled shirts to beach-friendly drink ware to beach chairs, bikes and even standup paddle boards.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We love the beach. That’s the one thing that unifies all 900,000 of our 30A Facebook fans. Our company is determined to help preserve our beaches and coastal habitats for future generations to enjoy. For example, our 30A Dumpster Diver shirts are made from recycled plastic bottles that could otherwise end up in our oceans. Every Dumpster Diver shirt prevents about eight 16-ounce plastic bottles from going into our landfills and waterways. We blend the recycled plastic bottles with cotton so they're unbelievably soft. We’ve already saved over one million plastic bottles from going into landfills and waterways. We also support numerous charities in our local community. For example, we’ve used our famous round blue “30A Stickers” to raise over $200,000 for Alaqua Animal Refuge, and our annual 30A Charity Golf Classic has raised $150,000 for local charities. 30A is a also founding partner of The Sonder Project our global nonprofit that invests in high-impact projects aimed at ending extreme poverty, domestically and abroad.
What are your "5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up" and why.
YOUR BRAND IS EVERYTHING. I’ve seen many fantastic businesses fail simply because they suffered from poor branding. A mediocre product can succeed with an excellent brand, but even a revolutionary product will struggle under the weight of a bad brand. Good brand names should be short, simple, easy to say, easy to spell and memorable. Logos should be clean and simple. The most effective logos in the world are driven by powerful font and color choices, not clever design gimmicks. Invest the time and money to get it right from the start. Hire a true expert. If you skimp on your brand identity, don’t even bother moving forward.
SUCCESS IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. We all know that person on Facebook who tirelessly touts their latest business endeavor. That’s commendable, of course, except some of them seem to launch a brand new business every six months. Whether they realize it or not, they’re often grasping for a “get rich quick” opportunity – something that simply doesn’t exist. As entrepreneurs, we’re easily distracted by trends. We get super-energized, and we bolt out of the gate with unbridled enthusiasm. But after a few months of lackluster response, our passion wanes. Something flashy comes along and gets our adrenaline pumping, and the start-up chase ensues all over again. Steve Jobs once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” Pace yourself. Business success is measured in years, not in months. The 30A company didn’t make a dime during the first 3 or 4 years. I started it as a hobby, but always with an eye for business longevity. Put in the time. Put in the work. Passion and perseverance win.
THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE YOU EMPLOY IS A POOR INDICATOR OF SUCCESS. As a young entrepreneur, I often bragged about having 60 employees. But the real indicators of success are impact and revenue and profit, not how many people are on your payroll. More employees often means less efficiency. Stay lean and mean. Hire Rock Stars who can do the work of ten ordinary mortals. Anyone can work 40 or 50 hours a week, but a single good idea can be worth months or years of work… or even millions of dollars.
DESIGN THE LIFE YOU WANT TO LIVE – NOT THE IDEA YOU THINK WILL MAKE MONEY. Why are you starting your business? Is it to make a fortune – or is it make a difference? Are you seeking your passion, or just a profit? If you’re just pursuing money, you’ll probably fail. As an entrepreneur, there will be many times you’ll be hemorrhaging cash. If your primary goal is to accumulate wealth, shelling out your hard-earned cash on a bleeding business gets real old, real fast. But if you’re truly passionate about your pursuit – whether it’s surfing or eco-tourism or video games – then losing money doesn’t sting as much. It feels like you’re investing in something you love. It’s better to be poor and happy, than rich and unhappy.
GET STARTED – NOW. You know that ingenious “top secret” idea you’ve been keeping hush-hush for so long? You know how much that idea is worth? Nothing. Not a damn dime. I once had an idea I was convinced was going to change the world. I flew all over the country trying to convince people this was a $10 billion opportunity. I met with legendary venture capitalists like Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (investors in Hotmail, Twitter, Skype, Tesla, etc.). Draper absolutely loved my idea! This is how the big boys do it, I praised myself. But meetings turned into months. Months turned into malaise. If I had invested all of my time, money and passion into simply starting the business instead of trying to convince others of its merit, it could have been that billion dollar business I envisioned. Instead, I got beat to the punch by people who were actually working on the idea, rather than just talking about it. Don’t wait until you have a patent or trademark. Don’t bother sending people NDAs or circulating your business plan. In fact, screw the business plan. If the only thing standing between you and success is an NDA, you’re hosed. Just get started. It’s better to be a poor and passionate first-mover than well-funded and late to the game.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
I once read an article about how, after a near-death experience, AOL’s Ted Leonsis wrote down a list of 101 things he wanted to accomplish in life. Having believed in me and invested in my first company, Ted was my idol, so I began scribbling down my own bucket list in a small leather-bound notebook. I’ve been steadily chipping away at my list ever since. So far, the list has taken us to 45 countries, including Burma, Indonesia, Hungary, China, Moldova, Morocco, Cambodia, Slovenia, Russia, Croatia, India, Ecuador, Poland, Bosnia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Costa Rica, Romania and many more. I’m about to finish “Holier Than Thou,” a 200-page graphic novel that I wrote, and my list is also how we ended up living at the beach. But there’s one thing on my list that’s eluded me so far: “Have a drink with Jimmy Buffett.” I recently interviewed Jimmy’s sister, Lucy, and I hear he visited our little beach town just a few weeks ago. So I’m getting closer. In the meantime, I’ll keep the Margaritas chilled and ready.