You’ll want to be sure to stick around for the entire episode to hear how a kid that grew up in Morocco ended up in Gig Harbor selling coffee out of a van, then going broke and foreclosing on his home while he had a family, to accidentally starting a photo booth company that generates over $3 million in annual revenue and got placed on the Inc. 500 list, and how they were able to survive through the pandemic, being an events-based business.
Almost a year ago, our country and our world completely changed with the pandemic changing our lives. Sam’s livelihood relied on in-person events. If there were no in-person events, how was he going to make a living? On March 11th 2020, Sam stayed up all night generating ideas of how he could somehow make money to keep his employees employed and how he was going to survive. Within days, he launched “keep your city smiling,” a company that creates corporate gift boxes and care packages to support small businesses, something completely different from Snapbar, but something that would generate some kind of cashflow to keep Snapbar afloat. It gave Snapbar just enough time to develop a virtual photo-booth software that they now use to make money and keep their employees employed.
00:00:02 Ash Faraj: Hey, it’s Ash. Today’s guest is Sam Eitzen, Snapbar CEO and co-founder. You want to be sure to stick around for the entire episode today to hear how a kid that grew up in Morocco ended up in Gig Harbor selling coffee out of a van, then growing broke and foreclosing on his home while he had a family, to accidentally starting a photo booth company that generates over $3 million in annual revenue and got placed on the Inc. 500 list, and how they’re able to survive through the pandemic even in an events-based business.
00:00:31 Ash Faraj: Welcome to Season 3 of ExecuTalks. It’s the podcast that connects you with today’s top executives. You will hear interesting childhood stories, stories of extreme setbacks and disappointments, and ultimately hear the story behind how these top executives were able to build an amazing career for themselves.
00:00:48 Ash Faraj: So really quick, before we get into the show, we’ve started to invite our audience members on the show to connect with our guests and ask questions towards the end of our conversation. If you’d like to be on our show, you need to make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter on our website and look out for emails that invite you to be on the show. And as always, you can reach out to me directly if you have any questions or you just need someone to talk to, Ash@ExecuTalks.com.
00:01:14 Ash Faraj: Sam grew up around a mother from England and a father from LA who was into film, tourism, and travel. His parents met by chance in Tunis after falling in love and deciding they would move to Morocco to start a family because they wanted to learn Arabic. Now, growing up, Sam’s parents were a big influence on him because he always felt like he didn’t fit in with his peers very much. Since his parents weren’t Moroccan, he went to school online so he could learn English and ended up making some friends, one of which lived in Gig Harbor, Washington.
00:01:46 Sam Eitzen: So my dad is from Los Angeles originally and my mom is from London. They met in Tunis. My dad left the States when he was 26 years old to Bangkok on a ship. He was a carpenter, and he’s never lived in the States again. He spent the rest of his life living abroad, most of it in Morocco, and met my mom overseas. They got married in England, moved to Morocco right after they got married. And that’s where I grew up. My dad had a passion for travel. So I could just as easily have seen him end up somewhere else in the world, but it ended up being Morocco. They really wanted to learn Arabic. So I believe they moved to the city called Fez right after they got married. Growing up in Morocco was incredible. It wasn’t always easy being the American kid on the street; I mean, I grew up in the street playing with my Moroccan friends. Grew up speaking Arabic and French. I grew up in the Moroccan and French school system, but I didn’t really study English until I was sixteen. We weren’t part of the American school system there or like in some little Western community in Morocco. Those did exist because there were military bases and stuff like that where you’d find like… “Oh, look a bunch of other kids from back home in the States or England or whatever.” It wasn’t always easy to be kind of different in that way. It was hard for me to relate, in one sense, to a culture that was not mine. I relied a lot on both my parents, but my dad specifically, to help me understand the differences. Because I was there from 2 months to 17 years old, or 18.
00:03:27 Ash Faraj: How do you remember feeling as a kid?
00:03:29 Sam Eitzen: Not scared, but not confident. Because, again, I always felt different in that sense, so maybe always one to like fit in. That’s been a theme in my life. I’ve wanted to fit in. That’s not always a good thing.
00:03:47 Ash Faraj: So after high school, Sam’s friend who lived in Gig Harbor invited him to visit. He ended up meeting his future wife who was actually his friend’s cousin. Sam decided to go study Film Directing in Los Angeles due to his father’s influence, but his parents could only support him through one semester of college. After one semester, Sam realized that the program was meant for people who want to end up in Hollywood. He was a little cautious about going into debt, and he wanted to be close to his future wife who lived in Gig Harbor, Washington. So he decided he would move back to Gig Harbor and he would finish school there or find a job nearby.
00:04:20 Sam Eitzen: When I started studying English at 16 in Morocco, I started taking an online course. It was through this school program that’s still used today called Keystone. I think it is out of Pennsylvania and it was all online. My teachers were in the States, and I would… everything was done. It’s funny. Like now everyone is experiencing this, and I did this some 12, 14 years ago or whatever. And it was fine back then too. I mean, it worked. I actually really loved it because I was pretty ‘self-starter-ish’ as a kid. So I could kind of set my own work schedule, and I worked hard. Didn’t have tons of friends at 16 or 17, so it wasn’t a huge distraction. Like socially there just wasn’t a ton for me to do, and I was trying to focus on what is my life after Morocco because I did plan to go to college. And the plan was either the UK or the US, which is where both my parents are from. So, that was kind of like what I… at 16 where my mind was.
00:05:21 Ash Faraj: I remember reading somewhere -- I think I saw it somewhere -- that you didn’t finish college. Why didn’t you finish college?
00:05:30 Sam Eitzen: Well, we didn’t grow up with money. We weren’t poor, but we didn’t feel rich. My parents weren’t going to be able to pay for my University; not that many kids have that privilege in the first place, but I also was raised pretty conservatively from a financial standpoint. So I wasn’t a huge fan of debt. My parents weren’t in debt. We just lived very simply. So, going into insane school debt and I didn’t even know a ton about money when I was 17, 18. It just didn’t seem like the right idea. So my parents said that they could pay for one semester to give me a taste of what college was like. If I liked it, I’d have to pay for the rest of the 3.5 years or whatever. So I got a lot of scholarship money and went to Biola, a degree with mass communications. My emphasis was film directing. I think that stems from doing that with my dad in Morocco. I started the program, and I was a little disheartened with some of what I was beginning to learn. Not because it wasn’t good, but the way that I had been exposed to filmmaking was tiny little camera’s, DSLR’s; kind of like the independent style film where you just kind of have little bits of gear and used Final Cut Pro to make a video. At Biola the program was designed to get you into Hollywood. And I remember professors early on saying that the most logical next steps for us after we graduated were going to be to start on a lot in Hollywood as like an audio engineer or like a lighting gaff -- I can’t even remember the terms -- and then work your way up. And it’s about who you know and on and on and on. And I remember thinking, well, that’s not… I definitely didn’t want to end up in Hollywood making big budget movies. I mean the cameras that we were able to rent from Biola were like the massive, old-school RE cameras that they used for… I just didn’t think about that enough. I just realized, okay, so this is a little weird. If I get this degree in filmmaking, that’ll be cool; I love the idea of making movies, but I was thinking of something different. I started to think, “Should I leave? Do a couple of years cheaply? Get all of this General Ed out of the way, and then come back to a 4-year?” The icing on the cake was that I -- when I was about 17 or 18 -- I had traveled to the Seattle area, Gig Harbor technically -- which is where I am tuning in from today, outside Seattle -- Because I was doing school online and I’d met a friend in Morocco, an American guy who lived in Gig Harbor. He said, “Hey, come do school from Washington for two months. You can do it from anywhere in the world. Come do school here. We’ll go hiking, we’ll go hunting. We’ll just do all these cool things that you’ve probably never been able to experience before.”
And it sounded great, because the only place that I’d been in the States really and spent any time was LA, in the suburbs. So I came to Gig Harbor and I met a girl who was his cousin -- I married her. I’m still married to her today, so we’ve been married for 12 years. But that was when I was 17 and she was 16 -- We kind of started dating. That relationship continued as I went to Biola. And a little bit disheartened with the degree. “Man, this is going to be expense.” Am I really going to live down in LA for four more years before I could potentially maybe move back to Washington to be closer to my girlfriend, who’s very much like super young, 18 years old, and had no idea what the future held. Moved to Washington though. That’s what I ended up doing after six months. Nobody in my family thought it was a great idea. They didn’t like not support me, but everyone basically told me to stay in school. But I didn’t, moved to Washington, and I was fully intent on going back to school and getting a degree. I think I even joined Tacoma Community College, but never went. I started a business when I was 18, because I couldn’t find a job.
00:09:45 Ash Faraj: So after landing in Gig Harbor, Sam realized that he needed to make some money. He had a hard time finding a job, so he got a little creative. His future wife’s uncle ran a small coffee shop in Tacoma called Bertolino’s, and he noticed that they had coffee catering vans that weren’t being put to use. So he made a proposition to lease the catering vans and go around to businesses to sell coffee out of a van with his wife. That was his first job.
00:10:13 Sam Eitzen: My wife, we went into business together. She was 17. I was 18. We started a coffee catering company together, and that was kind of what started my entrepreneurial journey. The guy that I met in Morocco who told me, “Hey, come to Gig Harbor,” his dad owned a coffee shop called Bertolino’s off 6th Ave. in Tacoma. So he moved to Morocco -- the owner did -- to start a non-profit organization that rebuilt homes after a huge devastating earthquake destroyed thousands of cheaply built homes in the Rif Mountains in 2004. His coffee shop was kind of smooth sailing. It was going all right, and he moved his family to Morocco to start a non-profit called “Friends of the Rif.” They would bring in groups from all over Europe, all over the States. A lot of church groups to basically volunteer their time to build very basic, concrete and rebar homes for people that were still living in tents like 2 or 3 years later because their homes were destroyed. I met their family when they moved to the capital to get all the paperwork organized with the Moroccan government, and I became good friends with this guy Daniel who is my wife’s cousin. Super weird connection, right? But they had this van that they would use for special events, but if they didn’t have a special event it would sit idle. And I just thought, “Hey, what if I lease the van on all days that they didn’t have special events?” Bought all my coffee from Bertolino’s, used all of their stuff, and started going to businesses and selling coffee out of the back of the van. So I’d have a week-route because they never used it during the week. On weekends, if they were using it, they could have it. Then I could find my own special events because it wasn’t a really big push for that company. They were a brick-and-mortar shop. So that’s what we did. I leased a van for pretty cheap every month. Just signed a contract to buy all of my cups and beans and syrups directly from Bert’s, that’s what they called it. My girlfriend and I, we started a business together so that we didn’t have to hire employees. She was the barista at 17 years old. I was the driver and order-taker. Our weekly route involved going to banks and hospitals and car dealerships. I had to go in, take everyone’s orders, radio them or text them out to Kirstin. She’d make them in the back of the van, and then I’d go hand-deliver them into the businesses, so they never have to go to a coffee shop. It was my very first job. I mean, I’d never worked before in my life, and all of a sudden, I was a business owner.
00:12:45 Ash Faraj: After realizing that he needed a little more stability in his life, Sam went to work for REI as a sales associate. It was his first corporate experience, and he enjoyed being around people who loved the outdoors like he did. His curiosity around how a business operates started to grow. So as this was happening, he was also involved at his local church helping teenagers through friendship and mentorship. Now, he was eventually offered to become a director at the church which was a paid position. So he decided to leave REI and focus on leading young people at his local church and making a social impact on his community. A couple of years later, conflicts began to arise with the donors of the church due to the economic downfall after the great recession in 2008. He continued working leadership at his church for free for a few months before going completely broke. Sam and his wife would end up foreclosing on a home they’d bought, and he went back to work for REI.
00:13:37 Sam Eitzen: I got this job at REI. I became a salesperson at the Tacoma store. Loved it, loved the culture. My first corporate experience dealing with HR and management and supervisors. First-time selling anything other than coffee. Meeting all kinds of interesting people. I loved it. It was a great experience. Because, again, I’d only been in the States at this point for like a year and half. There was still just so much that was new to me, and I’d only been in Washington for about 9 to 10 months. And I was planning… My hope was work up the management chain. I had let my supervisors know this is what I want to do. I want to become a store manager, on and on, and I was on the track. I was part of the program where they know that you’re more interested in a future here, than say like someone who is just doing this for like some side income while they’re a student, or while they’re doing this for a second job. So that was good. But I was part of a church community here in Gig Harbor where all of a sudden -- and I was super involved with the youth, and I was super involved with like this college group. We would do all kinds of stuff, like just volunteer work in the area. I really loved working with kids. I don’t know why, honestly. I loved working with people my age. I was just kind of a natural leader. I would always want to get the group of 18- to 20-something college students that were part of this little group together and go do something. We did these programs in the winter where we’d get a bunch of brown bags and fill them with socks and water bottles and some food and stuff and try to distribute them to the homeless community in Tacoma and Harbor -- All of a sudden, the youth programs leader at this church needed to leave. So I was the director of youth programs at this church. I was just like ‘learn by trial and fire’; like having these teenagers look up to a 20-, 21-year-old and thinking that I had everything figured out.
00:15:30 Ash Faraj: So if you loved what you were doing there at the church, what made you move on? Why did you eventually leave that job?
00:15:37 Sam Eitzen: It wasn’t that I was making a lot of money at the church by any standpoint, but it was like, “Yeah, this is cool.” So we did this. But things didn’t end well with that church. Nothing happened for me, but the leadership team -- churches are just like any other organization in many ways -- Leaders can fight, and the leadership team ended up fighting. It was about money. We bought a building that I don’t think we could really afford, and there was just a lot of tension. I felt weird that I was on the payroll when the organization was barely able to afford rent. I was feeling pressure. It wasn’t coming at me directly necessarily, but I just felt bad. I just didn’t know… So I resigned and I did it for free. I kind of volunteered my time to lead the youth program for four months. And then after those four months, my wife and I, we had our first kid, our son Gideon, right around that time. Being a new dad, I was like, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t.” I wasn’t making any money, so I resigned. For four months, I was like… I actually didn’t really know what to do. I was trying to figure out what are my next steps. And funny enough, in those four months, I decided, okay, I really need to actually step down and find a job. I have a family, so I would need to provide for them. I got a job at REI again. I went back to the same store, thought: “Hey, going to go back to get on the management track again.” So yeah, that’s what we did. Went back to REI, thinking, “Sweet. I’m just going to jump back, rewind three years, start where I did, kind of climb the corporate ladder again.” Problem was there were millions of people that were unemployed in 2010 with so much more experience than I had. Every time I applied for a supervisor position, there were way better qualified people than some 22-year-old kid who’d worked at REI for 2.5 or 3 years. Nothing ended up happening. I ended up floundering a little bit at that job, really trying to get out. I had applied to other jobs, didn’t get them. I just didn’t know what to do. I ended up going completely broke. Foreclosed on the home that we bought while I was on salary at the church, and I remember having to call my dad to ask for money to even pay the bills. So definitely a low point in a lot of ways, financially. But, you know, we lived through it. We had a kid at the time. Then, one day after two years, like a year and half or so at REI for the second time, I met the founder of the next company that I worked at called Rhino Camera Gear. He was shopping for a black t-shirt.
00:18:10 Ash Faraj: After two years at REI, Sam felt like he wasn’t advancing his career and he had hit a ceiling at REI. People that were more qualified were getting promoted to supervisor and management roles, but he wasn’t. He started to feel like he just needed a chance somewhere else. One day, a customer walked into REI. He happened to be the founder of Rhino Camera Gear. At the time, it was a small start-up that made camera gear for filmmakers. Sam had a background in filmmaking, so he instantly connected with this person. He was so driven for an opportunity that Sam offered this founder to work for free, part-time, running his social media. After just a few months, he did such a great job that he was offered a paying job and was able to quit his job at REI. Within the span of just a couple of years he’d been promoted several times, eventually to becoming a Chief Operating Officer.
00:18:55 Sam Eitzen: I was pretty desperate. I was getting a little bit disheartened at REI that I was just never getting any promotion or job and just seemed kind of like there was a ceiling above me. I just figured that the best thing for a young founder who didn’t necessarily have a ton of money was to just have a no-brain offer. So I really wanted to work at this start-up, and I really wanted to learn about how he raised money on Kickstarter to fund his dream. It was called Rhino Camera Gear. So, not only was I interested in like a start-up type entrepreneurial venture, I thought, “Hey, there’s no one else here.” I could get in at the ground floor. I also loved camera gear. I understand it. I have a film background a little bit. I offered to work for like five hours a week for free running social media. Then five hours turned into ten hours for free, and then pretty quickly it turned into ten hours paid because I was delivering some value, trying to grow the Rhino community of people that were interested in this gear. That turned into part-time paid and eventually I became the marketing director. For a little while, I mean technically though, we were the smallest company of about 13 people at the height when I was there. They went on to grow to be a lot bigger. I became the COO. I think I worked for a few months for free running the social media, but it was not a huge time commitment. I was at REI, still working. More and more, I got to know him, got to know the brand, got to see the opportunity, and his brand was growing. If nothing happened with Rhino, I don’t think there would have ever been any money on the table to hire anyone else. But the fact is, he had a great product and it just kind of caught fire. It was just a good time to get into the types of products that he was building, and he built some really, really great products. So the company started growing and he needed the help, and there I was.
00:20:42 Ash Faraj: So why do you think Kyle, the founder of the Rhino Camera Gear, why do you think he trusted you? What was it about you that he said… Why did he put his trust in you?
00:20:54 Sam Eitzen: At the end of the day, I’d offered to work for free to kind of weasel my way in the front door, and who’s going to say no to that? I don’t even know if it was technically legal, but I didn’t care. It’s not like I was going to say… He’s like, “Sure, you want to run social media?” He trusted me enough with the login, and I just tried to start posting things. That was before Facebook’s pretty good algorithms, right? So we ended up having… we would get followers. We’d get traction. I wasn’t super experienced at the job, but I love to learn. I believed that I could learn anything at the time, just by researching. That’s why I was confident enough to leave college, I think. We became friends. I think he liked me as a person. I was super dedicated to the company. We really thought the same way about a lot of things, and I was like early. I’ve run the start-up going from two to more people. Those early people who understand the business -- whether or not they’re super qualified for the job -- just because they understand the company, end up being so valuable. I think that that’s what happened.
00:21:57 Ash Faraj: How did you know it was the right time to move on from REI?
00:22:02 Sam Eitzen: As soon as I got part-time paid work at Rhino, I quit and thought, “Well, I’m going to make even part-time at Rhino as much as I was making at REI, and then I could either supplement with a second job somewhere else or maybe I could start my own thing.” Right around the time that I started at Rhino, we kind of fell into Snapbar. My brother and I, together, got given this wooden box that served as our very first photo booth. Never planned on turning it into a business or anything, but that was around 2012 when we actually did our very first event with this wooden box.
00:22:39 Ash Faraj: So it’s not often that we hear about business being started by accident, but in Sam’s case he and his brother started Snapbar completely by accident. One of their friends was getting married and he asked Sam’s brother if he could operate a photo booth during his wedding. Now, the groom’s brother was a carpenter, so he had created a wooden box that could be utilized as a photo booth and Sam’s brother would operate it. And after the wedding, the wooden box had no use. Nobody wanted it. So Sam and his brother took it home not intending on using it for business, but just for fun in the future. His friends would call them up and ask, “Hey, can you set up this photo booth for me?” at parties, and weddings, and other events. And Sam and his brother would set it up and do everything for free because they were just doing it for fun until the demand, of course, became so high that they had to begin charging for their time. That was the beginning of Snapbar.
00:23:24 Sam Eitzen: So the funny thing is that it was an accident. A good friend of mine was getting married. I was in the wedding. My brother was living with my friend as an intern at his graphic design agency. Again, both of my brother and I connected to this guy called Jason. Jason’s getting married, finds this blog; some German blog that lists a cool photo booth, old-school wooden thing that took pictures. But is not a professional photographer, right? We’re not competing with professional photographers at weddings or events. This is like a fun thing with props and all that. Sent it to my brother and said, “Hey, could you do this?” Joe had a lot of camera gear. My brother is a photographer. That’s what he was and studied for six years in England. Joe’s like, “Sure.” I’m in the wedding. Joe is at the wedding taking his camera equipment and getting it ready. The groom’s brother happened to be a carpenter who built the wooden box. So we did this wedding on March 24th. It was great. It was fun. We knew a lot of people there because I was in it. My brother was there attending, then that was it. After the wedding, literally, as we’re all packing up and helping clean up, the brother of the groom came and said, “Hey, do you guys want the box we used tonight? I don’t need it.” So we took this box. My brother ended up living with my wife and I for a little while. We had it in our garage. And just amongst our group of friends, every once in a while -- because we knew a lot of people at the wedding and all of our friends were there -- we’d get a random question like, “Hey! You’re coming to the party this Saturday, right? Can you bring the box that you had at the wedding? It’d be fun.” So we’d set it up at some party, and we weren’t getting paid. It was just like a fun thing. Then there’d be some other event. “Oh yes. Sure, sounds good. We can bring it.” Eventually, it was like, “Interesting. People want this thing.” It was like a photo booth. We just didn’t know. We didn’t think it was ever going to turn into a business, but over time we got annoyed that our friends kept asking us to bring it places for free. So we charged like 99 bucks, and that was the first way we made money. They would just pay us cash. A hundred bucks. Here you go. Thanks. Then we did a couple of weddings for some friends, and they paid us also like a pretty low amount. We didn’t really care. We were going to be there probably anyways. So it was weird to like wanting to go to an event, but then it ended up working it in a weird way. But you were friends with the people whose wedding or event it was. And the way that we would deliver the photos. So, we had all the gear. We’d take all the pictures. And that’s as simple as it was. There was no printer or anything like that. And the way that we would deliver the photos was we’d created a Facebook page. We created a Facebook page that was not called “Sam’s Photo Booth Company” or “Sam’s Images Photo Booth Company”; we called it “Snapbar.” My brother is creative, and he is a good designer. So we’re sitting around at our home and we go, “Oh, Snapbar. That’s kind of cool. That’s great.” We had this random lady reach out to us via Facebook. Not sure how she found out about us; a friend of a friend of a friend, but it was a far enough disconnect that we had… She couldn’t even remember how she found out about it. She wanted us to do her wedding in six months. And we were like, “Six months. Geez, that’s a long time away.” We had no idea who she was. We’d never worked with someone we didn’t know. And she said, “Can you send over a contract?” Well, we didn’t have a contract. The Snapbar wasn’t a business. So we drafted a… we just downloaded a contract template and sent it over to her. She signed it, and we put her wedding date in our calendar six months down the road hoping we wouldn’t forget it. And then the next week, we got a check written to the Snapbar. I just thought we were going to be paid cash the night of, which is how everything else happened. It wasn’t a business. We had our jobs at Rhino. “$350. Dang, that is a lot.” Like a hundred bucks an hour for the three hours we were going to be there. We thought that was crazy. We were so embarrassed that we had sent over a contract for a business that didn’t really exist. So we decided to start a business, called it the Snapbar. And then started a bank account linked to that business, so we could deposit the check that was written to the name of our Facebook page which was the first $350 we ever deposited into that bank account. And that’s what started the Snapbar technically and officially, the company, nine months after that first time in March.
00:27:14 Ash Faraj: Just a few months ago, our country and our world completely changed. The pandemic really changed our lives. Sam’s livelihood relied on in-person events. There were no in-person events. How was he going to make a living? On March 11th of 2020, Sam stayed up all night generating ideas of how he could somehow make money to keep his employees employed and how he was going to survive. Within days, he launched “Keep Your City Smiling,” a company that creates corporate gift boxes and care packages to support small businesses. Something completely different than Snapbar, but something that would generate some kind of cashflow to keep the Snapbar afloat. It gave Snapbar just enough time to develop a virtual photo booth software that they would now use to make their employees employed.
00:27:56 Sam Eitzen: Yeah, it was tough because -- it was a great question you asked earlier too: “Did you ever feel overwhelmed in the five years?” Because it’s pretty normal… You didn’t actually just say did you feel overwhelmed, because I did feel overwhelmed. But I never felt like things weren’t going to work out. Growing a business, overwhelmed is impossible to escape I think in many ways. Did I ever think we were going to fail? No, I don’t really… I never did to be honest, because just every month we just kept growing. There were months that it was scary where we’d have a down month. But it was never like, “Oh, my goodness. Events aren’t happening anymore” or “Oh, Gosh! Photo booths fell out of style.” We really didn’t experience that. The months of overwhelm were real. Decembers were always crazy with the number of holiday parties. Working in the event industry is one of the most stressful industries to work in, outside of medicine and first responder, like military-style, groups. Simply from the fact that you have one chance to get it right. If you don’t get it right, you will be physically screamed at by planners. It’s just… tensions are high. You think about a wedding day or a massive product launch; you’ve got one shot. You’re not going to just redo this, if you have a bad start. So, as we scaled there were a lot of really, really intense, overwhelming moments, but I never felt business was on the brink. What I found myself thinking in March was not only overwhelm, but absolutely what the heck are we going to do? I mean like, it’s over, right? We saw all sales drop off a cliff. We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars within a span of a couple of months. Future revenue dropped off the cliff. So we technically lost hundreds of thousands within the span of like a couple of weeks. But then we actually took hits to the business and saw our cash dwindling of hundreds and thousands over the next few months. So even with the pivot, it was more of like a desperate attempt. So it was March 11th; I think a Thursday night or Wednesday night, couldn’t sleep. Yeah, stayed up super late writing out these 50 ideas. Nine days later, we launched “Keep Your City Smiling” which was a gift box company that supported small business. I got a lot of press for that; not me, but the company. It was a complete pivot. We had no idea what we were doing. New industry, new product, new clients, new site. We did that and it went really well for three months. And it saved us; the income that that provided. The fact that we got like… The people supported the mission because we were trying to help small business and everything and loved this idea. It allowed us to keep most of our staff; we survived in that sense. Our goal was just survival. “Keep Your City Smiling” allowed us to do that until we kind of got back on our feet with Snapbar with this virtual photo booth software we developed.
00:30:49 Ash Faraj: Sam, I want to just rewind here for a second. I remember you were saying that you felt stuck at a certain point; that’s when you were at REI. For somebody right now that’s in their mid-twenties that feels a little stuck -- they feel that same sense of ‘stuckness’ if you will, but maybe they’re having trouble getting their foot in the door at a job. How would you speak to that new, younger professional in their mid-twenties feeling a little stuck right now? What would you say to them?
00:31:12 Sam Eitzen: I felt stuck when I was at REI. Didn’t know what to do. I knew that if I just applied for a job and tried to grow my resume really well for Rhino, he wouldn’t hire me; he didn’t have the money to hire me at the time. So I thought the only way to get his attention is to be drastic, to say I’m going to work for free. That’s crazy. I mean not many people are willing to work for free, nor should they because your time is valuable. But that’s just what I felt I had to do to get the attention, to show the drive. I think sometimes people are not willing to be as drastic as they should. Sometimes being drastic costs you money, costs you time, costs you your pride. You have to say, if you’re looking for a job -- I mean, I’ve never been a door-to-door salesperson, but I know the stories enough. Not that there are many door-to-door salespeople anymore, but you’re going to knock on like a hundred. And they’re all going to say no before you find the one. You knock on 99 and you’re thinking this is more the effort than I ever thought I was going to give it. Great. Well, you were two doors away, right? That’s a weird example, but I noticed that exists in a lot of other areas of life. I was just reading a little bit of the story about the founder of the KIND Company, the bars. When he started KIND, he was at one of the lowest points in his life; depressed, about to declare bankruptcy. No-one believed that his business would grow and ‘dot, dot, dot’; we all know the rest of the story. We’ve all had a KIND bar kind of thing, right? -- So drastic maybe is not even the best word; but it’s like drastic mixed with resilience and perseverance. Just don’t stop being intense about what you want to try to accomplish and understand that not all paths need to be the traditional thing, where you go to school for four years and you apply to a million different jobs. Maybe you drop out of school and try to work for someone for free. I’m not recommending that. I’m just saying sometimes it might take that. It depends on the situation. That’s how I found myself in 2010 with no experience, no college degree. I had to somehow stand out in a different way, and it took being drastic.
00:33:30 Ash Faraj: Hey guys. Thank you for sticking around and listening to Sam’s story. We’re now at the last section of our show called “Connection Session Questions” where we ask questions that allow you to get to know our guest on a much deeper level.
00:33:43 Ash Faraj: If you were to meet the 25-year-old Sam, what advice would you give to him?
00:33:47 Sam Eitzen: To be a little bit more bold in my business decisions.
00:33:53 Ash Faraj: What in your life do you feel has given you the greatest sense of fulfillment?
00:33:57 Sam Eitzen: Being a dad, for sure.
00:34:01 Ash Faraj: If you could be remembered for just one thing, what would you want that to be?
00:34:05 Sam Eitzen: I think for getting people to dream big and believe that they could change the world. I believe that a lot can be accomplished by someone who has their mind set on something and is humble enough to understand that they need a lot of other people to help them.
00:34:24 Ash Faraj: In your opinion, what is the most important life skill?
00:34:27 Sam Eitzen: The ability to communicate clearly.
00:34:30 Ash Faraj: What is the best advice that someone has ever given you?
00:34:33 Sam Eitzen: I think the best advice that anyone’s given me has nothing to do with business, but it’s to understand that you can’t do anything alone. There is no such thing, in my opinion, as like a self-made man or woman.
00:34:44 Ash Faraj: If you were stranded on an island and had access to one meal, what would that meal be for you?
00:34:50 Sam Eitzen: Probably Moroccan Tagine.
00:34:55 Ash Faraj: Thank you so much for listening. Now, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. It only takes a few seconds, but it’s worth so much to us. We are helping new professionals in a very unique way, and we need people to hear about it. We need you to help us reach more people by leaving us a rating and review. We hope to see you again next week. Take care.