NO GAS AND NO CASH
Last week I received an invite to attend a Shark Tank audition in Brooklyn. The problem was I realized that I didn’t have the gas or the cash to get out there. It had been a slow week and I found myself on several occasions having to scrap together the money just to complete my delivery rounds. This day was no different. All though I had enough fuel in the tank to make my delivery rounds, that was it. I started looking for anything in my small apartment that I can sell quickly. Over the years in moments like this I have sold furniture, camera equipment, stereo equipment, cleared out my piggy-bank (which I did earlier that week) just to get through that day. My only hope was that the funds pending ($20) in my bank account (from an earlier electronic payment) come available in two instead of three business days. Other than that I am fresh out of cash and ideas.
PANHANDLE FOR IT
When I launched this series with the panhandling entry I said the following about the expereince…
At this point panhandling seemed like my only option but I was too scared and embarrassed to seriously consider it. Those crippling thoughts of fear struck me like a panic attack (which I think I had that night). Then I thought…
if I am not willing to stand by the lessons learned during this series then I may as well come to terms that this entire “Survival Tales of a Founder” series is just a marketing stunt.
So I started to lean into my fear until I knew that I had to do it. I motivated myself to the extent that I knew that even if the bank funds became available (which they did before dawn) that this is something I had to do. Fear and doubt were my enemies, humility and persistence my allies.
AN “A” FOR EFFORT
The morning came and it was time for me to set out on another leg of this life changing journey that is entrepreneurship. Along with setting a goal of raising $5, I also had to complete my delivery rounds in time to get to the audition by 1:30pm. But I realized that accomplishing these goals did not matter as much as trying to accomplish these goals. It is true what they say about an “A” for effort.
I will leave you with this quote…
TREVOR - FOUNDER FREE YOUR ARMS - DELIVERED WITH ❤️
TUNE IN TO @FREEYOURARMS ON INSTAGRAM OR FACEBOOK FOR OUR LIVESTREAM SERIES DELIVERED WITH LOVE. AND PLEASE CONTINUE TO PAY IT FORWARD BY PURCHASING FROM OUR SHOP EACH AND EVERY FRIDAY.
TO HEAR THE MUSIC THAT INSPIRED THIS SERIES CHECK OUT THE DELIVERED WITH LOVE PLAYLIST
YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT THE THIRD TIME
On Wednesday May 1st I will be making my 3rd attempt at landing a spot on the popular TV show Shark Tank. The first time I auditioned was in 2015 the first year of our company. I was fresh out the gate with this luggage storage disruptor idea with billion dollar expectations. Oh how the times have changed. Now you can find me panhandling on the street for money. Despite the cold harsh reality of what it actually means to be an entrepreneur tightening its icy grip around my dreams, the pursuit continues. However just so you know, I am not doing this because I want (all though I can use) funding (as you can see by my blog post Why Should Billionaires Have All The Fun? ). Instead I am doing this audition as a way to measure my personal and professional growth. Let me explain…
GET YOUR HEAD OUT THE CLOUDS
In my last audition I was but a step away from making it to the show taping in L.A. After my initial application submission on the Shark Tank website, I received an invite to audition in person at a private venue for diverse entrepreneurs (which I am doing again this Wednesday). I was fortunate enough to make it past this first hurdle and within a week recieved a call from one of the show producers asking me to submit a video audition tape, (which you can see on our YouTube Channel. ) This would be followed by an email from that producer…
Once delivery of your submission, it's usually about two weeks or so that the producers will reach out if they're interested in moving forward with you.
For me this was two weeks of constantly checking my emails (“does this thing work?”), reaching out to previous show contestants (“how quickly did it take for them to call you back?”), and even sending follow up emails to the producers (“Did you get my video link?”)
I was a mess.
LOOK AT ME THE BIG STAR!
In each of my previous auditions I had delusions of grandeur of making it on the show so that I could prove all my doubters wrong. This included my ex’s, my family and friends, my competitors, people who ignored or rejected me, even people who didn’t celebrate or encourage me at a level that I thought was sufficient for my efforts. I had a Michael Jordan-like drive to make enemies even where they were none if it gave me even the slightest edge. It was all about look at Me! Me! Me! See how I made it!
There is something about building a business that humbles you. It is survival of the fittest (state of mind). It weeds out unnecessary baggage, trashes all your hangups, and purges the extraneous and unnecessary. Despite what I thought I knew about entrepreneurship through pop-culture (Steve Jobs/Bill Gates/The old Robber Barons/go down the list), my reality was much different than the myth. It seemed to me that it was more likely that if you were fortunate enough succeed in business, that it was in spite of your baggage not because of it. Vanity, pride, fear, self loathing, selfishness had no place in my business, I needed to not only survive, I needed to grow. I haven’t had the fortune of having kids yet, but I imagine that it has a similar effect on ones growth. If growing your business is what is important, then trivial matters fade into the background. This has been my experience.
Now that I have auditioned twice before over the lifetime of my company, looking back at the trajectory of my growth from the first audition (where I was convinced that Free Your Arms was destined to be the next Airbnb), to today’s version of Free Your Arms (as a company that connects with each neighborhood, each shop owner, each customer, as if it was our only neighborhood, customer, shop owner).
I have “grown” from having dreams of global domination, to bringing a small town community based approach to the big city.
Here is an excerpt from one of the early versions of the business plan for our relaunch this past February. It cites the experience of my parents “Clyde and Dallis” (immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago to New York City (Where they had me), to now living in a small town in Florida called Spring Hill) as an example of what we lost in big cities and with technology. (At the time The Shop was called “Our Small Town”)
Decades before Airbnb or UBER, Clyde and Dallis were always happy hosts
to anyone in need of a room or a ride. From family visiting or migrating to NYC, to the troubled children of friends and family, to students studying abroad. There was always someone in that extra room. And those visitors had to look no further than Clyde's Yellow Cab for a ride to or from Church, work, the airports, you name it. And yes sometimes guests or passengers would offer payments as compensation for time or fuel, but always there was something beyond the monetary exchange that made this less a transactional experience and more a communal one. In return guests would help with the cooking, the cleaning, the yard work, picking up groceries, or just contributing to the daily dialogue that formed the fabric of their home and community.
As time has passed this organic support system has slowly been replaced by a digital one. Now if you need a ride you call an UBER, when you need a place to stay you find an AIRBNB, when you need items picked up from the grocery you use POSTMATES. All great services that have made most of our lives easier, but for the Clyde's and Dallis' of the world, they are finding themselves increasingly isolated as that old support system erodes around them.
OURSMALLTOWN restores that old support system and provides communities on the fringes of technology with the tools that help them bridge the digital divide, transforming what was a purely a digital exchange into a more communal one.
Some might look at this downshift in expectations as a step backwards, I don’t. I know that if I am doing something (for the right reasons) that matters that it will connect with even the toughest critics (or judges in this case). This audition is just another hurdle to gauge that growth.
TREVOR - FOUNDER FREE YOUR ARMS - DELIVERED WITH ❤️
TUNE IN TO @FREEYOURARMS ON INSTAGRAM OR FACEBOOK FOR THE LIVESTREAMING OF MY AUDITION DAY ON WEDNESDAY MAY 1ST. AND PLEASE CONTINUE TO PAY IT FORWARD BY PURCHASING FROM OUR SHOP EACH AND EVERY FRIDAY.
TO HEAR THE MUSIC THAT INSPIRED THIS SERIES CHECK OUT THE DELIVERED WITH LOVE PLAYLIST
WHAT IS YOUR GENIUS?
In my quest to find inspiration for my own entrepreneurial pursuits, last Sunday while doing deliveries, I ran across a charismatic entrepreneur who was counting more cash on hand than I had made that entire week. I am not sure what it was, maybe it was the way he was counting the bills in broad daylight in a carefree manner, but he struck me as an individual that marched to the beat of a different drum. Determined to gain some insight into his genius I pulled alongside him while still sitting in traffic and gestured for him to approach my vehicle. I then asked him if I could do a quick interview - he said yes.
As I pulled in to park and started to set up my camera - he approached, suddenly launched into a high kick that would make a Radio City Rocket Blush, and before I could fully gather myself he started my interview for me - “Now what you wanna talk about?” he said. Seemingly eager to get back to his days work.
I asked him his name. “My name is Julius, I was born on a leap year “ - he proudly proclaimed, even showing me his Identification as proof. My hunch was right… Julius was a showman with a Phineas T. Barnum like flare. So I cut straight to my question. What is your genius?
This answer was more Master Po than Gary V - Surely there must be more to his genius than that. I listened on like a patient young grasshopper as he continued… Julius went on to explain that no matter the religion we all serve one god. He then asked me if I wanted to hear a song?
Yes I said.
I learned how to live, and depend on jesus,
I found out if I did, we will survive.
And then another
I’m comin' up on the rough side of the mountain,
I’m doin' my best to make it in.
Great voice I thought. And there is a theme of survival that I immediately picked up on. After all the tagline of this series is Survival Tales of a Founder. It was then I noticed something else - It was not me who was engaging Julius, instead it was Julius who was engaging me. Was this show one big MacgGuffin? Was I being wooed? It seemed like Julius was courting me like a Paradise Bird doing a mating dance. So is this his genius? He puts on a show, his mark (me in this case) drops their guard, and he goes in for the close. After all who could say no to that voice. As I stated in the article that launched this series.
IN MY EXPERIENCE THE FOLKS WHO SURVIVE IN THE STREETS ARE JUST AS (IF NOT MORE) SAVVY THAN THOSE WHO SURVIVE IN THE CORPORATE WORLD, AS A FILMMAKER AT HEART I AM INTERESTED IN SHINING SOME LIGHT ON THIS THEORY.
You might call this a street hustle and it probably is. Or you might call him a panhandler and you might be right. Some might even use a less flattering description for this pitch. However you label him I see the same entrepreneurial drive in Julius that I see in myself. And amongst his competitors I could see that he was not employing the same tricks I have come accustomed to and even employed myself . What Julius did was he sized me up (What we in sales call qualifying), lured me in without me knowing (What some call a soft pitch), put on a show (The presentation), and led me to his close (which he had not yet accomplished - read on). These are all skills I have been employing on my own daily pitches (which I am documenting on the Free Your Arms social media channels (see links below)).
Finally I reached into my wallet pulled out a $20 and paid it forward to Julius, only asking that he share his love with others. (And there you have it - The Close). I actually did not mention that he made his ask at the top of our encounter (which you will see in the video posted below). The ask is the most important part of any pitch. And presenting it at the very beginning is how you do it (Don’t you watch Shark Tank?). This is a strategy that I did not learn about until recently.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
This seemingly unselfish act of kindness I am displaying by paying it forward, may be more self-serving than it appears. It is not dissimilar to the final scene in Pulp Fiction. The Jules Character (No relation to Julius) played by Samuel Jackson and his sidekick Vincent (Played by John Travolta) voluntarily gives Pumpkin (Played by Tim Roth) $1500 while holding a gun to Pumpkin’s head. This after Jules thwarts Pumpkin’s attempt to take his MacGuffin.
…Now How much is there?
About fifteen hundred dollars…
Put it in your pocket, it’s yours.
Now with the rest of them wallets
and the register, that makes this a
pretty successful little score.
Jules, if you give this nimrod
fifteen hundred bucks, I’m gonna
shoot ‚em on general principle.
I ain’t givin‘ it to him.
I’m buyin‘ somethin‘ for my money.
Like Jules I am also “buyin‘ somethin‘ for my money”
If you were misled at the beginning of this article into thinking Julius was your archetypical entrepreneur we have grown familiar with, I propose that it is in these archetypes where the seeds of bias are planted. For the initiated his genius hides in plain sight. As an educational resource, his genius at the “soft close” is the type of low hanging fruit of knowledge I hope to harvest for the Everybody Is a Genius series.
Enjoy the video below.
EPILOGUE : DIVINE INTERVENTION
A few friends have reminded me that by paying it forward good things will come back to me (which isn’t the goal btw). I do believe in karma. Anecdotally it makes sense that putting out good energy leads to more good things happening. Where I’m more skeptical is in a belief in a higher power. Some call this power God (Btw why is God almost always a man? - A topic for another day - I digress) I'm not a believer or disbeliever in God but since paying it forward I have been encountering some strange coincidences.
For example -
A few weeks back right when I posted Why Should Billionaires Have All the Fun I quoted this verse from the bible.
IF YOU WANT TO BE PERFECT, GO, SELL YOUR POSSESSIONS AND GIVE TO THE POOR, AND YOU WILL HAVE TREASURE IN HEAVEN
Hours later we got our biggest order of the year, and I would have to make the choice between keeping the money for the business, or paying it forward. I blogged about that incident here. It was like God was saying tread carefully when you invoke my name to make a point.
THE LATEST COINCIDENCE;
I found it strange that my first Pay It Forward profile has a name that is only a few letters removed from the feature adjective in our series. It is also a coincidence that his name is also a few letters removed from the name Jesus. But the biggest coincidence is that he said his genius was G.O.D. and that it was written on a chalkboard by my own hand (See Video). I'm not claiming that Julius is some kind of guardian angel, like the ones you see in movies or on Television shows. What I am claiming is that at the very least these coincidences may be a MacGuffen in its own right.
TUNE IN TO @FREEYOURARMS ON INSTAGRAM OR FACEBOOK AND PLEASE CONTINUE TO PAY IT FORWARD BY PURCHASING FROM OUR SHOP EACH AND EVERY FRIDAY.
TREVOR - FOUNDER FREE YOUR ARMS - DELIVERED WITH ❤️
THE SERIES WAITING TO HAPPEN
As what usually happens with everything I do, the documentarian in me kicks in at some point and everything I work on eventually becomes an exercise in storytelling. This seems to now be the case with The Free Your Arms Social Media feeds.
This also begs the question - what other aspects of my life am I producing? A question for another day - But I digress.
Ever since my first work of public storytelling that I can remember in 1999 with my Web Manifesto where I wrote...
…ever since I posted this manifesto (ok stop laughing), exploring the truth through art was a fascination of mine that I endulged publicly because of this then new platform we called the World Wide Web. I would post my thoughts on topics ranging from race relations as it applied to a then Mayor Giuliani to Digital Art in 2000 - But I always felt like there was a barrier in the blogging medium that prevented me from sufficiently expressing the truth as I saw it.
SO YOU’RE A VIDEOGRAPHER?
Years later I would find a new vehicle of expression in the form of video. I thought surely here is my chance to give voice to the truth as I saw it. In depth portraits of artists struggling to create their art, entrepreneurs building their empires, families struggling to stay together. This would be my vehicle for expression, I embraced it and thrived.
In the early days when I was shooting locally in Williamsburg and downtown Manhattan, I would document the truth as i saw it with little resistance. However as I became more and more sought after as an artist, I found that the roadblocks to revealing truths became increasingly difficult. Despite hiring me based on those early works, my corporate clients held tight reigns on the content I created. One example of this creative clash happened in 2009 while documenting The Roots during the making of their album How I Got Over - One of my video submissions was flatly rejected by the label. Frustrated I posted the following on my blog.
Who knew that scenes involving weed smoking, creative clashes, or in-fighting would not go over well with their label. Needless to say they never hired me again.
You see getting to the truth of things and expressing it for public consumption was always something I enjoyed doing. Yet finding my very own Truman Burbank was always my challenge. And despite my best efforts, It is a level of truth telling in art that has always eluded me.
When I launched Free Your Arms 4 years ago, I started a streaming series titled Your Front Row Seat from my van on Periscope. At the time I always thought it would be interesting to document my own entrepreneurial story of survival but I never worked up the courage. My challenge as a documentarian was that documenting introspect is an unnatural artistic act for me. So I kept the camera pointed outward and limited most of my commentary to the sights and sounds of the passing cityscape. Viewers would ask me almost on a daily basis for me to reveal my face - but I would always politely decline, citing my documentarians mantra to keep my camera pointed outward. Even on my own social media feeds you were hard pressed to find any images of what I looked like (and zero on the Free Your Arms IG). Revealing any personal details about myself just made me uncomfortable.
Something happened a few weeks ago. Maybe it was recognizing that the best story I could tell might be my own. Or maybe it was out of a need to find an alternative way to market Free Your Arms due to our Adwords account getting shut down. In either case somewhere I found the courage to turn the camera inward, smile, and tell my story.
THE TALES OF A FOUNDER
Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce to you Delivered With Love - Survival Tales of a Founder - giving you an unprecedented behind the scenes look into building, saving, surviving a startup. Every day I post a running tally of my pitches, my closes, my negotiations, my meetings. I am documenting my daily grind which is summarized with a running graphic charting our previous days gross revenue (In black when we reach our goals, and in red when we don’t).
On my livestream (which airs 3 times daily from Tuesday through Friday) I dig deeper into the numbers, and give you details about my daily strategies, goals, successes and failures. These include stories about the people I meet, the demons I fend off, my wins and my losses.
For those of you new to entrepreneurship, over the course of the series you might gain unprecedented insight into what it takes to launch, grow and sustain a business, or the pitfalls to avoid. For those of you who are well into your own entrepreneurial journey, you might find a fellow entrepreneur in which you can relate to. As we all know this journey can sometimes be a lonely one. As the series develops over time, hopefully the tools I use to share my journey will develop as well, and you will be able to track the trajectory of my growth (Or failure).
Finding the courage to tell my entrepreneurial journey while employing my skills as a storyteller will hopefully give you a point of view that is not easy to find on social media. It seems like I have finally found my very own Truman Burbank, and he is me.
Tune in to @freeyourarms on instagram or facebook and please share with anyone who you think might benefit from this series..
Trevor - Founder Free Your Arms - Delivered With ❤️
WHO KNEW GIVING AWAY MONEY WOULD BE SO TOUGH
Now that I have shifted my focus from promoting to actually paying it forward, the first lesson I am learning when it comes to charity is that (to do it right) it is a business unto itself. I will be honest - I had no idea that it would be this difficult giving away money. For the past few weeks or so I have been posting on our social media and elsewhere that we are giving away money. So far the only responses has been from either friends, colleagues or family members making a mockery of it all, or followers on social media who’s motivations are questionable at best.
You’re giving away money, well I can use some!
This is not the response I was hoping for. Sure I can stand on the corner waving $20 bills and it would be gone in a New York minute (well actually I’m not so sure anymore). I guess I knew it would be difficult in a cerebral sense. I've heard about individuals of great wealth (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc) who are trying their best to effectively give away their fortunes in their lifetimes. As Andrew Carnegie said...
The man who dies rich, dies disgraced.
Going in, I knew I would make plenty of mistakes on my charitable journey. I am counting on the fact that I’ll stumble and fail, get up again, fail some more, and hopefully come through this experience with a perspective that can only be gained without a blueprint or the aid of proper counsel. Now here I am staring into the next roadblock. How do I give away money?
Initially without giving it much thought I imagined I would somehow find folks in the community who needed to have their bills paid and give them cash. Then I thought how do I know if they will do what they say they would do with the money? And god forbid, what if they use this money in a way that isn’t in the proper spirit of paying it forward?
So then I thought, OK maybe I’ll wait outside a utility office and when people come to pay their overdue bills, I’ll just offer to pay their bills for them. But then I thought that is more like a single act of charity that evaporates into the ether. Also I am a bit embarrassed to admit that this didn’t have the kind of bang I needed to motivate me forward.
Then I remembered an old proverb and a resonating quote that gave me the strategy I needed to move forward. First the proverb...
...give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
It occurred to me that one way to maximize the benefits is to pay these dollars forward in a way that is more likely to help the community.
Then the quote…
The fish is having a day on our blog).
This last quote is relatable because for my entire academic life I was a straight C student. begrudgingly doing what I needed to do to get by so I can get to do the things I really wanted to do. Growing up my passions were in sports and art (I know a strange combination). My parents (immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago) wouldn’t think to encourage (much less invest) in any interests of mine that didn’t have a secure career at its end. As a result it never occurred to me to consider art or film school as an option.
As far as sports my favorite was American Football. However my religious upbringing (I was raised a strict Seventh Day Adventist) prevented me from doing anything that didn’t uphold his holy name on Friday nights or Saturday (Our religious day). This excluded varsity football because those games were mostly played on Saturday or Friday nights. I was a star on the JV team (Those games were played on Sunday’s) and was one of a few selected to travel with the varsity as a freshman (I had to turn down that honor as well). Instead while my fellow students were finding glory on the football field, I spent thousands of Sabbaths after service looking out of my parents window, watching people walk by my sidewalk as my entertainment (this actually explains a lot about my life).
When I finally left the church in my 20’s it was too late to properly start the football career I always dreamed of, and the best I could ever do was to play minor league football and attend a few pro tryouts.
The Einstein quote above resonates because it wasn’t until my late twenties and early thirties when I was able to tap into my passions as an artist, where I started to live. Taking stock in my passion as a videographer allowed me to travel the world, meet amazing people and have amazing experiences.
This has led me here today, struggling but happier than I imagine I would have ever been had I not followed my dreams. I tapped into my own genius and I want to help other people (who may also feel like they are living less than fulfilling lives) tap into theirs.
EVERYBODY IS A GENIUS
This has led to this latest iteration of Pay It Forward Friday. The idea is that we will pay unemployed and underemployed individuals in our community $15 an hour to do what they love to do most. Maybe your industry has been disrupted by a silicon valley unicorn and you were let go after 20 years of loyal servitude. But you’ve always had a passion for working on cars, just never found the time to do it. We will pay you $15 an hour to explore that passion in any capacity you see fit. Maybe it’s just going to auto shows and streaming videos about your knowledge of vintage engines. Maybe someone’s brakes needs fixing and they can’t afford the repairs, maybe a neighbor has to choose between getting an oil change or buying new shoes for their kid. All we ask you is that someday, anyday, when the moment arises, that you help someone in your community who is struggling like you were when we helped you. Whatever it is, hopefully you can apply your passions to helping them get through their day. The video embed below recaps this idea.
If you want us to pay you to follow your dreams sign up here. And follow our social media for the stories of folks who we pay it forward to.
I will leave you with this quote and video clip from one of my favorite films Up In The Air - This is from the scene where the George Clooney character (Ryan) was brought in to fire the J.K. Simmons character (Bob) -
Ryan: “You know why kids love athletes?”
Bob: “I don’t’ know because they screw lingerie models.”
Ryan: “No, that’s why WE love athletes. Kids love athletes because they follow their dreams. How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?”
Today is also Pay It Forward Friday. The truth is I'm still afraid of having a big day today like the day we had last week. But I also fear that I won’t grow until I lose this fear completely. This week I compromised with my crew about giving away a full day of revenue all at once and putting our business more at risk. That compromise took the form of making the PIFF payouts over time instead of all at once. This more measured approach was a compromise largely influenced by the strategy mentioned above. Honestly I am a bit relieved that we aren’t out of business today, but at the same time it feels like I didn't take the full leap of faith. The idea was that I would giveaway all the revenue at once even if it meant the business grinds to a halt. And that is the type of faith that would open doors even if they were not visible at first. This opening of doors has actually been my experience up to this point. The excerpt below best describes my feeling right now.
Jesus comes walking to them on the water and the disciples become scared thinking Jesus is a ghost… Jesus invites Peter to come walk on the water with him. Peter climbs out of the boat and begins to walk on the water to Jesus. As soon as Peter gets scared of the wind and waves and takes his eyes off Jesus he begins to sink.
Am I about to sink because I really didn’t go all in?
IN THE MEANTIME BUY, BUY, BUY FRIDAY’S AND EVERYDAY.
TREVOR BAYACK - FREE YOUR ARMS OWNER/OPERATOR
DELIVERED WITH LOVE
DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW OUR DAILY LIVE-STREAMS DELIVERED WITH LOVE - THE TRUTH IN 3 ACTS (TUESDAY - FRIDAY ON OUR SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS BELOW).
Why In the face of financial stress, growing resentment from friends and colleagues, and my business on the ropes, why am I so cheerfully giving away one day of revenue a week?
The pursuit of happiness.
The metric I used my entire life to measure my happiness was for the most part based on the social and financial capital I accrued personally and in my businesses. The Keeping up of appearances was the daily goal I would strive for in order to maintain my pride and self esteem. To this end, wherever I thought I might be falling short, my strategy would be (to use a familiar term)… fake it until I made it. I may not have been as blatant about putting on airs as others, but as a lifetime entrepreneur, this is a strategy that I employed far more than your average Joe.
Yes, those who know me best would most likely describe me as a kind and giving person. I am always the first to ask if anyone needs help, I am always the one to stick up for those I think are being treated unfairly, and I have been told that I am better than your average listener. These are genuine traits that I’ve had all my life. Which is why in recent months, and directly as a result of the charitable initiatives that I have been retrofitting into Free Your Arms - I realized just how far from that ideal I really am.
The fear of not obtaining or losing my social or financial capital became a prison I built up over a lifetime.
I always knew that despite my cheerful demeanor, that I was at my core a highly driven and annoyingly (if not secretly) competitive person. Anyone that I deemed a threat to my financial or social status would knowingly or unknowingly get pulled into my competitive lair. This could be someone within my own social circles, or it could be someone I had no personal interaction with whatsoever. For example; One of my favorite head-games I would play with myself while driving, was randomly choosing another driver (usually someone who I thought was driving too aggressively) and silently engage them in a race to an imaginary finish line. This happened several times daily. Or maybe I would randomly select a social media influencer with lots of followers that I envy and challenge myself to surpass them one-day (not having allot of luck with that one as my tens of followers would indicate). These are the types of mental exercises that I found challenging, but over a lifetime helped nurture a cancer of resentment and envy within. Basically anyone invading my space that was not on my team I saw as a potential threat.
Over a lifetime this competitive bent built a deep well of jealousy and resentment that existed side by side with my more charitable demeanor.
In the past few months, I started to more clearly see the unhealthy effects of this competitive streak. This was a source of fear, anxiety and resentment that colored how I viewed the world. My fear of not obtaining (or of losing) my social or financial standing became a self-imposed prison that I built-up over a lifetime. It also allowed others to leverage these fears against me through withholding or removing these rewards. It wasn’t until a recent holiday trip to my parents home in Florida that I would unintentionally start down a path of growth that I find myself on today.
A little burnt out from working on Free Your Arms over the past 3 plus years, I took my annual thanksgiving trip to visit my folks in Spring Hill Florida (this is my go to destination to decompress). As I usually do when I’m down there, I try to start new and fun projects to help occupy my time. On this trip I would use my time to work on a business plan for a platform that I hoped would allow the younger members of the community to provide tasks to the older less tech savvy members of the community. It was like TaskRabbit but for the people who would not know how to use Taskrabbit. Also the taskers would come from close friends and relatives. (Most of my family and extended family transplanted from New York to Spring Hill Florida so I thought this might be a great testing ground).
After dozens of iterations I would eventually call this project The Shop (which eventually became the website you are reading this blog post on right now). As I was building this community based platform, I could see that my world view as it applied to my business started shifting from being monetarily driven to a more charitable outlook. This led to self-examination about my role as a founder. The more I iterated this business plan, the more I realized that I felt happier working on The Shop than on The Free Your Arms Website as it currently existed. At some point I decided to merge the two businesses under the The Free Your Arms banner, with the old business adopting the values I was weaving into the new.
Immediately I started to feel happier, less stressed, and less anxious. I realized just how much fake love and true hate I was reflexively putting out into the world. I had a new interpretation of “fake it until you make it” Instead of faking success I tried to fake loving my enemies until I actually started to feel less hate. I wouldn’t be screaming at drivers on the road (as much), I stopped being obsessed with rooting against my competitors, and people on social media who I viewed as “unworthy”. I even tried to stop hating President Trump. I’m still working on that one. Still several times a day (every day) I have to literally stop myself and say out loud “stop hating!”, or “you’re such a hater!”. Like an alcoholic this might be a lifetime battle, but as they say knowing is half the battle. Now instead of seeking external validation I will never find, I have shifted my gaze within to find the happiness I deserve.
If the past is prologue then I’m guessing at some point I’ll take this new outlook on life just a bit too far before I inevitably have to pull back. My friends and family think I’ve gone way past that point already. Here are a couple of traps I might want to avoid…
How do I distinguish what I consider healthy impulses (the desire to connect, the need to express oneself, or the desire for my basic survival needs), from the unhealthy ones (The desire for social and financial capital as a validation of my happiness)?
How do I avoid hurting the people I care about that might bear the brunt of my actions? Just because I’m finding less meaning in financial and social rewards this does not mean that everyone else will. And if my new measure of happiness, which includes seeing others gain the same freedoms and happiness I am experiencing. The truth is I won’t be totally happy if those around me aren’t as well.
The truth is I don’t know how I’ll navigate these challenges.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PAY IT FORWARD FRIDAYS?
Yes that little detail. The challenge I get from most who disagree with my new approach usually takes some version of the statement below…
Being charitable is great, but why put my business at risk? Why not just be charitable in private? Why not wait until I’m in a better position to give? I lean on a passage of scripture as my retort…
if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven
Even as a child growing up in a strict religious household I could grasp the message in this parable. (Spoiler alert - even the rich man in this parable knew better than to “sell his possessions). I believe that once you have fulfilled the basic needs portion of Maslow's Pyramid, that the only thing separating us from experiencing the type of happiness associated with giving is to give, give and give until it hurts (As my dad use to say).
In an ironic twist, the researchers found that there is one thing that decamillionaires can do to get even more happiness -- give it away.
As I see it now, as I transition away from my pursuit for material and social validation, I hope to be able to leapfrog the whole “getting rich and famous” part and right into the “give it away” part that make the super-rich so super-happy. Why should millionaires and billionaires have all the fun of being uber-charitable? I half-jokingly ask myself.
The truth is if I’m not promoting the same kind of growth I am experiencing personally in my company, then I feel like I may be missing an opportunity that I may never have a chance to experience again.
Here is a truth that I think proves I am not a crazy person.
Every entrepreneurial fiber of my body is revolting against this new direction (in particular Pay It Forward Friday) like an addict going through withdrawal.
I hope that on the other side of this pain I will find something that I haven’t discovered in myself before. The kind of growth that sometimes only can be achieved through real pain. In the few months that I have been on this path, I have experienced the type of growth I haven’t experienced since I abandoned my childhood religion in 1991. The result, a discovery of self that is a direct result from the pain of giving, and a new measure of happiness. To ignore this path or to promote anything less in my business would give life to the cancer of unhappiness and allow it to come out of remission.
Maybe I’m just a stubborn and idealistic dreamer with my head in the clouds hell-bent on clinging to a non-existent point. That is if bankruptcy doesn’t cling to me first.
Maybe I am in ironic pursuit of exactly the type of social and financial validation I am positioning myself against. Am I secretly hoping to become the next Accidental Billionaire? Would that really be so bad?
Whether I soar or I crash, I hope it is a journey worthy of the pain and humiliation I’m putting myself through by pulling back the curtains for you to see me, warts and all.
IN THE MEANTIME BUY, BUY, BUY FRIDAY’S AND EVERYDAY.
TREVOR BAYACK - FREE YOUR ARMS OWNER/OPERATOR
DELIVERED WITH LOVE
Don’t forget to follow our daily live-streams Delivered With Love - The Truth in 3 Acts (Tuesday - Friday on our social media channels below) And don’t forget to support Pay It Forward Friday’s by purchasing items each Friday in our store.
PS: My cousin said
You know, you are kinda hazing yourself by doing this in public. You missed it in college but you are getting it now.
YOU’RE GONNA DO WHAT!?
A few weeks ago I launched a Live-Stream series called Delivered With Love - The Truth in Three Acts - Each Tuesday through Friday (three times a day) I would try to be as truthful about my business as my pride would allow. Shortly after launching the series in what might be described as a temporary moment of insanity, I announced that each Friday my company Free Your Arms would be donating all of our revenue to folks in our community who needed it more. I wanted to see what would happen if I applied the principles of giving even if it hurts my business. I called this day Pay It Forward Friday’s. The challenge I faced is this charitable mission would come at a time when we could least afford to give money away. You see, Free Your Arms is not yet profitable and under financial stress. This left my friends, family, and partners (all who I either owed money to or could use my help financially) scratching their collective heads. To promote this event I thought it would be a good marketing strategy to panhandle on the street for donations which would also go back to the community.
After a week of heavy promotion on our social media the time was finally here for me to hit the streets. Dressed in my Free Your Arms Jumpsuit, Doc Martens, Warby Parker glasses and winter coat at about 3:15 pm last Friday I headed for the intersection at Meeker and Metropolitan Avenues in Williamsburg Brooklyn. This is the main thoroughfare between the Lorimer L stop and all points Williamsburg (including my home/office). I decided to panhandle on the East side at Meeker Avenue under the BQE overpass which is opposite the more common panhandling spot on the westside of Meeker Avenue under the overpass. I parked my van about half a block away, pulled out my cardboard sign, my bottle wrapped in paper tape and placed my phone in a hidden compartment on my sign to livestream the entire pitch.
The sign which by the way read …
GIVE ME $1 I WILL GIVE TO ONE WHO NEEDS IT MORE #PANHANDLEITFORWARD
OK I was ready. I hit record on my phone held up my sign and started pitching. From this moment everything seemed to speed up and a dozen questions I didn’t consider were rattling off in my head. Which way do I walk first? Do I pitch the stopping cars? Do I approach the crossing pedestrians? What about eye contact? Do I ask for change or just shake the cup? Is the camera recording? What am I doing here? Should I have authored a more realistic sign? Was I sufficiently prepared? Will I get any donations dressed like this?
Then out of nowhere I felt it - the first dollar was dropped into my cup. It came from a young hip girl with a friendly smile. Then only a few minutes later a truck with two men inside pulled up alongside me. Out came a muscular hand holding a loosely wrapped sandwich. I hesitated for a split second as it never occured to me that people would donate food. The sandwich was bigger than the donors hand and it almost fell apart as I tried to grab it while holding my sign in one hand and my donation cup in the other. After securing the beefy delicacy I became elated “I got a sandwich!” I shouted as the truck drove away.
At this point there was a small crowd gathering at the crosswalk and inside a restaurant observing the happy panhandler. A tad embarrassed to be making a show of begging and yet joyful that I had experienced these spontaneous acts of kindness, It dawned on me that I was this afternoon’s street entertainment.
My plan was to stay on that corner for another 20 minutes before I left for my next delivery. During that time I was mostly ignored by pedestrians and drivers getting variations of the canned response ‘I have no change’. But what really irked me was that no one seemed to be reading the sign that I so cleverly crafted.
This reminded me of the scene in The Amazing Spider-Man when he was trying to find the owner of a stolen bike. One New Yorker walking past Spidey so fixated on his phone that he never realized that the superhero was standing in front of him soliciting his help. His reflexive response to Spidey without ever lifting his gaze was “I have no change”.
This is the refrain I would hear repeated to me many times in the next few minutes, many of whom also avoided making eye contact with me. All though it would have been nice to be acknowledged, The truth is it didn’t bother me if I was ignored totally. In sales I learned that cutting my losses with uninterested prospects quickly is preferable to engagement with no reward.
15 minutes passed and frostbite started to settle in (I wore my open fingered driving gloves). At this point I was just waiting for the experience to be over. It was then that another millennial stopped and almost tore his Whole Foods bag apart just to find a tangerine for me. It was another unexpected gesture of kindness. This time I was able to contain my joy.
It was now time to wrap-up today’s entertainment and head back to the warmth of my van and head off to my next delivery. In the minutes immediately following I was buzzed with adrenaline. It was as if I was floating above my own live-streamed experience. I knew in that moment that I would be back.
NOTE: I did live-stream the Panhandle session but forgot to save the feed on IG so it disappeared after 24 hours, I will be sure to save the next session.
WTF HAVE I DONE?!
At the end of the first day I generated $228.10 from freeyourarms.com and from panhandling I was able to get One Dollar, a tangerine, and a sandwich.
Later that night after the adrenaline high dissipated it became very real what I was sacrificing - with so many of my personal and business bills unpaid, my utilities and phone on the brink of getting shut off, my bank account in the negative, it occured to me that Pay It Forward Friday could really tank my business. A business that I put 12 - 18 hour days, seven days a week for the better part of 4 years. That’s 4 years not going on a single date, almost filing for bankruptcy, having two vans repoed, tanking my credit, often not being to pay my vendors or my crew. Then I had a mini panic attack.
This was a whole new level of irresponsibility.
PANHANDLING VS. SELLING
One of the goals I listed when I made the initial announcement about PIFF was to document the similarities between a street beggars hustle and an entrepreneurs hustle. I found that at least at first there was no real difference between begging for money in the streets, selling hand-warmers in a mall, T-shirts in a flea market, video services to a fortune 500 company, delivery services to hotels, or pitching my business on national TV. All of which I have done over the past 20 years.
I felt empowered knowing that if I ever hit the kind of rock-bottom that puts me out on the streets that I would not be above doing what it took to survive.
On this first day I would say it was easier begging in the streets than I expected. Keeping in mind there were no monetary targets in place. Aside from that little detail I didn’t have to rehearse a pitch, and I was dealing with a more receptive audience than the typical gatekeepers I encounter while selling. Ironically the thing that made begging in the streets more difficult than typical sales was the public spectacle I made of it all.
SO WHY DO IT?
There were two main motivations for why I decided to giveaway a large chunk of my company precisely when we can’t afford it.
First - I wanted to leap into an experiment about social values as it pertained to business. I am 48 years old and there is probably more road in my rear view mirror than lies ahead. If I am not going to build my ideal business now then when?
Second - I knew that if I hadn’t made such a public show of doing this, I would have started the process of gracefully bowing out once the risk of losing my business became real. I needed to put it out there so that the pain that would come from pulling out would exceed the pain I would feel by moving forward with this idea. So far so good.
THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT
If you have been tuning into my live-streams then you have heard me harp-on about the joy that comes in giving more than I take, my struggle with not having to find validation through material wealth or approval from my peers. You heard me describe the natural high that comes from living each moment doing the things that I love…
what happens when you weave aggressive social values into the fabric of a for profit company? How would that impact the surrounding community? How would that impact the members? How would that impact me?
Over time I have seen a profound change in my thinking. For one… my perspective on social norms were being transformed. When I first launched this startup I hoped to launch the next Airbnb or UBER. However In the past few years (thanks in big part to my mentors at SCORE NYC) they showed me that even if I could raise venture funding (and that is a big if) venture money may not be the path for me, they were right, I would have been miserable. So I decided early on to bootstrap. About a year later my choice to bootstrap our growth would soon be called into question…
while working to form a potential luggage disruptor partnership between FreeYourArms.com and Vertoe.com (who launched a different luggage storage disruptor model years after we opened up this category in New York) - Sid a co-founder at Vertoe and I often discussed or debated about the merits of venture capital vs bootstrapping. Months later Vertoe would join one of the top incubators in the country (Techstars) and raise 1.8 million fueling their expansion nationwide. Meanwhile I was still trying to keep our lights on.
After Vertoe raised their millions, the competition for market share in luggage storage disruptors was heating up and it felt like everyone was throwing their luggage in the ring and raising millions, It was a real test of my fortitude and not good for team morale. Thankfully my team stood by me and we soldiered on. The truth is with venture money comes expectations of exponential growth that would have changed the DNA of our business. While some seek this type of transformation It is not the kind of growth that I would find fulfilling. Venture Capital investor Chamath Palihapitiya has a less flattering description for this kind of growth. He describes it as a ponzi scheme (listen to in the link below for more on that).
Looking back over my 20 plus years of entrepreneurship I could see a pattern. At every crossroad where I had to make a choice between growing big faster, or being the narrator of my own slow organic growth, I chose the slow organic path. But I still couldn’t help but ask myself this question… Am I really growing, or am i becoming the dreaded “cautionary tale”? The ironic answer is… I no longer care if the latter is the case.
TELL THESE PEOPLE SOMETHING THEY DON’T KNOW ABOUT ME
The day after panhandling I had what alcoholics would call “A moment of clarity”. Were the beggars and panhandlers of the world the ones who are truly free and fulfilled? And if so what does that say about our capitalist culture and our obsession with material wealth? What does this say about the current “fake it until you make it culture”? Is Pay It Forward Friday an experiment in socialist values?
Something happened to me as I started to reveal the truth about myself on my live-stream and as I stood on the street panhandling for money. Unlike every other time in my life when I was stressed for cash, I was happy. This was a first for me. It was at that moment that it occured to me that I was freeing myself from the expectations of society.
If I am able to panhandle on the street and in my neighborhood It would be safe to say that I cared less today what people thought of me than I did last week. I started to see things from a new perspective. I could see a power dynamic changing. I realized how many people in my professional and personal life used my economic and social fears of being embarrassed or humiliated as a weapon against me. It wasn’t intentional, it was systematic. Once I revealed my truths to the world, I would start to disarm my naysayers, my critics, my competitors, my bill collectors. With this one public display of humiliation there was nothing left for them to use against me, external expectations floated away, and my journey to freedom began. Now I was able to smile at the world.
Then I remembered this scene from 8 Mile. I saw the Anthonie Mack character (Papa Doc) as the trappings (the naysayers, the critics, the competitors, the bill collectors, the expectations) and I viewed the Eminem character (Rabbit) as the one choosing to let go of the trappings of wealth by revealing his truth, his failures, his humiliation.
A few months back I considered giving up my apartment, moving into a motorhome and living a nomad’s life. It is the kind of freedom that I have entertained for much of my adult life but was never able to take that final step. About 10 years back I went as far as packing my bags, calling my girlfriend while she was at work to let her know I was about to hop on a train to travel the states. The following lines from my favorite scene between Vincent and Jules in my favorite film of all time Pulp Fiction sums up my feelings at that time...
So if you’re quitting the life, what’ll you do?
That’s what I’ve been sitting here contemplating. First, I’m gonna deliver this case to Marsellus. Then, basically, I’m gonna walk the earth.
What do you mean, walk the earth?
You know, like Caine in “KUNG FU.”
My girlfriend at the time (God bless her for putting up with me) talked me out of that attempt to walk the earth like Caine (cried and screamed is probably a more apt description). Yet this feeling to free myself from the trappings of societal norms has never quite left me. Even as recently as a few months ago while texting with my cuz, I shared my impulse about moving into a Motorhome and traveling the country. He then shared his own short-lived experience living in his car…
I had just gotten back from backpacking in europe. which was a liberating experience. military folks live in camps, so staying in my car didn't seem like a big deal... after a few days of doing it, I got a perspective of life that can only be acquired by doing that. It was the life of being homeless… it wasn't long before I could spot other homeless people because we had similar routines and spent time in the same sorts of public places. It felt strange to not have a home to go to at the end of the day….
And then came the warning that scared me straight.
I would caution one thing though. it is an experience that can normalize living in the margins. It could lead to a slow progression towards accepting less and less. be aware of that.