“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Jeff Wills of REGGIE
…Making mistakes are a big part of the learning curve. They say that entrepreneurs jump off the cliff and they figure out how to make the parachute on the way down. So, in the beginning, I was trying to prove the theory for a better pedal system for mountain biking with not a lick of professional assistance. I spent about three weeks building a makeshift pedal system in my workshop and now it was time for testing that theory. Went to my favorite local mountain bike trails on a Saturday, which means there was a bunch of weekend warriors that day to ride those beloved trails as well. Got on the bike started to roll toward the trails and on about the fifth or sixth revolution the right pedal exploded and I went OTB (over the bars) and I did not even make it off the Trail-head, the audience was large and I felt very small. Lesson learned — DO NOT TEST YOUR THEORY WITH AN AUDIENCE and seek professional guidance so you don’t harm yourself!
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Wills. Jeff is the founder of REGGIE. Jeff is a life-long cycling enthusiast and has been riding and racing all styles of bikes since he was a teenager. He’s also had a successful career in advertising where he’s worked with many of the biggest marketers in the world. He has brought his passion and experience together to build a fun new brand in cycling, which can be found at www.reggie.bike.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Absolutely, and thank you for the opportunity! I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas in a hard-working close knit family being the youngest of five siblings. I spent most of my childhood outdoors on bikes and got my first paying job at the age of twelve on a farm to pay for those bikes. I rode BMX in the early years and then graduated to road racing in the teenage years into my twenties. So, it is easy to say that bikes have been in almost all the chapters of my life and it still makes me feel like a kid to this day every time I get to hit the dirt.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
My Dad told me once upon a time — “If you’re passionate about what your doing then you won’t work a day in your life”, I guess I took that to heart and made that my motto for life.
The ‘ah-ha” moment… On a summer day in Moab, my life changed. So there I am. I’m riding one of the iconic trails in this magical landscape; my adrenaline was high. The biggest challenge of the ride is just around the corner. The trail is now becoming very narrow. There’s a canyon wall on my left and, on my right, is a cliff…the Colorado River several hundred feet below. I’m riding that thin line between confidence and fear. What happened next nearly killed me. I’m approaching a rock garden too fast, bounce off a boulder, and it causes me to lose my balance. The only way to stay in control is to use my feet. However, I’m clipped into the pedal and cannot release them fast enough. I’m falling, rolling, and now holding onto to a boulder. My legs are hanging over the cliff edge. All of this could have been avoided if I could have quickly released my shoe away from the pedal. At that moment I realized I had a problem that I needed to solve but it was not until later that I realized that many other mountain bikers shared this pain as well. So, I got busy researching and developing a new to market pedal system that brings the connection of clip-less pedal but the freedom of a flat pedal with safer options.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
- Having a crystal clear vision and conveying that vision to others.
- Identifying my strengths but more importantly acknowledging my weaknesses.
- Being adaptable and staying humble and most importantly — gratitude!
- Believing in the mission and myself 100% because there is no room for doubt and having the skin of a rhino.
- Last but not least, I surrounded myself with good people that are a heck of a lot smarter than me that believe in the vision and conquered that weakness in number two.
And I might add that there is a bunch of programs out there like start-up incubators and accelerators that can educate and assist you in getting started. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Catapult program in Gunnison, Colorado — it did catapult me and introduced me to some amazing people in the outdoor industry.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
My advice would be — does your hobby or pastime solve a problem or enrich people’s lives? If the answer is ‘yes’ then test it in small surveys (10–20 people for each survey) for feedback. If the results come back positive — 30% or more surveyed see the value and would purchase (early adopters) the get after it!
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I focus on the JOY it brings to others… Always! I remove ‘ I or ME’ from everything moving forward and focus on nurturing the culture that ‘WE’ as a team are building on a daily basis.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Upside: The freedom to roll with the punches and be creative.
Downside: In the starting of a new venture — days off are far and few between but totally worth it in the long run.
Overcome: Have a crystal clear VISION and a TEAM that shares that VISION. There is always going to be peaks and valleys in anything we do, having a vision to go back to almost always gets us back on track.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Very rarely do plans/ideas go exactly as planned — being adaptable and staying grateful keeps me in the moment and not on the things I cannot control in the future.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
YES, many times! There is going to be rough patches in anything we do — that is life! But it is in those moments we build our character and learn about ourselves and grow as human beings. So, I guess the better question is; how often am I thinking it to myself? If often, then it is time to reevaluate the business or more importantly myself and put a fresh set of eyes and a new mind in that position, take a step back and do a PASSION check. I am speaking from experience, I was a partner in several restaurants and did think to myself, “I can’t take it anymore” quite often. I did reevaluate the business and to my surprise, I was the problem because my PASSION for the industry had decreased drastically and I had lost my way. That is an extreme injustice to the team and was time to move on and pass that opportunity on to others on the team and I did. Started Hustle Bike Labs and that is the best business decision I have made to date and have zero regrets.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I could write an entire book on this question! And for the record, making mistakes are a big part of the learning curve. They say that entrepreneurs jump off the cliff and they figure out how to make the parachute on the way down. So, in the beginning, I was trying to prove the theory for a better pedal system for mountain biking with not a lick of professional assistance. I spent about three weeks building a makeshift pedal system in my workshop and now it was time for testing that theory. Went to my favorite local mountain bike trails on a Saturday, which means there was a bunch of weekend warriors that day to ride those beloved trails as well. Got on the bike started to roll toward the trails and on about the fifth or sixth revolution the right pedal exploded and I went OTB (over the bars) and I did not even make it off the Trail-head, the audience was large and I felt very small. Lesson learned — DO NOT TEST YOUR THEORY WITH AN AUDIENCE and seek professional guidance so you don’t harm yourself!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My DAD, God rest his soul. My Dad did not tell me how to live my life, he showed me and let me watch. In the words of Simon Sinek (which happens to be the answer to the last question) “Leadership is a choice, not a rank”. Great leaders will always put others first before themselves and my Dad was the epitome of this.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
You get what you give — words that I try to live by every day. My dear friends Ben and Margret Fields started an organization called project-44.org that was created with the mission to serve those in need, where they need it! I am on the Board of directors which is considered a “working board” and currently building a trade school in Liberia, Africa and helping those in need locally as well.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
One of my Mentors, John Norton, shared some of his wisdom with me and he told me this “get comfortable at being uncomfortable”. This changed me drastically and for the better! If I could inspire a movement it would be; ‘Scare yourself a little each day’, it is like a good work-out plan and will make you mentally stronger each and every day. Also, just be a GOOD HUMAN!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
― Albert Einstein
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
― Albert Einstein
I love bikes and I am passionately curious with no special talents!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Simon Sinek — his insight and attention to detail is almost magical! That inspires me to do better…
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Author
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 500 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com