One of my favorite entrepreneurial/motivational speakers, Andy Frisella, calls them tombstone days. The days where you just want to lay in bed and not take another call, answer another email, or take another gut punch. As owner/operators and entrepreneurs we all know the feeling.
“I found something I truly enjoyed…”
Destiny Water Adventures was our first business. I’d since had no prior experience in business. As a parasail captain for ten years I found something I truly enjoyed- showing people a good time. It was definitely scary taking that first step, but with the support and blessing of my wife, Tammy, we sank our entire life savings into Destiny and never looked back.
That was 2018. Starting in January of 2020 a continuous series of heart wrenching blows would test my very will to survive.
I was at the Arival conference in Orlando sitting in on a product demonstration when I received an email alert on my phone from the president of our local Chamber of Commerce. He alerted me that the county commissioners had banned all commercial activity on an island where our most popular tour “Day Of Play” was operated. The loss of that tour represented a quarter of our revenue and was our brands flagship product. It was a scenario from my nightmares. To lose this tour meant certain death to our brand. I sat in that product demo in an utter fugue state. While I was in the middle of learning how to better show the world my baby she was ripped from my arms. Things couldn’t get worse
I went back to my hotel room sat down and tried to work it out. We still had our boat rentals, jet skis, and paddle boards that we had used on the tour that we could put into a rental model. It wasn’t how i wanted to do things but we could survive through the next season until I figured out a work around for 2021. All was not lost. Although devastated, I remained undeterred. We could get through this. I’d just have to get creative. We took business loans out, bought a few more rentals, changed our message and marketing, and went full steam ahead with a renewed vigor and purpose.
When I got home from Arival i decided to plan a trip to Disney World. Even though I was worried about the upcoming season I wanted to do something for my daughters before I was engrossed in work. I even ordered them Mickey Mouse ears to get them excited for the trip. Like a huge child that I am, I eagerly anticipated the mouse ears in the mail and when i went to the mail to get them there was a letter from the state of Florida.
“The blood drained from my face”
We were being audited for the last two years of sales tax.The blood drained from my face. I immediately called my CPA as I’d never been involved in an audit, and was mortified. He threw out some potential numbers that terrified me. As a seasonal business we generate 100% of our revenue in six months; but the bills don’t stop all year. With dwindling cash reserves, a new loan repayment, and a month until we would start generating any revenue and a possible large tax bill looming truly frightened me. A week later another audit came- this time from our insurance company. Their numbers were just as large and just as terrifying.
I was losing sleep every night. Even at Disney World with my family I tried to enjoy myself but the dread of two simultaneous audits, and the loss of our premier day trip, permeated every moment. (I mean…i still had fun. It’s Disney World for gods sake!) I remember standing in line for the Star Wars attraction reading an article about a virus spreading through China. But it was so far away and seemingly contained to Hubei province I felt for their country and what they were going through.
“Then the Covid numbers started to grow…”
Doom and gloom aside we opened in March and things exploded! We had almost tripled our numbers in the opening week! All of the work we put into our SEO was finally starting to pay off. Money finally started to flow back in and I was able to breath a little. Then the Covid numbers started to grow in the states – “but we would get it under control”, I thought, “Everything will be fine.” As the reports started to come from California and New York, then Miami. I could feel a tightening in my chest. Within three weeks we had started receiving cancellations one after another. By the first week of April the state of Florida was on lockdown. Our website traffic fell off the cliff. We were going into a death spiral.
The travel industry and associated activities, tours and attractions were decimated.
Tammy was a first responder and we were barely making ends meet the first two years in business as I’d sunk everything we made back into the business. I was barely taking a paycheck. There was no way we could survive on just her salary. And on top of it she was putting her health and life on the line every night working overtime. I don’t know that I slept at all in April. I felt i was failing on every level. As a father, a husband, and entrepreneur.
However, in our local community they left the waterways open. Additionally our county had allowed us to remain open as long as we adhered to the social distancing guidelines. After a lot of deliberation (and inspiration from my friend Ben who also stayed open #powerupwatersports) as to whether or not we were considered essential, and calls from our local community desperate to go outside. I decided to do something crazy. I tripled our advertising budget. I ran google ads. I ran FB video ads. We got out on the street and guerilla marketed. “Get outside, go fishing, go swimming, enjoy the sunshine!” using free add ons like paddle boarding, a free extra hour of time on the boats, and military and first responder discounts. I went in and I went in hard. The response was amazing. People were so happy to get outside. I was so happy to be able to keep our staff working. I was happy to be able to continue to do what I love. Even though we were still down we were far from out.
“I wanted to give up so badly.”
We got through it all because we never stopped fighting, never gave up, and never stopped attacking. We continued to push even when I wanted to give up so badly. I’d have never made it without the support of my wife who is my business partner, first mate, and CEO of our home.
As of this writing, despite the state government, local government bans, insurance, Covid-19 and travel bans we’re still running full steam ahead. The audit turned out to be no big deal. We worked out a deal with our insurance company. Our boat rentals are busier than we’ve ever been, and I have a plan to bring back Day Of Play. The universe has calcified my spirit. It has given me strength and resolve.It has given me grace, shown my family mercy and I am humbled and grateful for this incredible journey. It has shown me that in the immortal words of my favorite boxer of all time… Rocky – “nobody is gonna hit as hard as life but it ain’t about how hard you hit it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward how much you can take and keep moving forward”
As I write this, it is indeed from my bed, but not because I’m tomb stoned depressed- but because I’m so exhausted from being so incredibly busy that I needed a day off.