A while back, I made one of the hardest decisions I have made thus far in my life; I decided to walk away from formal employment and focus all my energies on building and expanding a business I had started with two friends. Not many people know this, but I was afraid. I have never been any good with money and so my savings weren’t much to speak of, I had a loan I was still paying off, monthly bills to cover and finally a life to live… things like eating, clothes, etc.
The one thing about the business I will always remember is how we got our first, (still) biggest, and most important client/partner. One of my friends and I went to the meeting with nothing but two pieces of paper on which we had images of what we wanted to do. We didn’t have anything. We had no money, no prototypes no backing, no capital. We just had a great idea and we were hoping all the while that these guys would give us a few minutes of their time. They did more than that and to this day I appreciate and respect that they had the patience & goodwill to even listen to us.
I never told my brother that I had left my job. Instead I told him that the organization hadn’t renewed my contract. He started scrambling calling in favours, setting up interviews for me and the lot. Finally, I told him I wasn’t interested in getting back into employment. He was taken aback. I could see how worried he was and the many unsaid things he wanted to tell me, but he simply said that if that was the path I had chosen I should follow it. He still has that fear in his voice whenever he speaks to me on the phone.
Walking away from a good and guaranteed salary and benefits seemed crazy, and sometimes when things get extra tricky it seems suicidal. But I was tired and my soul was weary of pounding away day after day at something I didn’t believe in. The routine got boring and once I got into a comfort zone, I did just enough to seem brilliant but little enough for me to know I wasn’t reaching my full potential. A few people I’ve spoken to tell me that I opened my eyes to a fact that most people don’t get to until they are much older or they never get to at all. Life is about more than making money.
I don’t wish to be mistaken for a lazy hippie of sorts. I love the things that money can get me, but over the years, I have learnt to appreciate money made from doing what I love.
So what exactly is our business founded on? The only way to encompass this is by understanding my teenage years. The biggest aspect of my teens was want. I wanted so many things very badly, a better education, more money, more understanding, more friends, more respect, but above all more opportunities. My age, background and social being meant that I couldn’t get certain opportunities and every single day I hated that fact. A few friends have heard this story but during my broke-est moments, I would go into a supermarket, grab a trolley and walk around filling it with all the amazing things I wanted and desired. Once this ‘shopping’ was done, I would then walk around the supermarket putting back everything, one by one. Those were the most painful moments. I always earmarked one particular product that I desired terribly and once I went out into the real world, I poured my heart and soul into whatever I was doing so that I could go back after a week or two, a month…or six… and get that item. Most times I never did get the item (it was mostly groceries).
When I started the business, I wanted a platform that would offer an opportunity to people from disadvantaged backgrounds who were smart enough, were willing to work hard enough and were hungry enough to grab an opportunity when they were offered one. One of the co-founders of the business was 18 at that time, doing his 3rd year of university. All he wanted was an opportunity. I have never regretted asking him to become part of the business.
The other part of the business was and still is about wanting amazing things. The worst thing about having great taste is being poor. It’s something that haunted me for most of my teenage years. To want something great but not be able to foot the bill. So when the business kicked off, the bottom line was always to avail unparalleled quality at reasonable prices. This is something we struggle to do on a daily basis. The key word is reasonable, not cheap. Meaning someone could work at something and afford it, regardless of who they are.
The final part of the foundation of the business was fun. Everything from our logo to the flagship brands we churn out must always speak of fun, because that’s who we are. Having worked on a beaten path of ideas for a number of years, I always wanted to chart my own course, and though on many occasions I managed to sneak in unconventional ways into conventional projects, there was always a line. With the business there is a line of course. But that line is drawn in crayon and chalk. It’s toothpick flags and doodle caricatures of CEOs of multimillion businesses we work with, it’s stick figures and howls of laughter. It’s amazing ideas that we don’t know how to translate into tangible products yet. It’s sleepless nights as we fight to beat deadlines and sigh of despair when we realize we have not realized a profit from a project we worked tirelessly on.
At the end of the day, as a business we are lucky to break even most times, and sometimes things go catastrophically wrong. It’s a learning curve we like to say, and we break the mould (along with a few cups and saucers).
My name is Eric Lu Sava and I am the front man for Sticks & Stones.