"Follow your Passion" does not always make business sense. When it does, it rarely leads down a charted course. South Carolinian Michael Sims is the owner of Hook + Gaff, a boutique maker of sport-luxury watches. The Engineering graduate of Clemson University had a passion for golf and fishing. But with watches repeatedly failing and with crowns digging into the back of his hand, he decided to create a solution of his own. The challenge of starting a business came after that.
Hook + Gaff also supports Operation WetVet, a non-profit that supports combat veterans dealing with PTSD by giving them some top-shelf fishing expeditions and solid brotherhood out on the water. Michael and Trident's Steve McCloud discussed the idea, passion, focus, and style that has resulted Hook + Gaff.(And since we feel right at home with H+G's inspiring outdoor style, we couldn't resist creating some visuals of our own above for this feature.)
McCloud: Michael, you're an Engineering grad who's now an entrepreneur. That's a tricky proposition to get right. It takes discipline and focus on the right things. Tell me about that evolution.
Sims: I can tell you that for me, it was just about solving a problem. It was really as simple as that. The problem was that my watches caused me pain and discomfort when active outdoors. And they would not hold up to the stress put on them. I needed a tougher, more comfortable watch, but didn't want to sacrifice a classic aesthetic to get it. I wanted my watch to perform like a tactical sport watch, but to look like a luxury automatic. It was quite a challenge.
Once I felt that I had solved the problem, the next question became, "Is this a marketable product?" If I determined that it could potentially be a marketable product and not just a unique solution that I had made for myself to solve a problem, was there a way to create a viable business selling this product? Lots of folks have great ideas that are real solutions to real-world problems, but which aren't solutions that can really be monetized to create a viable business.
McCloud: There are lots of 'better mousetraps' out there that nobody wants. These days there's a lot of talk out there about "following your passion," which is not necessarily the same as doing something with your passion that makes people want to hand over what they value, like their money.
Sims: Ha! My wife and I talk about this all the time. She and I have done thousands of interviews and this comes up quite a bit with the younger generation. We describe it as the difference between a hobby and a job. I have a passion for golf and for fishing. I learned during my time at Clemson that I was not cut out for PGA Tour golf, so golf was never going to be a job for me even though it was a passion. I also knew that fishing wouldn't pay the bills -- quite the opposite -- it drains the bank account!
I knew that I had a unique skillset -- an analytical mind with an engineering background, but also an ability to speak with people in a genuine manner. Running the insurance agency allowed me to capitalize on my skillset while at the same time allowing me to make my own schedule so that I could still play golf in the Friday Dogfight if I wanted to, play tournaments that I wanted to play, and still hit the river for some fly-fishing when I felt the urge. My newest venture as the owner of Hook + Gaff allows me these same opportunities, and now I find myself immersed in the angling and golf business as I do trade shows and negotiate with ambassadors and professionals who rep our product and brand.
I'd say that it's fine to have a passion for something, but to make sure you understand the difference between a hobby and a job. It's important to understand what skills one possesses that can be monetized as a good or service, that you as an employee or a business owner can actually be paid to perform or to make, and to use that as your benchmark for determining whether a passion is a viable way to make a living, or if it needs to remain a hobby.
McCloud: We talk a lot about one of the critical conditions that a leader must achieve and maintain, and that's what we call Mission Clarity -- being crystal clear on what we're out to achieve with all that we're doing. Your initial intent was to support a lifestyle that you loved. You're still supporting a lifestyle for your customers aren't you? And a lot of them share the same passion that you do, so you've probably got a pretty good feel for what matters to them.
Sims: We are providing the customer with a quality timepiece that they don't have to take off when they're doing the things they love to do with the people they love and, hopefully, a future glance at that timepiece will allow them to reflect back on those moments. As for our customers, what they do and what their interests are, it's been clear from the start what our mission is. We target folks who have a passion for the outdoors, whether that's golf, hunting, fishing, hiking, surfing, or anything else. We specifically market to these folks, and these are the ones who are buying our watches.
McCloud: Tell me about Hook + Gaff's connection to combat veterans and where that came from.
Sims: My dad flew helicopters in the Army and I have numerous family members who served as well. I've always had a tremendous love and respect for those who are willing to put themselves in harm's way and take a bullet for our freedom, and I don't take that sacrifice lightly. We partnered with WetVet because 22 combat vets are coming home and taking their lives each day. It's something our society didn't know how to deal with in previous conflicts and was often swept under the rug. Today, after Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to take better care of our vets.
This is our primary non-profit connection and we support Ozzie Martinez and his mission and have done so from the beginning. His goal is to get combat vets out on the water who are suffering from severe PTSD. We get multiple vets out there together so they can find camaraderie among others who are dealing with similar issues. The adrenaline rush you get from getting "hooked up" becomes channeled into something good -- catching a nice fish! The goal is to teach these guys that the adrenaline doesn't have to be channeled into fear or anger or other negative emotions, that it can be a good thing, and to embrace it. Ozzie is also trained in dealing with some of the psychology of PTSD and suffered greatly from it himself. So we are really proud of him and of what he is accomplishing."
A seasoned entrepreneur once told me that he defined "luck" as preparation and opportunity colliding. It seems to me that this applies to Hook + Gaff, although what matters is what happens next -- action. Hook + Gaff is an example of someone bringing to bear all they've got: an engineering background, passion for the outdoors, business sense, people skills, and opportunity, all brought into a collision by nothing less than good ole' resolve. Some might see an example of keeping one's eye on the target, maneuver, and concentration of effort at the right place and time. That may be preparation and opportunity colliding, but it sure ain't luck.
Press the attack, Michael!
Posted by Steven McCloud
Learn more about Ozzie Martinez's work with combat veterans with Operation WetVet.