How a successful entrepreneur developed his business idea
By ATB Financial 18 December 2018 4 min read
Some people go looking for trouble. For others, trouble comes looking for them. In Sawyer Pahl’s case, it was the latter. And that’s how his business started.
“I was on my third air mattress in less than a season,” Sawyer recalls. “The exact trip was a surf trip on the west coast, Sombrio Beach, and we were camping and surfing, but I was not looking forward to sleeping on my leaky air mattress.”
And who does look forward to that? Anyone who’s ever been car camping or stayed overnight in a friend’s tiny apartment knows the woes of sleeping on an air mattress: waking up in an “air mattress taco”, butt on the floor. Can’t someone just make it right? Those were Sawyer’s thoughts exactly.
“I remember sitting by the fire and thinking about how awesome foam is. It’s sweet and comfy and your bed at home is made of foam, but it’s too big for camping.” So what did he do about it? He created CompREST.
Sawyer’s following inspiration of “man, it would be sweet if you could vacuum-pack [the foam]” turned a night around the campfire into the beginnings of his business. The idea came to him the same month he graduated university, and two months later he made some crude prototypes.
“I would buy different products like vacuum cleaners and air compressors and even a Dyson and take them apart to see how they worked,” shared Sawyer, an electrical engineer by trade. “That was through the fall of 2014. My contract as an electrical engineer project manager ended in January 2015, so I just decided to put a full month of effort into the company to see if it was a viable business.”
Sawyer spent a month sourcing products from China and getting different samples. And when those 30 days came to an end it seemed to make sense financially, so he took the leap.
Everyday I’m hustlin’
As he built CompREST, “I worked different part-time jobs,” shared Sawyer. “In 2015, if you include CompREST, I had five different jobs, but all in pursuit of CompREST, to put as much time into it as possible without taking out a huge loan.”
Try, learn, repeat
When it came time to fund his first production run, Sawyer turned to Kickstarter. And his first go at it flopped, big time. After receiving nothing, a far cry from his goal of $95,000, Sawyer knew something had to give, and he wasn’t giving up.
So he built a new website, reworked his assembly line, and created a bigger email list made of “cool bed people,” and launched again the next year. This time, he raised almost half of his goal in four hours, and hit his target in three weeks.
With his funds, Sawyer was able to deliver the world's first vacuum-packable camping bed complete with phone-charging capabilities to his Kickstarter backers, and CompREST was successfully launched.
Sometimes when trouble finds us, it’s actually giving us a gift. “We’re in business because I really hated air mattresses,” shared Sawyer. “I woke up on the ground too many times so I invented the solution.”
Entrepreneurs, this one’s for you
This surfing enthusiast took a problem and made it work for him, fellow campers and ex-air mattress sleepers. Here are his top three tips for you.
1. Get your hands dirty
The idea for me is to build a scalable business and not a job. As an engineer, I always want things systemized and scalable. That said, there are so many issues I didn't plan for, and I ended up doing a lot of work in a way that's not sustainable. Although I allowed for that, looking back I still wish I had done things smarter. That said, I know even the most successful entrepreneurs get caught doing the unscalable.
2. You don't have to quit working to start a business
You can be practical and find a side job you can use as your main source of income. During 2015 when I actually started looking to make CompREST into a business, I had five different employers, including myself. I kept trading up on the side hustle until a found something where I could work 5-8 days per month and cover all my bills.
3. Have patience, so much patience
CompREST is one of my first endeavors so I’ve been consistently researching how to get stuff done and how to improve on things. The best and most useful articles are created by the best and most useful entrepreneurs—really the cream of the crop. It’s easy to compare yourself to these really accomplished people and get a bit down on yourself about your moderate successes.
The reality is that, when you start your first business, you’re signing up to be crappy at everything for a while. It’s basically necessary to find a way to enjoy your time playing in the minor leagues because if you don’t enjoy it, you can’t keep it up.
One of the biggest learning curves has definitely been marketing. There’s a lot of noise out there already and with so many options for getting the word out, it’s hard to know where to invest your effort.