“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Jamie Montz founder of The Original Stretchlace
If you can, keep your day job. I ran my business as a side hobby until it blossomed enough to warrant me leaving my job. Many successful business people are able to go all in from the beginning, and if you have the means, go for it! This wasn’t in the cards for me. I learned from that experience and it taught me to hustle even harder.
Asa part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Montz. Jamie spent her childhood between Boise, Idaho and Seattle. She’s since returned to recreational town of Boise, where she lives with her husband of 17 years — and their three sons. The 43-year-old is a first-generation American and the first college graduate in her family. She studied Business Marketing at the University of Idaho, channeling her childhood entrepreneurial interests. Jamie and her husband moved to Seattle after graduation to jumpstart their respective careers. She worked for startups and Fortune 50 companies and had direct exposure to the minds of Jeff Bezos and Melinda Gates. She aggregated experience, ventured out on her own and became one of the first third-party sellers on Amazon. She successfully sold that company and returned to the corporate world to develop and launch innovative products in the frozen foods and apparel categories. Years later, inspiration struck, and she knew she was ready to put her entrepreneurial spirit to use again, and three years ago founded her second company, The Original Stretchlace. The Original Stretchlace is the only elastic stretch shoelace that looks like classic lace-ups. It works on all types of shoes and boots, giving the shoe the ability to make every lace-up shoe a slip-on. The elastic stretch shoelace allows for elevated comfort and an increased ease of use and has been especially popular for athletes, parents, kids, the elderly and mobility impaired.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Iam a first generation American, my parents immigrated from South Korea with their families. My father was in his pre-teens and my mother was in her late teens. They had me when they were 19 and 20. I had an unconventional upbringing from the start. We moved frequently between Washington and Idaho. At 12, my parents divorced, at 13 I was sent to live with relatives, at 16 lived with my siblings sans parents, at 19 my father passed away from a brain aneurysm. One would hear this story at first glance and think it’s a sad story, but I would not be who I am today without my childhood experiences.
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?
I’ve always had a love for retail and ecommerce. When I was young, I would pretend I was the checkout girl, or loved doing lemonade stands. In high school and college, I worked in retail stores, and always enjoyed unboxing new merchandise or helping customers find products. I enjoy learning about new products and consider myself a minimalist product junkie. I love products but I also don’t like to be wasteful, so I’m very thoughtful with what I purchase. In the early 2000’s I merged my retail interests with online shopping and began my ecommerce career. It was an exciting time in my career, but I had an entrepreneurial itch and launched a specialty retail children’s brick-and-mortar store as well as ecommerce store. I loved the ecommerce portion and discovered that it encompassed all my passions: products, innovation, marketing, and creativity. I quickly learned that brick-and-mortar was not where I wanted to be. I sold that business, but always knew I’d come back to develop my own brand online. It was during our daily ritual of tying my sons’ shoes that my “ah ha” idea struck. Shoelaces that stretch so that you can turn every tie shoe into a slip-on.
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?
I broke down complex problems into smaller manageable working pieces and followed my instincts. Flexibility is key, I believe that most ideas have the possibility for success, and with enough pivoting you’ll direct your business where it needs to go. It’s not a straight line and having the flexibility to adapt and watch for signals is key. I learned this with my first business. We had the opportunity to sell or expand. I took the easy way out and sold. I look back at that being older and wiser and think about what I would do differently if given the opportunity again. The struggle and hard work is what gets you to that next learning curve and it’s necessary for growth. When I tell people that I am founder of The Original Stretchlace, they are intrigued but I think perplexed that it’s a real business. I’m always amused by this response, because I know from experience there is opportunity everywhere.
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?
I’m always encouraging people to venture on their own. Start small and scaffold your way up to your vision. You will learn at each step of the way; the hardest part is starting. It may sound cliché but you really need to love what you are doing, and starting out with a hobby gives you a leg up. When it’s a hobby you will have more subject matter knowledge. For some I’ve learned that they want that hobby to stay as just that, a hobby. It’s pleasurable and they don’t want to taint it with work. However, it’s the magic of obsessing over that hobby so much that it doesn’t feel like work. That is where the magic lies.
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?
Ha ha, the answer from your last question is a perfect Segway into this one. In life and in business there are always going to be parts that you dread. You have to deal with those dreaded things and move on. However, if I find I’m dreading more than I’m enjoying than it’s time to re-evaluate what I’m doing. This is separate from dreading something that is overwhelming or daunting, that is just a matter of reframing your mind. I keep things fresh and enjoyable by feeding the parts that makes things interesting. For me, that’s creativity. Also, I enjoy my successes and wins and try to focus on the long-term goal.
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?
To own something that I created and having the ability to make all the strategic decisions. The autonomy to do things my own way, no matter how unconventional. The downside is also what’s so enjoyable, having to make all the strategic decisions. To feel like you are alone and siloed. To overcome these drawbacks, I retain external agencies who serve as consultants and sounding boards. I also network with other entrepreneurs via social media, text, phone or lunch.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Nothing really surprises me. I knew I’d be working long hours; the difference is I think about my business all day long and not just when I’m at my desk. It really is all-consuming, and I can’t seem to shut it off. I’m hoping that it’s just the stage that I’m in, but my instincts tell me this is just how it is for a good long while.
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?
All the time! I’ve tried to have the best of both worlds, have my cake and eat it too, building a great career in a corporate setting and being a successful entrepreneur. The difference being during my first entrepreneurial run I didn’t have children and now I do. My time is a finite resource and precious more now, than ever. Having your own business is like having another child. It goes through different phases and demands your dedication, time and attention. The easiest way out for me is to have a job where I could clock in and out. I gave into that, and what I learned is that nothing is more gratifying than winning with your own business. I’ve been on both sides of the fence, but the time was right to pick a side.
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 took my Stretchlaces and sold them at my children’s school holiday bazaar. It was mostly homemade crafts and food being sold at the event. I had the boys and their friends come with me as a learning experience for them. They did great and while we didn’t sell very many it was a great learning opportunity for all of us. Even though it was a small school event, I felt so rejected. I learned that it’s harder to take rejection in person face-to-face from your community. I learned how to build thicker skin and realize for every person that says “no” there is another to say “yes”. I learned how to save face in front of my children, and to show them that perseverance pays.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My husband of 17 years. I’ve seen his career develop from the beginning. Currently, he’s CTO at a software company. In his career I’ve seen him build these phenomenal working teams. He builds an excellent team culture, and nurtures relationships. He is an inspiring leader because he’s never been afraid to voice his opinions or be wrong. He believes, trusts, and is confident in his teams. He’s a good friend to his employees and is a good person in general and it shows. He is wicked smart and has always been an early adopter of things way ahead of the curve.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At The Original Stretchlace we treat our customers like family, and we make ourselves accessible to our customers for anything. We want to build a company that is for profit but ethically. We try to make the most minimal carbon footprint. Instead of using cheaper, plastic packaging we use recyclable cardboard packaging as well as recyclable shipping materials. We are thoughtful on how we create waste and strive to have our Stretchlaces outlast their shoes. In addition, our products give a brighter outlook for customers. They may be a convenience for some, but for others they give them their dignity, independence, and freedom back. It’s important for a stroke victim to be able to put their shoes on by themselves during recovery. I believe our Stretchlaces are doing their job, helping to put a spring back into our customers steps.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Money won’t solve your problems. Many times, with The Original Stretchlace I would think if I had “X” amount of money to throw at marketing it would help to propel the brand forward exponentially. There have been instances where I’ve spent way more than I should have on an initiative or project when really, I wasn’t ready for it. It ended up being more taxing on resources and my time.
- Be patient. It’s rare to be an overnight success. It’s the constant perseverance and grind that shows results. When I began advertising on Amazon, I saw roller-coaster results and wanted to throw in the towel. My ACoS (Advertising Cost of Sale) was so high and my conversions were not great. Now years later, my metrics just keep improving. I learned I had to be consistent and reliable in my optimization and that holds true with running the business as well.
- Trust yourself and listen to your intuition. When you first start out you are hungry for information, and there’s so much available. Well intentioned friends and colleagues trying to be helpful will dole out solicited or unsolicited information. Listen, but listen to yourself first.
- You will have to sacrifice. There are sacrifices that I have to make every day. Stealing moments and time from my husband, kids, family and friends. People want to understand, but until they’ve been through it, it’s difficult to REALLY understand. At times I feel like I don’t have a single moment to myself, my business literally rests on my brain 24/7. However, these are the conscious trade-offs that we have to make.
- If you can, keep your day job. I ran my business as a side hobby until it blossomed enough to warrant me leaving my job. Many successful business people are able to go all in from the beginning, and if you have the means, go for it! This wasn’t in the cards for me. I learned from that experience and it taught me to hustle even harder.
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.
#slowdown It seems like the pace of our lives is so fast and technology makes us always available. 3 days weekends instead of 2!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right. — Henry Ford
It’s all about mindset and patience. With my first company I didn’t really believe that I could carry through with an expansion. I was right, I had just had my first baby and demands at home where high. However, had I believe that I could carry through with an expansion, I probably could have. Either way, I had a choice and a mindset that formed the outcome. It’s a truly powerful thought.
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.
Sara Blakely! I remember watching her on Oprah when I was 25 years old. I had SPANX and couldn’t believe that she was the inventor. She was so young, and cool. I felt like she could have been one of my friends. She and Oprah inspired me to start my first business a couple of years later. I follow her and her husband Jesse Itzler, they have a young family like I do and they are a power business couple. They also seem to have fun.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.