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    Joy & Hustle: Behind the Scenes of Building a Brand While Still Having A Life

    A New Perspective on the Roller Coaster

    A New Perspective on the Roller Coaster

    Life as an entrepreneur often feels like riding a roller coaster.  To be more precise, a big roller coaster with lots of steep hills, some loops, and no safety belts.  There are points at the top of the hill, when you look around see all the scary things in front of you that you want to just scream “Let me off!”  But, that doesn’t happen, the roller coaster keeps moving forward and you plunge down the hill.  You then have the choice make -- keep screaming or change your perspective and enjoy the ride.

    The latter part is much easier said than done.  It’s something that I have struggled with.  What did I used to see from the top of that hill that scared me?  Our competitors.  A big hill is a realistic representation of our competitors in the water bottle market.  These brands are owned by huge corporations with billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of employees.  They have gigantic marketing budgets and very deep pockets.  How are we ever going to compete with that? 

    Then, I changed my perspective.  Instead of staring straight down from the top of the hill, I looked at the entire ride and saw that hill differently.  Think about going up that first hill on a roller coaster.  What is it like?  It’s VERY SLOW.  And, you had to wait a long time in line just to get there. 

    LIGHT BULB MOMENT!  The big hill doesn’t look that scary when you look at it from this perspective.  In fact, you can now see how you can start to conquer that big hill bit by bit.  For us, we have two key advantages going into this ride: (1) Made in America, and (2) Small Size. 

    Made in America isn’t just a political statement or a PR move.  It is a strategic advantage.  We own our factory in Ohio.  Our products don’t have the make the long voyage in a sea container over the Pacific Ocean and chance getting caught up in customs.  Instead, they get loaded onto semi-trailers and reach most distribution centers within a few days.  We can make 1,000 parts for someone one week and 250,000 the next week.  We don’t have a minimum quota or a container that has to be filled before it can be loaded onto a cargo ship.  In other words, there is no long line that we have to wait in before we get on the roller coaster!

    Our second advantage is our small size.  For us, being small means being lightning fast.  Our entire management team works at our manufacturing facility in Ohio.  When we have an idea or request from a retail partner or client, we can pull the entire team together within about 15 minutes.  This includes company leadership, marketing, sales, purchasing, production, engineers, quality team, and mold techs.  All sitting around a table discussing an idea or challenge (and sometimes enjoying pizza as part of the process!).  We can put together a plan of action quickly and then walk down a single flight of steps to our factory floor to start working on a solution.  No time zone issues, no layers of bureaucracy -  just speed, flexibility, and a team of amazing people, that shoots us up the hill in no time flat.

    Now, when I sit at the top of that roller coaster, I am not afraid.  I am grateful that I didn’t have a long line to wait in and that I didn’t have to endure that slow, noisy climb to the top hill.  I hang on and am ready to enjoy the ride!

    If you are sitting at the top of a hill today, terrified at what lies ahead, I encourage to take a step back and look at the entire ride.  You might just see things in a whole different light.   


    29029 Part 1 of 2, The Story

    29029 Part 1 of 2, The Story

    29029  Part 1 of 2, The Story

    The lessons I learned from hiking up a mountain for almost 30 straight hours.

    I am an ordinary person.   I believe that I was blessed with a few extraordinary gifts.  By in large, I don’t fully understand the gifts.  That is part of my life journey – to gain awareness, maximize and share these gifts.  Two weeks ago, I traveled to Utah to participate in an event called 29029.  During this event two of those gifts were unlocked in a magnitude that scared and excited me.  This is The Story.  The Life and Business Lessons will be shared next week in Part 2.

     29029 is an event unlike any other that I am aware of.  This is the brain child of Jesse Itzler and Marc Hodulich.  Two amazing people that have a diverse and successful background in family, business and endurance sports.  The basic premise of 29029: they rent an entire mountain for a weekend, the participants are provided plush amenities and care, and all the participants need to do is hike up the mountain as many times as they can in 36 hours.  The ultimate goal of the event is to climb 29,029 vertical feet, or the height of Everest. Hike up the mountain, ride the gondola down and repeat 12 additional times (yep, 13 total climbs up the mountain).  Sounds easy enough…right???  And oh by the way, this particular event started at 6,500 ft altitude and ended at 8,800 ft (just like rural Ohio).

    Friday morning at 5:45am, 110 of us gathered at the starting line for a stirring and hilarious speech from Jesse.  Then at 6:00am, we started hiking.  My game plan was simple: finish the event and not die.  I was scared and wanted to start slow and make sure the altitude wasn’t going to impact me too much.  Oddly, I couldn’t stop smiling.  When people asked how I was doing that morning, I answered “amazing” and meant it.  I felt a level of love that is typically reserved for my family and very close friends.  I was surrounded by strangers and felt a love energy that was only building.  I wanted to share it and elevate others.  Again, outside my very close circle of loved ones, this is atypical of epic proportions.  Note: This love I am talking about isn’t physical love.  It is a feeling/controlled emotion/bigger sense of being.

     Love coursing through me, we climbed toward the first summit.  The group of people that sign up for this type of event are top notch individuals and conversation on the first ascent came easy and plentiful.  As we neared the end of the first ascent I had settled into a group of 8 or so.  Among that group was Emily, a gregarious lady that danced into aid stations, smiled at everyone and knew everyone on the mountain.  We finished the first ascent together, rode down the gondola together and that was it, new friend for life.  When said and done, Emily and I spent 29 hours and 44 minutes together climbing the mountain.   

    Throughout the 11 hours of daylight, we climbed with numerous different groups and continued to meet people that blew my mind.  Different backgrounds, varying levels of fitness, all walks of life with one common dominator: find that next physical and mental level that lurks beneath the surface continually suppressed by comfort.

    On the last hike before sunset, Emily and I connected with Deirdre on the trail.  She was looking for people to continue climbing into the night.  [Mental reference to Dumb and Dumber: Look a hitchhiker!  Well pick her up!].  Our crew grew and life was good.  I looked at our team and said, “You guys want to climb through the night and see the second sunrise of the day?”   Without blinking, they both said yes and that was that.  An all-nighter was in store.  Little did we know the suffer fest that was about to be unleashed upon us.

     We entered the complete darkness of night with headlamps on and smiles plastered on our faces.  The mountain was pitch black with only our labored breathing and crunching foot/trekking pole strikes to keep us company.  This is the part of the event where the mind takes over.  I chose no ear buds for the duration of the event.  I wanted the mental solitude that comes with night hiking.  It is you vs. you.  One of the few times in life where you get to dig as deep into your physical and mental being to see if you can push past the quit button (in the middle of the night, it is the warm bed and closing your eyes).

     The three of us kept climbing.  The smiles faded as the hours passed.  The doubts crept in.  The fatigue set in.  The altitude got to Emily and she felt sick for over 8 hours, yet she kept putting one foot in front of the other and moved towards the finish line.  We eventually picked up the fourth and final member of our suffer fest, David.   We met him at the second aid station deep into the night/early morning.  As the three of us got to the aid station, David asked us how we were doing, I responded “great.”  Damn.  I slipped from Amazing to Great.  The love was still pumping through me as my next gift was being tested – grit/grind/hustle.  From a young age, I realized that if I decided to do something or someone told me I couldn’t do something because it was “too hard” or “I wasn’t a good fit”, I did it.  This crazy drive that come from an indescribable place.  In Utah, this drive was alive and well.  Not only was I going to finish and see two sunrises in one day, I was going to finish side by side with my new friends.  Now might be a good time to share with you that neither Emily nor Deirdre had ever done a 5k, let alone an endurance event.  Both badass in their own right, just not 30 hour endurance athletes.   A new gift was bubbling to surface: coach/teacher.  I didn’t understand it at the time, I just went with it. 

     The four of us plodded on through the night and celebrated when the sun rose.  We made it to the second sun rise as we finished hike 10.   David rushed through the summit and final aid station to secure a leg compression (read life saver) seat for all four of us.  We vs. Me is alive and well.  We ate breakfast while sitting with our legs being compressed to levels I didn’t think possible.  The last six hours of hiking flew by.  The sun was out.  We were sweating.  We were smiling.  The end was right in sight.  Then the final summit came.  The four of us ran across the line: David, Emily, Deirdre and me.  Goal achieved.  I finished and was alive.  Alive took on a new meaning.  Not a physical existence but one of a new level.  Thus the journey continues with a new level of awareness.

    Be Amazing,


     Next Blog: The Life and Business Lessons learned through this experience.

    The Crew of Four - Brendan, Emily, Deirdre, and David

    Aaron - That amazing person you just happened to meet on the trail.

    The starting line - it doesn' t look too hard here, but most of the mountain is hidden!

    Final aid station where we ate PB&Js and ramen noodles that saved our lives.

    Just another Saturday stroll...

          FINISH LINE!

    A Whirlwind 48 Hours

    A Whirlwind 48 Hours

    The famous green penguins at 21C Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas.

    Celebrating Walmart's Made in America Initiative with the owners of Crazy Richards Peanut Butter and RedHead Wines!

    The hiking trails of Bentonville, Arkansas.

    The past 48 hours have been a bit of a blur for us.  This is a travel week, which seems to put the ultimate strain on being both an entrepreneur and a parent (and trying not to completely screw up either role).  Into a 48 hour time period, we crammed a lot of action.  Here’s a summary:

    Tuesday evening: Panic when I realize that I haven’t packed for myself or our kids (who stay with my parents when we travel), haven’t filled out forms for school picture day (which was the next day) or figured out what the kids would wear.  I also had a lengthy To Do list of projects that I needed to get accomplished because I would be out of the office for the next two days.  In other words … it was a late night!

    Wednesday: Up early, take the kids to school, drop off their bags at my parents’ house, drive to Columbus, give a speech at an event sponsored by Walmart highlighting 50 Strong’s growth at Walmart and how Walmart’s Made in America initiate has helped our company to grow, quick press interview with a local tv station, and finally record a soundbite for Walmart about the event.  Then, quick lunch, change in the car, drive to Dayton, sit in the airport while our flight is delayed due to mechanical issues, fly to Chicago, make a quick connection at O’Hare and finally arrive in Bentonville, Arkansas.  Once we arrive, we ate a delicious meal at one of our favorite restaurants downtown and I fell asleep at a ridiculously early hour.

    Thursday: Up early to start working on few work-related projects that I needed to get done, work a little too long and realize that we are running late for our 9 AM meeting, grab a quick breakfast through the Einstein Bros. drive through and then meet up with our team members based in Bentonville that help us with our Walmart business.  After two hours of meetings, we head for lunch and then a walk a Walmart store to identify new opportunities.  We recap our next steps in the car ride back to the office and, as soon as we get there, we load up our bags and jump into our rental car to head back to the airport. 

    The skies in Bentonville look pretty ominous and we had another delay.  I started to panic thinking about another tight connection in Chicago and worrying that we may get stuck in O’Hare.  We arrive in O’Hare with 2 minutes to spare before the doors were scheduled to close on our connecting flight (not good!).  Luckily for us, the plane for our flight back to Dayton was also delayed in arriving to Chicago, so we ended up having about 15 minutes to catch our breath before we boarded.  We arrived home just in time to put our kids to bed

    Friday: I am exhausted, my throat hurts, and I have zero motivation to get anything done. 

    These are the mornings when I ask myself “What in the world are we doing? Why do we keep doing this?”  I have a choice in this moment.  I can either complain about the chaos or I can force myself to focus on the things that I have to be grateful for in the past 48 hours.  I decided on the latter. Here’s my gratitude list:

    (1)    Having amazing parents who watch our children while we travel so that we never have to worry about them;

    (2)    Having an incredible team in Ohio that consistently crushes it and, in doing so, allows us to keep winning additional business and pursuing new opportunities;

    (3)    Having a team on the ground in Bentonville that aren’t just colleagues, but are also great friends;

    (4)    The super soft sheets at the 21C Hotel in Bentonville.  Don’t laugh – the sheets are amazing!  Getting a good night’s sleep while travelling is critical for me.

    (5)    I get to enjoy this wild ride of building a brand with my best friend ❤.

    So, next time that you find yourself in a world of chaos, I challenge you to take a quick second and make a list of things that you are grateful for!  It won’t stop the chaos, but it may just allow you to enjoy it a little!




    As we looked for inspiration to start the next chapter of 50 STRONG, we looked at the most important parts of our life and worked to narrow it down to as few variables as possible (sorry for the calculus reference, you’ll have to excuse my inner nerd surfacing).  Family.  Friends.  Valuing experiences over material possession.  Less comfort, more growth.  And one of our greatest challenges of all, making sure we share all of this with our children.   The result of this deep dive was a common theme: we needed to GET OUT.  DO MORE. 

    This theme doesn’t just apply to us though, we think that everyone could benefit from it … hence the decision to make it our go forward theme for 50 Strong.  The goal to GET OUT. DO MORE. can apply to individuals, families, and communities.  It can take on many meanings and will shift and change over time. 

    Below are a few of the ideas we had and wanted to share.  Our list is a work in progress.  We encourage you to create your own GET OUT. DO MORE. list.  Customize it to fit your life, priorities, passions, and address those areas in which you wish to be a force of change (within yourself, your family, your community and humanity as a whole).  

    GET OUT.

    • Get out of the house/office.
    • Get out into nature.
    • Get out of your comfort zone.
    • Get out of your rut.
    • Get out of your head.
    • Get out of your regular exercise routine.
    • Get out of your self-imposed limitations.

    DO MORE.

    • Do more for yourself.
    • Do more for others.
    • Do one more rep/mile.
    • Do more things that bring you joy.
    • Do more to be spontaneous.
    • Do more things that make you feel alive.
    • Do more to create moments.
    • Do more to create memories.
    • Do more with less.
    • Do more with more (more energy, focus, passion)

    Now, stop reading this and start making your GET OUT. DO MORE. list.  Thanks for joining us on this journey …. It’s going to be a fun ride!

    Be Amazing,


    50 Strong v. 2.0 - Here we go!

    Brendan & Ashley Thompson, Co-Founders of 50 Strong

    The 50 Strong brand has been a work in progress for almost 5 years now.  Some days, I can't believe that 5 years has passed since we started this adventure and other days I feel like it has been an eternity. 

    Today marks the first day of what we are calling "50 Strong v. 2.0."  It's the start of a new direction for the brand that is real, authentic and totally us.  We will be sharing more of the "behind the scenes" of our efforts to continue to grow our brand and, at the same time, trying to live a full, active and meaningful life. 

    We all have a number of roles that we fill during our lives.  For Brendan, those include husband, father, son, friend, co-worker, entrepreneur, boss, speaker, engineer, endurance athlete (we will be sharing a lot of his athletic adventures via this blog), and student of life.  For me, I am a wife, mom, daughter, friend, speaker, entrepreneur, marketer, attorney, and, in my mind, a future contestant on Chopped (i.e., I love to cook).  What exactly does that look like when we try to balance those?  Well, to be honest, sometimes it looks like a hot mess!  But that is real life...that is the life of an entrepreneur.

    Get OUt. Do more.

    Our goal in creating this blog is to inspire you to "Get Out. Do More."  To GET OUT of your comfort zone.  To GET OUT of your head.  To GET OUT of your self imposed limitations.  To DO MORE for others.  To DO MORE things that bring you joy.  To DO MORE to create moments. 

    If you dream of being an entrepreneur, we hope our journey provides you with a glimpse of what it's like to build a brand.  Forewarning, it's one heck of a ride...but we wouldn't trade this journey for anything.

    Welcome to the new 50 Strong.

    -- Ashley