The success of Tom Stewart and Michael Charley’s 2012 Kickstarter campaign for a line of inexpensive, well-made sunglasses reads like an overnight success story: Two friends come up with a business plan, it works, a brand is born through the power of crowdfunding.
But, like those of most recent college grads, their career trajectories are anything but linear.
“I was actually deleting pornography for a social networking startup, and Tom was working an unpaid internship in Switzerland,” Charley says of the duo’s first “adult” jobs.
And so begins a long and twisty story -- one peppered with ceramic bowls, salsa and thrift store sunglasses -- that eventually leads to the partners’ $2 million idea: Sunski, high-quality sunglasses for outdoor lovers that aren't “wildly expensive.”
“Tom and I had tried to tackle some entrepreneurial endeavors both together and independently, but nothing seemed to stick,” remembers Charley. Eventually, their idea for a ceramic bowl with a lip on it to prevent dips from spilling -- dubbed the Salsabol -- gained some steam, only to lose it just as quickly.
“The Salsabol business was an airplane with both engines on fire, coming in for a crash landing,” Charley says. “We dragged the business out as far as we possibly could. By the end of it we had only a few hundred dollars in the bank account.”
Determined not to throw in the proverbial towel and apply for “real jobs,” the duo turned to a pair of plastic sunglasses that Stewart had picked up at a thrift shop during a surf trip in Australia. In the cheap ’80s-era shades, the friends found an intersection between their entrepreneurial intentions and their love for the outdoors.
With the little success that Salsabol had experienced fading away, the friends redirected everything they had into the creation of Sunski, a line of high-quality, polarized sunglasses that would be affordable and fun for outdoor lovers, with custom travel cases, fun colors and lightweight frames that fit well.
“Sunski was a Hail Mary as the clock ran out,” Charley says.
The play paid off. Their Kickstarter launch was an instant success, and the fan base grew just as fast. The company is valued at $2 million and the duo even landed the cover of a magazine. But perhaps more importantly, it allows its founders to live the lifestyle they worked so hard for.
And, if you’re interested in the Salsabol?
“Sadly, there are no more Salsabols left in our warehouse,” says Charley. “Those that exist are generally regarded as a valuable collector’s item!”
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