I was born a humble country boy to West Point, GA in 1989. Like most rural towns, a lot of people never leave. I lived within a 200 yard radius of my Aunt, Grandfather and Uncle. We didn’t have much and lived a pretty simple life. Our business questions were not, “How can we increase search rankings or mobile optimization?” They were, “I wonder how Mr. Stevens is doing today at the country store?”
(My sister and I playing in the water at our childhood home)
My first life challenge was at 3 years old when I got a bad ear infection that left me with only 65% of normal hearing. Even though I was too self conscious to wear my hearing aids, I somehow made A's and B's in school. Hearing loss forced me to pay more attention to the world around me and gave me a super humble perspective on life. I look at it as a gift.
I acquired a strong work ethic from my two grandfathers who were both in WW2 and my Dad, who pushed me in sports. I used baseball as my ticket out of town. I stole 43 bases my senior year of high school, which ranked 7th (at the time, not sure now) best all time in GA High School history.
I earned a baseball scholarship to CVCC, where we finished #2 in the nation. After that, another scholarship to the University of West Alabama, where I continued playing baseball and studied Marketing.
After finishing up baseball, I still had one more year of school to complete, no problem. But the big question was this: Where was I going to apply 23 years of competitive drive, now that baseball was over? Was I going to "Remember the good ole days" and feel depressed that my major league dreams didn't happen? Or was I going to GET AFTER IT and build a new, cooler chapter in life?
I got after it... My senior year of college was crazy and AWESOME! I took the job of managing ALL concessions for the athletic department (raised sales by 300%), took 2 semesters of 18 hours each, was VP of the Marketing club, had a full time girlfriend, worked out 5 days a week and started an ecommerce, fitness apparel business, called Hustle For Muscle.
(My good buddy Nick on the left and me on the right. In Atlanta for our first H4M photo shoot)
This was one of the best decisions of my life. While people were learning the 4 P's of marketing, I was applying them. While people were getting hammered, I was hammering a screen printing press. While people were trying to find a job, I was creating them. I learned crazy amounts about marketing, finance, ecommerce, branding, social media, risks, sacrifice, sales, startups and tons more about business. Nothing compares to experience... except maybe the willingness to experience.
I ended up earning the marketing award for my graduating class and decided to relocate Hustle For Muscle from Alabama to Austin, TX. Austin was into everything I was into: Fitness, entrepreneurship, healthy foods and the outdoors.
“Move to Austin? Chris, you don’t know anyone there. How will this work out? Do you have a job? What if this??? What if that???”
This is what I heard from a lot of people… But I had already learned a lesson from numerous previous experiences: Just jump in the direction of your heart and things have a way of working out. (I’ll write about all of these experiences in a separate post)
I can’t explain it, but every time I have made a blind jump and kept a positive attitude, magic happens. I am always taken care of. So, I packed my 6-cylinder, 1992 Chevy S-10 truck, which was sputtering bad, had only 60% of it’s power and needed to be put in the shop. I had very little money and two choices: 1) Put my truck in the shop and not go to Austin or 2) Go and leave it up to destiny. I took my chances and used some strategic drafting (riding so close behind another vehicle that the wind pulls your vehicle) behind semi-truck’s to barely make it to Austin. My truck broke down two weeks later and I tore my right knee ACL for the 2nd time, the next week. Despite these set backs, I hustled hard to land a job and less than a month after arriving in Austin: Greg Brown, VP of Sales at Together Mobile made me an offer I couldn't refuse…
(My small truck compared to Greg's. This was an ongoing joke haha)
I joined the startup tech company, Together Mobile as the 6th employee, with a pay of $80k and 40k shares of equity in the company. I was told I had one mission... recruit big name meetings. My first day of work was in a man cave with 3 former VP’s of different big time businesses and an original Apple member: My new coworkers. I was 20 years younger than everyone. One week later we landed a HUGE $8 million, of first round funding. Equipped with a vision, MacBook Air, and an Android... I landed meetings with: Nike, Converse, Billabong, LEGO, Cabela's, American Airlines, Urban Decay, Fossil, Tory Burch, PETCO, Orbitz, Avon, Allegiant Airlines, Tilly's, ZARA, Columbia Records, and many more. I even exchanged six emails with the shark they call Mark Cuban. What more could I have asked for? I came from humble beginnings and now straight out of college, I was doing business with some of business’s most powerful people. Everyone back home thought I had “made it.” But I didn’t feel that way. I was bored with the job and wasn’t getting fulfillment from my work. I wasn’t happy. I thought:
I’m making really good money, I love my coworkers, but I’m not happy. Now I understand the saying, “MONEY CAN’T BUY HAPPINESS.” How do so many people go through life disliking their job? How can they spend 45 years feeling like I feel?
I learned a truth: The world doesn’t run on money, it runs on COURAGE, everything else follows. Courage has been running the world since the beginning of time. Courage can buy you anything: growth, accomplishment, love, freedom, purpose, peace of mind and even money. If people would just show more courage in life, in the direction of their heart, they would enjoy it a lot more. I’ve always had a passion for social entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship with the purpose of bettering the world) and had a revealing moment one night while meditating at Bull Creek Park.
I should create a tool that helps myself and others show more courage in life.
At that moment, I felt the best, most euphoric and blissful feeling I had ever felt. It was 1,000 times better than any home run I had ever hit. It was totally different than when I received my first email from Mark Cuban. It was like someone put their warm hands on my heart and started massaging it. The feeling was so strong and deep on so many levels, that I started tearing up. I knew I had found a direction for my path in life. I got to work immediately. The idea was so heavy on my heart, I couldn’t focus at work. I eventually realized I couldn’t halfway do both and was not about to give up this blissful feeling, so I left Together Mobile, along with my nice pay and equity. I loved everyone there, but as Paulo Coelho said, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
Since then, I’ve been working hard to create this brand I call COURAJ. Courage spelled with a “J” represents a journey of courage, which I think fits real life better. It’s a Lifestyle Brand with one mission: Represent and spread courage toward living life to the fullest.
You can read all about it here.
I’m no better than anyone and don’t claim to be the Dalai Lama, but I do believe strongly in the virtue of courage. I’m on this journey too, right beside you, in the river of life. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish!