Growth, Risk, Failure, Growth… or, the arc of the Butt Apron!

March 25, 2022

Growth, Risk, Failure, Growth… or, the arc of the Butt Apron!

May 29, 2023

I was incredibly fortunate to attend the fourth official cohort at the Modern Elder Academy back in December of 2018. It was a magical time and the letter I wrote home to myself has propelled me in so many scary, exciting, challenging, and rewarding ways.

One idea that had its genesis prior to my arrival in Baja recently had its 5 minutes, or, more accurately, 2 minutes of fame and provides a great lesson for the MEA community.

Following my career as a television producer, I transitioned to the start-up world and had a successful exit (more personal than financial) with my first web-based venture, PlaySportsTV. I sold the company back in 2016 and started exploring creative ideas that spoke to me.

My most humorous idea sprung up very naturally. I love to cook and have always been vexxed by dirty handprints on the back of my pants after whipping up a nice meal. Yes, I'm among the many chefs that forego the traditional apron and wipe their hands on their backside.

And here's where the idea of growth, risk, failure, and growth has its roots. I took a risk.

I'd never been in the apparel business, let alone in a fabric store, but that did not deter me from hitting the local Jo-Ann Fabrics to bring my idea to life. I floundered around the store choosing fabrics with no clue as to how I’d execute on the concept. As I stood in line at the cutting station, I shared my idea and was met with enthusiasm by Pam. Pam was a regular who made all the costumes at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, New Jersey. We became fast friends and ultimately business partners on the idea, a butt apron with the perfect name - GrillCheeks!!

Pam and I collaborated on our first prototypes. One such hand-sewn sample (a fabric adorned with succulents a la Baja) accompanied me to MEA and was given to Chip on our final night.

When I left MEA, I shared a car back to the airport with the awesome Christine Sperber whose sister, Heather, was in the apparel business. Heather and I further refined the design and got our first batch manufactured. I then documented the story of Pam and me and it's one of my favorite pieces of irreverent creative content.

Well, admittedly, we have not had the success that we had envisioned. Sales were slower than anticipated (it turns out the word “apron” is about as competitive as it gets on Google…who knew?!). Tragically, Pam succumbed to cancer in late 2020 and I lost much of my spirit and drive for the project. Even through this adversity, I still held out hope and applied to Shark Tank.

In July of 2021, I got the call from Shark Tank that they were interested. I reached out to Pam's son, Karif, who I had met at her funeral to see if he would be interested in joining me for the audition video. We delivered a very humorous and reverential take on the product and Pam.

Early this year, we were featured on Shark Tank’s social feed in a segment called The Best of the Rest (we didn’t make the broadcast but were at least in the 1% of those ideas considered!). While it's only a two-minute piece, to me, it is a monument to relationships, creativity, and the fact that the definition of success can actually be found in relative failure. The growth mindset is spurred on by collaboration, problem solving, and lifelong learning. You can watch it:

https://youtu.be/wvqGNk7lKXw

I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Besides a wellness product that’s gaining traction in the senior living space, I’m now working with a recent Lehigh engineering graduate who is training to be an Army pilot on a “better mousetrap” for the wine storage and shipping industry - a very different market, to be sure. We are partners and soon closing a first round of investment.

Don’t let anyone deter you from pursuing your next idea, even if it “fails” since the metrics for success can be counted in so many magical ways.

Douglas Donaldson is a proud member of Soulstice Circle, the 4th official MEA cohort back in December of 2018. Doug is an entrepreneur and has been a business development executive at both early stage and large public companies and is currently working with Zachys, a luxury wine retailer, on their new e-commerce platform. He remains active in start-ups and is working with partners on LYT (lytlife.com), an immersive wellness experience designed for hospitality and luxury senior living facilities, and The Wine Drawer, a wine storage unit that significantly reduces pick-time in professional storage facilities.

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