Interview by freelance journalist and producer Trae McKinley.
Note from Trae: I met Seth in 2011 while he was a producer for NBC. We bonded over a shared love of the behind the scenes work, writing and producing content. He was, simply put, the most passionate journalist I'd ever met. In our conversations I could feel he was losing his fire for news. When I learned he had started his own company, it came as no surprise. He is the kind of guy who makes his own rules and lives by his code - and don't even bother telling him what or how to do something without having a damn good reason for it. I enjoyed reconnecting with him over a beer (well, I had a beer, he had like 5 cups of coffee, claiming he didn't have the "macros" for booze. Ill look up what the hell that means later)
When Seth enters the room, you immediately feel it. He's a high-energy guy with a big personality. He is constantly moving, even when he was sitting down, one foot was always moving around. He gets up to pace while explaining things, uses his hands to talk and has a big voice that carries in a room. He is a dynamic speaker - and in any setting I've seen him in, he commands the room. He walked into my office, coffee cup in hand, rocking his flannel RVCA shirt, a flat-brimmed snapback and Chuck Taylors. Outside of his suit and tie, he looks more the part of California skateboarder than communications consultant or TV producer.
So let's get started, your background is pretty much all journalism – how was wild/STRONG born out of that experience?
Yeah, I was a tv news producer for more than a decade. It was pretty much all I knew – but I always wanted to work for myself – my last few years in tv news were terrible, as you know – that’s when I met you actually, I was at NBC and you were doing foreign correspondence work in Libya – those talks we had back then helped me see I just wasn’t passionate about tv news anymore – and the reality shows I worked on weren’t much better. I knew whatever it was that I was going to do, it would have to be something I was really passionate about. My journalism background was solid though – As you know, it's all about creating, designing, writing, every single day. So there are actually a lot of skills I acquired over the years, that I use every day in building my brand.
I actually approached another brand about buying their products wholesale and then operating my own vendor booth at Crossfit events and stuff – basically like a franchise. We got close to a deal, but they wanted to bring other people in and make it bigger – so I decided to set out on my own, and I’m glad I did. My younger brother runs an apparel/lifestyle company called ‘Operation Werewolf’ – he pretty much guided me through my first order, launch and shipping, step by step – He’s the biggest reason everything went so smoothly for us from the start.
Let’s backtrack a little – wild/STRONG appears to be marketed mainly, if not entirely, to the Crossfit community – how did you get involved in Crossfit originally and what made you want to market to that community?
I got into Crossfit a few years ago, about three I think. I wanted something different, I’d been doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for about 6 years or so – and my older brother was a Crossfit coach. He encouraged me to do it. I walked into Crossfit Sua Sponte in Raleigh, NC one day and I was hooked immediately. Anyone who Crossfits will tell you the community is what makes it special - but when I looked at the apparel that community was wearing - a lot of it looks the same. Big print, snatch jokes, booty this, ass this – pun here, pun there. It’s not an accident that wild/STRONG is simple. Yeah we are gonna do some “fun” shit for Crossfit events, but I’ll tell you right now, you’ll never see the word “booty” on our shirts, you’ll never see a snatch pun on our shirts, that shit is tired as fuck - and I'm never gonna do that.
So let’s get into that a bit – I Crossfit as well, thanks to you and your unrelenting pressure to get me to try it out - a lot of that apparel does look the same, but people buy it. Yours is simple for sure – the bear logo, the text – why are people going to buy that?
You're welcome by the way - Look, a lot of people won’t buy it. We don’t want everyone wearing our stuff – through the blog and our marketing we are building a brand that a certain type of individual identifies with. We don’t hold back, we don’t say the right thing – wild/STRONG is the guy or girl who goes hard every day in the gym and out – they are the person who doesn’t make excuses, who says what everyone is thinking but most are afraid to say out loud. They are called assholes, bitches, however you want to deride us. We know we are better than everyone else and we don’t care what you think about us – that’s who wears wild/STRONG and that’s who we are proud to call part of our tribe.
You mentioned your blog – I put out a call to your readers off your email list, looking for people’s feedback - here are some messages we got back when we asked some of them to describe it - “very motivational, passionate, pulls no punches, abrasive in a good way.” Would you agree with those descriptions?
“Yeah for sure – 100 percent. That’s how I write. I am abrasive – I want you to be motivated by my words and sometimes people need to be told they suck and they need to change their lives. I did – and it took a lot of bad shit happening for me to wake the fuck up and do something better. Hopefully my writing can inspire people to go chase their dreams and not let anyone stand in their way – and what we see as a byproduct of that, we have created an identity that people want to be a part of and they buy some of our stuff. I'll never apologize for anything I put out there. My writing triggered you? I don't give a shit about that - I care about the person who comes up to me at an event and tells me how something I wrote helped them through something or motivated them to achieve something or take a risk. One of those outweighs 100 trolls.
Staying with the blog, before you get a big head - these are some of the other descriptions we received, “narcissistic, I stopped reading after the 100th time he bragged about how great his life is, the writer is an ego-maniac, cocky is an understatement, he is clearly a narcissist etc.” Would you also agree with those?
“Again, yeah, 100 percent. I view those as being as complimentary as the first batch you read. You don’t like my blog? I don't give a fuck. You don’t like my apparel? I don't give a fuck. Don’t buy it, don’t read it. We don’t want you repping our brand if some abrasive writing turns you off. Go buy some shirt with a snatch joke on it. I want people who get all boned up at the idea of competing, at the idea of lifting heavy weight, at the idea of challenging themselves and achieving things they never thought possible – if that shit turns you off, get off my page – I don’t care – I can’t say that enough. People love me or they absolutely hate me – that’s how I am – I don’t do shit halfway and that results in people either thinking I’m an asshole or being inspired by me.“
Don’t you think that’s a bad way to run a business, by alienating half your market?
“No I don’t. Maybe it’s not in some “How to run an apparel brand” book but I’ll tell you this, the people who are loyal to the brand – who buy my stuff and rep it with pride – that’s why that sense of pride exists – because it is not just about wearing a shirt you think looks cool. wild/STRONG represents something to them – it’s making a stand, belonging to a group who attacks life with the same vigor they do. We're rebels - and we don't apologize for it - we don't apologize for anything. It's always all or nothing with me bro - that's how I approach my life, my relationships, my business, my family. If you are someone important in my life - you get everything from me - everything I have to give, is yours. If you don't fall in that category - fuck you, you're nothing to me.
You’ve had some success on social media – your following on Facebook and Instagram continues to grow, and that appears to be in large part due to the blog and images you post pertaining to the blog. Has this been a focus for you?
It’s a huge part of my marketing strategy – if people are interested in that, I encourage them to check us out and give us a like or a follow. The other way we have grown has been by using my network – I have a lot of friends who run their own businesses and I feature them in the blog or on my social media accounts. But even that has its pitfalls – I’ve literally had a business owner who I know, call me and bitch about giving them a shout-out because they don’t want to be associated with the brand because of how abrasive we are. It’s like “Ok bro, I won’t give you extra exposure on a page with a bigger audience than yours.” But yeah, most of the business owners I know have been happy to trade product, shout each other out on social and help grow each other’s brands. If you are someone who inspires me – I want to use every tool I have to help you grow – it's just an added bonus that those same people turn around and want to support me.
So what’s next for wild/STRONG? You just launched in late 2015 – what is coming down the pipe?
Just try to continue to build off the momentum we saw in 2015 and early 2016. New products, new content, more video. I hustle up as many of these interviews as I can to build the brand and build my personal brand as well. Travel as much as I can to expose people to the company. I've been to more than 70 CrossFit gyms - and I have sort of built a reputation as the guy who is always on the move and dropping in everywhere I can. It's cool to show up to a gym in another state and have people recognize you and reference something you wrote or whatever. I'm gonna keep doing that as long as people show a desire to consume that content.
So how big is wild/STRONG going to be in 5 years?
Is global domination “big”? *laughs* the sky’s the limit baby. I have another job right now and still do consulting and some video production as a side hustle – but our launch was so successful for wild/STRONG – I really see those other hustles as a temporary thing long-term. This is what I’m passionate about. I love to roll the dice, that’s how I live my life – so in five years? In five years I’ll have someone else handling the shipping and distribution/fulfillment side of things for me for sure – I’ll be on a beach somewhere, writing the blog, I’ll always do that – designing the next product. In the meantime, that’s the goal and I always work backwards from my goals – so I have an amount in mind that I need to clear per year, per month, per day – that will get me to that goal. Ultimately it's about giving my two sons a better life. I would love to be able to give them jobs working for and with me. They are already the two most badass interns you can imagine - I want to give them everything.