Lessons from Starting, Building and Selling My First Business

Five years ago, a few months removed from my 2013 season stint working with the University of Maryland baseball team, I was a college graduate without a job wondering what I was going to do with my life.

While my search for full-time opportunities charged on, I decided to start a business, selling plastic-framed aviator sunglasses under the brand name Brooktide. I always knew starting a business would happen at some point in my life. Entrepreneurship is in my blood--my father before me, my grandfather before him, and my great-grandfather before him.

In college it was planning large-scale paint parties at clubs in D.C. for my fraternity with my best friends, the aptly named "Spash Bash," as well as creating marketing promotions that shattered attendance records for Maryland Baseball. In high school I remember organizing t-shirt sales for the student body. Even as far back as the third grade a friend and I were going to start a magazine targeting readers in the student body--selling ads for the brand of chocolate milk they sold in the cafeteria. (Needless to say, that one never made it off the ground).

The Brooktide name was a completely made-up word--I combined the Brooklyn Bridge (which I was driving by one day) and the word tide (which seemed beach-y enough for a sunglasses company) and it was the only thing I could come up with that had an available domain name.

Why start the business? The boredom of not having a job; the fear of not having a job; the excitement of not having a job with a world of opportunities ahead.

And why sunglasses? There was a relatively low barrier-to-entry. It wasn't going to cost too much to meet an order minimum if I got something produced overseas, I had basic HTML knowledge and most importantly, I liked them. I was a lifeguard for five years in high school and college at Camp Veritans and there weren't any quality aviator options--my preferred style--in the $15-20 price range, though there was plenty of other styles. 

In the time since starting Brooktide, my closest family and friends have seen the business develop and grow in ways that even I never imagined were possible. With that came some key lessons that have shaped my life:

Find the time.

I spent that first summer building the business. After a few weeks I did find a full-time job, but I was still determined to build Brooktide and I had to balance both. Through all hours of the night, if I wasn't building out the website, I was on the phone, on Skype and typing out emails, working with vendors overseas. I had a CAD designer in Colombia, a graphic designer for a logo in California and developed supplier relationships in China and Taiwan. 

And while the business developed, I have been blessed with opportunities to further my career at Steiner Sports. Thankfully, at no point did one concentration interfere with the other, which I can attribute to one simple thought: there's always time. Maybe there are a few extra minutes...or a few extra hours...of lost sleep on certain days. But that's okay. As cliché as it may sound, it's all worth it in the end. 

Take the lessons with you.

The original Brooktide website took me a whole summer to create. If I had to reproduce that today I could probably do so in less than a day. That whole process was an experience in itself. I got fully immersed into the Shopify platform and learned skills that I was able to parlay into my digital media consulting business as a Shopify Expert.

From starting Brooktide, making my first sale, signing a new wholesale account, working with an influencer for the first time, or even dealing with a customer service crisis, there is always something positive and something negative to be remembered that can make it easy to win the next time around.

--

Before I carry-on too long with a whole list of all the things that I've learned from the experience of owning Brooktide, I'll just say why I'm writing this (which is already obvious from the title): I sold the company. 

Opportunities in other areas, both with my work at Steiner Sports and the growth of Ben Zettler Digital Media necessitated a change. Plus, I'm sure my soon-to-be wife Stacey is thrilled that she won't have to deal with a pallet of product as living room furniture.

I'm happy to say that Brooktide will still continue and is now in the hands of Andy Partin, the owner of Dirtbags Baseball and Hold the Line Apparel, thanks to our introduction via the Shopify Exchange platform. We align well on our involvement with baseball and I look forward to assisting Andy and his team on the continued growth of his various businesses.

Now for the thank you's...

All the incredible photographers and content creators from five continents that I have had the pleasure of working with: Tyler Claudio, Will Thompson, Ryan Buckner, Scott Gordon, Fritz Gilbert, Timothy Gabrail, Salih Ozguzell, Nino Panzarella, Nathan Essenstam, Nicole Trojanowski, Louise Maurisset, Luis Romo, Gerhard Van Der Schyff, Bryce France, Amanda Carmichael and others. 

The influencers and athletes (and their agents) that helped to accelerate the business: Abigail Ratchford, Jessica Weaver, Demi Rose Mawby, Marisa Hunter, Dani Mathers, Brandon Marshall, Hector Santiago, Jake Stinnett, Jimmy Reed, Danny O'Brien, Jake Diekman and others.

Evelyn from Co World in Taiwan.

All of my incredible contacts at Shopify.

Family and friends for being supportive of the brand. 

My parents, Mark and Andrea, for your advice, guidance, assistance as extra hands in the Brooktide "warehouse" and for being the best parents in the world. 

As one door closes, two more always open and I can't wait for the exciting things to come in 2018!


5 comments


  • Kearns

    Congrats buddy, one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met. You’re going to have success in whatever you’ll do.


  • Ken Noe

    Congrats Ben – I’m proud of you. Keep that entrepreneur spirit as long as you can. It’s both fun and rewarding!!!


  • Rick Rosenfelt

    Congratulations!


  • RG

    Congrats, buddy! Well deserved… Onward toward the next venture!


  • Mike Smith

    Congrats Ben. Super inspiring. Love the focus on the essentials and getting rid of everything else that isn’t top priority.


Leave a comment