The Goal Digger Series is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs, bloggers, freelancers, and all-around go-getters that inspire us.
You never know how much of a good idea you have on your hands until you put in the effort to see it come to life. This rings true for Jake Kehlenbeck, CEO and Co-Founder of the unique t-shirt brand, Bucket Tees. A simple idea has turned into a growing business for Jake and his partners, Alex and John, as a result of their hard work and focused, positive mindset.
Today’s Goal Digger Series interview is a little outside of the box for the BGB Community. While a t-shirt company isn’t exactly in the realm of food and healthy living digital content creation, we are truly inspired by Jake’s story, and believe it will inspire you, too. No matter the end product, the hustle stays the same.
Hailing from Tampa, Florida, Jake and I know each other via mutual friends, in addition to having attended rival high schools. After seeing Jake’s brand featured in a few digital publications such as the CHIVE and The Penny Hoarder, I realized what Jake and his co-workers had on their hands: a supremely simple yet brilliant idea with the courage to do something about it.
So, without further ado, here’s Jake’s story.
The Goal Digger Series: Jake Kehlenbeck
Can you give us a brief overview about how Bucket Tees started, and where it is today?
We first came up with the idea at a bar. We thought it was hilarious and fun, and instantly imagined all of the fun things we could do, like put beer or puppies in the pocket. Alex Alfaro and I started the business and ran it ourselves for a few months, and then we brought John Grellner on to help with the finance and legal aspects of running the business. Today we’re steadily growing, and are expanding into more pocket and shirt designs. We have tank tops coming soon, as well as an American Flag t-shirt and tank.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?
An NBA player. I thought it was a sure thing, until I stopped growing in middle school.
Looking back at when you first began building Bucket Tees, what did you wish you’d known?
I wish I knew how much effort had to be put into Bucket Tees when I first began building it. We pretty much wasted our first few months as a company, just making small moves here and there with nothing to really show for it. It was not until I quit my job and really put some effort into Bucket Tees that we started seeing some growth.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
There are three people are on our team: Alex, who does the operations, John, who does the finance and organizational items, and me – I do the marketing stuff. So my day usually consists of me answering customer questions, reaching out to influencers who can help promote us, creating content to entertain and attract customers, optimizing the website, or thinking of some other way that will enable us to attract more customers.
What has been the most unexpected [positive] thing to happen during your business journey?
The most unexpected thing has been experiencing the power that big media outlets have. We were featured on one large outlet when we first started getting momentum and, before we knew what happened, we got so many orders John thought we were being spammed. The next day Alex had to call out of work to ship all of the shirts.
However, I feel like another unexpected thing that will happen in the future is how valuable what I’m learning now will be. I’ve been put in so many different situations, have learned so many different skills, and have been taught so many lessons through this that the next time I’m faced with a similar problem or situation I’ll be able to use what I’m going through now to help me be successful.
What was it like to start see your first sales coming in for Bucket Tees?
It was awesome. Even after a few hundred sales, I still get really excited to see new sales come in. I get a notification on my phone. It’s like when you first start a relationship, and you get all excited to see him/her text you. I’m not sure if the feeling will ever go away.
What reservations did you have in the beginning, and how did you combat them? If none, what was your thought process about the risk of starting a business?
We didn’t really have that many reservations in the beginning because we were so excited about the idea of starting a business, and naive to how much work it would take. Starting a t-shirt company isn’t all that expensive (although more expensive than we initially thought), so it wasn’t very risky to start, and we figured at the very least we would learn a ton.
What is one thing you want people to know about building/running a business?
Try to make a little bit of progress every day, don’t get overwhelmed, don’t give up, and listen to your customers.
What is the biggest threat to your productivity? How do you overcome it?
The biggest threat to my productivity is losing focus, and trying to do too much. When I don’t have a small amount of things on my to-do list, I usually bounce around from task to task and get nothing done. When I do have a small amount of things on my to-do list, I get them done, and they add up over the weeks.
What is your five year vision for Bucket Tees?
We would love to have Bucket Tees be an internationally recognized brand. We’re going to do that by continuing to work on fun and cool designs, continuing to produce high quality shirts, creating the best possible experience for our customers, and hopefully getting into some major retail stores. We may look into other markets at some time, but for now we’re just trying to reach as many young adult men who like to have fun.
One apparel brand that inspires you? Chubbies
Last book you read? Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout
If you could have coffee with one person, living or dead, who would it be? Derek Jeter
What’s your favorite app/website you use for organization? Evernote
One way you love to unwind? Fishing or running
Favorite podcast? I’m not a big podcast guy (I’d rather read), but I do like Tim Ferriss’ podcast.
One fun fact about you? There’s a bar in Tallahassee at The Strip named Jake’s Place, which is named after me.
Follow the Bucket Tees journey: