In this series, we speak with people who know what desperate feels like. While now blooming into success, these founders share with us their deeply personal financial struggles and lessons learned on their way back to black.
In the words of Adam Gentry, founder of Photific:
At the age of 24, my father passed away. I was not close with him when he passed away, and he had two kids—Brayden and Brianna—who were my half siblings. I was not very close with them. They were 5 and 7. Their mother was not in the picture, so basically they’d go to the state—or somebody in the family could adopt them. Nobody in the family was stepping up.
I adopted them. It was a crash course kind of coming of age.
Around that time, facing mortality for the first time, I decided I wanted to start a clothing company—just to take a swing at something. The adoption process was probably just shy of two years, start to finish. Once the adoption finalized, pretty quickly I realized, “Okay, to provide for these kids, provide for the family, I’m going to have to do something to make money, buy food.” That was how I defined success—it wasn’t self-actualization anymore, it was surviving.
It got pretty dire. I mean, I had no money.
I’d been running this clothing company—and it was not going well. In fact, I spent all the money I had on doing minimum runs on garments, and trying to sell them, and trying to get attention online. It got pretty dire. I mean, I had no money. So I started using Printful to do on-demand printing, since I couldn’t afford to do another minimum run of garments that may or may not sell.
I realized the only way to get images of those garments was to either use the terrible kind of clip art–looking mockups that were out there, or order a shirt and take photos myself. I’d been a photographer for a little while, and just like most entrepreneurs with websites, you kind of learn a little bit of everything along the way. So I started building my own mockups. I wanted mockups where if you looked at them side by side with an actual photo of the garments, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.
It’s the little moments. I just keep those inside and keep working.
It took a while. But it became pretty clear that people might be interested in these mockups that I had made. So in 2015 I put the mockups online, and they started selling pretty well. It picked up steam. Not counting the cost of my camera, Photific probably started with $200, including website hosting costs and the little incidentals. I’d take the kids to school in the morning, then I’d come home and start working from my mom’s house, taking and processing pictures every day. For at least the first year, 10 pm was the earliest I’d ever let myself go to bed.
At the end of 2015, I got an email from somebody. It was Davis Siksnans, the CEO and co-founder of Printful, asking me if there’s any way that they could use our mockups. A partnership was struck. That was sort of when Photific became a real thing. Up until that point, I had been living at home with the kids and my mom. So my mom, who wasn’t related to them, let us live with her so that we could kind of be stable and figure stuff out.
Kids are so expensive. They’re so damn expensive. After-school care—who knew how expensive that is? They go through shoes in months. And I was making almost nothing. It was barely enough, and thank God, I had my family—my mom—to lean on. That bought us the time to figure things out. There are no words to express how grateful I was for that support. I view Brayden, now 12, and Brianna, 14, as my kids—and they are also my brother and sister. But we don’t say ‘dad’ and ‘son’ and ‘daughter.’ They were old enough to know their dad, but I also believe that they view me as a father figure first and a brother second.
My definition of success was about survival, and then once that step of the pyramid was taken care of, that allowed me to start focusing again on the bigger picture things. It allowed me to be optimistic again for the first time in a while. We have had over 10,000 customers since Photific launched. It’s me and two full-timers. We’re hoping over the next couple of years to grow our mockup library, and grow the technology and platform that it’s on to integrate with other ecommerce platforms. We’ve got major music labels using it, so it’s pretty fun now to be looking on Spotify or Instagram at an artist that I just found and really love and then see their merch is using our mockups. That’s always super gratifying. It’s the little moments. I just keep those inside and keep working.Illustration by German Gonzalez