In this series, I speak with people who know what desperate feels like. While now blooming into success, these founders share with me their deeply personal financial struggles and lessons learned on their way back to black.
Chase Fisher walked into a nightclub with a pair of $5 neon sunglasses and walked out with a small business idea. He not only built Blenders Eyewear, a brand of dependable, affordable shades ideal for San Diego’s surf community, he also built a career for himself that didn’t require a suit and tie. In March 2019, Chase opened his first storefront, and his brand is now sponsoring major surfing events. He’s also managing a staff of 28 people. Just seven years ago, though, he was selling sunglasses out of his backpack and living on $3 burritos.
Chase struggled all the way through school, envying those to whom academics came easy. Starting his own business gave him an introduction to a different type of education. Through ups (getting featured on she Today show) and downs (losing everything at a trade show), Chase thrived in the school of life. Now it’s his success that’s the subject of envy.
In Chase’s words:
I had a really tough time in school because I was born dyslexic. My reading comprehension was really low, I was really bad at math, and I was put in special-ed classes. I was held back so many times—I was just not wired for that style of education and teaching. I had to take speech classes for a stuttering problem, too. It wasn’t easy for me, but I had this confidence outside the classroom that I was able to really use to my advantage.
I started surfing at age seven, and that was the first passion I had as a kid. It was my outlet. In eighth grade, I started doing a lot of surfing contests. I fell in love with the whole industry, learning about brands, meeting the athletes, and talking to the team managers. I was never good enough to go professional, but I learned a lot of the ins and outs of sports marketing. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
School doesn’t really prep you at all for what it’s truly like. You get thrown into the real world, and you’ve got to figure everything out.
I moved to San Diego after high school to go to San Diego State. I had a hard time there, too, but I was able to push through it. Fresh out of college, I worked as a surf instructor. I was at the beach so it wasn’t awful, but I wasn’t going to build a career out of it. And I was literally broke. I remember putting on suits and going to interviews at local marketing companies. I did not have a passion for it. I thought it was my only option—I didn’t know any better. School doesn’t really prep you at all for what it’s truly like. You get thrown into the real world and you get smacked in the face.
The idea for Blenders literally was spawned on the dance floor. I saw a huge gap in the market between $200 Oakleys and $5 beach knockoffs. I had no experience. I had no money. But when you’re 22, you’re overly confident and you feel like you’re untouchable. I launched with a business partner in March of 2012. I borrowed $2,000 from my roommate and I started selling shades out of my backpack. I thought I was going to sell 300 pairs on the first day. I sold 10 pairs.
I had no experience. I had no money. But when you’re 22, you’re overly confident and you feel like you’re untouchable.
Every young entrepreneur thinks, “Oh, I’m going to be an overnight success.” It’s just this fairytale that doesn’t exist. I realized that it was going to be very, very difficult and I would have to get a side job. About three months after starting Blenders, I got a job at GNC. I worked there for about 10 minutes. I walked in the door and I was immediately criticized because my shirt was wrinkled and my shoes weren’t shined. It was run like a military-style operation. I said, “Fuck this.” I walked out the door and I never looked back. I didn’t subscribe to that type of work environment. It was the firepower I needed to say, “Screw this. I’m starting this business. I don’t care what it’s going to take.”
I built a Facebook page. I went up to LA a lot to learn as much about manufacturing as possible. I was Googling, being resourceful, calling, making connections, networking, literally doing whatever I could to stay afloat for one day at a time. I live in Pacific Beach, which is a community in San Diego where there’s cheap Mexican food everywhere, and so I would eat burritos all day, because they’re, like, $3. When you’re that age, you have a lot less to lose but, at the same time, you do have to stay alive. You have to learn how to live with less. Sacrificing trips, sacrificing going out. Work-life balance doesn’t exist when you’re starting out. Your business consumes you.
In the beginning, there wasn’t enough money to keep us going, so we did a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. We raised about $7,000, which at the time felt like a million bucks. And then from there we just started reinvesting while I was still slumming it on the beach as a surf instructor and selling shades out of my backpack.
It’s been a crazy ride. It’s probably the wildest self-discovery phase you can ever go through as a person. I built the business from a shoestring. We never took on any outside funding. We’ve been bootstrapped all the way up until now. It’s crazy what you can do in seven years, but it’s also crazy how much work it is and how much it overtakes you.
All the 4.0 students, all the people who laughed at me when I was starting the business, are now coming to me for advice.
I’ve come a long way since I was that kid with a stuttering problem. I think everything you go through in life makes you stronger. All the 4.0 students, all the people who laughed at me when I was starting the business, are now coming to me for advice. I’m blown away by that. I looked up to those kids, how smart they were, how they were going to go to Stanford and get the big job. And I’ve been able to carve my own path and build a solid career.
In entrepreneurship, you don’t have to have a 4.0 GPA. You don’t have to be a valedictorian to win. Hard work and grit outpaces any genius mind, and that’s what I’ve learned. Entrepreneurship is truly a higher education system that you build for yourself. It’s unlike any education you can ever get anywhere else.Illustration by German Gonzalez