I was recently interviewed via email from the authors of an upcoming book on solo entreprenuership ("soloproneurship"). It's a collection of stories about how successful solopreneurs got their start, overcame challenges, and found success. The following is the story of my experience with Nature Relaxation, and offers a glimpse into my daily lifestyle and offers some tips for other entreprenuers seeking to find their niche. Enjoy! -DH
Soloprenuer Showcase: Interview with David HutingRelaxation
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
DH: I am 32 year old world traveling independent filmmaker and producer of ultra high quality non-narrated nature films designed for relaxation. The Nature Relaxation™ films I produce are streamed more than 20 million minutes monthly and are employed in a diverse array of client applications spanning from hospitals to cancer treatment centers; nursing homes to spas and lounges; even prisons, schools, universities, billion dollar tech companies and more.
What was your professional life like before starting your business?
DH: Upon graduating from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in 2007, I was hired by Hyatt Hotels & Resorts as a Corporate Sales Manager and began a full-time manager position at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency Embarcadero property. My time with Hyatt in San Francisco provided me with invaluable business experience, yet slowly the corporate pressures and lack of vacation time began to weight on me, while at the same time the exploring the beauty of Northern California re-inspired me to pursue my original passion, which was for capturing Nature on camera. So in 2010 as the economy was taking a downturn and people were concerned about job security, I abruptly put in my 2 week notice, invested in a professional camera equipment package and moved to Sydney Australia on a 1-year visa with a dream of traveling around the world filming for a living. I eventually realized this dream 4 months later when hired by a Brisbane-based travel content company as an International Destination Cinematographer. I spent the next two years traveling and filming famous places around Europe, Asia, and the Western USA, finally moving to the beach in San Diego in 2012. It was in San Diego where my desire to be my own boss began – plus, I was ready to stay in one place for a while. I found that while Nature inspired me, tourist traps exhausted me, and I struggled to find the motivation to continue. So I quit the dream job! Yes, I quit my position as a world-traveling cameraman, declining an offer to travel to more than 50 counties for the next several years. What did I do after that? Nothing. I was a beach bum, and did zero work for about six months. And it was everything it I thought it could be. I read a lot of books, learned to surf, played basketball in the sun daily and fully began to embrace the relaxed and healthy/holistic lifestyle that Southern California affords. It was during this time I learned the importance of spending time in Nature as well as the power of Eustress – the “good” stress which emerges after long periods of relaxing. And so it was here in the San Diego sunshine where I began to build the framework and vision for what Nature Relaxation was to become.
How did you come up with the idea to start your business? Did you have a lightbulb moment?
DH: YouTube was a big part of it, thanks to a channel I started back in 2007 to share some of my nature films. The comments I received were heartfelt and sincere, and eventually I had a video that received more than a million views in a short time – which confirmed my belief that there was a demand for this type of content. The idea for my company name, Nature Relaxation, definitely came to me in a lightbulb moment, followed by (like many of them are) a quick GoDaddy domain name search: www.NatureRelaxation.com was available, and the company was born. That was in 2011.
Nature Relaxation targets a pretty unique niche market for videography - how did you come up with the idea to specialize in this? Any advice for other entrepreneurs trying to find their niche?
DH: I think my previous responses have illustrated this pretty well, but let me elaborate on it briefly. YouTube was quite small when I first began and there were only a few other creators that were producing nature-only films. So I guess you could say I did a competitive analysis – while there were the big box companies like BBC and Discovery Channel making nature films, there were not many other sources that paralleled their level of quality. I saw an opportunity and I took it! From the start, my biggest focus has been on quality – striving to be the best. My advice for other entrepreneurs trying to find their niche? Take a sabbatical – whether it involves traveling around the world for a few months or doing absolutely nothing; it really doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that you don’t do any work that doesn’t call out to you. Save some money, and break free from responsibilities for a while. Read some books on topics that interest you; travel somewhere you have never been. Learn and practice a sport you enjoy. Eventually you will be so sick of doing nothing that you will feel as though you need to contribute in some way or form. Use this time to reflect inward: what inspires you? When are you most happy? What unique skill(s) do you have that you could offer to society/the planet? And then once you discover what it is that drives you, and what your area of expertise will be, the most essential next step is to begin the path of mastering your unique skill. Become an expert in your respective field. Finding your niche and positioning yourself for success within that niche is something that takes years, not weeks or months – which is all the more reason to start sooner than later.
What was your very first step in pursuing your idea?
DH: Before quitting my corporate career and spending all my money on camera equipment, I created a Strategic Plan of Action, which helped in two ways: #1) by typing it all out it actually forced me to think through what I wanted to create and how I was going to do it/what tools I needed in both the short and long term; and #2) I used it to secure a a partial investor to help me afford the initial costs for the professional camera equipment package I put together.
What was life like in the early days of pursuing this? How did you go about finding clients/customers?
DH: After building my first e-commerce store using Shopify, www.NatureRelaxation.com - things were slow, but generally always growing. Having a decent website and linking it directly to my growing YouTube channel allowed me to benefit from not having to pay for marketing; I post watermarked versions of my content on YouTube, and would link each specific video to my website where they could purchase it or a client could request to license it. So, my clients generally found me. Having high quality content generally speaks for itself; then I focused on making it easy for someone to click through and contact me. I always like to think of the Field of Dreams quote: “If you build it, they will come.” So I built the website, and started posting on YouTube, and the clients started coming. To this day, I have still not spent any money on paid advertising despite continual long-term growth in revenue and traffic.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the early days?
DH: Being self employed and generally not that organized of a person (I am a Libra), the biggest challenges I would say I faced were those related to time management and task accomplishment. Blame it on the city of the endless summers, but I generally found that if the sun was shining, I didn’t want to be inside on a computer. I wanted to be out in the sun biking, playing basketball, doing yoga and laying on the beach. I would work in bursts of inspiration, with lots of off-time in between. At one point I even moved to a remote tropical island in Fiji for 3 months, and truly embraced the lazy islander spirit. It was glorious. But then I realized that running an online video business without regular internet access wasn’t working too well. My YouTube numbers and automatic download sales were slowly dropping…and my level of productivity reached an all time low. It was time to return back to Southern California and continue what I had started. I realized that I was attempting to build was a mountain, and was only now approaching the slopes. There was much work to be done.
What mistakes did you make and what did you learn?
DH: My 3 month Fiji sabbatical in 2013 taught me that while it is possible to create a completely automated online business that generates regular monthly income, the setup time and regular mountainous required cannot be overlooked for long period at a time or declines will set in. What I learned is that there is either growth or decline – nothing stays the same over time; the effort you put in directly relates to the output that results. However, I also learned that there are a lot of ingenious methods freeing up more time and effort. (I recommend the 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris; it was one of my most all-time influential reads and provides a lot of sound advice.)
What are a few big milestones you are proud of and how did you accomplish each?
DH: When you are one of the first to pioneer a new niche, it’s more of a marathon than a race. Milestones were few and far between for the first several years while Nature Relaxation was still in its infancy. I would say that a major contributor to my current success was acting fast to become one of the first content producers to make the upgrade to the new 4K Ultra High Definition format. Adding Aerial cinematography to my repertoire was necessary and my most recent signature film, Above the Fiji Islands – a 1 hour long 4K aerial journey – is breaking new ground and has resulted in a lot of renewed deals. One last major milestone I am quite proud of is developing a beautiful yet easy-to-use Subscription Video On-Demand (SVOD) Platform called Nature Relaxation On-Demand, which offers complete library access plus automatic new releases computer and via my app for iOS/AppleTV, Android/AndroidTV, Roku, Amazon FireTV, and soon to Xbox 360.
What does a typical day look like for you? Do you have any time management tips?
DH: My work year is split up into various bursts of editing/business operations in San Diego, and filming trips to new beautiful locations which typically range between 1-10 weeks at at a time. While not traveling, I generally wake up between 4 and 6AM without an alarm, immediately make a strong espresso, and drink it while I soak in the hot tub in a moment of quiet meditation. From there I start working until between 10-2PM, after I take between 3-4 hours break for my regular routine of basketball, gym, beach and yoga. If I have some pressing edits or projects, I will resume it in the evening, but over time I have learned that I operate best early. So I guess my tip would be to figure out when you feel the most awake mentally, and use that time to crush your most demanding tasks. And take PLENTY of time daily to relax and get some fresh air. Mini breaks in the sun are great and power naps can be a real boost, just don’t sleep for more than 30 minutes or you will end up feeling even more tired.
Any tips on being a successful entrepreneur in your industry?
DH: Have confidence and clarity in your vision and seek to build not just a brand but an experience for your customers, and be relentless in your pursuit of perfection; Strive to be the best and operate from a spirit of innovation, not imitation. Whether creating content or a physical product, the quality and original vision will always shine through and leave an impression in the minds of your customers – this is real brand marketing. Simply restated, content and customer experience is king. From a founders standpoint, remember the old adage: “Keep your head in the skies but your feet on the ground.” Be adaptive and always leverage the latest technology because if you don’t, someone else will and your company will be left in the dust. Finally, and in my opinion this is the magic key that opens the locked doors and demands a response from the Universe: seek first to make the world a better place by contributing to it; not just to make a profit. This is the secret to all success in life: put others before yourself and approach every new day with a relaxed, positive attitude - and you will win.
How successful has your business been and what impact has it had on your life?
DH: It’s provided a complete transformation into the lifestyle I have always dreamed about, and I am only getting started. I work with researchers and fellow pioneers regularly and collectively we are breaking new ground in terms of providing therapeutic healing utilizing modern technology infused with Nature. The “back to nature” movement is past its sprouting phase and the roots are being planted in amazing places; through Nature Relaxation I am actively helping revitalize Art as Therapy by infusing it with Nature and Harmony. As our modern understanding of how the mind plays a central role in our health and happiness continues to expand, one thing is clear: Nature heals us, and maintaining our connection to it is as important as life itself. Now as the dawn of the future of modern technology unfolds in front of our eyes, I find myself in a unique position, with not only the vision but finally the bank account and connections to take things to the next level. And 2017 is showing no signs of slowing down: I will be releasing hundreds of hours of new 4K content, and will be launching the world’s first VR Nature Relaxation app for the new virtual reality devices.
I will end with my favorite quote:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
- Henry David Thoreau