By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Seth Hill is still a very young man, but his entrepreneurial efforts started outside of Asheville, NC at the age of five.
“I noticed apples falling to the ground at home, so I picked them up, cleaned them, and sold them in packs of four for $2,” the resident of Chattanooga told us recently. Later, he learned that his mother bought nearly his entire supply, but that did not quell his entrepreneurial passions even when he found most of his product in the compost pile.
Today, after several years of trial and error and overcoming a series of challenges, Hill is poised to launch two products under the SWAYY brand. Both are insulated hammocks. One – PremusTM – is now available, while the other – EiraTM – will be launched on Black Friday later this week. PremusTM is synthetically insulated, and EiraTM is down insulated.
“I call our products a sleeping bag between two trees,” Hill explained during our interview at CO.LAB, an organization he knows well as a result of his participation in the CO.STARTERS program, “Will This Float?,” and the more recent inaugural “Consumer Goods Accelerator.”
A conversation with Hill quickly convinces you that, in many respects, entrepreneurship is a vehicle to a much higher calling. It’s less about the money and more about the impact he and his efforts can have on society. It’s something that emanates from a trip to India when Hill was 10 years old.
“I got a perspective on the world from a very different view,” he says, adding, “It changed me forever.” So, too, did his father’s death when Hill was 16 and a mission trip to the Philippines after his sophomore year at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale. There, he and a college classmate were involved in helping start a medical and dental initiative in a church in the mountains.
“I left the Philippines changed forever inside, but deeply resentful of the corruption I saw,” Hill told us. No doubt that corruption further accelerated his efforts to do something positive for those less privileged, and that’s an important goal of SWAYY.
Ironically, the inspiration for the hammocks the company has developed came from the chill at night that Hill felt while sleeping outdoors with some friends in August right before he left for his volunteer year as a student missionary in the Philippines. He experienced what he calls cold butt syndrome, something others refer to as frozen butt syndrome. Regardless of the term you prefer, the effect is the same . . . cold air blowing under the hammock.
Hill decided to address the problem, developing his first prototype in August 2015. Now, three and one-half years later, he’s ready to launch. During that period, he says he went through eight manufacturers unable to meet his requirements.
“Every factory wanted a minimum (run) of 1,000 sleeping bags,” he adds. In Asia, the requirement is much less, more like 100, but there are still challenges there. In June, he fired a Chinese company after just two months of working with them due to some serious communication problems.
Now, with a stable, quality manufacturer that is experienced in producing sleeping bags, Hill is ready to roll.
As noted on the start-up’s website, SWAYY uses LOFT technology that traps air between the fibers (the PremusTM synthetic insulation) or feather dander (the EIRATM down hammock). This allows for the trapped air pockets to be warmed-up utilizing three main layers of material. The first holds the individual’s weight, while the second provides insulation, and the third breaks the wind.
A Kickstarter campaign in April generated $18,000 in pre-orders with about 20 percent of those sales coming from non-U.S. customers.
With Hill’s passion for mission work and helping the underserved, you might expect that SWAYY is supporting that commitment.
“Our mission is to get people back outside using three main principles: comfort, security, and warmth,” the youthful entrepreneur says. “We create vehicles for outdoor enjoyment, but our values include giving back – to build jungle schools and help educate the younger generation.” To do so, he is contributing a percentage of every sale to that effort.
“We will continue to inspire many to get outdoors, and we’ve helped build one school already,” Hill says. “It’s not about the money; it’s about the experiences we give.”