Michael Coughlin is the founder of The Blue Ocean Life, Co., a lifestyle brand for digital nomads and other people who are looking to break out of the mold of the traditional corporate lifestyle. The company currently sells clothing, hats, and beach towels. Coughlin started the business after his own corporate experience left him unsatisfied.
Why did you start your business?
I have a long history of working in the marketing space. In 2004, I started working in search engine marketing. I learned the ins and outs of that and web analytics. I have a tremendous amount of e-commerce experience. A few years ago, I was working with the surf clothing company, O’Neill. One day, I realized that e-commerce had a better future than the marketing services space, which is incredibly crowded.
I came up with the Blue Ocean Life concept when I became broke from a previous partnership and had to move back home with my parents on Cape Cod. I spent a lot of time at the beach. I realized that the ocean was therapeutic for the anxiety and depression I was feeling at that time. On a personal level, Blue Ocean Life was symbolic of leaving the corporate environment, which is very stressful and causes a lot of people anxiety. I also read a book called “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which came to be the foundation of my business strategy. All these interesting things converged in my life and I was confident I could make the company work because I had so much experience in e-commerce and I had the experience of working with O’Neill, a company that sells beach apparel online.
How did you finance the business at the start?
It’s an extremely low-risk business. I discovered a drop-shipping company that basically prints products on demand so you can create a clothing line without buying any inventory. I used a template on Shopify and I know enough about Website design that I was able to build the Website on my own. I used excess profit I had from operating my marketing agency business to hire designers to design the line.
Managing the Company
How do you manage cash flow?
I make sure I have more money coming in than going out. I’m always profitable because everything is so low-risk, there are virtually no liabilities. I like to pay all my expenses right away, and I leverage a credit card, though I try to pay it off without accruing interest. I do sometimes borrow from Fundbox for short-term financing, like if I’m short on cash to make payroll.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
It’s balancing so many things, because right now I’m running multiple companies. I have to keep my marketing agency business afloat since this company is in such early stages, there’s not as much financial reward. There’s so much that needs to be done because the store can always be improved.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
It’s that I have such incredible freedom. I don’t have to take orders from anybody in terms of what I do and what my mission is for the company. I can travel wherever I want and I can make my own schedule. I think in the long term, this company will be able to operate on its own because of the drop-shipping company handling shipping and production. That means I might be able to take a day off!
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
I sat on the idea too long. I think it was because I was bogged down with my other businesses. I should have focused my long-term focus to this business sooner than I did.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
The bible I used for my business is “Blue Ocean Strategy,” which is all about making the competition irrelevant. There’s this misconception in business and in life that it’s a zero-sum game; that someone else has to lose for you to win. When I came up with this idea, I realized that I don’t need to out-spend or out-maneuver the competition. I do exactly the opposite of the corporate world, which is not a happy place for a lot of people.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
One thing I underestimated was the opportunity cost of leaving a stable job. There are a lot of costs that go into starting a business that you don’t realize. I would caution people to keep working a full-time job, preferably one that lets you work from home so you don’t get trapped in an office. Spend a couple years doing your business on the side to grow it. If you don’t, your savings will go extremely fast. Every time you make a plan, things will change and evolve, so go into it knowing that.
What’s next for Blue Ocean Life?
We have super fans all over the world that share their photos with us. We are trying to expand that social media presence by building the community, especially on Instagram. I’m also focused on becoming a social enterprise and donating a percentage of our profits to charity.