You just have to celebrate the victories, whether they're monetary or whether they're milestones.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Glen Collins, founder of Autside, to hear what his experience as an entrepreneur has been like. Being an entrepreneur from a young age, Glen shares his journey to his light bulb moment, fueled by personal experiences and purpose.
I grew up in Dallas my whole life. I went to school here. I went to high school here in Dallas, and I went to school in the Midwest at the University of Kansas for College. I think that I came from a pretty entrepreneurial and artistic family. My grandmother was a fine artist, and my dad was a cartoonist and studied landscape architecture before he kind of sold out and got into real estate stuff like that. But he's just a super creative person. My mom was a real entrepreneur, a really strong leader. My parents actually got divorced when I was in high school, which actually was pretty traumatic. My brother and sister are a little older, so they were away from home. The divorce was kind of centered around the economics and finances of the family, which was tough, and so my mom had to kind of pull together this financial mastermind, and she ended up sort of starting this marketing business that was very entrepreneurial, very innovative.
I was kind of her buddy along the way, and I was old enough to kind of see the blueprint of the sort of an entrepreneurial thing. It was very stressful and very exciting. She ended up having a really awesome career with that business. That was exciting. Then my brother was one of those guys that was always making the T-shirts in college for his organizations, and so I ended up making T-shirts in High School for spring break, or for this club, or that event, or whatever.
And so translating creativity and messaging and design into fun experiences was always part of it.
I ended up going to the University of Kansas, and my mom put me through that, which again, I was very grateful and very respectful of what it meant to have sort of an entrepreneur spirit through stuff and survive and thrive. I ended up studying marketing communications. Then I graduated and kind of jumped into my first gig with an agency.
My early career was kind of agency marketing and sales-relate work. So it was all in the lexicon of what I wanted to do. I ended up starting my own agency, which got blended with another agency called Switch and that’s still trucking today. So that's kind of the back story of me.
As for Autside...and why we're talking today…
Switch is a branding agency. We do lifestyle branding. We work with a lot of consumer lifestyle brands. We work with a lot of B2B and real estate nonprofits. I kind of had a front row seat to some incredible stories and incredible sort of concepts and ideas, and then ultimately products and product designs and spaces and environments and helping them tell their story and build those brands.
I've always kind of thought that the yard games category was just sort of out there and it didn't have any kind of brand that anchored it. The brands that are kind of ubiquitous in the category are more synonymous with, like, maybe Amazon or big box retailers. And they're kind of cheaper versions of the stuff. And then if you want nicer versions of the stuff, you kind of have to seek it out on Etsy or find a one-off manufacturer or brand that makes these killer Corn Hole boards, and I don't think this stuff is particularly cool.
So I just sort of told my friends my idea, and they're like, “you want to get into product development and product sales?... That sounds really hard.” I've seen my buddies do it, and sp of course I call these people.
“Just get ready because it's a lot,” they would say. My initial idea got a lot of pushback, but then I was still just excited. After meeting with these guys, I got home and started playing with my son, who happens to be autistic, and we're playing games in my backyard, like Corn Hole and Ring Hook and such. I thought, “This is what I like to do.”
Cam, who's my son who is Autistic has a twin brother, and we just like to do this stuff. So then I thought what if this business gave back to the Autism community? Play therapy and its ability to connect these brands to Autistic individuals is a really big deal. It really helps for socialization, for fundamental skills, and to build confidence in so many different ways.
And then I really couldn’t shake this idea.
I remember I was sitting in Church and my son would always go to the very front row and just give all the love to the band that's playing. And I thought, “Oh, my gosh.” I didn't have a name for the thing yet, but it was clear. This is about getting off your screen, getting outside, being with friends and family. It's also about serving the Autism community. So I just had this divine moment where I was like, “What if it was just outside with an A, like, just flip it.” And then that way, there's a nod and a connection that's in the brand for the Autism community.
But then I thought there was no way this brand is available, so I'm sneaking my phone in Church and I just type in the words outside with an A. It was open. So long story short, there's too much cool stuff happening here to not give this a shot. So that's how it all started.
It's funny. My mom kind of modeled it when I was in High School, and that was a really dire situation. It was a divorce and a scenario that had dramatic moments that were tied to risks and opportunity. But for me personally, I like the idea of creating stuff, and I always have. Whether it's creating an experience - I'm a little social engineer, so I like to invite friends to come do this or that and make that experience special or be a part of a bigger, fun event.
Well, I've got this cool deck. So I'm just going to go talk to a few folks that, at the very least, you have a beer with me.
My agency has a concert series, and I kind of spun up the idea to switch concert series’. I love stuff like that. And, the first time I sort of stepped out there, it was in middle school. We were graduating middle school and I thought of a tee shirt idea that would be funny. I went to Highland Park High School, which is in Dallas, and it's referred to as HP. So I came up with this T-shirt that said, “Preparation HP.” And literally, I just copied the Preparation H box. I mean, parents, of course, were like, “Are you kidding? That is so gross and dark,” but I sold a bunch of them. Then I sold T-shirts all through high school, and that’s around the first time you take on risk.
You think about…”My cost of goods is X, and my expenses are X. And then if I sell them for $15 or $12 or whatever, I think I could make a couple of grand.” So that was that deal. That was kind of the first entrepreneur moment. Then the second time I took a big swing was starting my own agency. I actually was in a scenario where I was working for an agency that needed kind of a dynamic shift to happen. They told me I needed to go out and find some business. So I was going out and finding business in the form of marketing services. So, I was doing all the work, and then I was like, “well, shoot.” And I was completely faking it till I was making it. But I knew just enough in my little mini kind of career in the marketing world that I told myself I can figure this stuff out.
So I did. I started this little marketing consultancy, and then it ended up being that I ended up hiring some people and sort of selling and trying to figure out how to be a relevant marketing consultant. But doing a ton of tactical services and staying up way too late and screwing up. But it was good. Then I ended up meeting my wife.
I was like, I've got this little thing going, it's going to blow up any minute now. I just want you to know who you're getting involved with because I'm not the most attractive suitor out there. I'm doing this entrepreneur agency thing, but she was super supportive. But when I ended up partnering up with my agency partner, Kimmy, that was a huge deal because she's great and we both sort of share the entrepreneurial load. And I've got great advisors on the outside now, too.
Then more recently, during the Pandemic, I help create this thing called Readers and Queso, which is literally we delivered and chips and queso to people. That was cool.
Autside is a lifestyle brand that basically manufacturers, or designs and manufacturers, quality yard games. A portion of all sales goes to nonprofits that support Autistic individuals. Our flagship yard game is what we refer to as Bags and Boards, which is Cornhole. We also have a giant jungle product that will be dropping and probably Q two of 22. It's called Structural Integrity, but we're currently selling our Pickleball stuff. We have a Basketball. We did a really cool collaboration with that and some other kind of accessories. We do a lot, but the brand will be anchored by product sales in the yard games and outdoor games category.
It wasn't really hard for me to do as a branding guy. We actually work with a lot of brands where we have to help folks tell their story, and help bring up a narrative to a concept or an idea. So I've done so many brand guides and decks and stories, and even some of those are kind of spun as investor decks. I kind of knew how to get this thing on paper. And I knew kind of what images and things like that to kind of pull together brands that we wanted to align toward target market stuff. So I made it myself and forced myself to put this deck together.
Then I was like, “Well, I've got this cool deck. So I'm just going to go talk to a few folks that, at the very least, you have a beer with me.” So I showed it to one guy and he wanted to get involved in it. He was the legs of the stool as far as the mission to get people outside, to get people unplugged, to be together, to listen to music, to play games that are passive and not that competitive, and to have a cool design, and innovative products. That led me to call my buddy Matthew Huft in Kansas City, who has this incredible design studio.
They do incredible work all over the country and so I asked him to help me with product design. Then I just started talking to a few more folks who wanted to get involved, and it all just kind of happened. We started talking to potential community partners who where the folks that we want to give back to in the Autism community, and they were super supportive. So we still have a little ways to go before we are fully frothed up with all the products that we want to bring to market, but it's going now and it's exciting.
We have two who are dedicated to all the transactions of outside community partners. One is called ACEing Autism, and the other one is called To Be Like Me. ACEing Autism is a program, a tennis program, that my son is in. It's been super meaningful. I grew up playing tennis as did the whole family, but my wife just isn't huge into tennis. But this program kind of pulled us into tennis and pulled my other son into tennis. So it's been incredible. When you’re a parent of a kid with special needs, it is kind of sometimes really isolating. You take them to this therapy and this therapy and this therapy. But ACEing Autism brings the community together, and all these kids are kind of on separate courts and playing together.
The parents are all together, and it's situations like that that gave me a lot of energy and hope. It's just so well run. It's international. There are deals all over the country for it. So it's pretty neat to meet the founders of that. So I got involved with it. That program is about connecting real empathy to people with special needs, and whether they're autistic or they have another situation, it's about creating real life scenarios. These leaders model those for different audiences, usually students and kids. Then the kids get to ask them questions, and then they get to talk through things peer-to-peer because they just saw a simulation of what it feels like to be an Autistic person on an airplane or something like that where there's all these sensory triggers.
It's just an amazing program that was developed by some very innovative therapists and communicators, and we just kind of had little relationships with both of those groups. So we asked if we could give back to them.
We didn’t want their promotion, we wanted to just earn their trust. We told them, “We just want you guys to know that we just want to support you through what we're doing.” And then, of course, there's all kinds of different sort of activation ideas that have come from those relationships to where we can support one another. So that's it. That's kind of it for now. But we've got other conversations as we're amplifying our sort of awareness into the community and into the world. We're excited about some other relationships that might be coming along, too.
That's a hard question. My agency works with a lot of brands that are wanting to connect to a cause, and everybody wants to or at least they want to try to be as authentic as they can. I've honestly seen it where some of these organizations, these brands, these products or whatever their connection to the cause may be pretty thin, but it can really grow and be meaningful over time because they worked at it and connected to it. And then now it's like so much a part of their heart and so much a part of what they stand for.
But it's hard for me to kind of unholster the judgment gun on that because I think that it's a really great thing that there is this ESG component to the world right now, the environment and governance around giving back and social good. I'm all for it. I'm kind of cheering for everybody, and however they find their path in that respect.
I do feel like Autside and my connection to Autism is a very real thing at the end of the day.
The biggest challenge was the global supply chain. Launching a business during the pandemic is one thing, and there's a lot that have watched a lot of good ideas, a lot of free thinking. I think there is a really interesting kind of entrepreneurial sort of buffer that happened probably worldwide. But having just the whole process of trying to get something designed, developed, prototyped, manufactured, doing it all remotely and then feeling it has been wild. So we did a Kickstarter. I don't know if you knew this, but we did a Kickstarter to launch the brand and to get people to presell and to raise money.
And there was a marketing agenda behind it and obviously a fundraising agenda behind it. But it was like, all this stuff is going to happen on a date. We were supposed to be distributing all of our bags and boards and really launching the brand in August. And then things got delayed. And then, oh, great. Here's this big surge in Vietnam, and they literally had to shut down the factories and everything we're doing to manufacture a couple of products in Vietnam. So long story short, that was really like I was dealing with all this stress.
But, we got past our fund goal, and then there was just so much to that thinking that I was going to lead up to this big company launch. The global shipping was a kick. And then I think just direct consumer stuff is hard. And I think our story is a little bit more complex than I thought. It's like, what is it that gets people outside with these products and then the mission and having it all kind of come together in this sort of overlay people's attention is small.
And Amazon is right there for you to get whatever you want, a little bit cheaper and a little bit faster. So navigating the whole D2C side of the equation, but also dealing with these timing and inventory challenges. So then just probably just balancing my career because I'm stressed between two running an agency and having several employees that me and my partner need to employ and keep fed and keep motivated and inspired and then also having an employee full time with outside and then the list.
I'll tell you, it is challenging. Sometimes there is a mental health trick that can be done, but you can only take so much bad news or so many kind of, like, moguls on to kind of cruise around sometimes. First of all, I've got an incredible family and loving wife that's been super great to help me navigate this stuff. I have incredible business partners and a team at Switch on the agency side that's been super supportive and flexible and knowing that they're, like, just my role as client director is primarily around business development, and so making sure that we've got a really full pipeline and that all the pre engagement agendas are squared away. That's where I've got to make sure that we've got plenty of business coming in the door in that respect.
And then Autside is... “What am I trying to tackle this week?” I just love the problem solving and the education. I'm a doer. I love to check things out. So I've loved to kind of be like, “Oh, my gosh, I can't believe the website is up... I can't believe this video thing got that... I can't believe we did that again... I can't believe we launched that product.”
You just have to celebrate the victories, whether they're monetary or whether they're milestones.
The obvious stuff like taking care of your mental health, like sleep, food and how you manage exercise. You have to commit to that stuff to a degree to make sure that you can be as productive as you can. So my loose commitment to those agendas is coupled with that. I've really gotten into Todoist, which is a really good platform to help me sort of manage what to do by priority. But I'm still sort of juggling.
I don't block time well enough on my calendar, and I have two calendars that conflict. I feel like my cultural contribution to the office sometimes is pretty weak these days because I'm so head down, but it's fine. I think it's good. I'm getting pretty good at stuff and making sure that I just keep it realistic. Just have realistic goals for every week and know that you can only control what you can control and do what you can do. That's basically it.
And then you mentioned a really important part. My wife needs me to come home and co-parent, and we have a kid with special needs. He does need attention. My wife puts in a ton of work as a working mom, but also as a parent, shuttling around and handling a lot of the parenting agendas. I can't go home and just flip over the laptop again. So I really try not to do that as much, even though I’m running a business that wants to support the office and community.
Well, I mean, there's kernels of hope and there's kernels of fire. There are trends of success for the business that I'm like a Hungry Hippo to grab. For instance, the marketing machine is tied to a lot of different agendas around PR and digital and events and stuff like that. And it takes a while to sort of deploy all of those. Then, we have a huge B2B side, too. That's got some really interesting traction and B2B in the form of hotels and resorts, country clubs, student housing communities, multifamily communities, master plan communities, and senior housing communities. They all need this stuff. They all want yard games to activate, to engage the community, to help with lease-ups, to do all these things. And a lot of these developers, they have to buy this stuff anyway, if there's a heart behind it and there's better quality materials and it fits well with their brand. And they're delighted to be a part of the opportunities and excitement around. But just like, at a base level, being inspired to help the Autism community and to do something I love.
I've literally gotten to play with this brand in the way where I'm like: Well, we're going to do this thing called Scenes Autside. And it's just funny movie scenes where they're playing outside. I love movies and I love pop culture and stuff, so the football scene from Wedding Crashers is really funny to me. So I thought about us doing that. Then we have another thing called Sounds Autside, which is playlists on Spotify that are connected to just outdoor stuff. One's called Tailgate. There was the Pickle mix, which is like a pickleball mix. And then we just did one called Too Much Sauce, which is for the basketball launch. And then we'll do a holiday one. And then we'll do an al fresco one and we'll do a backyard party, all these things that I love to do. I'm just doing them for this brand and packaging them as cool as I can.
I did think about this a little bit. So I would say that having great mentors and advisors, services and agency-side and product are so different from logistics to marketing to product development, cost of goods, sold, margin compression, all that stuff. I mean, I didn't know any of these terms one bit, like even a year ago. So I've been very blessed to just be like, okay, I feel like I've got a real sort of vacuum of knowledge that I need to figure out here. So I'm just going to reach out to this guy that I think is in that space.
And before you know it, they're a vital part of your organization as an advisor or something. And then just in an emotional support system as well. I mean, making sure that advisors are helpful on the business side, but just with personal mental fatigue, just having a good support system for that stuff. And then as you said, this idea of having a core belief in the mission and the cause and in yourself and really kind of having a North Star all that is crucial.
It can be a slog. You just have to be like, I’m doing this. I'm usually wearing Autside gear all the time. You make yourself put it on because this is what you're doing now. This is my thing and it's not hard to put on, but it's like, yeah, this is another day to tell this story and get it out there. I think also just any entrepreneur stuff, try to have an attention to detail. And I think all those certainly in like, the product development stuff. That's where it gets real. You want to have these breakthrough victories with people experiencing these products.
There's so many articles out there and there's a lot of fluff and motivational speakers. I mean, there's all kinds of information out there. So I think the more real conversations we can have, the better.
Honestly, just learning aspect of it is really fun. And I love making these relationships and figuring out certain things and kind of building a team around the different challenges and then kind of getting stuff knocked out and then just making sure that you celebrate theories and like you said, those milestones and any progress that you can measure and building things creatively, going through a process, built something and take it to market, whether it's like a piece of art or an album for a musician or a product or whatever.
It's just cool. I enjoy the process of creating the products and stuff and also creating the messages and the promotional content for people to try to digest. That's what I like. Then seeing the progress. It's just new and fun. And what's fun about Autside is like this is probably the dumb part of the business, but it's just got so many different ways it can go.
I mean, if I just rolled out three or four yard games a year, I'd be like, it would take me a dozen years just to do that. But to get into all kinds of different spaces, even if you just concentrate on, like, swimming pool or just so many different products as an approach. It's fun. It's just fun to think about and dream about. And it's really happening. All these little collaborations for basketball with top designers, for example. I thought I would do these in year two or three, but I had to go now because I have relationships with these brands that I'm like, a total fanboy.
I mean, if you feel like the moons are aligning or the stars are aligning for an opportunity, go for it. It's a lot of hard work, but it's ultimately really incredibly rewarding and incredibly exciting and exhilarating. I'm just excited to see where this all goes. And I'm just so grateful for groups like NINE15. I'm just so grateful that people are resonating and wanting to help us tell the stories.
I mean, if you feel like the moons are aligning or the stars are aligning for an opportunity, go for it.
Katie shared the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, especially during the pandemic, the process of building her brand, and wants to use her brand to encourage actively enjoying life.