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Early Days of Paddle North

Early Days of Paddle North

The early days of Paddle North were - and I use this word fondly - scrappy. The only way I've found to explain it is to say there were an ever-increasing number of hats with very few heads to wear them. It felt a little frantic, but we always had upward momentum.

This is in no way a story unique to us. Small businesses every day go through their equivalent of production delays, hot days with no AC, and a non-stop flood of orders. It's a common tale to be running and grinding just to keep the machine going. It's a common position to look around and think, “Someone has to do this, it has to be me.” Job descriptions and titles don't matter in those moments; you just do the thing in front of you and move on to the next. In the wise words of Jesse Ventura, “I ain't got time to bleed.”

I jest, but in all honesty, I look back on those days happily. That type of work had a reward that we’re still reaping to this day. No matter the size of the job, it helped us survive. To be very clear, I’m not pretending that I did anything high-level. No watching trends or planning big moves. I printed labels, carried boxes, and drove many (too many, you could argue) miles in a beat up van to deliver boards. I took customer service calls, managed a mall store for a while, and worked trade shows. Eventually, I even learned how to screen print and make the shirts for the company. Nothing on my plate was really all that exciting or earth-shattering.

In short, I wore a lot of hats. We all did. Here's a video from six years ago describing my daily duties in the company.

But the type of organization I described, where everyone does what is right in front of them and the burden is shared semi-equally, with all of its rewards, is not sustainable. It may be necessary short-term. Everything has an immediacy. It all feels do-or-die all of the time. However, the owner(s) of a company can't always be in the thick of it forever. Every employee can't be a jack-of-all-trades. Eventually, we have to pass some of the hats to others, and they have to stay on that person's head. Someday, we have to specialize. 

It can be a hard thing to realize as an employee. A lot of job-seekers go to small businesses for the freedom to learn and work with less oversight and increased motivation. It can be great to have opportunities you would never find in a corporate structure. You can learn skills on-the-go and gain a new position or title based on your work ethic and personal contribution to the company, not the number of years on your rèsumè. The closeness and immediacy pushes you. The trust someone else has put in you is a strong motivator. In those moments, you'd shoulder large burdens just to keep things moving.

But when that structure changes and the free reign you had starts to diminish (even if you gain other benefits), it can be a scary feeling. It can feel like the ground you've trusted up to this point has slid out from under you. 

It's not a big secret; our company is building and normalizing processes. Bit by bit, we change and build the management structure. People who can maintain those new processes move to positions to continue implementation and create new ways forward that build us up. Others follow those processes and firm up the structure. The owners move into the positions that only they can do well: forecasting, solidifying the brand, and moving forward. 

Growing with the company, I've learned that it would be silly to think that the old days, as alluring and fantastic as they are with their stories of daring and danger, are what we are dealing with currently. We have already built the base. We have weathered storms to get here. And now, it's time to shore up what we have and build. There will always be struggles, but they may not look the same as they have previously. 

I grew up in the company wearing many hats. Driver. Printer. Shipper. Seller. I have done a lot of tasks and given my best effort, but I've learned over time that in order for us all to grow, I have to give some of those hats up to those that can do it better, because not everyone can be a jack-of-all-trades. My job is to focus and bring something new. We have those positions that we can push and excel at. And sometimes, it needs to be us who decide what that looks like. 

Adding value isn't looking at the past at what you've done. It is carrying that motivation into a new path. It can be a very difficult thing to realize as an employee. Realizing it, however, can make all of the difference.


// Cory is Paddle North's longest tenured team member.


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