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Matt's Startup Story

Matt's Startup Story

In 2009, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth and immediately started working for an engineering consulting firm.

When I joined the company, there was just one other employee and the owner. It was a salary position and being a small startup, there was rarely a 40-hour work week. Over my tenure there, I probably averaged 60 hours and hit a max of over 100 hours one week. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but it was what was required at the time. There were even nights where I slept at the office.

In 2011, a client hired us to create a sexier version of the Pedal Pub. I took charge of designing and manufacturing this product. We made about 30 during my tenure there and sold them all over the world. I even purchased 3 myself and started a business running them in Minneapolis called The Traveling Tap.

During that time, my strenuous engineering job was going full tilt, and I was running the Traveling Tap. I traded my nights and weekends to drive the bikes and perform other daily business activities. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) would even work with me there for free just so she could spend time with me. I missed countless events, weddings, birthdays of friends and family for work. 

In 2014, I went to a friend’s cabin and there were some paddleboards there.

Sara, loved it, so I immediately thought that would be a great Christmas gift for her. I began searching for the most cost-effective option and came across an ad on Craigslist for a local guy making paddle boards. I shot a message and connected with Pete Mogck. We quickly figured out that we knew each other from middle school basketball and high school. I was interested in the business so invited Peter out to a happy hour at my favorite Thai food place. Coincidentally, it was the same place I took Sara to on our first date. We shared a lot of great ideas, business successes and failures, and decided we should join forces and see how far we can take a paddle board business.

I hadn’t told Sara much about my initial meetings with Peter, as the initial reason I was meeting with Peter was to buy a paddle board for her for a Christmas present.

At this point in my life, I had just purchased my first home, and was saving money to buy Sara an engagement ring. Cash was tight but Peter and I needed to put some money into the budding business for manufacturing and tooling of products. Unbeknownst to Sara, the seed money for Paddle North was her engagement ring fund.

Her engagement was delayed, but all worked out in the end. 

Things Begin To Get Serious

Jump ahead to 2016 and Paddle North is going full bore—I’m working 50-60 hours a week at my engineering job, 20 hours a week on The Traveling Tap and 20 hours a week at Paddle North.

I’m seeing the writing on the wall that Paddle North has way more potential than The Traveling Tap ever will. We move forward to liquidate Traveling Tap and all of its assets. The warehouse needs for Paddle North were growing and we needed to use the space for inventory instead of the Traveling Tap business.

In September of 2016, I proposed to Sara and joined Paddle North full time. No more Traveling Tap, no more engineering job.

Going from 3 jobs to 1, you would think my hours would reduce, but they increased. Peter and I had to do everything to work on the business and in the business. We were bootstrapping anywhere we could. If we could do something ourselves to save money, we would. We opened our first pop up shop in Rosedale Mall for the 2016 holiday season. It was a smashing success but a lot of long draining hours. We then went and found any trade show we could find traveling across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, making sales and signing up retailers to carry our products.

In 2017 we built a team. Still working crazy hours just spread across three guys now. For the first time we started, I took time off to get married and go on a honeymoon. We hired another guy and started to get humming.

We hired more people and opened more mall stores. Operating Rosedale, Mall of America, and Ridgedale.

Busy Lives and Busy Business

From 2018 to 2019, we still have a lot of crazy working hours as we opened new mall stores in Minnesota and Michigan, and also bought our first building.

We hired more people, did lots of construction and finally had a space we thought we could grow into. Still working extended hours, still traveling to trade shows, our Michigan location and China.

This is the year of familial growth as well. I have my first child and Peter has his second child. Life is still hectic, and our wives are carrying a heavy load at home.

By the end of 2019 we’ve got stores in Mall of America, Rosedale, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and northeast Minneapolis. At this point, we’ve grown rapidly, and our Paddle North staff is spread thin, including Peter and I are covering extra shifts to keep the stores full. We continued working at Minnesota and Wisconsin state fairs 12–14-hour days, attended a lot of events, and went to 37 different trade shows around the country.

2020 hit and 2 months into our new space, we’ve already outgrown it. We’ve got 25 trade shows in the first quarter of the year to attend. Life is still a bit nuts but we’re gaining more balance as we have more of a team. But then BOOM—COVID hits. All our stores and events shut down and we don’t know what to do. 

Adapting To The Unexpected

The pandemic ends up being a fortunate situation, we don’t have to lay any one off and online sales begin humming. Were flush with new challenges of supply chain and the obvious COVID-related issues. We’re working tirelessly to keep up, but beginning to see a lot more home life as stores are closed, and events canceled.

We get a taste of what business could be and as our kids are growing, we’re realizing what’s important. The goal for this business would be to provide financial security for our family and time with our family.

Things were so wild and unpredictable it was hard to do anything but tread water for all of 2020. We developed some new products but spent a lot of time organizing our building and setting up systems to handle the increased demand of 2020.

2021 was full of a lot of the same challenges, events were coming back which meant more nights and weekends away from family. We continued on a rocket ship of growth. The COVID outdoor boost was still happening. We’re still treading water and hired new people to help us with the way our business has shifted. We saw real traction online and had new demands of our business and our time.

We purchased another building and went through the process of renovating a historic building in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lots of travel and late nights to make that happen. In November 2021 we opened our standalone Grand Rapids warehouse and retail store.

A New Phase of Paddle North

The real estate bug bit us during the pandemic, and we purchased and renovated two other properties on the side in 2021. This is very rewarding but time consuming and often working after my son is in bed at night.

2022 sales softened a bit from the peak pandemic demand. Mall stores are still a large time commitment, and we begin the search for our new HQ as we’re currently managing multiple warehouses with inventory.

We purchased three more properties all with large renovations required. We moved into our new headquarters in New Brighton—another massive undertaking of moving our entire operation and scaling up again, taking on multiple construction projects. Lots of long hours and nights and weekends continue as we still have the mall stores, as well as all events are back on. We did 25 events in 2022.

2023—the tides are turning. We finally have space and a more experienced team. Peter and I can start pulling out of the day-to-day business and working on the business. We both adapt new working schedules to prioritize family time—I’m working 7-4 so I can maximize my time with my wife and son.

We’ve continued to purchase more properties and expand our real estate business as well. We’re always on the hunt for more opportunities, but the next phase is about focused growth. 

Excited for all that 2024 has to offer and the continued story of Paddle North.


Lois Josefson

Your founding story is impactful. Thank you for sharing it. Would you be open to exploring other ways for you to bring your hard earned insight to other founders? I hope the answer is – yes – because there’s a group of people who would like to have that happen on April 11, 2024! Hope to hear from you! Be proud of yourselves! Thank you.

Bill Howe

Great success story and happy to have been a very small part of it’s beginning with our first conversation at the sports show in Saint Paul.
I wish only continued success!

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