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How Mike of Marine Layer Found His “Aha” Moment

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This is the first time that I have profiled a guy for my “Aha” interview series and I think I am starting with a great one!

I first discovered Marine Layer when my husband’s friend used to rock one of their great t-shirts with the signature logo of someone in a hammock tied to the Golden Gate Bridge. I loved it immediately; great logo, colors, fit and quality. (From my Gap buyer days I know a good t-shirt when I see one)

And then they opened a store right in my hood, the Marina district of San Francisco. When I learned that the founder, Mike Natenshon used to work in finance and made a career change to do this, I was even more intrigued. Love profiling local stories like this.

Here is his story:

Tell me about what you do for work.

I run a casual clothing company in San Francisco called Marine Layer. We make awesome t-shirts, polos and hoodies. I started the company because I could never find really soft, good fitting shirts and my girlfriend was getting tired of me wearing the same five shirts over and over again.

What type of work were you doing prior to what you are doing now?

I worked in finance as an investment banking analyst. No fun.

What kinds of frustrations did you have with your previous job?

Too many to list probably. But at the end of the day I just don’t think I was meant to work in a cubicle all day cramming away on excel models.

How did you come to discover this was what you were meant to do?

I didn’t. I just started trying to make a nice t-shirt. Turns out there is a lot that goes into doing that. I found it really rewarding trying to solve all of the different puzzles that come up when you’re trying to turn a concept into a viable business.

What fears did you have to overcome to take the leap?

The scariest part of it was taking the financial leap. I had to put around $25,000 onto my personal credit cards to get our first run of shirts made. I believed in the product, but usually you have to take a financial leap of faith before everyone else does. No one is going to pre-buy your product and investors aren’t generally just going to give you money before you assume some of the risk yourself.

The other piece that was difficult was just putting yourself out there to potentially fail. All of my friends and family knew what I was trying to do and the thought of it not working out always seemed embarassing. In reality, almost everyone wants to see you succeed and they don’t care if you don’t so that was a pleasant surprise, but it was stressful at first.

What do you love most about what you do?

I don’t know. I love it all even though most of the work is very normal stuff. I work a lot more than I used to and am a lot more stressed out, but I wouldn’t ever go back to what I was doing before. There is just something different about having ownership over something that makes it much easier to work at and makes every day tasks a lot more rewarding. I love shipping out our shirts every day. Packing the orders and taking them all to the post office is very tangible. Feels like I’m accomplishing something every day. Maybe my standards of accomplishment are too low, but it’s fun…

If you were to give advice to people thinking about changing careers, what would it be?

You don’t have to go crazy and throw some coffee in your bosses face and march out of your office, but at some point it will take a leap of faith to try something new. I’m not sure if my business will succeed or fail, but either way I’m much happier now and am glad I took a chance.

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