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From Tech-Startup to Making a Wooden Pen with His Dad: The Story of Allegory

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
January 10, 2023 3:04 am

From Tech-Startup to Making a Wooden Pen with His Dad: The Story of Allegory

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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January 10, 2023 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, for Chad and Jess Schumacher, life seemed to be going really well and as "according to plan" as life could... and then life took a number of sharp and unexpected turns. What resulted shaped their family and career for the next decade.

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Granted making pens from historical woods and leather goods inlaid with ancient fabrics is certainly a strange enough idea for a company to elicit that kind of question. I usually just smile and give a few sentence answer about my dad teaching me about pens and the rest just sort of happening but the whole story is much more well it's just more. In summer of 2011 my wife Jess and I were both working at a tech startup. We just announced that we expected our first child and at the time we were both driving luxury cars living in the stereotypical suburban dream house. The starter home we lived in when we got married made a nice rental property that usually paid its own bills. We didn't have huge salaries or savings but we had stock in a company we were helping build that we hoped would be worth millions relatively soon. We had some credit card debt from our efforts to keep up with our business peers and more traditional companies but all in all we had life by the tail.

My parents were retired and had gotten back together after a divorce and they were excited to become full-time babysitters to their first grandchild. What happened over the rest of that year would dismantle all of those things and it would teach me that sometimes things have to fall apart before they can really come together. The company Jess and I worked at had been sort of a proving ground for me. I dabbled in various forms of garage entrepreneurship and freelancing after college but this company had real investors and a chance for me to apply myself to a larger more established industry. I started as essentially a graphic designer but I was the only marketing staff so I wore lots of hats and eventually my work expanded into both marketing and business development and that's when I really learned how the sausage was made. Between the inside look I got into some big name client and partner organizations and the day-to-day dance of the inside of a startup I can't imagine any opportunity creating more learning and growth in a few short years. The first crack started to show and that company began to feel pressure of getting to the end of its financial runway. Any mistake started to seem bigger.

Trying to hold the team together and manage a high profile deal pipeline and raise capital to bridge the gap proved to be a pretty impossible task. I don't remember if it was just before or just after the birth of our son Liam when our last paychecks came but I know that for the first few months of his life myself and a handful of others worked without pay so that what money was left would let us fulfill our obligations to our clients. I remember setting my alarm for 5 a.m every morning so that I could make sure that our servers were up and notify our tech contractors of any issues before they felt them. After Liam was down for the night the evenings were spent on the back porch of that suburban dream house with my wife. We lived on the far edge of the Chicago metro area where skyscrapers give way to subdivisions and subdivisions eventually give way to cornfields. We looked out over the fields watching planes on their way to and from Chicago's airports and we talked about our future and Liam's. Around this time my father had taken up woodworking in his retirement. He and another friend who had bonded around their time in Vietnam would make pens together.

He made me one and I really liked it so he'd been bugging me to come down to his place and make some with him. Between a new baby and the upheaval in our work life that got put off for weeks. Then one Saturday morning my phone rang. It was my mom. She told me something was wrong with dad and she needed me to come down.

I texted the folks at work to cover for me and Jess kept an eye on Liam and down I went. When I got there I could tell right away that dad wasn't himself. He was distant. His memory seemed to have just vanished. Mom told me he had a headache all morning and then he got sick to his stomach and when he sat back down he looked at her and asked her how he'd gotten there. Something had happened that was bigger than nausea and he couldn't remember much of anything. So at this point we're terrified it's a stroke and we rush into the hospital.

On the ride there I keep asking questions to see what dad did and didn't remember. I wanted to give the doctors as much information as possible. I don't know much about neurology but I know different regions of the brain have different jobs so maybe some little detail could help them work fast. They ruled out the stroke relatively quickly and told us he had something called transient global amnesia.

The doctor tells us there's no guarantees with the brain but that most patients recover and that he had no idea how long it would take. The doctor told us that he had a heart attack and after some attempts to reassure us without giving false hope he left. Mom and I sat with dad.

I updated family. Dad remembered he had a grandson but it seemed like other than that most of the last few decades had been wiped clean. Only the most important memories, names, and faces remained. I remember considering the possibility that he was one who wouldn't this was his new normal. My father was in his 60s but he'd never shown his age. He'd grown up a farm boy and served in the military.

He was the kind of strong that could sneak up on you. Not long before this he had helped me and some friends dig a huge trench on our rental property to do some work on our foundation. Four or five of us dug by hand for three days because bigger equipment couldn't reach the spot. All of my friends were in their late 20s and some of them knew their way around a shovel and he moved more dirt than any two of us but he couldn't remember any of that right now. After a few hours his brain started to dig memories back up.

It seemed to start in the past and work its way forward. I watched his brain rebuild itself and I watched him relive much of his life as it came back to him answering his various questions to help him piece his reality back together. I remember as he was starting to get into the current decade he asked about his sister who had died a few years previous. What about Donna?

What's she up to? He knew there was something important there but he didn't know what and mom and I looked at each other and she hesitated so I told him his sister had passed away. For 15 or 20 seconds he mourned her all over again as he absorbed the news before drifting back into the fog to rebuild some more.

I broke the news to him about Donna three times before it stuck. As the evening hours came dad started to be more like himself. His doctors were less cagey now. Having seen his progress they assured me it was likely to continue until he recovered and that his hospital stay was unlikely to last more than a couple days. I dropped mom off, I went home and I got some rest and sure enough after a couple days I picked my dad up from the hospital his old self only missing a few hours of memories of the morning before his episode and when we pulled into his driveway he said okay let's go make that pen we've been talking about.

So we did. He showed me all the wood chunks he'd prepared for pen making and the different types of hardware. The woods had names I'd never heard and came in colors and textures I'd never seen and the hardware reminded me of some of my favorite pens. Dad's favorite part about the pens was the way people responded to receiving one so he'd often say now if you give somebody one of those oh I picked out all the parts of my first pen and I started to work on the lathe.

I was less concerned with the finished product and more concerned with what kind of techniques were possible with the chisel so I still have that pen but it's pretty ugly. And you're listening to Chad Schumacher tell the story of how his company allegory handcrafted goods came to be and there are so many reasons why people start businesses so many reasons why people do the things they do that have nothing to do with the obvious and it has something to do with profound shifts in their family life and in their personal life and you can hear it in Chad's voice something deep and profound happened to him and he just had to be there. By the way if you have stories like this and I'm sure you do just listening you're nodding your head and it's good and it's okay to say hey that sounds like the dream but I got some reality in front of me that's better than the dream and it's more important than the dream.

If you've got a story like that send it to I know there are tons of them out there feel free to share them when we come back more of Chad Schumacher's story his family's story his father's story his father's story here on Our American Stories. Sean Brace here from your favorite new podcast Brace for Winnings it's where we talk all things wagering on the NFL. New episodes will be available every Thursday to get you ready for the prime time action and all the big games going down over the NFL weekend. We will cook up same game parlay strategies cover all the money making matchups and look to find what we all want when we place a bet winning wagers. 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of health and human services and we're back with our american stories and the story of allegory handcrafted goods after his father had a health scare Chad Schumacher decided to take him up on the offer to make a wooden pen in his garage wood shop let's pick up where we last left off that night I dove into research of what I thought might be a new hobby for me and my dad but as I looked at the hundreds of types of hardware available and their pricing I couldn't help but imagine a business around making these pens one that didn't include servers and seven figure monthly retainers or investors or any of the things that were currently involved in my work life and then I started looking into woods and I found one called ancient cowrie it was 50 000 years old from a tree that had been part of a forest that was buried underground in new zealand for all that time it's one thing when you use fancy wood but it's a whole other thing if that wood has a story especially one that spans millennia I felt like there was an opportunity to make products that really meant something more than just a list of features and a price tag I wondered if there were other reclaimed woods out there with interesting stories and before long I had a whole list redwood from decommissioned pickling vats cypress from the bottom of the mississippi river even a board that one vendor had in their back room that had been part of the cuban revolution from there it became about what the brand might be how could we take the raw materials available to hobbyists and make sure it all felt like a real product and company and I'd heard about this new website kickstarter that created something called crowdfunding crazy folks like me could post their product idea and people would buy the product while it was still an idea giving you the funding to make it a reality on one of those back porch nights with jess I presented my ideas to airliners crossed in front of the sunset over the cornfields I could say that the most important moment for allegory was our kickstarter launch day when complete strangers bought seven thousand dollars worth of pens or maybe the moment when I settled on the name with two of my closest friends in an evening drive on the north side of chicago our old stomping grounds but that wouldn't have been enough to see allegory through some of the trials that it's faced when I realized a year or so in that I'd started a company that probably needed around 200 000 in funding to do correctly and all I had was my dad's bandsaw and maxed out credit cards I would have given up if that's all there was to it entrepreneurs talk about bootstrap funding starting a company without outside money in our case that just meant that we were willing to make up for not raising money by skipping paychecks and solving problems ourselves instead of outsourcing to someone who already knew what they were doing boy howdy did I underestimate the amount of figuring out we had ahead of us we started allegory in my dad's garage within a couple months we moved it to ours to save on commute time and about a year in we found a great deal on some unused space in the upstairs of a friend's business this was going pretty well we had some customers some employees and some revenue it was starting to look like a business and then we got the notice that we'd missed all the mortgage payments our bank was going to allow it was time to foreclose on that suburban dream house sell my car and move both our family and allegory back into that little starter home we got married in cramming allegory into the basement we had finished after digging the trench with dad allegory went through two other resets like that in the last nine years times when no amount of sweat or creativity was enough to cover the cost of creating a manufacturing company with an e-commerce business model out of thin air in both cases we had to lay off most or all of our team and go back to just jess and I toss in raising liam and having our second son griffin in the same time frame and it becomes clear pretty quickly that something else was keeping us on this path and all that time ago on the back porch my wife who is wise in ways i can't express had it all figured out after i walked her through my little pitch that day she said to me you know with the things going on in our life right now liam our jobs the way our future is being changed so much and then getting the first glimpse of your dad getting older they're really going to need a lot of help in the next few years and now you're finding this pen business through him this all seems like god is up to something and that was it we were doing it i had a job offer but that wasn't much of a consideration and that understanding that allegory was a journey we were meant to be on is what kept us in the game through all of those challenges because years ago on my back porch my wife had the wisdom to know that we were going to god was at work so fast forward to 2020 allegory's had a pretty solid year in 2019 we were starting to feel like we'd recovered from the most recent reset we'd put away enough money to start planning more than two months ahead which only helped us save more and we'd finally pulled together the technology and know how to scale our digital marketing efforts after lots of trial and expensive error we'd gotten pretty good at making our products and teaching others how to do it too we had even recently moved out of that little starter home and found a place with a 14 car garage that dad and i converted into the perfect space for allegory and we just finished moving mom and dad into the same neighborhood in a house that was perfect for them to retire in we felt ready for some big growth and it would come but not yet one day in january jess was taking mom to a doctor's appointment and dad had one at the same time just called me as dad and i were on our way home and said we're going to need to talk let's meet back at our house and i said yeah we've got stuff to talk about too mom had been struggling with her memory and that day she was diagnosed with alzheimer's and dad's heart murmur had grown into full-blown valve failure he would need open heart surgery we were able to look them both in the eye and know we had the freedom to be there for them through what promised to be a tough year and then we started hearing reports about covet 19 dad's surgery was delayed and then eventually put back on the schedule because it couldn't wait he would spend two weeks in the icu afterward but the risk of his current heart valve failing was deemed greater than his risk of dying of covet his surgery went well his new heart valve gave him a good prognosis but when he woke up something was off he had something called post-op delirium and this time he wasn't himself it wasn't just his memory it was all higher level brain function that was missing he couldn't reason or hold conversations and the first thing that came online for him was his fight they were worried he would hurt himself or someone else so the hospital decided our best bet to keep him calm and alive was for me to come in when i got the call they were able to waive covet visitor restrictions i was in the car in minutes and when i walked into the icu dad was surrounded by security guards who were likely just about to try to restrain him because he had just swung his walker wildly at some of the staff dad might be a bit older but he's still over six feet tall and very strong the chances of them getting him under control without opening his chest back up didn't look good fortunately i was able to calm dad back down we went back to his room and we waited for his brain to rebuild this time it took two weeks just made a camp style bed for me in our van because the idea of staying in a hotel near the hospital seemed too risky during covet and we lived 45 minutes from the va hospital he was being treated in and 45 minutes might have been too long if his confusion led to another moment of rage dad was still a little foggy when we brought him home but over the next few months both his body and his brain righted themselves we rolled out the growth plans we had for allegory once dad started feeling better and they worked we're only halfway through those plans now and we're already on track to double our best year ever it won't always be an easy road though we were reminded of that in january when we were in the middle of a record breaking month and my phone rang again this time it was dad worried about mom since we'd moved them into our neighborhood i was able to pick her up and get her to the er in minutes and as a result a major stroke that would have almost certainly been fatal turned out to only have minor long-term symptoms in a way the parts of her brain she lost were the ones stressing her out and while she needs a little more help now she's happier and more connected with all of us so i know this story was supposed to be about starting a business we spent all kinds of time talking about just about everything else here's the thing that job offer i turned down when i started allegory it was out of state i wouldn't have been able to look my parents in the eye and promise to be there for them i wouldn't even have been able to take them both to the doctor that day and i don't have any brothers or sisters i wouldn't have been there to help them find a home to retire in 40 minutes closer to the hospital in three minutes from my house i wouldn't have been able to rush in to be with dad at the icu to help him stay calm long enough for his brain to come back i wouldn't have been able to rush mom into the er for life-saving stroke treatment that little baby who was sleeping in the other room while we talked about pens on the back porch would have lost his grandparents way too soon and yeah it was hard lots of sacrifices were made compared to if we'd pursued more traditional work but we've proved a few times now that finances can be rebuilt and people can't so if you're feeling like you're being pulled into something big and you're not sure if you should go through with it i can tell you three things you're probably underestimating how hard it is you're probably also underestimating yourself and it's probably worth it in ways that you can't possibly predict and what a beautiful piece of storytelling great work on the production by robbie and a special thanks to chad schumacher what a story and what a piece of storytelling and that's why we do this show folks it reminds us all of the stakes on the table in our own lives and how we can elegantly and beautifully live them and still live your dream but it's just a different dream now it's just a different dream and in the end i'm sure the shoemakers would say a much better dream than that one in that high-tech startup in downtown chicago chad schumacher's story a family story like few we've told a beauty a real beauty here on our american stories when 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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-10 18:42:22 / 2023-01-10 18:52:15 / 10

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