Who Is Travis Stoliker? What is The Year Of The Opposite?
An introduction to this newsletter.
First: Thank You to all the new subscribers to my Newsletter. I appreciate you. Because we have so many new subscribers, today’s newsletter is going to be a bit different. I thought it would be appropriate to provide a bit of background on myself, explain what The Year Of The Opposite is, and let you know what kind of writing you should expect to receive from this newsletter.
Reminder: As a reminder, my name is Travis Stoliker and I was one of the Co-Owners of Saddleback BBQ & Slice by Saddleback. I just recently exited and handed off the restaurants to their founder, Matt Gillett. I’m now focused on writing this newsletter. Read this Business Insider article to learn more about the Year Of The Opposite.
Who is Travis Stoliker?
I'm Travis Stoliker, my journey started at Holt Public Schools, continued through LCC, and culminated at Northwood University. Today, I call Haslett home, enjoying life on Lake Lansing with my wife, Laken, who works for the Edward Lowe Foundation, and our lively 5-year-old son, Lane.
I believe deeply in the responsibility of community service. Currently, I serve as a trustee on the Haslett Board of Education and on the board of Ele's Place. My past contributions include the East Lansing Zoning Board of Appeals, East Lansing Info (A citizen journalism non-profit), and the board of the only angel investing organization in the area called the Capital Community Angels.
My hobbies include running, pickleball, golf, water skiing, boating, and hockey. My skill in each of these endeavours ranges from decent to downright terrible. Reading and writing are two of my most treasured pastimes.
My true passion, however, lies in the business world.
Where my friends follow sporting teams, I follow business. “Business is my sport” is a phrase I’m guilty of saying far too often.
Business started early for me. When I was about 12 years old, I ran a tiny hockey league and shared a paper route with my best friend, Matt Hill. During Highschool and College I learned a variety of skills by working at D&M Silk Screening, L&L Shoprite, Schneider Sheet Metal, and Big George’s Home Appliance Mart.
I graduated from LCC with an Associates degree in Applied Sciences, Media Technology (Audio & Video Recording). I worked at WILX as a production assistant where I helped broadcast the 5pm, 6pm and 11pm news. I worked in Master Control and ended up being elected as the UAW Union Steward for my department at WILX.
I was told at the time that I was the youngest UAW Union Steward, but I can’t confirm if this is true or not. We actually had to strike and successfully got our pay increased to $6.96 per hour. It was at that time that I knew I had to either move to a big city to make more money in this industry, or try a different trade.
I decided to try a different trade: Sales.
As an aside, I still firmly believe, everyone should have at least one sales job. Sales is a skill that you can use your entire life. I sold refrigerators, dishwashers, and $70,000 42-inch flat screen TV’s (Not kidding!) at Big George’s Home Appliance Mart and then I learned to sell Television Advertisements at Millenium Digital Media. I won’t go into the long details, but I got fired from both positions because one closed and the other got sold. This left me very disillusioned about working for companies.
I ended up securing an amazing job at one of the best employers in town, TechSmith. They taught me about everything from marketing to software development. I went from Salesman to Product Manager in a short while.
TechSmith provided me a lot of great experiences and memories. My first airplane ride was a flight for TechSmith. The first book that I loved reading, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, was for Techsmith. The reason I got a bachelor’s degree was because of TechSmith tuition reimbursement.
But the biggest thing that TechSmith taught me was the love for learning and growth. When I left the sales team and joined the Camtasia product team, Camtasia was the lowest sales product at TechSmith. In the short time I worked on it with my mentor Troy Stein, Camtasia became the highest sales product in the company that year. Watching that growth was like a drug for me. I loved it.
I learned at that moment what I was passionate about. I loved helping companies grow.
While at TechSmith, I had an idea for a product called “Project Streamer”. TechSmith didn’t want to develop it, so I reached out to my old friend, Matt Hill, who founded Liquid Web. As I recall, around this time, Liquid Web had about 10 employees and maybe a million in revenue. But I could be a bit off on those numbers because it was a long time ago. Liquid Wed ended up developing Project Streamer and this started the professional relationship between me, Matt Hill, and Chris Strandt.
Around this same time, I got it into my head that I should grow long hair and a long beard. My appearance got pretty out of control. Bill Hamilton, the founder of TechSmith, didn’t like my new look and he asked me to correct my appearance. In an act of youthful arrogance, I refused, and nearly lost my job.
To my good fortune, around this same time - Matt Hill was thinking about growing Liquid Web and starting the first sales and marketing efforts at the company. Because of our successful partnership on Project Streamer, Matt asked me if I would join Liquid Web. Liquid Web was quite a bit smaller than TechSmith at the time, and I was nervous about making the change to a smaller less well established company. After serious debate and negotiating my salary over Jager Bomb shots at Harpers, I accepted the position and was excited about the opportunity to grow Liquid Web with Matt and Chris. And I’m sure glad I did.
The next ~10 years at Liquid Web were incredible. We were growing revenue every year, building more data centers, and hiring new employees at an insanely fast rate. As I recall, but I could be wrong, I think we were an Inc5000 fastest growing company in America for the next 8 years in a row, which I believe is a pretty rare accomplishment.
We grew to 480+ employees, 3 data centers in Lansing, a data center in Amsterdam, one in Arizona, and an office in Ann Arbor. We grew sales to ~$80million in annual recurring revenue and we successfully sold the company to private equity for $224million in 2015. It was an absolutely amazing run and it was incredibly fun.
Matt Hill, as the founder and main equity holder, received the vast majority of the money, as he deserved. And I was fortunate because as a phantom equity holder, I received a significant amount of money from the sale. I consider myself very fortunate. In a future post, I will detail how phantom equity works and the advantages/disadvantages.
Also in 2015, I was fortunate enough that Matt Gillett asked me to invest capital to help start Saddleback. Many of you already know that story but some of the things I’m most proud of are that we expanded to four profitable locations with presences in Spartan Stadium and the Breslin Center. We launched a line of BBQ Sauces & Rubs that grace the shelves of major retailers. Food Network named Our Rib Sandwich one of the Best Sandwiches in America. Mental Floss Magazine honored us as the Best BBQ in Michigan. We were recognized with awards like the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch, SBDC Small Business of the Year, and the Greater Lansing Business of the Year.
But what I’m most proud of is that Saddleback remained profitable for all 8.5 years and our community engagement was a cornerstone of our success. We donated thousands of meals to those in need, cleared student lunch debt at local school districts, assisted during natural disasters, offer a 401k to our employees, and we were among the first companies to try pay transparency.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of some of my favorite organizations in the Lansing area. From School Board, to Ele’s Place, from WILX to TechSmith, from to Liquid Web to Saddleback - I feel incredibly blessed to have made small contributions in a diverse set of industries.
Life has its interesting moments too.
This year to my surprise the local Kiwanis club awarded me their Citizen Of The Year Award. And in 2016, I was humorously named the 2nd best Uber driver in Lansing after completing just one ride. And in 1997, I survived a scary incident when an ice skate cut my throat during a hockey game. (Video Below)
This is the bullet point version of who I am focusing mostly on my professional experience. It feels a bit boastful talking about all this and I’m certain that I got some of the dates and details wrong but I made my best effort to be as accurate as possible. I provide this background because I think it’s important that you have a greater context about the perspective with which I view the world. Rest assured, this is not the traditional format for these posts.
So that leads to the big question:
What is The Year Of The Opposite?
The Year Of The Opposite was a personal challenge that I set for myself in 2022 to change my life by doing the opposite of what I had done before. In February of 2022, one of my best friends died and two more would die over the next 5 months. It plunged me into a depression that I had never experienced before and one that couldn’t seem to escape.
So in the spirit of the old quote “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”. I wanted to try to shake things up, I embarked on a journey of doing the opposite of what I had always done. It was inspired by the Seinfeld episode, The Opposite. If what I was doing wasn’t working, doing the opposite should fix it.
For example: instead of sleeping in, I’d wake up early and make the bed. I’d start working out, I gave up drinking alcohol, I started playing sports, I grew a mustache - Essentially, I would do the opposite of what I had done before and my hope was that it would reverse my depression. And thankfully, it worked! But it did much more than just cure my depression.
The Year Of The Opposite led me to lose 62 pounds, run barefoot for 7 miles, undertake a 14-minute cold plunge in 42-degree water, swim about a mile across a lake, complete a half and full marathon, run 1,000 miles in a year, learn to hold my breath for 2 minutes and 43 seconds, and conquer spicy foods by completing the blazing wings and Hot Ones Challenges.
But most importantly, I cured my depression and I reversed several of my health conditions. After about 6 months of doing the opposite, my doctors cleared me to stop taking medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. This was a goal that I never thought would be possible.
My personal Year Of The Opposite radically and profoundly changed my life in a positive direction. At the conclusion of the first year in March of 2023, I had a decision to make. Should I keep doing the Year Of The Opposite, or should I go back to my old ways?
The answer was obvious: On every metric, my life was far better during the Year of The Opposite. I decided that I would keep the opposite going and I needed a new challenge. I decided to launch the Year Of The Opposite Newsletter and Podcast that you are now reading/listening to in hopes that sharing my story might inspire others.
I deeply thank you for following, subscribing, listening or reading. It means the world to me.
What Should You Expect to Receive in this Newsletter?
My writing tends to focus on Technology, Business, Marketing, and interviews with people that I find fascinating. But the biggest thing that I try to focus on is positivity. I try to find good news and positive stories from around the world to share. My goal is to be a living example that it is possible to change your life if you wish to. If you have any suggestions for topics that I should cover, please just comment below or reply back to this email.
Here are some of the most popular posts on the Year Of The Opposite so far this year:
Podcast Interview with Michelle Rogers - Surviving the Unthinkable: Michelle Rogers on Matthew Terry's Brutality and the Deadly Consequences of His Early Release from prison. My former co-worker, Matthew Terry, stabbed her 7 times yet somehow Michigan let him out of prison after only 3 years. Tragically, within 5 months of his release, he killed his new girlfriend.
How I Lost 62 lbs & built a habit of working out everyday. (April 14, 2023)
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