Imagine waking up every single day for the last 400+ days and having one thing ever-present in your mind. How are you going to build a business? How are you going to create something that can have a meaningful impact and support yourself and the others working for you?
At 23 years old, I wake up every day with the pressures of juggling 10 things at once, and then going to sleep having to do it all over again when I wake up.
Sometimes it feels as if there is a drill in my brain prying down as far down is it can go. The drill is me thinking and functioning to create more ideas and get more “juice” for the day or late into the night so we can execute our organization successfully. When the juice is gone, I’m exhausted. But, there is always that quenching thirst for more…
At the end of the day, sometimes it’s hard to measure whether I’m playing guesswork, succeeding, or falling flat on my face. This journey is truly a battle, one that tests you, exposes you, and tells you to quit. I’m not listening.
Our team at Wish Dish has taken an idea and turned it into a website that has had 300,000+ total visitors, 400+ content submissions, and now a monthly average of 15,000 – 30,000 views. We have shared stories at 13 different colleges. We have partnered with different businesses in Athens and Atlanta. We have also built a social following of over 6,000+ combined from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We’ve established an incredible foundation in little over a year.
In October 2014, my senior year of college, I was taking an entrepreneurship class with Chris Hanks. It was a fall day in October, and Professor Hanks was talking about going through the “dark night” meaning entrepreneurs go through a journey of ups and downs.
A classmate (stranger to me at the time), Michael Gargiulo, CEO of VPN.com, ended up raising his hand and giving an honest testimony of his struggles through the entrepreneurial journey.
It put a chill down my spine. While I didn’t know Michael I could point him out by his throwback Atlanta Hawks hat. I was working with the Hawks running a college program, so I decided to bring Michael a new Hawks shirt to let him know how much I appreciated his thoughts in class. Before I knew it, Michael and I became really good friends.
At the same time, I was also working on a blog called Influence (the infancy of the Wish Dish). The idea was to have people write something meaningful to “influence” others for the better. I shared these stories once a week on the blog. Michael then messaged me saying I should start my own website. Now that’s an idea…
After many late nights staying up messaging Michael from 10PM-2AM asking him how in the world to set up a website and finding a great friend named Aalok Patel, www.thewishdish.com was born.
I remember launching Wish Dish in the basement of my house in Virginia around early January of 2015. I went through my phone, asked all my friends to share the website on social media. What I remember most from that first day was all the people asking me, “What in the world is Wish Dish?” a question that lingered for months…
I soon realized that creating a successful website was so much more than setting up a domain name and inserting a design on WordPress.
I told a bunch of people in my classes to write for the site and they kept asking, what is Wish Dish?
Wish Dish soon evolved into a place where someone could express themselves, offer their story to the world and either embrace or walk away, closing a chapter.
I told these people the same prompt over and over again, “Write something meaningful to influence others for the better. No limits, no boundaries, it’s your story so make it you.” The open prompt and the willingness for us to hear various points of view is still a staple of our site.
It didn’t take long to realize that we were on to something. After reading the first few stories by Andrew Holleran, Chuck Blakeman, Dev Iyer, and Carden Wyckoff their posts received hundreds of likes on Facebook. They were given incredible support and feedback from their friends.
I was starting to resonate with people in such a deep way I never had before and learning things about my friends I never knew.
This was fun, we were making an impact, and building the start of something truly unique, memorable, and something that mattered
When I entered college I was on this mission to set myself apart from others due a low point in my life I won’t get into. By connecting my passion with sports early on in life with my business interests, I spent my freshman to senior years working relentlessly in the sports industry learning everything I could. If I chose a different path I would probably be working in the sports industry right now. But when I was approached to take a job up in New York, I hesitated. I knew that wasn’t my purpose.
But doubts still lingered.
I remember one conversation that was a real gut-check for me on whether I really wanted to continue with this site or to pack my bags and find what some might call a “real” job.
In the middle of February. I was leaving the gym on UGA’s campus and I called a mentor of mine named Chris Harris, CEO of Entrepreneur Hour & Lift It.
I told him, “Look Chris, I just don’t know if I can do this anymore. I should probably go to NYC and work.” His brevity was apparent, and he said, “Well, it’s your decision, do what you have to do.”
Chris built a multi-million dollar moving business bootstrapping every penny. There was a reason he was disappointed, especially after helping me for the past year and half.
Later that night I received a Facebook message from Chris basically saying to me, “Look Bryan, I can’t help you anymore if you are going to give up on your dream. Put on your armor, get tough, and be a man and continue on your journey.”
To simply put it. I had a tremendous amount of fear. I was thinking about giving up a huge job opportunity to risk it all for a vision that I had no idea would work.
I flew home to Virginia after spring break in mid-March. I had to have a serious talk with my parents about my plans post-graduation. It was not a conversation I was excited to have, but it was one that was necessary. I knew I would be facing an uphill climb.
Honestly, I felt deflated. My presentation to them was so lackluster. I was talking to my own parents, yet I was petrified the entire time. They had no idea why I wanted to pass up a great opportunity like a job in sports business. But I told them that I wanted to create something, not just view it as a hobby, but a gift I would offer up to the world and be remembered for.
Three hours later we walked away from our meeting place, both of them agreed to let me try and figure it out.
Now, I tell this story not to put down my parents (they have been the most supportive figures in my life from when I was a child. And that’s the truth), but because I believe this is a conversation that 90% of entrepreneurs face unless they were born into a family that just “gets it.” It’s just one you have to have.
A few months later, I graduated and the real world hit me hard.
I remember starting my first day working full-time for the site on Monday, May 18th. I was still in Athens and all my college friends had left. I stayed behind while everyone else seemed to be embarking on the next chapters of their lives.
I will never forget the feeling of being mentally paralyzed the first few days. I had no idea what in the world to do or where to start. But I knew three things, just put my head down, start, and pray that it will all work out in the end.
But, some people help you figure it out along the way.
Part of the process was understanding the business I was in so I tried to surround myself with resources who could help me succeed.
Richie Knight, founder of HW Creative was offering classes the spring semester of my senior year on Content Marketing and Search Engine Optimization. I started going to his classes and meeting with him for coffee to pick his brain. After several discussions, Richie offered to help us build a professional looking site (our second site).
It was one of those pick-me-ups that come out of nowhere, that really helped accelerate our journey. This is a common story that has continued where it seems like the right people continue to walk into our journey at the right time.
A special thank you to Richie, because we wouldn’t be where we are without you today!
While we set out to start a revolution of self-expression where people could dive into the deeper sides of their lives beyond what is seen normally in social media or everyday conversation, we didn’t realize what giving a voice would do for some of our community members. There are a few stories that really stick out in my mind and really show us we’re at the crossroads for something special.
One story to denote was by Josh Jones who wrote about overcoming his challenges with dyslexia. He had never written something like that before and it empathized with so many people. His story circulated through the entire Braves organization and now is working with the Brewers in the operations department pursuing his dream to be a General Manager.
Another really neat story came from Victoria Arnold when she submitted a piece about her rare sleeping disorder. How she could be so personal and open about such a hardship really shook me to the core.
Throughout this process people have approached me and said that I am making a difference in people’s lives. That I’m pulling back the layers we’ve used to isolate ourselves in a culture where information is available at the swipe of a tablet yet we couldn’t be further apart. They told me this mattered.
Special thank you to those who have reached out along the way. Now to the people behind the scenes, the ones in the trenches.
To build something extraordinary, I believe that you need to surround yourself with phenomenal people. To begin this process I asked one of my best friends, Shelby Novak, to come on board and help set social media strategy (Shelby has been a consistent force for us to this day). Her social media presence keeps us relevant and open to the world.
The next key addition was adding our editor to the team, Matt Gillick. Matt is a Providence college graduate, and has an incredible understanding of literature, writing, and the framework of a story. He started editing all of our posts and now manages all content for the site and has brought two more editors on board. Matt has worked steadily with us since March and feels that every story we put out can have the chance of touching a person at a human level. We at the site deeply care about your words and have an editing staff who value them.
Another key piece to our team is Sam Dickinson. I asked Sam to join us in August after coming off his summer internship with Southwest Airlines. Sam serves in setting our site framework, public relations, and content strategy. When it comes to a clear vision and implementing those ideas, Sam is second to none. With Sam, we have found new and better ways to present our content.
Without an internal team working toward the same end-goal and mission, we truly wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s these people who are doing all the hard work behind the scenes that no one accounts for when looking at the platform as a whole.
From Day 1, we have set out to build a community that connects people through the sharing their story, whatever it may be. We have set out to give people a means to express themselves in their authentic voice. We have done both of these in a small way and we plan to keep doing so.
We realize that we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to keep moving forward in creating a platform that evolves with the needs of our community. We envision a community worldwide where people use Wish Dish to share specific life chapters because they know it as their place to share their story.
As long as someone has a story to tell, a song to sing, a beat to stomp to, The Wish Dish will be there to put the microphone in your hand. Express yourself and join us.
Hi! We are Mackenzie and Isabelle and together we make MoonaLuna, a fashion blog that encourages others to express themselves through personal style.
We have been friends since middle school, forming an instant bond with our mutual love for fashion.
Kenzie’s lifetime adventure of being a fashion-addict sparked at a very young age with creating fashion shows for her parents in their living room. While her living room fashion shows slowly came to an end, her infatuation with personal style has continuously grown throughout the years.
She enjoys incorporating many different styles into each outfit she designs and wears. She is inspired daily by artists (her sis Britt Bass, Andy Warhol, & Frida Kahlo), films/directors (Almost Famous, Wes Anderson, & Annie Hall), and people (Stevie Nicks, 90’s Drew Barrymore, & Jemima Kirke).
Isabelle’s obsession with fashion started at an early age due to an aversion to any physical activity (besides shopping). She was born and raised in Atlanta, GA and part-time in Brooklyn, NY. Her diverse family encouraged and inspired her unique sense of style and passion for expressing herself through fashion.
She draws inspiration from people (MiMi Elashiry is a current fave), places (anywhere from Paris to a coffee shop in Williamsburg) and the past (think 70’s).
MoonaLuna is the perfect combination of the two of us. We created this blog in order to have a creative outlet for ourselves in the fashion realm. Isabelle was about to move to New York and Kenzie was taking on Atlanta. We wanted to have a medium that would allow our shared love of fashion to eclipse distance while being able to showcase different perspectives of style in each city.
We also wanted to use MoonaLuna to inspire others to be creative, unique, bold, and confident through fashion. We want to encourage passion for all that you do whether it be fashion, singing, writing, etc.
We hope you follow along with us on this journey and feel inspired to be bold and fearless in all of your fashion choices. You can follow MoonaLuna on Instagram @_moonaluna and MoonaLuna.org.
When I moved to Athens in ‘95, it didn’t really feel like a choice but more of a default. I had a free ride at UGA with scholarships and grants, and my highschool sweetheart would be going there, so why not?
Fresh out of college at 22 and ready to take on the world, I instead met the man who would become the father of my child and we decided to stay in Athens–for the moment. Just temporarily, I told myself, until we could figure out our next step as a family. I got an opportunity to open my own boutique, Remnant, selling my work and the handmade pieces of others.
But by 27 I was a single mom and unable to keep my business afloat while adequately supporting my child. My friends were moving on to bigger cities and even other countries, dreams I shared but saw no way of making a reality.
Instead, like so many of my artist and musician friends, I spent my nights in service industry jobs, renting a cheap apartment whose location allowed me to get by without a car, and working on my passions when I could. I continued to sell my work at events and shows, while holding down two or more other jobs, and unsure of how to make my art my living.
I knew that I was happiest when I was making things, and being around others who did the same. I never felt more at home than when I was at a craft fair, getting to know other creative people and seeing what they do. But I couldn’t see a way to translate that into my day to day life.
Unbeknownst to me, during this time the seeds of my future were being planted. A friend suggested that since I had so many connections with artists in town, maybe I should just start my own market.
What began on a whim–the very first holiday market was put together in a little over two weeks with a group of about 20 artists–turned into my first true sense of connection to the broader community here. As Indie South Fair grew, I came into contact with people I otherwise wouldn’t have known–people that weren’t in my social circles, but who also wanted to make a living doing what they loved.
The feedback was encouraging, with people telling me how well they did at my markets and how much they appreciated my hard work. It felt good, knowing that I could facilitate the dreams of others as I worked toward my own.
As time went on, I met people who weren’t itching to get out to Brooklyn or San Francisco or Portland where many of my friends had gone. People who saw Athens as fertile ground for cultivating some of the more cosmopolitan aspects they sought without sacrificing the slower pace of life we all appreciated.
I began to see that there was an opportunity to help create the town I wanted to be in without uprooting my family or my life, alongside people who truly cared about their community. I started to embrace Athens, not as the college town I never left, but as place that already has the makings of everything I want, and the people willing to put in the work and time to realize their dreams here.
My Fall event more than doubled in size, and my Holiday event swelled with almost a third more artists–not just locals, but people from far-away states who are hearing about all the great things Athens has to offer and want to see for themselves. Athens has shown me that it loves what I do, and I love doing it here. Now I am collaborating with some of the other businesses that have sprung up to promote and serve our creative community.
I sense a fresh energy here, one that seeks to maximize the potential while preserving the original charm. I see myself as being able to have an impact and a voice in our community, as someone who creates something that has a ripple effect throughout our town. Many people are moving here not to go to college but to make a life here, recognizing that Athens is worth investing themselves in.
Indeed, I made such an investment myself last December, in buying my first home here. It’s an historic in-town property that has a special place in the Athens music scene and in the hearts of many who have passed through it.
It feels good to know I will have a hand in preserving it. Also this year the man I fell in love with closed the distance between us by re-locating from Atlanta to make his home here as well.
This year, after living here almost 20 years, I can now say I have chosen Athens as the place I want to make my home and make a difference. A small corner of the world that feels like mine, and that I want to share with others.
Serra Ferguson is the founder and organizer of Indie South Fair, a series of markets featuring local artists and craftspeople that pops up around town throughout the year. This year’s December holiday market featured over 100 vendors and created tens of thousands of dollars in holiday spending on local businesses. Check out Indie South’s smaller pop-up shops at Broad 9A in the Chase Street Warehouses the third Sunday of every month, and keep an eye out for their Valentine’s Market February 6 at Creature Comforts.
When I was a boy, my family didn’t earn a lot of money. I had two older brothers, and my Dad, or “Deddy” as we call him, got a late start on his career as a rural mail carrier. My Mom rarely worked a job but rather spent every waking hour raising her 3 rambunctious sons. It’s funny how material things don’t matter to a passionate young boy. I was always into something, always creating, always playing, and my childhood was filled with mostly positive thoughts, something that came natural to me.
Perhaps the greatest memories from those years was not of little league baseball, or riding the school bus through the winding back roads of Franklin County, or fall festivals at New Franklin Christian Church; it was the time that I spent working in my Grandpa’s 3 acre peach orchard every summer.
He’s had that for as long as I can remember and even to this day as Alzheimer’s has crept in, it’s still there. My brothers and I would wake up early and ride up to the orchard with my mom in one of our old beat-around cars and we’d spend most of our time there playing or watching a small black and white television that was tucked away amongst cobwebs and dry-rotted peach baskets in the back of our roadside stand.
Our earliest chore was picking up rotten peaches that had fallen to the ground and hauling them to a spot on the property as far away from the trees as possible. When we turned 12 or so, we were allowed into the picking crew, an outfit that consisted of Grandpa and a revolving door of great uncles and members of our local church. V.F. was the leader and picking peaches was his cup of tea so to speak. He had an extra pep in his step during harvest season because the entire year culminated during that time.
And while his mind was focused on peaches, he never shied from sharing life stories and nuggets of his infinite wisdom with us. He’d grown up during the Great Depression, wasn’t allowed to play football because football was during cotton picking season, moved to Atlanta at age 18, worked at the Varsity and Rich’s, married my Grandma at the courthouse in Jackson, GA, and raised my dad and uncle for a decade in Smyrna before returning home to Franklin County.
He worked a day shift at a factory in Athens and spent the evenings working in his beloved peach orchard. And up until a year or so ago, you’d be hard pressed to drive down New Franklin Church Road near Canon, GA, and not see him out there, doing what he loved.
Anyone around him could feel it and it was contagious. It made waking up early every hot summer day worthwhile, and it brought us all closer together.
So when I started Peach State Pride in January of 2009, it meant a whole lot more to me than a logo or a clothing brand. It was, and still is, a deep passion for who I am, where I’m from, and what it takes to be a great steward of what I’ve been given. When people think about Peach State Pride, I hope something substantial resonates with them, something deeper than a logo or a favorite hat.
I’m not sure why I was lucky enough to stumble upon my passion a couple years after graduating from college. I’d almost all but fallen into the idea that my life was going to be a grind; a career that I couldn’t wait to retire from. I was working a couple of travelling labor jobs that took me all over the country and put me side by side with some rough folks that gave me a good old fashioned baptism into the real world. I got a steady dose of life lessons in those first few years.
I spent a year or two building playgrounds in what seemed like every small town in South Carolina. Each town we’d travel to, whether it was in the Low Country, Upstate, or Pee Dee region, you’d see the Palm Tree and Crescent Moon.
Naturally my first thought was that I wished Georgia had something like that, so during some downtime I sketched out a peach logo of my own and began the dreaming process. I literally never looked back. My dreams were big from day 1 and I’ve never lost sight of its potential.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the growth of Peach State Pride from a logo on a scratch sheet of paper to a multi million dollar operation, is how my business knowledge was even more modest than that scratch sheet of paper. I was the son of mailman, not a businessman; I was a history major, and at that particular time I was a construction worker trying to figure out my life. I wasn’t prepared to run a business.
The first few years were difficult; filled with long days, failed sales trips, foolish moments, naive thoughts, bad hires (and good hires), bad purchases (a screen printer), lack of funds, lack of direction, and just about every learning experience you can face when starting a business. But through it all, the business grew and I was always able to survive the day. And to top it all off, I married well.
My beautiful wife, Kari Beth, is a Georgia Tech grad with a Management Degree and a focus in Marketing. She also worked in the corporate world for a couple years. I’m not real sure what she saw in a construction worker with unidentified life goals, but I’m glad that she did. Not only are we best friends, but she’s also the reason we are where we are today.
Kari Beth has single handedly implemented systems and structure into our business that have allowed me to continue to dream big, network, be creative, and grow Peach State Pride. It has allowed us to open 3 successful retail stores in Northeast Georgia. The most recent, Empire South Athens, is a 4,000 square foot space Downtown on Clayton Street. She brought corporate structure to a small business, allowing us to grow more seamlessly.
Through it all, I’ve been able to work side by side with our employees, and hopefully they feel invited into the dream, just as I felt with Grandpa. I go to work with passion, speak in meetings with passion, and make every decision possible with passion.
Being an entrepreneur is not unlike being a passionate young kid. You just follow your heart and it takes you places. And when you’re zealous for what you do, the embarrassing moments or difficult obstacles can’t stop you from achieving your goal. My goal has always been to stay connected to that old man in the peach orchard no matter where Peach State Pride or Empire South takes us, that my heart will never forget where I’m from and who I represent.
Thank you to My Athens for making this possible as we highlight incredible people and wind down 2015.
In conjunction with our My Athens partnership, Wish Dish is sharing stories from influential people within the Athens community.
My time in Athens began in the fall of 2013; I was a 19-year-old, leaving home for the first time to travel 100 miles east to attend the University of Georgia as an economics major, and I enjoyed taking photos on my phone. Skip ahead two years, and I’m 21, a photographer majoring in advertising (after switching majors countless times) and serving as the My Athens Social Media and Photography Director. This didn’t just happen—there was plenty of stumbling along the way.
What is only an app to some people became crucial to me as I photographed my daily life freshman year. Through Instagram, I developed my eye, shared my story, and pushed myself to discover every amazing thing Athens had to offer. I even met other photographers, who showed me sides of Athens I didn’t know existed.
It may have been a little awkward meeting people through this app, but I’m all for the idea of putting myself in uncomfortable situations to allow myself to grow. An uncomfortable meeting arranged through Instagram is actually how I ended up where I am today; the first time I met the people behind My Athens was through a series of Instagram comments and email exchanges ending with me on a blind date of sorts—wandering through a restaurant I had never been in, trying to meet with a group of people I had never met. But hey, it all worked out. I needed to embrace discomfort.
After contributing to the platform for a few months, I took over as the Social Media and Photography Director. I was eager to help My Athens become more than a loose stream of photos of the city. I was unaware how taking this position would change my year in Athens.
This position inspired me to get out in the community, see what was going on, and tell the stories Athens had to offer. Such pressure usually has a negative connotation, but this time it kept me on my toes. I couldn’t stay inside all day Netflix-binging out of pure laziness. I needed to attend events, try delicious food, and meet the unique people who make this city great. Otherwise, who am I to help tell Athens’ stories and show its beauty?
This drive to experience all of Athens has taken me places I never thought I would end up. I’ve downed hundreds of cups of coffee all over town, stumbled out of bed at the crack of dawn to catch sunrises from the tops of a parking decks, and nearly fallen through the trestle behind Mama’s Boy. Without this position, I doubt that I would have ever sought out the biscuits at White Tiger that remind me of my grandma’s, attended art shows at GMOA alone, or wandered through just about every building on UGA’s campus to find those perfect study spots far away from the crowds of other students.
The people I’ve met in all these wanderings make it that much better, from making friends with classmates to valuing the relationship with the barista that makes my coffee on a near-daily basis.
I never imagined where these people would end up drawing me to, either, since in the past two years I’ve traveled all over the southeast with the Georgia Rowing Team, road tripped from Athens, GA, to the Grand Canyon with a couple of close friends I met in Athens and flown to New York City to visit a friend, who I of course met here.
People follow this account to keep up with what is going on in the city and yes, to see beautiful photos of Athens, but some people are here for the nostalgia that these photos inspire for a place they’ve moved away from by now. This idea of creating a window into Athens, which people can look through from wherever they are in the world to keep up with a city that they once called home, is humbling.
It makes you realize that you were not here first, this is not your city, but instead you share it with everyone else. You should treat it with respect–don’t spend four years here and leave trash in your footsteps, because this is just another step in your life before you move on to your next city. People live here and love this town.
My past year in Athens has been transformative. Athens has gone from a city where I attend college at to a place I call home, which will always have a place in my heart. When I left for Thanksgiving break this past November with my family, we drove to Florida, and on the way I saw a My Athens sticker on the back of a car–call me obsessed, but after only a few days, I couldn’t wait to get back to Athens.