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.