Mike Wills is a long term resident of Traverse City, MI. He has started Scuba North, Sail North, Sail Plan, The Harbor Boat Shop, Black Mountain Yacht Club, Traverse Area Community Sailing, The Discovery Center, and helped create in town developments : Uptown, River’s Edge, Fairway Hills, etc and more
Chelsea: All right, this is my first attempt at an audio blog for The Conscious Entrepreneur.
One person who has driven me to be an entrepreneur, to find my own path by example has been my own father who I see as “the water entrepreneur.” I’m with him here today in my studio and would love to hear his story.
Mike, from what I know, you went to school UofM with an architecture degree, and when you left, you opened up a scuba diving shop in Northern Michigan. What drove you to do that?
Mike: Actually it started long before that. It started with as a child doing the usual things to make money. I cut grass, shoveled snow, delivered newspapers, all those usual things but then when I was at scout camp, I was interested camping equipment so I found out that you can buy wholesale if you had a sales tax license. I got a sales tax license and bought camping equipment at wholesale and sold some to my friends.
Chelsea: At what age was that?
Mike: 16. Then I went but I was involved in water all my life. I was in the swim team as a kid, life guard, swimming instructor at camp, scuba diving, snorkeling during the summer. When I went to UofM, I had the opportunity to take a diving class at college and did that. We ended up buying our diving equipment from the local supplier who sold out of his home and he, when I went there to buy a mask and fins, said that he was going to be leaving town and I said, “Would you sell you business? And he said, ‘Yes.” And so I bought it and I was selling diving equipment from my apartment in Ann Harbor for at least 2 years, maybe 3 before I decided to move to Traverse City. Of course water has been my passion and I already had a dive shop, this just made it official.
Chelsea: How did you know that this was the leap you were going to take? What drove you to love water so much and give up everything you studied and go for it?
Mike: My love of the water and love of diving. I had already been selling equipment, the most exciting things was to be able to teach other people as an instructor and into get a boat and go ship wreck hunting and ultimately a [inaudible 00:03:16] and sonar and a dive shop and chasing your passion.
Chelsea: About how many people would you say looking back did you pass on that love for water to through sailing, through scuba diving, through jumping on a bus down to Florida to get in the water? Is it pretty huge?
Mike: Probably. I operated Scuba North from 71 to 1980. I’ll bet we taught in the neighborhood of 100 people a year and then took dozens of diving, sailing trips to the Bahamas. But when I sold that, we became Sail North, we’d already been in the sailing business for several years. As a division of Scuba North, it kind of continued teaching sailing lessons. We had a sailing rental fleet in the beach, small boats as well as a charter fleet, big boats up to 36 feet. Then I found the Traverse Area Community Sailing, which is a non-profit organization that teaches youth and adults to sail and we teach on the average 350 students per summer and have for 20 years; last year was our 20th anniversary.
Chelsea: Now it sounds to me like you are definitely just built to be an entrepreneur that you don’t even think about it, it just happened. You have influenced a lot of people because of it, including myself. What would you tell other people who have that dream or love of something, but might put too many fears in front of them or think that it can’t happen?
Mike: Well if you start young you are naïve. That’s my first advice. You are not scared when you are young, you are invincible. With no fear you leap. As you get older, you develop more fears I suppose. If you are passionate and you are willing to dive in with everything you’ve got, you’ll learn what it takes to be the best at whatever it is you are doing.
Chelsea: What does water mean to you now?
Mike: Water still runs through my veins and just about everything I’ve done in my life has something to do with water. My current project is a river front town home development on the Boardman River downtown. All of my business dealings really have had something to do with water and all of my passions have to do with water. Fly fishing, canoeing, scuba diving, sailing… And my daughters. Water was so much a part of my life that my 3 daughters each inherited middle names having to do with water. Lindsey Sea, Chelsea Bay, Alison Brook. I guess that says something right there.
Chelsea: Thanks for giving me your time and I love, love, love hearing your story. I learn a little bit more about you everyday.