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Blue Ocean Life Nation Interview Series: Michael Coughlin

by Michael Coughlin |

michael coughlin blue ocean founder

Could you introduce yourself to our readers and take us through what exactly your company does and what your vision is for its future?

My name is Mike Coughiln, and I’m the founder of the Blue Ocean Life Company. Blue Ocean Life Company is a lifestyle clothing brand and community for people seeking natural ways to improve wellness. Whether you’re a content creator, aspiring entrepreneur, or a single mother looking to ease stress and anxiety, we have a place for you in the Blue Ocean Life community. For every item sold, we donate $2 to support mental health non-profits, such as our latest partner the International Surf Therapy Organization.

NO child ever says I want to be a CEO/entrepreneur when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get where you are today?

Believe it or not, I always aspired to be a business owner and a philanthropist even dating back to when I was in high school. My older brother died when he was 12 years old due injuries sustained in a tragic bike accident. I was just four years old when this happened. As a way to cope with the tragedy and subsequent turbulence that enveloped my life during my childhood and teenage years, I gravitated towards the computer. This was right around the period of when the internet was first emerging in the late 90s and early 2000s. 

During that period, I started building a website for a foundation that I aspired to create one day that would be dedicated to my late brother and would serve as a source of support for grieving children and families. Throughout my college career and professional career, I’ve always been motivated by my desire to one day create this foundation. However, I knew that I had to learn how to become successful at business before trying to become a philanthropist.

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In my post college years, I got the entrepreneurship ‘bug,’ working at a startup search engine marketing agency and later partnering with a former colleague to form my own agency. The agency and partnership was a horrible failure but I learned many important lessons. The struggles I had following my failed business and disastrous business partnership unintentionally led to the formation of BOL. It was years of struggling in business and financial hardship that forced me to move back in with my parents who had recently to Cape Cod at the time. Being near the ocean often turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I started to feel the therapeutic mental health benefits of the ocean first hand. After reading Blue Ocean Strategy, which opened my eyes to another way of approaching business, I had a professional and personal epiphany. From there, I started the path of building the Blue Ocean Life clothing brand.

Tell us something about yourself that people in your organization would be surprised to know.

Since I quit my last full-time job over 10 years ago, I probably ran out of money about half a dozen times. When I say I ran out of money, I mean I ran out of all money outside of my retirement account. That means my bank account balance did hit zero, but I never had to tap into my 401k or file for bankruptcy in a worst case scenario. Fortunately, I was able to borrow money from members of my family on multiple occasions, leverage credit cards, and was able to live with my parents or brother during periods of financial hardship.

Undoubtedly, I have suffered through self-inflicted financial problems as a result of my decision to leave the corporate world. Anyone quitting their job to start a company is probably going to face a similar fate, and they probably won’t even see it coming. I know I didn't. I actually think many people may think that business owners and entrepreneurs have always been financially successful perhaps, because many in the field may feel pressured to portray an image of success. However, the hard truth is that entrepreneurship is one of the difficult, voluntary paths in life one can take. Many employees may never know how truly difficult and long of a journey was for the founder or founders of their company.

Many readers may wonder how to become an entrepreneur but what is an "entrepreneur"? How would you define it?

I think that people have different views on what an entrepreneur actually is. I never went to business school so I’d probably view it as something different than what the textbook may say. I view entrepreneurs as independent thinkers that broke free from previously created standards to create something entirely new and impactful. I also view many artists, especially musicians, as entrepreneurs. I know the business school playbook recommends that most “entrepreneurs” seek funding through venture capital or other financial firms. I certainly agree that is a viable path to becoming a successful entrepreneur but not necessarily the only one. When I was networking with startup entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Cambridge, MA, I had one venture capitalist tell me that she felt that lifestyle entrepreneurs weren’t real entrepreneurs. I have to say I totally disagree. I view myself as a “lifestyle entrepreneur” because I'm trying to build a business specifically to make my life happier and healthier. I’m also doing it to help people. I think people that build businesses only to make money are misguided. Without your health, both physical and mental, nothing else matters. Money in the bank means nothing if you are unwell. That’s why I’ve chosen this path, and I want to share this message with others.

What is the importance of having a supportive and inclusive culture?

Like millions of people over the world, I too, suffered from mental health problems caused by a toxic work environment. In 2010, I was working at a company that was crumbling as a result of the 2008 financial crisis and the experience was detrimental to my physical and mental health. That experience of working at a toxic workplace was a major reason I decided to step out of the traditional corporate path into my own independent path. My goal has always been to improve my own mental health and quality of life through entrepreneurship and that’s why I founded Blue Ocean Life. Mental health issues are not unique to any gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, so all are welcome and embraced at BOL.

How can a leader be disruptive in the post Covid world?

I think leaders should be disruptive in a way that puts purpose over profit. I read this book called Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take that talks about how many companies have been notorious for taking more from earth and society than they were giving. For example, paper companies would cut down trees with little regard for the impact on the environment. They only cared about creating shareholder wealth. Similarly, some modern day companies like Facebook seem to prioritize profits over collective mental health by creating platforms that essentially profit off of psychological addiction and societal discord. I think the real leaders are the ones that will be working towards solving the world’s problems, such as climate change or mental health issues, through capitalism rather than exacerbating existing problems.

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If a 5-year-old asked you to describe your job, what would you tell them?

My job is to spread positivity, inspiration, and advice on ways people can better take care of themselves and others. I spread that message through my clothing brand and social media sites like Instagram.

Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?

Taking leave from BOL was one of the hardest and most important decisions I ever made. In 2020, I had one of the worst years of my life. I was dealing with anxiety caused by the recent suicide of a relative, financial problems, and professional burnout. On top of that, the pandemic had a devastating effect on my mental health. I couldn’t socialize, meet friends, or practice many of my holistic wellness methods that keep me sane. For example, flotation therapy, which has long been a guaranteed stress reducer for me, was not possible because all of the facilities were closed.

As a last resort, I consulted my doctor and he recommended a powerful psychiatric medication without much warning. I had an extremely adverse reaction which sent my life spiraling. As a result, I had to take leave from work entirely for months on end until I could recover mentally. Because I refused to believe that BOL wasn’t a viable business, I hired a virtual assistant at a very low cost to keep the virtual doors open while I focused on my recovery. I was overextending myself financially but I knew I was in a “bend, don’t break” type of situation.

Since the dawn of 2021, my mental health stabilized and I got back on my feet financially. Now, thanks to a trusted advisor, I'm getting BOL on track for a brighter future. Undoubtedly, if i didn’t take leave, i wouldn’t be where I am today. This should be an important lesson for other entrepreneurs and professionals. Never ever prioritize work or your business over your mental health. You will ultimately pay the price, both financially, physically, and mentally. Although what happened to me involved factors beyond my control, the one thing anyone can control is how much time and effort they put into their career or business.

Leaders are usually asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is your most useless talent?

I would say my most useless talent relates to my personal love of all forms of music. I love all types. Anything from classic rock and alternative to hip hop to country to EDM. I’m really good at naming songs or artists within just a few notes. I would probably be really good at a show like Beat Shazam or the old game, Name That Tune.

Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. If you wrote a book about your life until today, what would the title be?

Below the Surface. I was actually dabbling in the film and television space a couple of years ago and started developing a show concept that was a fictionalized version of my life story. Below the Surface was the working title for the show, which was about a child who lost his brother at an early age and later became a successful entrepreneur and social media influencer. The show was called Below the Surface because the main character loves the ocean, but also because the main character came off as a stereotypical shallow influencer.

Although I don’t see myself as shallow, I think most people see me as a very competent, professional, and happy person that has his life in order. Below the surface, however, I've dealt with enormous adversity both personally and professionally.

Shop our Blue Ocean Life  clothing designs and help raise awareness for natural ways to improve physical & mental health.

The Blue Ocean Life Nation Interview Series is an innovative interview series that asks the tough questions to some of the boldest innovators and brightest minds in the evolving world of remote work, entrepreneurship, the health and wellness industries, and more. Want to tell us more about yourself or your cause in one of our interviews? Send us a message.

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