Seth Shoultes is an Air Force Veteran who became a successful entrepreneur. His path to get to where he is today wasn't an easy one. Seth struggled with homelessness after deciding to get away from the toxic situation he found himself in.
Through hard work and perseverance, Seth managed to not only get back on his feet, but also build a successful software business.
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Scott DeLuzio: 00:00 Hey everybody. This is the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting veterans after they get out of the military. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:13 Hey everyone, thanks for tuning into the Drive On Podcast today. My guest is us shorts who is a PHP programmer and developer. He's also one of the founders of a company called Event Espresso. Seth has been in web design and development since the early 2000s, but his journey to running a successful software business wasn't always an easy road. Seth talked about his journey in a speech a few years ago at a conference in Las Vegas that I had the opportunity to attend. Seth had served in the Arizona Air National Guard in the mid ‘90s and had hopes of working in the aerospace industry after getting out of the National Guard. So, welcome to the show. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Seth Shoultes: 00:59 Hi Scott. Thanks for having me. I graduated high school in the mid 90s and went directly right from high school into the Air National Guard where I wanted to learn nondestructive inspection and stuff like that. Basically it was looking at airplanes, airplane parts and inspecting them for defaults or defects and stuff like that. I was always interested in airplanes and aeronautics and stuff like that since I was a small child. But growing up and in my community that I was surrounded with I've never really felt like I was pilot material. It was always a in school and that type of thing. Later in life or in high school, I started following around the wrong crowd, getting into [trouble], facing some problems with addiction and stuff like that.
Seth Shoultes: 02:08 So during high school, I always felt like I was behind in my grades and stuff like that and I never felt smart or anything like that. I didn't have the tools to succeed, I guess. So I went to the military as a way out of my current situation and into a career that was a lifelong career that would hopefully pan out some day and I'd be better off than I was. But once I got into the military, I really loved it. The boot camp gave me a good foundation and a stronger community there. Then when I got out and when I came back home from the guard after going to tech school, I started associating with some of the same people and I even found that some of the same people were with me in the guard.
Seth Shoultes: 03:12 And so I fell into all those old ways of addiction and struggling with just life in general. After a couple of years I did my time in the guard and still faced these struggles. I went on to deliver pizzas for a couple of years and then things started crashing down. I didn't have a vehicle at the time because my car broke down. It came to a point where I just had to get out of there. You know, I had to really leave the people that I was around and I surrounded myself with, including my parents, my friends, everybody. I just totally picked up one day and left. I basically had no idea, no plans, what I was going to do.
Seth Shoultes: 04:12 I knew some people that I've met in the National Guard. I knew people in Wyoming. I had this plan to hitchhike to Wyoming and find my friends and maybe see if I can get back into things up there. I never made it to Wyoming. I ended up getting stuck in Salt Lake City, Utah, just trying to make my way in life. I ended up sleeping behind the Catholic church for a few months and because I was homeless and just working my way through life trying different job after job and then found a new community. I made friends, met my wife, and then I started looking seriously at things and what I'm going to do with my life and trying to change around, get away from the addictions and trying to get a new client and find new communities and new friends.
Seth Shoultes: 05:27 And one of the ways I found a new community was by getting into programming and that type of thing. Because at the time programming and/or web development was still new even though it was early 2000s or something, a lot of things were changing and technology was growing and so the stuff changed a lot since then. I found that there was a lot of other people out there in these chat rooms and programming forums and we're all struggling with questions and a lot of it was questions about programming. But then you start getting deeper into questions about business and questions about life and stuff like that. People are just saying, “what's going on?” I just got this job and I'm over my head. I don't know all these programming languages, etc. And people would just jump in and answer their questions and help them out. I thought that was amazing, you know? And so that's what got me away from all that other stuff.
Scott DeLuzio: 06:44 It's interesting how you said how, how you felt like you needed to just pack up and get away from all of that. A study that I was reading about a few months ago was talking about soldiers in Vietnam and there was lots of drug use over in Vietnam and some of the drugs that people were doing over there, the “experts” at the time were saying, well, some of these drugs, once when you start using them, you're going to be addicted to them and there's no getting off of them. They almost had no hope for these guys coming back after they got out and back from Vietnam. But it turns out that when they got back to their hometowns and their communities with their normal routines that they were going through, the vast majority of them, I think it was over like 80%.
Scott DeLuzio: 07:39 I forget the exact numbers. They all went back to their normal ways, they stopped using the drugs and everything like that. Some of the people, the small percentage of people who continued to use it, they went back to a place where drug use was higher, where it was more readily available and it was easier for them to just continue doing that. It's interesting how a change of scenery sometimes, or a change of a location and people that you're associating with can contribute to how you form your own habits. It's interesting to see how that worked out in your case. You saw that similar result from a change of location.
Scott DeLuzio: 08:35 Obviously, like you said, it was a hard move, having to pack up and move away from family and friends and then dealing with homelessness and things like that. That's obviously not easy for anybody to do. Then, you said, eventually you started to discover the programming and things like that. I'm curious to hear how you went from that stage of being homeless and then deciding something needs to change and how you eventually got into programming from where you were at?
Seth Shoultes: 09:17 So I guess, let me backtrack a little bit. I had created a bond with the drugs or the alcohol or whatever. When people are lonely where they don't have a strong community, they build bonds with different things like bad people or drugs and stuff like that. So, leaving my family and leaving all my friends behind was part of breaking that bond that I had with all of that. So by basically separating myself, it allowed me to refresh and restart a whole new life and a whole new outlook on who I was basically.
Seth Shoultes: 10:14 So when I left I got somewhere and I was homeless and I just met other homeless people and I started working. I tried to hang out with other homeless people that were actually motivated and looking for work and trying to stay away from others. (I had a pretty good idea of what people look like that were on drugs) Finding a different community and finding different people to talk to and to associate with was how I got away from that bond of the drugs and alcohol.
Seth Shoultes: 11:03 And so once I started meeting people, it was easier to start forming relationships with people that were not using drugs. So, when you can reset yourself or refresh yourself, you start to find it's easier to make new friends and to start fitting in different places. So, I focused on that and tried to make new friends, meeting new people and then eventually I met my wife and hung out with her and she started giving me motivation. And then eventually I wanted to go back to school after a while I started feeling I had my motivation starting to building up.
Seth Shoultes: 11:57 I had really low self esteem. I had really low motivation when I left my home town. I lost stuff when I came to a new place. I was encouraged by putting myself at the very bottom, I was encouraged to find work and to survive basically, it's like a survival instinct you want to go find other people. Eventually just cleaning myself up, keeping myself with like-minded people. And then as far as the programming stuff, I went back to school to learn electronics at ITT Technical Institute. I got on there and I started forming new bonds and making new friends and then I started learning. They taught us a little bit about web design but everything they were teaching us was from five years ago.
Seth Shoultes: 13:04 It was like, we're always five years behind. So, I started teaching myself how to do love design. And like I said previously going into forums and searching Google on how to program. And eventually, I traded all those bonds or traded all those thoughts of seeking drugs for seeking the answers. I started wanting to find answers about my life, about programming, about habits and trying to figure out why I had addiction and what was going on and why I had depression and why I felt all these different ways. Once I'd heard of getting into all that stuff, it just opened a whole new world for me. It wasn't even, I don't even think, I wanted to hear about the program but a lot of it was just finding communities that were active and that were available to people like me that had a lot of questions and have the word basically lost.
Scott DeLuzio: 14:21 S,o you're not the first person that I've talked to and the show is still relatively new. You're definitely not the first person that I've talked to who said something similar along those lines in terms of finding a community or being together with people not trying to go it alone and trying to just figure things out on your own. As a business owner, I'm sure you can relate that to your own business too. If you were the CEO and the accountant and the janitor and the marketing and everything else like that for any one person that's just too much. If you're anything like me, you're not great at all of those things.
Scott DeLuzio: 15:07 And so, you're going to just have a mediocre business if that's all that you're going to do. And so instead you go and find people who are great at certain things and you build the business that way. Life is really, I don't think, much different. I don't attempt to cut my own hair because I'm not trained on how to cut my hair and I would probably look like a clown if I did it. So, I go to somebody who knows how to do it, and I come out and look all right. It's the same thing with other things in your background. You want to be around other people who can help you move forward and go in the direction that you're looking for as opposed to keeping you where you're at or even taking a step backwards from where you want to be.
Scott DeLuzio: 15:58 I think it's awesome that you had that similar experience that you discovered that you need to be around those people that are going to help get you to that. Wherever your goals happen to be they get you to that next level. Obviously, you had some struggles and you came around at some point to discover that this community and seeking the answers was the turning point for you, that the tipping point. Maybe it was when you met your wife or whatever it was the “Aha” moment or that turning point where you decided things have to change and this is what it's going to?
Seth Shoultes: 16:52 I was at a point where I just felt like I was in this hole that I couldn't climb out of. Most of my thoughts were about either finding my next fix or next party or whatever. The other half of the thoughts were about suicide, basically. Just trying to find a way out, you know what I mean? And so, the turning point was when I got away from the situation and I left my parents' house and my grandparents’ house, wherever I was living at the time, I left that.
Seth Shoultes: 17:44 I don't know what it was or why. It was something that I felt I had to do. You know what I mean? It's either life or death, basically. You know what I mean? Do you go down a path that you're going to die or do you continue to go down that path, it's bad, it's going to destroy you. Or do you start figuring out a way to climb yourself out or build up yourself so you can get out of that. I just figured I needed a change. So, the turning point was basically life or death. I was with one of my parents, my estrange dad, and I was living with him at one point in time right before all this happened.
Seth Shoultes: 18:37 And he was a heroin addict. He tried choking me one time when I wouldn't take him to go get his heroin fix. That time I was done with drugs, basically. I was done doing that stuff but I had nowhere to live. He tried to choke me and I was like, “screw this, I'm outta here.” I never saw him again. Well, I saw him once and then he died a short time later. The turning point was like just getting out of that situation, it was his facing down that life or death situation and then I'd all built up it didn't happen overnight. It took several years of a few slip ups or whatever. I'd go back and then I wake up the next day and I’d think, “what did I do?” You know what I mean?
Scott DeLuzio: 19:33 Yes. It sounds like it really would be hard for all of this to transition overnight, anyways. You're not going to just wake up the next morning in a different town and all of a sudden have a job in a house, in a career and a family and everything like that. It's one of those things that it sounds like it almost has to be a slower process to take one step at a time. There's a book I read a few months back called Atomic Habits and it's about tiny changes, leading to big results. And so taking each step cumulatively will lead you to a better direction. It's hard to just take that one giant leap right now. You're not going to climb a flight of stairs in one step. You're going to have to take each individual step one at a time until you get to the top.
Seth Shoultes: 20:32 It takes a lot of practice. It's just like learning to walk; you have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk. You know what I mean?
Scott DeLuzio: 20:44 And it sounds like what you did in terms of your business. You started off by going to the ITT Technical Institute and you started learning a little bit of the website development and things like that back then. You took it upon yourself to learn more about that stuff. That hard work eventually led to you creating a business. I briefly mentioned the name of your business earlier but why don't you tell people a little bit about your business and how that business started and what you do now.
Seth Shoultes: 21:22 My side of the business I run now is called the Event Espresso, like the coffee drink. It's an event ticketing and a registration platform basically for people that want to sell tickets to concerts or you want to sell reservations to summer camps or even scrapbooking classes and that type of thing and we help with our software. You install it on your website and it allows you to sell tickets and accept reservations on your website and to set payments. I started the business because my wife was a scrapbooking demonstrator and she would hold classes and basically supply materials for people to come and create birthday cards and scrapbooking pages for their photo albums, that type of thing.
Seth Shoultes: 22:27 She needed a way for people to register and pay online. Everywhere I looked, there were the online solutions but they were quite expensive and they each took a cut of your ticket sales. And so we wanted to bypass that since my wife was starting out in the new. So, I started looking around the Internet for an open source software like a piece of code that I could use without having to pay a lot of money for it. And I found a plugin for WordPress, which allows you to build websites. I found this little plug in that did what she wanted but then it was missing a lot of features. So, I took it apart and I learned how it worked and then reprogrammed it, added a bunch of new features and then released it under a new name.
Seth Shoultes: 23:41 The person that had developed the first part of the software wasn't maintaining it anymore and it fell to the wayside. So, I took it over, reprogrammed a lot of stuff, renamed it, and launched it as a new software. And that's where I'm at today. I basically maintain it and run a business around it. And we have about 10 programmers hat actually maintain and market and sell the products, sell the software to users.
Scott DeLuzio: 24:14 That's an awesome story. You had a need or your wife had a need and you set out to try to solve that problem and then you fell into a business around it, which is neat. So, some of my products are similar to that where I was scratching my own itch, trying to solve a problem and then it turned out that I have a product that someone is actually willing to pay money for. And so, let's try to build a business around this thing. It's awesome to see that you can find that motivation and to get to that business process where you're at.
Scott DeLuzio: 25:03 Through the hard work of dissecting the code of the original software that you found and then adding new features and building up like that. Though obviously it's not an easy thing to do all of that stuff and then marketing and selling; it is hard work, too. It is like what you were saying, just life in general. It wasn't an easy process getting from that rock-bottom stage to where you're at or even that turnaround phase building a business isn't necessarily easy either. If you stick with it, it gets easy. I don't want to say easier, it's easier, it's easy. It's not the fear of, I don't know if this is even a thing that's going to…that anyone will ever buy. You've been in business for a few years now and you probably have some comfort level of knowing that your product is solid and people will pay for it. It's a long road but you can get there eventually where the business is growing and maintaining and everything like that.
Seth Shoultes: 26:31 It almost feels like hell. It almost felt like it just happened overnight. You know what I mean? Here we are 10 years later and it's just like a blink of an eye. It's probably the best thing that could've ever happened to me. In a lot of ways.
Scott DeLuzio: 26:47 I guess in that respect you sort of just needed to be open to the opportunities that were presenting themselves to units, for example, like your wife having this need to have this software to book tickets for the classes that she was doing, the demonstrations or whatever she was doing. If you just poked around and found a couple solutions that were out there, but they're too expensive and then just threw your hands up in the air and said, “well, that's all I can find.” You and I probably wouldn't be talking right now and this conversation could've gone a different way and you might've been working in a different job and a whole bunch of other what things could that have happened.
Scott DeLuzio: 27:32 By taking advantage of that opportunity that presented itself and digging in and putting in the hard work to get to where you're at now. Even though initially all you're trying to do is just solve one person's problem, your wife's problem that she was having, that turned into a whole business where, quite frankly, you're solving thousands and thousands of people's problems by having that same solution. All these people, whether it's a charity event where they're selling tickets to a banquet dinner or to a concert or to a cooking class or any number of things. There are people out there who are trying to sell tickets to it and you have the solution for them, in an affordable way that isn't going to cost so much money per ticket or whatever. It's awesome that that all came to fruition that way. And you also entered a business plan competition early on in the business, mind telling them a little bit about that.
Seth Shoultes: 28:47 So early on in the business, I had had built the software and I was running it by myself around two years. I had a little bit of help here and there from a few programmers that I had hired on a contract basis. Where I worked at the time while I was building the software, I worked at a marketing agency or non-marketing. I worked in a marketing department for it was coding and billing academy up in Salt Lake. I worked alongside this guy named Garth Coil. I brought him on about two years into this process. It was actually about a year; well, for the whole time I'd been talking to him and he was going to school at,
Seth Shoultes: 29:50 I think it was university. Oh, it was University of Utah. So, Garth was going to university, Utah. During the time I was building this, he was in business; he was getting his MBA, Master's of Business Administration and he had wanted to go into healthcare administration. The whole two years I was building this thing, we were working side by side and I had talked to him and I knew he was really good with business stuff. I had been talking to him and said “why don't you come on board, I'll bring you on as a cofounder and that type of thing.” He wasn't really interested at first. Then he went out, he went away to Michigan towards a hospital out there, I think it was Ford hospital or something.
Seth Shoultes: 30:46 He ended up about six months later, saying “I'm thinking, I want to take you up on your offer.” I said, “okay, let's do it. I'll bring you on board.” And then about a month later, he was telling me about this program at the University of Utah, since he was still in the University of Utah even though he had graduated. But he was telling me about this program and it was a Utah entrepreneur challenge and it was a chance to win $40,000 for your business ideas. I though, all right, let's do it and let's go ahead and submit an application. We sent an application and we got into it and we had to write a three-page business plan, give a presentation to a panel of judges and all this stuff.
Seth Shoultes: 31:38 We went through all this stuff. It was hell. It was crazy. We had to dissect every single little part of our business and how we're going to make money and where we're going to be in 10 years and how much profit we think we're going to make in the first year and all this stuff. And so, we get into this thing and we were thinking we had no chance. We don't have a chance at all at winning this thing. So, we go through all this and then we end up in the top 10. We end up in the top 10, one of the top 10 challenges I guess, or the top 10. Whatever they had going.
Seth Shoultes: 32:22 And so, five finalist, that's another word I was looking for. So, we had enough as one of the top 10 finalists. And so we got invited to a banquet put their universities, CDU timers were standing there, we had a booth and all this stuff. And so, had our marketing materials that I made up and we have a little mobile app that we're getting ready to release. And so, he had all this stuff and it was just off our software, just like off the wall, it was event ticketing and all these other people were doing medical stuff like medical devices and trying to prevent world hunger and all this stuff. So we're sitting there; there was me and my friend, Garth, my co-founder, Garth and his wife, my wife was pregnant at home and we were thinking, “Oh, that's no big deal.”
Seth Shoultes: 33:14 We're probably likely to win. Where's this going to go and show up. So we were sitting there and we're stuffing our faces with food and next thing you know, they're just naming off all the people and then they get to the last three and we had no idea what was going on and all of a sudden they announced, they said, “now for the grand prize winners the Event Espresso and they announced our name and we both looked at each other and I'm thinking, “what did they just say, your name?” So, we looked around and this whole big room is like staring at us, all these people. And we were like, “what?” So, come up on stage so we can go up there. They had this huge check for us. They ripped this blanket off of this huge cardboard check and it was $40,000 to Event Espresso. And we're just staring at each other. And I had no words to say. I was dumbfounded. But my co-founder, Garth, said thanks and all this stuff and I was just fighting back tears.
Scott DeLuzio: 34:18 I had no idea. That's amazing.
Seth Shoultes: I got up to the stage and I was like, “Oh, thank you. Thanks.” Everybody asked the white way. But it was pretty crazy. We spent so much time going over this and reading the business plan and giving presentation and trying to make sure our marketing materials were together and it was just like it all happened. In a blink an eye, you know? Right. And I guess this all goes back again to just putting in the work, the hard work and dedication to doing that. Because if you did a half-ass job on your presentation for all of this, there's no chance that you would've won. You know, with other companies putting in the work to get through that.
Scott DeLuzio: 35:08 And so you did, I'm imagining there were probably late nights and lots of blood, sweat and tears going into it. You did it and at the end of the day you won and it's not like they were just giving out checks to everybody who applied. So, obviously you did something that was special and unique to get to that point. So, it looks like we're coming up on time here with all of this but I wanted to give you a chance with a closing question. Is there anything that you wish someone would've told you before you joined the military and advice or future or like?
Seth Shoultes: 36:03 I wish I would've looked at other options in the military besides going into the end of the career I found because I felt like I never felt like I really had what it takes, what it would have taken to become a pilot or something like that. I always wanted to be pilot. So, I wished somebody would've encouraged me to follow my dreams and encourage me. I wish I would've had more motivation,
Seth Shoultes: 36:36 to follow what I wanted to do, basically.
Scott DeLuzio: Setting your goals and actually reaching for those. I mean, that's awesome advice to have because so many people are just content with whatever they're going through or wherever they're at. And they don't stretch for the something bigger or better. It seems like you've done a lot of stretching, over the years and getting working your way up. It's like climbing a staircase or a ladder or something like that. You have to take it one at a time and you certainly have done that. So, thank you for sharing that story and offering that advice. I'm sure that the story, I know for me it was very inspirational and motivational to listen to the first time I heard it. And even more so this time around. So, thank you for sharing.
Seth Shoultes: Thank you, Scott. Thanks for having me.
Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. Take care. All right, you too.
Scott DeLuzio: 37:45 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com we're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and Drive On Podcasts.