Imagine starting a company from your garage and building it into one of the fastest-growing brands in the industry, only to be pushed out and left unemployed.
That’s exactly what happened to NFL-player-turned-entrepreneur Jason Hairston when he launched his first hunting gear business, Sitka, in 2005. When the economy took a turn for the worst in 2008, his business partner and CFO reportedly made a deal behind his back to sell the company to W.L. Gore and Associates (maker of Gore-Tex).
But that didn’t stop him — it only motivated Hairston more, he says. He immediately began working on another hunting gear company, Kuiu, a direct-to-consumer online business. Since launching in 2011, Kuiu has grown into a profitable business with $50 million in annual sales through word of mouth, social media, and crowdsourcing campaigns.
It doesn’t hurt that he has quite a few high-profile customers (and friends), including Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric. Speaking to customers directly, Hairston says, is what built Kuiu’s cult-like following.
“I wrote blog posts once a week on what I was doing with the business — what fabrics and materials I had discovered, what factories I was in, what a sewing technique looks like,” he says. “It created a massive following and a massive amount of trust.”
Hairston sat down with Fortune for a new weekly series called Founder Friday. Watch the video above to hear more of his insights on building a cult-like consumer base.