My history with addiction and incarceration shaped my success as a founder

February 23, 2023, 11:53 AM UTC
Founder Andrew Gibbs-Dabney says sharing his criminal background publicly was the best decision he's ever made.
Courtesy of LIVSN

The following guest essay was written by Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, founder and CEO of LIVSN, a sustainable outdoor-clothing company.

I shared that I had a criminal background on LinkedIn in a state of frustration. A famous TV personality and startup investor, whose name I have decided not to disclose, had just turned me away from an investment after a background check, and I decided it was time to bring my past to the forefront of my story instead of holding it back. 

That was the best decision I’ve ever made. 

My track record with addiction and recovery and my experience navigating society with a criminal record have shaped me into who I am today and propelled me to build LIVSN. But those very variables have also sometimes become barriers, and they’ve kept some people from wanting to work with me. It shouldn’t be a barrier. 

Before I go on, I should answer the obvious question: What did I do? 

In 2011, I was battling an opiate addiction, shaking from withdrawals every day, and deeply in debt to the wrong people. In the midst of this personal turmoil, I made the unthinkable decision to rob a liquor store. There was no violence. There were no threats. I think I even said “please.” A couple of days later the police raided my house and took me to jail. 

I started detox in jail: cold turkey after five years of hard use. After being released on bail with about four months until my court date, I flew straight to Austin and enrolled in a 90-day inpatient rehab. I chose to forgo a medicated detox with the intention of fully feeling what was happening to my body. I wanted to remember the pain. I still remember. I made the choice to accept that this was rock bottom. When you’re at rock bottom there is only one way to go. 

What happened next is what I’m proud of.

I took rehabilitation seriously. I engaged in counseling sessions, formed relationships with my peers, and made promises to myself about the kind of life I would pursue if given the opportunity. I took every chance to volunteer my time for community service. I discovered spirituality. I learned to meditate. I began to rebuild myself. And I played a lot of ping-pong. More than anything though I discovered that being in nature leads me to my higher power. I learned that I could turn to the outdoors instead of pills. I credit this realization with my life. 

During my sentencing, I was offered the opportunity for early release through the completion of a military-style boot camp. I did three months in jail and one week in prison, and then 105 days of boot camp before being released. I could write chapters on my experience in those places, but that’s for another time. 

Incarceration strips people of their humanity. It’s at once terrible and oddly enough…not that bad. It taught me that I was adaptable. 

After being released from prison on a hot July day in Arkansas, I didn’t know where my life would take me, but I knew I wasn’t going to waste it. I earned my bachelor’s degree. I married the love of my life. I bought a house. I started my own company. I had two sons. And I spent a lot of time outdoors.

Founder Andrew Gibbs-Dabney with his family
Courtesy of LIVSN

That time—all the way from my first day in jail to the last day of boot camp—influenced the person I am today, the life I live, and the business I built. I am not the man I was in 2011. My past created my present. It created the startup I run today, LIVSN.

But most people didn’t know that. 

I sat on that LinkedIn post for weeks before pushing the “publish” button. I was nervous. I had built up a small reputation as an entrepreneur, and I was worried. I live in Bentonville, Ark., a small town of around 50,000 people. What would people think?

More than anything, I shared my story for myself. If my past was going to stop someone from engaging with me, I wanted to know that from the beginning. My hope, however, was that it wouldn’t. 

Something I think about a lot is how people are the sum of their experiences. I learned how to be vulnerable in rehab, I learned what society values in court, I learned patience in boot camp, and I learned to meditate in recovery. I learned that experiences are what are truly valuable in the end.

I started LIVSN in 2018 with the mission to make sustainable outdoor clothing. I wanted to help people uncover what the outdoors can do for them because it has done so much for me—and to avoid adding to the world’s waste problem by making clothing that was durable, versatile, and designed with sustainable materials. Our core message is that experiences are more important than stuff—a thought that arose repeatedly when I was behind bars, deprived of my freedom. 

Courtesy of LIVSN

LIVSN is derived from the Swedish word livsnjutare, which means “one who lives life fully.” The logic goes that if someone is this person who lives life to the fullest, this livsnjutare, what are they wearing when they’re out collecting memories? It needs to work well in many scenarios. It needs to look good. It needs to be comfortable. And it needs to hold up. That’s what we make.

Since I started building LIVSN, the company has gone on to raise just under $1.6 million from Techstars, angel investors, and a Wefunder campaign. We posted more than $1 million in revenue in 2021 and 2022, and our clothing is distributed by 102 retailers, including Backcountry and Moosejaw.

Could I have created this brand without my unique past? Would I have? Maybe, but I don’t think so. 

My past taught me how bad life can be. How many freedoms I can lose. How few more breaths I could have. I gained a perspective that will never leave me. Looking at 40 to life in prison while being thankful for simply being alive has had a lasting effect on how I process difficult situations now. 

When cash flow is tight, shipments are delayed, and there’s a break-in at the office, it’s not as bad as getting yelled at while walking naked through prison intake at 2 a.m. with 150 other men, waiting to be deloused and getting my head shaved. It’s not as bad as 96 hours alone in an eight-by-10-foot concrete cell. Is the perspective starting to make sense?  

What happened after I pushed “publish” has filled me up in ways I could never have imagined. 

The post went viral. 

The outdoor industry responded with so much love. Friends from the industry reached out with support. Partners reached out for collaborations. Some retailers who had been giving us the cold shoulder decided to give LIVSN a chance.

People started to write comments with the most supportive, kind, and understanding messages I have ever read. They also started to send me messages detailing intimate stories. Stories of their past issues, the problems of their family, and tales of friends long gone who didn’t make it through their ordeal. People told me of the struggles they’re having right now but they don’t know how or where to bring them to light. 

What I didn’t realize when I shared my story is the power it might have for other people. As I said, I wrote it for me. But it turns out that our stories help others. 

My past is not my present, but it brought me here. If that continues to scare some investors away from backing LIVSN, then so be it—but it shouldn’t. I believe it’s why we’re valuable. 

Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


- ​​Tome, a San Francisco-based generative storytelling platform, raised $43 million in Series B funding. Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round and was joined by Coatue, Greylock Partners, Audacious Ventures, Wing Venture Capital, 8VC, and other angels.

- Finch, a San Francisco-based employment API platform for payroll, HRIS, and benefits, raised $40 million in Series B funding. General Catalyst and Menlo Ventures co-led the round and were joined by QED Investors, Altman Capital, and PruVen Capital

- Buk, a Santiago, Chile-based people management platform, raised $35 million in funding led by Base10.

- Vitally, a New York-based customer success platform, raised $30 million in Series B funding. Next47 led the round and was joined by HubSpot Ventures, NewView Capital, and Andreessen Horowitz

- Electra Vehicles, a Boston-based software solutions provider for battery management, raised $21 million in funding. United Ventures led the round and was joined by Stellantis Ventures, LIFTT, Club degli Investitori, and BlackBerry Limited.

- Metomic, a London-based data security solution provider, raised $20 million in Series A funding. Evolution Equity Partners led the round and was joined by Resonance and Connect Ventures

- TDGA Holdings, a London-based space-focused media company, raised $20 million in seed funding led by New Media Holding.

- Zellerfeld, a Hamburg, Germany- and San Francisco-based 3D-printed shoe company, raised $15 million in seed funding led by Founders Fund

- Future Fields, an Edmonton, Canada–based insect biotechnology company, raised $11.2 million in funding. Bee Partners, Toyota Ventures, Builders VC, AgFunder, Amplify Capital, BoxOne Ventures’ Milad Alucozai, Green Circle Foodtech, Siddhi Capital, and Climate Capital invested in the round. 

- Brale, a Des Moines, Iowa-based digital assets deployment developer, raised $11.1 million in funding. New Enterprise Associates led the round and was joined by Cloudflare cofounder and CEO Matthew Prince and Albert Wenger.

- BioSqueeze, a Butte, Mont.-based commercial biomineralization company, raised $7.4 million in funding. Valo Ventures led the round and was joined by Zero Infinity Partners, Riverstone, and Next Frontier Capital.

- Swap Robotics, an Ontario-based solar vegetation management platform, raised $7 million in seed funding. SOLV Energy led the round and was joined by SOSV's HAX.

- IrisCX, a Calgary-based, smart video platform for virtual product selection, DIY setup, and support, raised $4.6 million in seed funding from Arthur Ventures.

- DEN Outdoors, a Hudson Valley, N.Y.-based home design and construction management company, raised $3 million in seed funding co-led by Gutter Capital and Crossbeam Venture Partners.

- Curio Research, a San Francisco-based crypto Web3 gaming company, raised $2.9 million in seed funding. Bain Capital Crypto led the round and was joined by TCG Crypto, Formless Capital, Smrti Lab, Robot Ventures, and other angels.

- System-3, a Toronto-based talent assessment company, raised CAD $3.6 million ($2.66 million) in seed funding led by Round13 Capital. 

- Gofrendly, a Stockholm-based friendship app for women, raised $1.25 million in funding led by JNE Invest.


- RMA Companies, an OceanSound Partners portfolio company, acquired GeoTest Services, an Arlington, Wash.-based geotechnical, environmental, materials testing, specialty inspection, and building science services provider. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Sixth Street and Wildcat Capital Management acquired a minority stake in Milan Laser Hair Removal, an Omaha, Neb.-based laser hair removal provider. Per the terms of the deal, Leonard Green & Partners will retain a majority stake in the company. Financial terms were not disclosed.


FNZ acquired YieldX, a Miami-based portfolio management technology provider. Financial terms were not disclosed. 


- Atmus Filtration Technologies, the Nashville-based filtration company of Cummins, filed for an initial public offering.


- Altai Ventures, a New York- and Westport, Conn.-based venture capital firm, raised $53 million for a fund focused on insurtech, fintech, and enterprise software for financial services seed and Series A investments.  


- Building Ventures, a Boston-based venture capital firm, promoted Gregg Wallace to partner.

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