E-commerce Entrepreneur Tyler Donahue Shares the Uncomfortable Experience That Taught Him How to Handle Life's Curveballs
Before he founded his business, he lost his job -- and things got dire.
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Tyler Donahue, founder of Essential Store home goods and accessories infused with dried flowers for aromatherapy. It was condensed by The Oracles.
What was a defining moment early in your life?
Tyler Donahue: My house was open to everyone when I was growing up. My parents are the most welcoming people I know. They were like parents to all my friends — and even strangers. It’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am to have such amazing parents.
When I was 10 years old, they adopted my incredible sister, Maddie, whom I’m super close with. Three years later, we invited two sisters from China to stay with us for several years. I learned that any stranger could become family faster than you think. Community is everything.
What excites you the most about your business right now?
Tyler Donahue: We are launching quite a few new products this year, and I’m excited to get them into people’s hands. I have so much fun when I’m in product development mode. I love taking a concept and turning it into something that brings people joy.
What book changed your mindset or life?
Tyler Donahue: Many books have drastically influenced how I think, but the one I reference most is The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.
He taught me that the projects and creative pursuits you want most are often the ones you resist. This hit home for me as I started to notice what I was resisting most. It’s still a work in progress, but learning to lean into those things has been powerful.
What was your biggest, most painful failure?
Tyler Donahue: I once got a job working for someone I admired. I was underqualified, but they gave me a chance. It was fast-paced and required great attention to detail, which I lack. After repeatedly making many mistakes, I was deemed incompetent and even asked if I had a learning disorder in front of other employees. It was embarrassing.
I learned two lessons. First, you’re going to suck at some things. So, rather than focus on marginally improving them, double down on your natural talents. Second, some people just won’t like you. Don’t waste your time forcing anyone to like you, even if you want to be close to them. Do what you enjoy, and you’ll attract people who love and support you.
Share something about yourself that not many people would know.
Tyler Donahue: This is uncomfortable to share, but shortly after I lost that job, I had to go to a sperm bank in order to pay rent. Before moving to Los Angeles for that role, I had invested most of my savings trying to build a mobile app, so I didn’t have a financial cushion.
It was a tough experience, but looking back, I’m grateful it was an option for me. It taught me that I can deal with the lows pretty well, which are much less scary now.
Who is the best leader ever and why?
Tyler Donahue: Richard Branson is a leader who stands out based on his books: Losing My Virginity, Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life and Business and Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography.
Aside from being an incredible human, personality, adventurer, father, entrepreneur, and humanitarian, he seems to be a revolutionary leader. He empowers others to lead, rapidly assembles other leaders to create a positive impact, dumps mistakes quickly, and is wildly curious. From what I’ve heard, he brings positive energy everywhere he goes and is a joy to be around.
How do you identify a good business partner?
Tyler Donahue: A good partner wants to see you win as much as they want to win. Every win for you is a win for them. While your core values and vision are aligned, you have complementary skills and approach problems differently.
The right partners are a source of energy for each other. They are also self-sufficient. They can make decisions on their own and share the results afterward. They don’t need you, but they know they can create bigger things with you than they can alone.
Which single habit gives you 80% of your results?
Tyler Donahue: I call it the “morning dump.” Most mornings, I wake up with doubt, fear, and anxiety. So, I immediately dump all my thoughts on a page. They look much less logical on paper, and I can cross them off like items on a to-do list.
The negative emotions in your head will slow you down and prevent you from showing up for the projects and people you care about. Dumping it all out in the morning is the best thing you can do for your energy.
What are you working on right now?
Tyler Donahue: I’m growing my e-commerce business by branching into retail and creating more products that bring people joy.
I’m also writing a fiction book to explore an idea: What if high school classrooms were embedded with advanced virtual reality so students could learn from simulated experiences? For example, instead of reading or hearing about a moment in history, they could experience a version of it themselves.
Finally, I’m working on a mini-biography blog. I want to learn more about incredible people, alive or dead, and share my findings.
What is the most exciting question that you spend time thinking about?
Tyler Donahue: How can we create capitalistic reasons to solve social problems? What businesses have social impact embedded in their operations? For example, GOOD INC is a media company creating positive change, and BlackRock investment management recently announced a focus on investments that better the environment. In a perfect world, business growth would be directly related to social impact.
The words and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee alone. What worked for them may not work for everyone. Any claims in this article have not been independently verified.