How a Bad Idea Sprung Success That is Helping to Save the Ocean

What a company stands for may be as important as the products or services they sell. This is the story of three young men who utilized a special aspect of public relations to turn a failed idea into a multi-million-dollar business in a few short years.

Back in 2013, the three young men sold life insurance from a call center in San Diego.

“It was pretty bad. Half the calls were like, ‘Take me off the call list,’” says one of the owners, Bruno Aschidamini.1

“Pretty bad,” the other two men agreed. Steven Ford and Brandon Leibel dreamt of taking charge of their lives by starting their own business. So, they did.

They called their new venture Cloud Nine, and it was based on a very bright idea: they would sell beach towels with pillows woven into them to make lying on the sand an even better experience. It would be the first such product in the market. It couldn’t fail. Or so they thought.

They worked their Cloud Nine business for about a year while maintaining their day gigs before finally giving up. Having zero sales has a way of bleeding enthusiasm out of even the most gung-ho entrepreneurs. Then one day Aschidamini thought up a new name, and they decided to give it a second shot.

Time to Hit Up the Parents

Energized by the name Sand Cloud, the men threw everything into the business. Living on a diet of rice and beans, they each borrowed $5,000 from their parents and maxed out credit cards to purchase their first large shipment of towels.

Thirty thousand dollars later they still had no sales. But they were gaining a few hundred followers a day on social media, so they kept going. They were about to learn their first big lesson.

In 2015 at a Surf Expo trade show in Orlando, Florida, they learned that no one wanted their beach towels with pillows.

Instead, people at the Expo showed interest in a pillow-less mandala towel they had tucked away in the corner of the booth. A retail buyer placed an order for $20,000 worth of the mandala design, and the Sand Cloud rocket ride was launched.1 (A mandala design is a round pattern of circles within each other that symbolically represent the interconnection of life, friends, family and all the universe.)

The hard lesson learned that day was that no one wanted the “bright idea” that started the business in the first place: towels with pillows. Such a lesson is a tough nut for any self-respecting business owner to swallow. But their appetite to succeed outweighed the need to stroke their egos. So, they dropped the pillow towels and got busy creating beach towels with different designs.

Sales started pouring in, and by 2016 they were up to an impressive $2.4 million in sales.1 But it wasn’t just their products that did it. The special public-relations twist they put on the company made all the difference.

Even “Sharks” Like Goodwill

In an article L. Ron Hubbard wrote in 1983 entitled “GOODWILL,” Mr. Hubbard defined it as “. . . the reputation an organization has with its publics for integrity, good service, prompt bills paying, high quality delivery, friendliness, etc.”

As Mr. Hubbard states, many qualities go into creating goodwill. Let’s take one: integrity. Collins English Dictionary defines integrity this way: “If you have integrity, you are honest and firm in your moral principles.”

From the beginning, Sand Cloud had stood on a moral principle, and it has had everything to do with their success. This was best exemplified by their appearance on the hit TV show Shark Tank in 2016.

If you’ve never watched Shark Tank, the show features business owners pitching a panel of investors to get them to invest in their company.

If you are a fan of Shark Tank, you may have noticed that the investors are often attracted to businesses that stand for a social cause. This is especially true of Robert Herjavec, who invested $200,000 in Sand Cloud when the three owners appeared on the show.2

What was the social issue Sand Cloud got behind? In the words of the owners: “Sand Cloud is dedicated to making a difference in the world by protecting our oceans and marine life.”

This dedication to the marine life is not an afterthought. It is the very soul of Sand Cloud’s business, to the point where, today, they sell T-shirts (along with their towels and other products) that are made from recycled plastic bottles.1 That’s right. Instead of plastic going into the oceans and killing marine life, it can be used to make shirts you can wear.

Every aspect of Sand Cloud’s marketing and public relations is aligned with saving marine life, including 10 percent of their profits going toward this end.2 They are a company with a cause. They are a company that stands for something.

It’s that sort of integrity that creates goodwill.

Perhaps more than ever, today’s consumers are enticed by products where a portion of the purchase price goes toward a social cause. Why buy a plain old beach towel when you can buy one that will help save our oceans and marine life?

Again, Sand Cloud STANDS for something beyond just making money. Helping the environment is front and center of all their communications, as seen on their web page, their packaging and their social

Mr. Hubbard also said this about goodwill: “The amount of public demand for service and your future income are both largely dependent upon GOODWILL.” 

What does your business stand for? How would you define your brand of integrity? What moral values does your company have that might resonate with your customers? How are you creating goodwill? It’s worth
thinking about.

Integrity that runs as deep as the sea just
might help lift a company above the clouds.



  1. Clifford, Catherine. “How 3 Guys Went from Call Center Cubicles to ‘Shark Tank’ and Made Millions.” CNBC, 31 May 2017.

  2. “Sand Cloud Towels®‎: Beach Towels Crafted With Purpose.” Sand Cloud, 2018



Issue: 180913031INT

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