Starting The Hedrick Project
I have worn a bunch of titles over the years. Son, brother, student, athlete, trainer, coach, diver, adventurer, entrepreneur, founder, co-founder, and CEO. Since I was 18, I have been the founder of something. However, I have never been the founder of something that means so much to me, something that I can proudly look at and say could be my life's work - and to me, that is the best feeling possible.
My name is Will Hedrick. I am the Founder of The Hedrick Project. I promise I am more creative with other aspects of this organization than when it was time to come up with a name.
Before I could walk, my family took a trip to the beach. This was the first time I had seen the ocean and heard the waves crashing. The legend goes as soon as I touched the sand, I took off straight to the waves, crawling as fast as I could. My mom would run down and scoop me up before I hit the water. She would walk up the beach, child in arm, and set me down by her chair. As soon as I had a little taste of freedom, I would run down to the ocean as fast as I could before I got picked up again. I either got too tired to crawl back to the waves or eventually my mom gave up and went back to the house.
A few years later, I would be staring at the turtles, fish, lizards, and snakes in my kindergarten science classroom instead of paying attention to what was happening on the board. In second grade, I would slam my backpack down, grab a snack after school, and head outside. In high school, I would spend plenty of hours every day outside for track practice, rain or shine.
I have had many interests and potential career paths I wanted to pursue over the years. Fittingly, I wanted to be a marine biologist for all of my childhood until I hit high school.
In high school, I found another passion in athletics. I loved track, specifically, I loved sprinting. I was never fast, but I was obsessed with those that were. Eventually, I would get a job working part-time as an assistant personal trainer at a gym in Cornelius, NC where I would be able to train some athletes in sprint mechanics.
For three years, my life revolved around those interests. I would go to school, have track practice after classes, then immediately go to the gym to coach. I would get home around 9:00 pm and repeat the next day. I loved every second of it.
I would stay up researching workouts, training plans, sprint mechanics, and ways to stay injury-free. I would put them together and discuss them with all of my fellow sprinters at my school.
When I was coaching at the gym or helping fellow teammates on the track, I always enjoyed the idea of being able to help someone become better. There was no better feeling than knowing that the work I was doing would help them achieve a goal of theirs. That has always been a deep-rooted interest of mine.
In the fall of my senior year of high school, when I was applying to schools for college, I applied to all of their athletic training, exercise science, or kinesiology programs. This was my passion. It was what I wanted to do with my life, and I was willing to bet a college major on it.
However, by the end of my senior year of high school, I had moved on from my athletic training interests and found the world of entrepreneurship.
Senior year of high school, my class had a year-long capstone project. We were able to research anything we wanted to for an entire year. I remember sitting and thinking about what topics I wanted to pursue. I had a passion for exercise science, coaching, and training, and I knew that. But, I also had an emerging interest in the world of entrepreneurship.
Similar to athletes, entrepreneurs have outstanding coming of age stories. I love an underdog. I love a story. I love hearing about where people came from and everything they did to get to where they were.
I took a small risk. I decided for my senior year capstone, I would base my project on the question of "what creates a successful entrepreneur?". Instead of studying sprint mechanics further, I would spend some time flushing out this other interest of mine, to assure myself that I wanted to go the athletic training route. Without making this decision, I honestly do look back and wonder where I would be today in comparison.
Within the first few weeks of my capstone, I read hundreds of outstanding stories from the world's most successful and loved entrepreneurs. In every single story, they had to commit. There was a time when they had to decide that this was what they were going to do. Taking this to heart, I took my project down a different rabbit hole.
We were one of those families that never hired contractors to fix the issues around the house. My brother and I became familiar with a wide variety of skills. I never enjoyed the projects too much, but my brother took to them.
He is a much more skilled craftsman than I am. I have always been more interested in the final touches - sanding, staining, design, and the fine details. He prefers to look at a blueprint. I prefer to make sure that everything is aesthetically appealing. Together for years, we have worked on projects around the house, made some pieces of furniture, and typically would make Christmas and birthday gifts for my mom instead of purchasing something. For the record, they always either end up incomplete or late. We clearly are not the best gift-givers.
One day in my senior year math class, my teacher talked about a breakfast table she wanted in her home. She opened Pinterest, showed me a few designs, and complained about how expensive they were. I told her that she could do it herself for about $50 - 1/20th of the price. She mentioned she did not know how and did not have the tools. I told her I would make it for her for cheap. 100 dollars and a weekend, I could make some quick cash, and she could have a new table.
I recruited my brother to help me build the table, and as soon as we finished and delivered it, the lightbulb went off. What if we were able to turn this into a business? We have all the tools, we know how to build things, and there are plenty of friends and family members with a Pinterest board full of furniture that they will never build because it is either too difficult or too expensive. The math is pretty easy to understand on how to make a profit.
We decided why not and gave it a shot. I was able to take that leap of faith and commit just like all the entrepreneurs I researched a few weeks earlier. My capstone project was coming together.
In 2018, we launched Hedrick Custom Designs. Again, not the most creative name in the world.
We built custom furniture, decor, and accents and sold various pieces. We had T-shirts, a website, and a few higher ticket items that we sold. We had plenty of failures along the way - like the senior gift we created for our high school as my high school class graduated. My brother and I built a massive scoreboard. We learned, in a not-so-exciting way, that it would not be high wind and tropical storm resistant. Which is something quite important for all of our high school scoreboard makers out there to keep in mind. My brother, one of my best friends from high school, and I stayed up until 1:00 am at our school installing it the day before graduation. I had to wake up a few hours later with paint on my hands and walk across the stage for graduation after giving a speech. We installed the scoreboard in early June and it was knocked over by the new year. Always make sure your scoreboards are tropical storm resistant, lesson learned.
While it was not a capital-intensive, San Francisco, tech startup worth billions of dollars, Hedrick Custom Designs did teach me plenty about myself, my interests in entrepreneurship, and a ton about starting a business. We ran the company until my sophomore year of college when we decided to close. We closed our doors because my brother was graduating from college, and I was not at home with all of our tools, so it was difficult to take orders. But, most importantly, I had my eyes on my next venture - real estate.
Real estate is one of those careers that is appealing to a lot of people. No matter your interest, if you are a lover of home design, you get to spend your days looking at beautiful homes, if you have a love for sales, you get to sink your teeth into some of the largest assets in the world. I was the latter.
My interests, in the beginning, were fairly clear. Real estate is in the grand scheme of things, an easy career to get in. An 80hr course, a few tests, and you now have access to make as much money as you want. I planned to do real estate while I was in college and build up some capital so that when I graduate I could launch a business that I loved. This, in hindsight, is exactly what happened - however, there was a lot more chaos between the beginning of my real estate career and when I decided to call it quits.
As soon as I got started in real estate, I was addicted. The idea of being a successful agent interested me, however, what I quickly noticed was how far behind real estate brokerages were in North Carolina.
As soon as I started in real estate, I realized something was wrong. There are firms charging ridiculous splits just so that real estate agents can even practice. They were providing no value, sticking their hands out, waiting for their payday. While some successful firms were creating a lower split model with fewer resources, I worked at one for a while, and it was a great experience. I thought brokerages needed to be going the other way. Give the agents all the tools, resources, tech, and employees. If an agent wanted it, they should be able to have it.
After a year and a half as a broker, I launched SPEEK. SPEEK is a real estate firm dedicated to giving its agents the tools, connections, and creative freedom to operate their business however they want. I had a vision of building a brokerage for top agents. Those utilizing media, are in need of transaction coordinators, running from one appointment to the other, and need some assistance in controlling the chaos. I still think it is an outstanding model - our doors are still open.
After I launched SPEEK, was when my real estate career started to gain some momentum. I sold some of the NC Triad’s most expensive homes. I was the youngest person to ever sell a $1M+ home in the area. I had a ton of high-dollar listings, plenty of clients coming to me, and a high amount of volume for the year 2021 - especially for me to still be a junior in college. I ended up selling around $5.4M in real estate in the first year that SPEEK existed - for a full-time college student, I was satisfied with that number. However, I was not satisfied enough.
Since I started my real estate career, there was one thing I always wanted to do, compete with the top dogs. New York City. $100M penthouses here, $50M Hamptons homes there, and plenty more noticeable price tags around. I wanted to live in New York City. I wanted to sell the best real estate. So, at the end of 2021, I stopped taking on clients and started studying for my New York real estate license.
Before I knew it, I graduated college that December, I closed my last two deals in January, and I was packed and leaving for New York City.
So, let’s put this all in perspective. I am 21. I just graduated from college. I am leaving behind all my friends, family, and everything I know. I am leaving behind SPEEK, which, if I had stayed that year, we would have had a handful of agents join. I am leaving behind my personal real estate business. To put into perspective, if I did not increase my volume, it would have easily been six figures in a commission that year.
So, despite everything telling me to stay, I went to New York to pursue a dream that I had been running through my head for the last 3 years.
This is where the fireworks are supposed to go off and everything falls into place.
The city was not for me. Real estate there was not either. So here I was. In the most expensive city in the world, making no money. I had left everything and everyone I knew behind for this dream that I should have vetted a little better. Three years of dreams, hopes, aspirations, and work went up in smoke seemingly immediately.
New York City opened my eyes to the fact that I did not want to spend my life in real estate, and now I had no clear sense of direction. I knew I did not want to be there. I had been blazing a trail at lightspeed and ran right into a brick wall. It knocked me over. It was quite hard to get back up. The scariest part to me was not that I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. The scariest part was that I did not want to look like a failure.
However, I can safely say that moving to New York City was the best thing I ever did. Lucille Bell said it best “I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done”. If I had never gone to New York City, I would still have this lingering dream. I would want to know if the NYC real estate scene was for me. I would be working in North Carolina as a real estate broker and most likely would have expanded the firm. I would have never taken the time to reflect on what I truly want to do. My life would be completely different.
I rented a van, packed my things, and watched as the NYC skyline disappeared behind me. I drove through the night and did not stop - I just wanted to be home.
After driving through the night, I made it to Charlotte, NC. I took some time. I paused. I reflected. I thought about what I truly wanted to do. I reflected on all of the things I had lost interest in over the years.
I have always kept a list of business ideas that pass through my mind. There are probably 20-30 ideas in there, all varying in quality. At this point, I did not know what I was going to do. I just knew that it was not any of those on my phone. I did work on one for about a month in the education space but ultimately decided not to pursue it.
I knew that with my next business, whatever it was, I wanted it to be what I want to do. I was not going to worry about profitability, feasibility, or anything else that ends in an ility.
My entire life, I have had a passion for the outdoors and animal life. I went to a marine biology camp in middle school, I scuba dive, I fish - any time I can be outside, especially near the water, I will take the opportunity.
I have a passion for entrepreneurship. I have come to realize the decision I made in high school to pursue my capstone was an extremely fundamental decision to who I am. Similar to moving to NYC, if I never did that capstone, I guarantee I would be finishing my athletic training degree right now.
I know I love the outdoors and entrepreneurship. How can I bring those together to be something I want to do? Well, there are a billion different things you can do, however, I wanted to fit in one last element. That interest of mine that I have always had from my coaching days in high school - bettering people and bettering things.
When I was running SPEEK, I had always planned to open a nonprofit as a part of the company. We could use all of our in-house media to help tell stories of those who could use our help. Rising musicians, entrepreneurs, families in need - it could be anything. Anyone with a dream, we would be able to help. I never started it.
After a month or so of thinking about what I wanted to do next, I landed back on the nonprofit idea. This time I flushed it out.
There are a few organizations that I have always admired. Charity: Water, Sealegacy, and Pencils of Promise. Their missions are not anything revolutionary, but their media is. What makes them special is their ability to tell others' stories. I knew that media and storytelling would be at the core of what we do. I just did not have a mission yet.
I was thinking too narrow. At first, I focused on environmental work. Then I was solely focused on animals. One day, out of nowhere, the idea came to me to make our mission as broad as possible. I knew it would be project-based, so let's do as much as possible. After a few months of brainstorming, it all finally came together. I wrote down our extremely broad, simple, and powerful mission statement: to better animal, human, and environmental life globally.
That brings us to where we are today with the launch of The Hedrick Project. We are on a mission to better animal, human, and environmental life globally. We do this by using the power of media and storytelling to raise awareness and fundraise for our extraordinary partner organizations.
As soon as I can, I will announce all of our partners - you all will be excited. In the meantime, I have a lot of stories to help tell, and funds to raise. I will be traveling, connecting with each of our partners to video, photograph, and write the stories that the world needs to hear. From clean water in Uganda to whale and dolphin conservation in Massachusetts, we have a lot of impacts that we can make.
To say that I am excited is an understatement. Even just writing this blog has given me so much time to reflect and realize how lucky I am to be in the position to start a third company, one that is what I want to do.
Most importantly, I am hopeful. When we look into animal, human, and environmental issues, the news is not exciting. 780 Million people do not have access to clean water, corals will be gone by 2050, and the growing list of endangered and extinct animals - the news is clear.
Even though there are grim facts that we have to face, together we can create such powerful solutions. Most of our projects will not be solved quickly, but they can be solved in our lifetime. We can help animals climb back up the endangered lists. We can give all of those people clean water.
We can do anything together.
If you would like to help better animal, human, and environmental life globally, there are plenty of ways to do just that.
First, you can donate. 100% of your donations will go directly to our partner organizations which are doing extraordinary work to make the world a better place. I'm simply helping them along the way. Even better, Join the School, our community of givers so generous they stick with us donating month after month.
Second, you can start a campaign and fundraise on our behalf. Whether you want to dedicate a birthday or a 5k, we can make a special fundraiser just for you.
Third, volunteer! We have a variety of volunteer positions that we have listed. One that we are excited about is our "Build Your Own Position". If you have a skill or talent that you think The Hedrick Project needs on our volunteer team, fill out our application and we will greet your idea with enthusiasm.
Fourth, share our website, social media, and causes with those that you love. The more that know about our amazing work, the better.
Once again, thank you all for being here with me along this journey. I am beyond excited and I cannot thank you enough. Together we can make an amazing difference in this world - I am excited to do it with you.