Currency: Innovation


If you met Max, Mitchell, Caleb and Russell at a surf tourney or skateboard competition you would have no idea the success they’ve achieved. In fact, you’d probably peg them for regular dudes just hangin’ out. What you’d miss is the entrepreneurial spirit of these four regular dudes to come together and start a ‘Chill Movement.’

The idea was born on a surf trip to Australia after college. Max had thoughts of a unique beverage, one that wouldn’t amp you up but chill you out. Using all natural ingredients like Lemongrass, Magnesium and L-Theanine; an amino acid found in Green Tea, Max and his buddies decided that the world needed a little less caffeine and a lot more calm. Naming it ‘Just Chill’ they raised money through a Angel investor to manufacture the first batch of three flavors. Fast forward four years and you’ll find Rio Berry, Jamaican Citrus and Tropical Just Chill at your local Whole Foods Market as well as 15 other grocers across the United States.

“We are literarily creating a completely new beverage category,” says Russell, “that goes against the mainstream notion that performance is correlated with high levels of energy stimulated by caffeine intake. Instead we are spreading the message of The Power of Calm, by showing people that you actually perform best in your life when you are calm and focused.”

Using what they call ‘guerilla marketing,’ they have partnered up with other startups in their Venice Beach area to help promote each other’s business. “We like to work with other liked minded young people who are excited about growing their business,” says Mitchell, the Marketing Director for Just Chill. “Plus it’s great to meet other people who are morally motivated instead of monetarily motivated.”

Two minutes with these guys and you’ll see the spirit and dedication in their eyes. What’s also refreshing is that they all could have easily hit the beach after graduating from college during a recession but instead looked for an opportunity to build a business that affected people in a positive way. I lift my ‘Chill Tini’ to these Zen’ed out boys and look forward to seeing more deliciousness from them in the future.


Someone once said that in order to succeed you have to have four things: “passion, vision, purpose, and a plan.” Rusty found out he had them all, but the realization came from an unlikely source-being laid off. Working as a product designer for a large corporation, Rusty designed barbeques day in and day out. He often pondered the life of these massive machines and what happened to them once their owners wanted a new, shiny upgraded model. Sure it was job security, but Rusty couldn’t help feeling guilty for contributing to the larger global problem of the hundreds and thousands of non-biodegradable products manufactured every year. “I think we have an obligation as designers to use the resources out there to make products that are user and earth friendly,” explains Rusty, “I wasn’t happy.” Getting laid off seemed like maybe an opportunity instead of a set back.

Combing magazines for savvy business ideas, Rusty came across an article written about plastic water bottles and their indefinite life span. It spurred an extensive research effort that required several trips to REI and many nights learning about the properties of plastic. He became even more passionate about inventing something good for the world and decided the hole in the market was a good ‘filtered reusable water bottle.’ Sure there are a few out there already, but during Rusty’s research he was convinced he could invent a better one. And it seemed the universe transpired to aid in his efforts. “My buddy at the University decided to use my product idea for his thesis,” says Rusty, “I was honored but I was even more excited because it also acted as a business proposal that I could send to potential investors.”

Rusty had a vision, and a plan was starting to form. Stepping full force into production on his invention, Rusty didn’t look back. “I figured, if I didn’t do my own thing now, when would I? I used some of my savings but I wasn’t concerned with that. I was more driven to get this thing going,” Rusty explains. Having passion for something does funny things to people. It makes you stay up all night reading articles on towns with filtered water fountains and hotels that do and don’t offer recycling. Within 3 months Rusty had investors, which meant this was his new full time job.

Working not only on the design of the water bottle, Rusty toggles daily between investor meetings, off shore calls with China and building prototypes. He’s doing it all. He stepped into the hot seat, channeled his efforts and began to see the reward of being a true entrepreneur. After finishing his degree at the Savannah school of Art and Design years prior, Rusty knew he was ready to do something big, but it wasn’t until this ‘opportunity’ that Rusty was able to put all that knowledge, experience and energy into one venture. They say you learn a lot about yourself in times of stress. Rusty learned he not only has what it takes to design a relevant, earth friendly product, but he has succeeded where others have failed, by not giving up and having the guts to go after his passion. After over a year in the planning, Rusty proudly announced that his product is currently being made here in the United States with all biodegradable materials and will be seeking ways to make it available in stores soon. Rusty is also very passionate about helping to build water wells in underdeveloped countries and intends to work closely in the years to come with a non-profit organization called Charity Water. Rusty hasn’t worked out the details yet but hopes to give back to this organization in some way by donating part of all sales to their efforts.

Since creating Gobie H20 in 2009 Rusty has rode the roller coaster of trying to get a product to market that has a lot of competition. In 2016 he made it on to Shark Tank and brokered a deal for $300,000 from one of the show’s ‘Sharks.’ Rusty continued to run Gobie’s distribution but unfortunately couldn’t get Gobie to catch on. Rusty is still freelance and working on something new. He’s top secret about what his new product might be, perhaps an improvement on the original Gobie H20. Rusty is still passionate about clean water and still works closely with the Charity Water organization.


When my friends told me about Joseph’s gourmet sausage joint downtown and how it was packed from morning to night, needless to say I was surprised. A business packed 24/7 in this economy I thought, there had to be something special about what this guy was doing. In an effort to research the secret I headed down on a Tuesday around lunch to see what all the hype was about. I almost missed the non-descript building with big, wooden doors if it wasn’t for the beautifully designed red sign above that read, “Wurschutestche.”

I joined the line already formed outside and began to read the simply stated menu. Rattlesnake, Alligator and Sun Dried Tomato sausages begged my attention: a choice of two sides. Flip the menu and find over 35 Belgian and German beers to choose from. A very affordable price point, hand made family style picnic tables with brown parchment paper stretched across and a very good-looking Irish man behind the bar and I was starting to understand the draw.

Days later I contacted Joseph in hopes of speaking with him. In my mind I pictured a large, older German man probably bearded and full of stories of his homeland but instead I was surprised by a tall, slender 30 something with Euro style and a killer background in marketing and restaurant management. Probing for answers or insights into this place’s success I first ask him why he thinks they’re having so much success. He is calculated in his answer and articulate with his explanation. “There are a few reasons. We are hyper focused. We are reasonably priced for gourmet food and we provide an interesting and simple atmosphere.” Wow, I think, so simple.

Then he goes on to explain his wood working background and how they make all the furniture for the restaurant in a shop next door. He explains his love of German beers and all his “crazy, German friends.” He cracks a smile when he tells me his favorite thing about the restaurant, “We get an amazing cross section of people here. It’s like a melting pot. You get the business guys from downtown, sitting next to the art student who probably tagged their building last night. Then you get the older, German couples, the Asian population from Little Tokyo and an occasionally new born. I just love it.”

Joseph kindly walks me around that day of our interview, entertaining every question I have, sitting at every table I ask him to for his photograph and treating people to free beer who allow him to sit and interrupt there lunch. It isn’t hard to see why this place is packed everyday. Sure the sausages melt in your mouth and the 10.5% alcohol content of the Belgium beer doesn’t hurt but it’s in spending time with it’s creator that I begin to truly understand the magic. Joseph is kind and smart and hard working and has been interviewed a dizzying amount of times but still made me feel welcome and appreciated for being interested in his business. Before I leave he thanks me and leaves me with some great last words. “The smiles are different here. It’s a fun place.” Gratitude, I think to myself. It’s in the simple pleasures that we find the most happiness. Thank you Joseph for creating a place where we can be reminded of that.

Since Joseph opened Wurstkuche in 2008 he has since expanded and opened a second locaion in Venice, CA. His downtown location, which started in a small warehouse type space has grown to include a commissary kitchen and small coffee shop that he calls BLACKTOP. Joseph reported that it had been a bumpy but good 9 years since I interviewed him but, 'filled with great lessons.' Sounds like Joseph still has that grateful attitude, no matter what.


Amy learned the hard way that life is about change. “I was widowed at 30. That taught me a lot about how short life can be. It’s just not worth it to stay in a job that isn’t making you happy.” From the mid-west, Amy made her way out here to California to work in the movies, a change she gladly embraced.

Almost a decade spent in movie production on mostly low budget horror movies, Amy dealt with shooting in haunted houses, procuring helicopters and fetching Tiger Balm for picky stars. Then the recession forced her to take a full time gig with a production company that specialized in TV commercials. Making the move meant stepping down. “I went from winning an Emmy to sitting in a cubicle getting fat. I had to make a change.”

“I was driving my boyfriend mad, coming home from work everyday miserable. He told me to ‘get a hobby,” so, I tried Pilates for the first time and was hooked!” Relying on blind faith and a padded savings account Amy decided to quit and open a Pilates studio. During Amy’s certification training she met Amy Smith, who was also ready for a change. “We had a great Ying Yang together. She is earthy and calm and I can be more impulsive and flashy.” After they logging almost 500 hours for certification Amy and Amy opened Pilate-ology in Sherman Oaks.

Offering over 50 classes a week, taught by eight instructors, Pilate-ology quickly set itself apart with an affordable price point and a laid back atmosphere. Amy is known as the ‘silly’ instructor, dancing and making it fun for her students. And in that role, she feels she has finally blossomed. “I’m in a field now that gives me a greater sense of purpose. I’m helping people be healthy and creating a community of loving support for everyone, including myself.”


Upon first meeting Jared, I was quickly taken in by his smile and exuberant personality. Bouncy and animated, he began to explain an important volleyball hit by motioning with his arm and exalting, “like a cobra people, like a cobra.” Spend a full three hours getting a volleyball lesson from Jared, and your cheeks will hurt from chuckling so much. Then and there I knew I’d follow this guy anywhere. He just has an energy you want to soak in, like the sun, into the very core of your being. And long after he’s gone, you’re still smiling at the crazy things he says, or what seems to be an unmatched positive outlook.

Jared teaches beach volleyball in the evenings and has a part time gig that uses his endless energy, but what really drives Jared is his music. Finding his love early at the tender age of seventeen, Jared knew it was in his blood. Moving to Nashville after college, in search of a record deal, Jared pursued his dream. Several years later and only one original band mate, Jared moved again to LA still searching for that perfect agent. “When you live in a creative world, you have endless possibilities. I couldn’t give up” Jared explains. The proud author of one CD titled “Several Shots at Redemption,” Jared pursued the LA rock scene hard. “We played some of the best places here in LA, but just didn’t find the success we wanted.”

Something needed to shift. “About a year ago we decided to just play local, in our own back yard. With a tighter economy, we just couldn’t afford to travel as much,” says Jared. Living in the South Bay meant much smaller venues and crowds. “The band had to scale down a bit too,” Jared explains. ”We took on more of an acoustic sound trying to play with less instruments, haul around less gear. Be less excessive.” A funny thing happened after that. The songs started to lend themselves to a different kind of sound, a more upbeat, inspirational vibe. “Smaller venues are more intimate and it seems my song writing reflected that. I started writing happier songs. Sure, as musicians you just love to write that juicy, deep heartbreak song but that isn’t what people want to hear right now. They want to hear that everything is going to be ok. Music helps us forget about the news for a minute, takes us out of our element and people need that escape.”

Jared was the first musician to sell out at a local music venue called St. Rocke in Hermosa Beach. It was his CD release party and they were turning people away at the door. “Jared is an artist that in the music business we find rare” says Allen, owner of St. Rocke. “He is pure of heart with his music, is complex through his simplicity, and actually touches people with his performances. He's the only local artist I know who has the front row lip-syncing his lyrics.” Jared and his band play more then ever now, securing a regular spot at St. Rocke.

I’m reminded of the story of The Beatles in their early days of playing in Hamburg. It was the couple years before they became a sensation in the United States. From 1960 to 1962 the Beatles traveled to Hamburg five times, playing 5-8 hours a day, seven days a week. Their manager explained that they were no good on stage before they went to Hamburg, but they were very good when they got back. The old adage of practice makes perfect seems to ring true. They say it takes about ten years of practice to really master your craft. If we were to do the math on Jared Young, I think we’d find he’s right on target.

About the currency project

The Currency Project challenges us all to see the beauty through the pain, the positive that can come from a negative and the heartbreak that can turn into a new beginning. Life is uncertain but our faith, hope and love can never be taken from us. Our true currency in life is what we make it.