College is often viewed simply as a time for learning. Students attend class, listen to the professor, read from a textbook and study in order to remember the information. However, a textbook to test learning style isn’t always the most effective way for a student to prove he/she knows the material. For Justin Chait, it was receiving an assignment to create a business plan and turning it into a local, award-winning paddleboard business in Naples, Florida.
Enrolling in Hodges University’s Bachelor of Science in business administration program in 2012, Chait was following in the footsteps of his father; something he had done once before. Graduating from Naples High School in 2007, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy with a dream to join Special Forces. “My dad spent 20 years in the military,” he said. In addition to his father’s service, Chait’s stepfather and mother also served.
From 2007-2012, Chait served as an intelligence specialist working in mission planning. He traveled to more than 10 countries and served on aircraft carriers at Guantanamo Bay and throughout portions of Asia and the Middle East. In 2012, he transferred to the U.S. Navy Reserve before receiving an honorable discharge in 2014.
It was during his time in the Reserves that Chait decided he wanted to go back to school. Watching his father fulfill a lifelong dream of earning a degree, he wasted no time enrolling. “My dad graduated from Hodges in 2012 with a degree in business, so I thought Hodges would be a good fit for me,” he said.
During his first year, he received an assignment in his Introduction to Business class that required him to create a business plan. An avid sportsman, Chait enjoys wakeboarding, kite surfing and any water-based action sport. Deciding to incorporate his love for water sports into his business plan, he came up with the idea to start a mobile paddleboard company – Gnarly Harley Paddle, LLC. “The company is named after my dog, Harley,” he said.
Learning the details to properly create and execute a business plan, Chait decided that instead of finding work at a restaurant or in retail to make money, he would make Gnarly Harley Paddle, LLC a real company. In October 2013, he officially launched the business.
“Since I’m not a brick and mortar business, I’m completely mobile, so it makes it much more convenient,” he explained. Teaching individuals of all ages and skill levels, some of Chait’s most notable clients include a mother with her infant, as well as an 87-year-old woman. From beginner to advanced levels, he admits, “I’ve never had an experience where the person I was instructing couldn’t maneuver the paddleboard. Every person I’ve led on a tour has been able to do it.”
Prior to opening his business, he spent time studying other tour guides to determine how to be a successful guide. Learning what he liked and didn’t like about each tour, he constructed a company designed to provide the user with a personalized experience. Once an individual books a tour online, Chait gathers the group at Little Hickory Island where he provides tips and techniques to prepare for the tour. He provides the water, equipment and a free introductory paddleboard lesson. In addition, throughout the tour, Chait takes more than 200 photos of guests. “I offer a GoPro package, which offers guests the opportunity to reminisce with more than 100 digital photos of their paddleboard experience,” he said.
At various times throughout the year, Chait’s ability to manage his time effectively is slim. “During season, I’m running three tours each day with 10 or more people, which oftentimes includes a sunset tour,” he said. Between managing and serving as the lead guide for a full-time business requiring unique hours, and taking 12 credit hours each semester to finish his degree, Chait also works in freelance marketing.
From graphic design to social media to creating websites and videos, Chait has provided his services to business such as Donation Planet and a kiteboarding school in the British Virgin Islands.
Feeling as if he is stretched too thin, Chait looks to expand the paddleboard business and license to other groups, in an effort to decrease the amount of responsibility he carries in leading all of the tours. With plans to graduate with his business administration degree in fall 2016, his goal is to enroll in the Master of Business Administration program and eventually build another business.
“I want to start a company everyone needs. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out,” he said.
Spending some time working as a realtor prior to starting his paddleboard company, Chait is currently working on a real estate app; however, due to financial constraints, it is taking him a bit longer to develop and test the app.
As he continues in his entrepreneurial pursuits, he is grateful for the opportunity provided to him by Hodges, saying, “Having professors who are experts in the field was one of the main reasons I chose Hodges. One thing I would love to see in the curriculum is a requirement that students build a business. To be able to apply what you are learning in class to your business and see the results, now that is the best way to learn.”