At the sound of “Rolling,” Michael Hanna and his wife Mary Ruth Hanna begin speaking about their incredibly inspirational story in front of cameras operated by Wes and Tera Wages of Armosa studios. We’re at the Mattress Lot in NE Portland, and the Hannas are soundchecking for a filmed interview in relation to Chris Guillebeau’s upcoming book, “The $100 Startup.” Theirs is the story that begins this new book, and it is an unconventional one.
In May 2009, Michael lost his corporate job with a major media company and after a period of job hunting, stress, and searching, he bought a truckload of mattresses. Mary Ruth thought his idea was crazy at first, but they were dedicated to it and their story of success has captured many people’s attention.
If you attended TEDxConcordiaUPortland 2011, you’re already familiar with Michael’s story. During his speech, he discussed the humility that came from losing his job, but also the rewarding freedom he gained in being able to create a business that corresponded to his values.
“We can operate the business as we like. For example, we enjoy giving donations and have been able to give to many organizations. In the corporate world, you have to jump through hoops and bureaucracy, but we’ve been able to give to homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and auctions for schools. We can pick and choose who we give to” Michael said.
“Life is fun when you own your own business. Sometimes you’re busy, but other times you can leave early and do the things you want to do. It isn’t as structured” Mary Ruth added.
The Hannas’ unique story resounds with their customers. Between people sharing Michael’s TEDxConcordiaUPortland talk online, seeing it on YouTube, and clicking on the link posted on the Mattress Lot website, numerous customers have come in wanting to talk about the story. They’ve wanted to become a part of the story, and they in turn share their stories with the Hannas. Everyone seems to have a different reason for needing a mattress, but when they need another one they come back to the Mattress Lot.
“Communities are filled with huge mall parking lots where people aren’t connecting. But people want to form relationships. A relationship makes them feel better about doing business with you” Michael said.
To hear Michael’s story now, you might think that he simply tells it the way it is. In a matter of minutes it’s clear that relationships and community are what he holds dear as a business owner. What isn’t as clear is the thought and craft that went into composing the story.
When Michael was asked to be a speaker last year, he understood the significance and honor of being asked to present at a TEDx event. He was a TED fan, and he knew that he had to make the most of this huge opportunity. There was definitely a story to tell, but how to do it? He wanted to be sure his story was clear and succinct so as many people as possible could relate to it. They needed to understand it, yet he also discovered that he needed to understand it better himself.
“Being asked to speak compelled me to think through my story. It was really emotional because I had to return to these memories, and it was also thought-provoking. I had to verbalize why I was in business, and I had to think about what it was I was trying to accomplish.” he said.
After giving his talk at last year’s event, Michael was inspired by the congratulations he received from the other speakers and from community members in attendance. He remembers how honored he felt when Mohan Nair, whom he’d respected from afar, congratulated him. The feedback was encouraging, yet he has found the relationships that he began at last year’s event most inspiring.
“Cut” Wes says. “That was great you two.”
The Hannas, sitting on the edge of one of the many mattresses in the store, shift and relax a bit.
“Michael loves being in front of a camera” Mary Ruth mentions.
Wes looks up from his camera, seemingly on the verge of asking a question, when Michael cuts in: “I was in broadcast for over ten years.”
He’s obviously very comfortable in front of the camera, but in talking with him I’ve noticed something else he retained from his previous experience: He knows the power of a good story.
Tickets for TEDxConcordiaUPortland 2012: Becoming Extraordinary go on sale January 28th
Buy one and become a part of our story!
By Sean Wheaton
Sean Wheaton is a teacher and writer who lives in Portland, OR. He’s a lover of ideas both big and small, and he is thrilled to be a part of this year’s TEDxConcordiaUPortland planning team. He’s one of several storytellers who helps to share write-ups, interviews, and perspectives on the many extraordinary people from our surrounding community.