Wazoo has always had a funny name and we frequently get asked “Why did you name your company Wazoo?” or “You know that’s slang for a butt, right?”
Many people have speculated that it’s an acronym that stands for something like Wearable Accessories to Zero Out Obstacles, or Wild And Zany Outdoor Outfitters. Some theorize that one of us graduated from Washington State University, WSU a.k.a. “Wazzu”, or previously worked at the Washington Zoo. Others say it was the sound made by the wind swirling in a canyon on the fourth day of a walkabout in the high deserts of Utah.
Our goal is to not squash the creativity and curiosity of those brave enough to ponder the meaning of Wazoo but Dustin asked me to tell the story of what it means to me. It’s a simple question but it represents a lot, so bear with me as we dive down this rabbit hole.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Nick. He grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and had a natural curiosity for all things mechanical. He would spend time disassembling and reassembling broken toys or appliances to learn how they worked. He had “the knack” as they say.
Predictably, he wanted to become an engineer to feed his curiosity of how things work; How everything works (except semicolons?… no one knows how those work).
In college, engineers are taught to understand concepts, apply them to solve problems, and then actually prove that the theory works in practice. It’s an amazingly rewarding process to take something from an idea in your head to a physical product in your hand. The projects start off small with things like toothpick bridges or towers made of straws, then onto catapults, and eventually designing, building, and racing an amphibious all-terrain vehicle. (Yeah, that was fun!)
After college comes the real world.
- Get a cool job
- Make good money
- Enjoy life!
Turns out the first two steps were easy! I got a job in Houston, TX to become an astronaut instructor and it paid well! But I couldn’t seem to get step 3. It was a unique job but it was predictable. There was no creativity or design. There was only learning how things had been done for the last 30 years and repeating it.
When the Space Shuttle program was coming to an end, it was time to move on. Over the next 3 years, I tried 3 different jobs hoping to find something I could enjoy. I went from deep sea drilling tool design, to high paying but mindless data entry, to working on human-rated vacuum chambers for space suit training and testing. Each job hinted at a clue to finding happiness. First, I remembered how much I liked the full design process. Second, how much I NEED my mind challenged and engaged. And third, how much I can’t stand red tape and inefficiencies.
It was during these 3 years that I occupied my mind with expanding my knowledge of outdoor skills. Thinking about playing with sticks in the woods was a mental escape from the 50+ year old, nicotine stained office walls and fluorescent lights that surrounded me. It was a beacon of hope and something I enjoyed spending time learning about.
When the “survival bracelet” craze came around, my first reaction was “What’s so survival about that? It’s just cord.” And BOOM there was an idea that my mind latched onto. I could make an actual survival bracelet. It ignited my passion because it was something I could design from idea through physical product and I was already interested and experienced in the subject.
Within a few months, it evolved from idea to side hustle, and eventually led to me quitting my last engineering job in 2012. With the product in hand, all I was missing was a name.
The soul-crushing corporate machines had taught me a lot of what NOT to do. If I was going to start a business, it was going to be on my terms. It would be focused on goals achieved and not hours traded. It would foster creativity and curiosity. It would strive to be efficient and adaptable. And most importantly, it had to be fun!
Unlike the “survival bracelets” on the market at the time, I was going to make a bracelet that could actually save your butt in an emergency -
A product that could save your Wazoo!
The name was a joke at first, but it stuck. It’s memorable, cheeky, and balances out the seriousness that is “survival”. And though that’s the origins of the word, that's only the beginning of what Wazoo means to me.
It represents years of following curiosities, staying true and being authentic, stepping into the unknown, taking on challenges, owning mistakes, seeking happiness, and enjoying the journey along the way. THAT IS WAZOO.
NOTE: This is Nick’s perspective leading up to quitting his job in 2012. It’s always fun to look back and realize the balance between the two owners. Nick, the Engineer built the brand and logo, and Dustin the Business/Advertising major spearheaded the product design. They joined forces January 2013 and the rest, as they say, is history! Read more of the story here.