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Strength through Adversity | Forged part 1 (DH 25)

Forged brand finds strength through adversity

The Forged brand was born on the battlefield and built to give back. With military experience and tireless dedication, the team behind Forged always pushes forward, no matter the challenge.

Running a business is never easy. But through adversity comes strength.

For Forged CEO Michael Sauers, a former Navy SEAL, and Marketing Manager Samantha Bonilla, a former Marine, the brand means pursuing a higher purpose and giving customers that same strong feeling when they put on a Forged shirt or compete in The Murph Challenge.

“Anybody can go put an American flag on a shirt,” Mike Sauers said on this episode of the Digital Hospitality podcast. “But you’ve gotta give meaning to that shirt.”

“There’s dedication, sacrifice and lots of adversity that’s been overcome in this brand — and your brand!” 

Samantha Bonilla, Michael Sauers, and Shawn Walchef go on a hike in San DiegoWe joined up with the amazing couple for a hike up a mountain in San Diego where we learned how Forged is growing their brand online and offline by providing value and giving back every day.

Taking Mike’s SEAL background and Sam’s Marine experience to grow the Forged brand, this hike covers a lot of ground. Headed to the top of the mountain, the two discuss how they live the brand and raise funds and awareness for veterans and active duty with some of the savviest marketing campaigns Cali BBQ Media and Digital Hospitality has ever seen. 

Sounds busy right? It is. Still, Mike and Sam take time to be active.

“We typically try to plan at least one hike a week,” says Mike.

Climbing a mountain on the Digital Hospitality podcastClimbing up the mountain, Mike and Sam are both on the job but also living their truth of sharing their stories of how life has shaped them and how they build their business. For Mike, becoming a SEAL was in his DNA. With a lifetime love of competitive sports and the great outdoors, Mike’s active body and courageous heart made joining the Navy SEALs the move to stay on the move. Wired the same way? He’ll tell you how to get involved.

“Nowadays with all the technology it’s actually fairly easy to research the process,” says Mike. “If you go on the site there’s information and they’ll hook you up with an actual Navy SEAL recruiter. They’ll basically brief you on all the requirements.”

The SEAL requirements included aptitude tests that measure physical, mental and psychological categories. Needless to say, Mike passed these tests, but as a SEAL rookie and later a SEAL leader he keeps it real on how human and humbling the process is.

“Any Special Ops training isn’t easy,” says Mike. “You know it’s gonna be hard. You have to that that mindset before you even step in.”

Sounds kind of like relationships, right?


Stronger Together:

Just like their service backgrounds, Mike and Sam have grown through the challenges of dating with the sense of appreciation and humor to smile about it. Mike has opened up Sam to conquering fears in life while Sam has helped Mike grow professionally.

Mike Sauers and Sam Bonilla on the Digital Hospitality podcast“Before me and Mike started dating, I never went to the ocean, lakes, nothing. Fish scared the shit out of me!” says Sam with a laugh. “Mike booked a snorkeling trip. I wouldn’t go in, I refused.” With a few curse words and the reminder that he paid for the trip, Sam took the plunge and the rest as they say is history.

“I jumped in and it was the greatest thing ever. I haven’t been out of the water since.”

The next hurdle? Well actually it’s a mountain: skiing. 

Before they hit the slopes though, the two are still on their very literal and figurative climb to build Forged. 

“It didn’t start when we had all these followers,” reflects Sam who now manages a Forged following of over 124k on IG alone. “It took time to build that content.” As the Marketing Manager at Forged, Sam knows this better than anyone.

While Mike didn’t at first take to social media – kind of like Sam to the water – Sam helped Mike make that plunge that turned Forged into the powerhouse it is today. A lot of that was getting both Mike and Sam in front of their followers to build a deeper connection. “People want to associate a face with a brand and know that you’re living that message that you’re putting out there,” says Sam.

“You definitely have to live your brand,” echoes Mike. “If your customer can’t relate to your company, if you don’t give your customer something to want to come back for, you’re not going to hook that customer in.” Clearly, connection and value are key when building a brand. “You have to give them something back,” says Mike. “If somebody goes to my website, they want to go through my website, and they want to feel like they bettered themselves by coming to my website.”


Spreading the Word about your Brand:

So, as an entrepreneur how to do your customers find out about you brand?

“You’ve got to spread the word to other people, you know?” says Sam.

Luckily, spreading the word to other people is easier than ever.

“If I could give advice to any entrepreneur out there, it’s exactly what Shawn is saying: take advantage of all the digital marketing content out there,” states Mike. “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all that stuff is really free to set up. Getting on Yelp and Trip Advisor, being able to promote your business is literally free to set up.”

Forged Instagram

Once you get the word out, you begin to build the movement and grow/strengthen the audience.

“You’ve gotta create that grassroots movement first,” says Mike. “You have to get that core audience. No business ever grows without that core audience. Getting those core customers to come into your restaurant, getting those core customers that really believe in your brand.”  

As you build your brand story, so you build your success story.

“In any good success story out there, you’ve got to build an audience that really believes in the core of your product,” Mike tells us. “And you have to deliver a quality product. You have to give them a reason to believe in your product.”

Murph Challenge 2019 shirt by ForgedWhile it’s easier than ever to get your message out there, building a brand and being an entrepreneur is still a grind. Like the hike Sam, Mike and Shawn are on, it’s literally an uphill battle with work, responsibility and pressure at every corner.

“If it was easy to start a business then everybody would do it, but it isn’t!” exclaims Mike. “I’ve been doing Forged now for 12 years and it’s still a learning curve. You can never stop working as an entrepreneur. If you’re not working, you’re putting everyone below you, all your employees, at risk. You do have a lot of weight on your shoulders.”

Forged on the Digital Hospitality podcastThankfully for Mike and Sam, they have a higher purpose as they’re reaching the summit both literally and figuratively. That purpose is to support active military and veterans. This is perhaps best expressed by The Murph Challenge.


What is The Murph Challenge:

The Murph Challenge is a workout of the day (aka WOD) that raises money and awareness for the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

Michael P. Murphy was an American Navy SEAL who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor – the highest decoration given out by the military – for his work in the War in Afghanistan. Every Memorial Day, the Forged family and countless others around the world honor Murph’s memory by pledging sweat and money to do his timed workout of the day as a tribute.

Feeling fit? Here is The Murph Challenge workout:

  1. 1 Mile Run
  2. 100 Pullups 
  3. 200 Pushups
  4. 300 Squats
  5. 1 Mile Run
  6. Not enough to kick your ass? You can do all that in a 20lb vest or body armor!

By now you’re probably breathing heavy just thinking about all that. Lucky for us, Mike gave us a few tips on how to best complete and prepare for this heavy duty WOD.


Tips to Prepare for the Murph Challenge:

  1. You don’t have to do everything in a row — Know someone who can do 100 straight pullups? Us neither. While it’s recommended to do the runs as a whole, you can bounce around with the workouts to best complete it and beat fatigue.
  2. Don’t get intimated by it, break it down — Again, all those pushups, pullups and squats in order are intimidating AF. Your best bet? Break down those portions. For example, refining the workout into 20 sets is how Mike gets the body weight exercises completed. And trust, he’s a pro.
  3. Bring a notepad — Brain starting to hurt? Record your sets and reps while you do it. No one can remember all those reps and sets in their head while putting their mind, body and soul through such an intense WOD.
  4. Work your way there — Not there yet on pushups, pullups or squats? Practice with amended versions, like pushups on your knees, so you’re eventually ready to do a whole Murph Challenge. 2020 might be the spark to have you all the way there in 2021.

Hiking in San Diego with Forged and Cali BBQ MediaIn the meantime, you can support The Murph Challenge by buying, wearing and sharing tees, hats, and patches made by Forged at

Learn more about Forged and pick up some of their amazing gear for a great cause at

Tune in to the next episode of Digital Hospitality to see Samanta Bonilla, Mike Sauers, and Shawn Walchef continue this epic conversation on the way to a gun range. Subscribe to the podcast and follow Cali BBQ Media on YouTube so you don’t miss it!

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