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The Hottest Fires Forge the Hardest Steel | Forged part 2 (DH 026)

Forged brand interview san diego

Still catching your breath from the mountain hike with FORGED? Well, Navy SEALs and Marines don’t slow down so neither will we. On this second part of our interview with FORGED, CEO Mike Sauers and Marketing Manager Samantha Bonilla joined Digital Hospitality’s Shawn Walchef as they head to South Bay Rod and Gun Club for a shooting session preceded by a history lesson of the FORGED Brand full of business tips.

The power couple behind FORGED Brand finds themselves in the front seats for the latest Cali BBQ Media Podcast as we appropriately find out that FORGED was started out of the trunk of a car. Check out the first part of our day with Mike Sauers and Samantha Bonilla.

Forged brand finds strength through adversityThese days, FORGED Brand is making waves digitally as seen with social media campaigns starring Chris Pratt, John Krasinski, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and others. Some of these campaigns have raised more than a million dollars for veteran and first responder foundations and charities like The Murph Challenge.

The Murph Challenge Chris Pratt

However, the brand was not built overnight. Sparked by a devastating moment during a firefight in Iraq in 2006, Mike and his platoon’s desire to help a wounded SEAL inspired the quick creation of a t-shirt to fundraise for their teammate and close friend’s Elliott’s medical expenses.

“We wanted to help raise funds to aid with Elliott’s recovery. I had a little experience making shirts and hats for the platoon,” reflects Mike. “We made a shirt, we started selling them around the team and we ended up making a lot of money in a short period of time. We used the money to aid with his recovery and then a couple guys on the team started asking me to make more t-shirts.”

Taking on the ask, Mike recruited another SEAL buddy who was good at graphic design. They started making shirts for the team and selling them out of the trunk of a car. By that holiday season, it was clear they had a hit on their hands.

Murph Challenge 2019 shirt by Forged“I think I made more money doing [shirts] that month than I did in the NAVY!” Mike reflects on that pivotal December. Inspired by the success, the decision to move from SEAL work to a clothing company was on. “If I can’t get this thing going in two years I’ll come crying back!” Mike pledged.

This upstart clothing company’s name? FORGED, of course. Well, wrong. Originally named KNOX – a play on hard knocks – business was booming for Mike and his graphic designer. That was until they were hit with a C&D four months in. As it turned out, KNOX already existed. “We were able to sell our existing inventory, recoup our money back, and then we started searching for names.”

That search for a new name would not be easy. Ironically, it would be an old shirt from Mike’s SEAL days that would inspire many new shirts to come.

“One day I was looking through my closet and I came across my old Hell Week t-shirt. There was a saying on the shirt that said: The hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires.” 


“I thought about that because ‘forged’ is a saying we used on the teams, like, Hey is that guy forged?” recalls Mike. “If something is forged it means that it’s formed with great concentration. If you looked up the definition of forged it says, ‘to form by heating and hammering, beat into shape.’ If that’s not the definition of someone going through SEAL training, then nothing is! I really resonated with that word. Forged is used over and over again in the SEAL Creed. Anytime when you talk about something that has been formed and developed that took a lot of blood, sweat and tears you’ll hear the word forged used again and again.”

A meeting with an attorney revealed that FORGED could in fact be patented and trademarked. After a few attempts, FORGED was now Mike’s and the rest as they say is history.

Still, there was plenty of work to be done.

“Neither of us had a college degree, neither of us had any experience in business,” recalls Mike on the early days.

Forged Clothing on Digital Hospitality podcast in San DiegoSo, what does 12 years of FORGED look like in eight simple steps for someone wanting to start their own business? Here’s a condensed look at how to get your business going digitally.

  1. Register Your Business – Trying to start an apparel company called KNOX? Well, that might be taken. Make sure your business is officially registered so it’s legit from the jump and you’re not forced to start over down the road.
  2. Have a Budget – The old saying is you have to spend money to make money. Well, how much money can you afford to spend? Before you put down a dollar on your business, know how much money you have and how you’ll have to allocate it build and grow your business.
  3. Let the Professional People do the Professional Stuff – Not a web developer? Not an accountant? Well, thankfully other people are. To get the job done right and efficiently it’s important to let the professional people do exactly what they’re best at both for you and for your customers. 
  4. People Don’t Forget Experiences – Remember the best time you ever had at a restaurant? Well, you surely remember the worst. Shopping online can be the same way. Make sure the experience you give your customer on site and social is as enjoyable and memorable as can be.
  5. Know Your Analytics – Who is buying your product and how are they buying it? Knowing the numbers and the trends is more imperative and also easier than ever in this era of business. Track the data in every sense of your business to best know how to serve your clientele.
  6. Make it Simple – No one wants to jump through hoops, especially someone trying to buy something. Make it easy. The shopping experience should be as streamlined as possible so that the customer can be satisfied efficiently when navigating your site and checking out.
  7. Stay Posting – How quickly they forget! It’s important to stay posting on your social channels to remain in the lives of your customers and to stay engaged. Not only does this build relationships it also adds to retention.
  8. Know Your Audience – Who are your followers? How are they interacting? What are they saying? The more you intimately know your audience the better you can reach, serve and deliver to them.

Now 12 years in and teaming up with his partner Samantha for strategy on social and much more, Mike remains focused and is still learning. 

“Everything comes back to planning,” says Mike. “If you don’t have a proper plan…it’s not gonna work! You definitely have to have a great plan, contingencies and know exactly what you’re getting into.”

This might come into play more than ever with creating content for social.

“We have a content calendar for the whole year,” says Sam. “It’s also very important for us to post every day. For me, more people see my stories than they do my posts. At most it’s 15 seconds and it’s engaging. They love that.”

As alluded to in the 15 second IG story strategy, attention spans are short. That’s why it’s more important than ever to have your brand mission short and to the point.

“You have to be able to basically explain your brand in one sentence,” says Mike. “That is the most important sentence you can have on your website for new people seeing your brand for the first time. If you can’t tell someone what your brand does in one sentence, then you really need to rethink how you’re marketing it.”

If you confuse you lose. Keep your brand statement direct and concise.

Mike Sauers of Forged on a hike in San DiegoAs you can see, there’s so much more at play in 2020 when running a brand. Thankfully with these lessons from FORGED, you can focus your attention at building your brand better than ever before.

FORGED — Strength Through Adversity —

Thank you for watching, listening, reading, and learning with Digital Hospitality, a Cali BBQ Media production. If you want to get in touch with us please email or visit

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