Why I’m Taking a Sabbatical from My Dream Job

By Shea Uebelhor

When I co-founded a rep group almost ten years ago, I never thought I’d be sitting down to write something like this. My good friend and business partner, Cory Johnson, and I are entrepreneurial by nature, and we were excited to test the waters of starting our own business. We wanted to build a brand that had a fun and transparent culture, incredibly talented and approachable teammates, and a reputation for always building something better. And with that, LEVEL Reps was born. Since that scary leap of faith, we have worked with incredible clients that we love and manufacturers that made work feel like anything but work. It’s been a rollercoaster with far more ups than downs, but after building a dream team that I could not be prouder to be a part of, it’s time for another leap of faith.

Sabbatical is a tricky word and it gets thrown around a lot. So I thought I’d write an inside look at the decision, what the immediate future will look like, and what (I hope) the future holds for us all.

Cory and I started LEVEL Ventures the minute the industry seemed to “shut down” from the pandemic a few years ago. Seemingly overnight, our responsibilities and business plans were thrown into complete jeopardy and our new mission was to simply navigate a new reality and keep our team together. We knew the world and our industry were about to change, and our leadership roles were about to be challenged immensely. The stoppage of daily work as we knew it was terrifying, but it also provided us with the time we never had before to bring new ideas to life.

There are several concepts and startups under the LEVEL Ventures umbrella, but one in particular has developed to a place that I just can’t ignore. We call that company Cayke, and it has become an inclusive digital platform geared towards a better buying experience for our industry. The concept of Cayke has evolved quickly via the conversations we’ve hosted, but isn’t that true of some of the world’s most successful startups? In the last 18 months, we’ve honed and improved the business plan, acquired customers, onboarded some incredibly bright and enthusiastic teammates, and built a compelling idea that I believe most brands in our industry should take a look at. It’s a concept so needed that I’m leaving my dream job to help make this a reality and see it through.

Our industry has lagged behind most of the world when it comes to adopting technology to make life simpler. We have made some progress, but there’s still so much more we can do. Manufacturers understand that they need a hybrid strategy to engage their reps, gain dealer mindshare, educate the design community, and control their own sales destiny. If the majors intend to dictate the pulse of the industry, why can’t the small to medium sized brands and dealers carve their own path? It’s critical that they do!

And dealers! Especially today, dealers must evolve to attract new sales talent, improve margins, and separate themselves from larger, digital players. The digital buying experience isn’t only for large brands, so we built Cayke to make the digital purchase experience simple (get it, a “piece of Cayke?”) and affordable for all players in the furniture ecosystem. We’re intentionally inclusive and building a platform that can meet today’s needs.

     – Wish you had a shopping cart to cater to the “online buyer” audience? No problem.

– Wish there was a better way for your dealership to take care of national or global standards programs with an online data dashboard? Now there is.

– Want to manage multi-site furniture opportunities and bring your RFP responses to the 21st century? Why not try Cayke?

– How can you sell a client one chair without assigning a junior sales rep to the task? Simple.

– Want to attract new sales talent to join your team? Show them a new way of working within our industry!

– Want to reach out to new clients and incentivize your reps as you do it? I know a thing or two about how reps think…

And we’re just scratching the surface of questions we hope to answer with Cayke.

So I’m stepping away from LEVEL Reps to give ideas like Cayke the attention they deserve. I couldn’t be more confident in the team at LEVEL Reps to grow the reputation as one of the best manufacturer’s rep groups in the country. I’m also excited to join a new team of passionate industry vets that want to incubate great new ideas.

A part of me also knows it’s important to take risks and try new ideas. Perhaps in doing this I’ll get a chance to be in the community of risk takers in our industry and offer them some encouragement along the way. I’m going to use the desire to see our industry progress into a brighter future to fuel this next chapter. I can’t tell you how long it will be, but I’m certain it won’t go as expected. And that may be the best part of it all – the icing on the Cayke.