BET U DIDNT KNOW: ZACH WHO IS LIVING OFF SPONSORSHIP
“It feels like there has been a nuclear apocalypse, and I have to prioritize things. How do I survive another day? What’s the best use of this material? There has been a feeling of living in a bunker where I am trying to figure out which resource to allocate each day for the most return.
Last month, I had the pleasure to meet Zach Bussey over coffee. He is a Toronto-based blogger, and the subject of a self-imposed experiment called A Sponsored Life during which he is living solely off sponsorships for a year. Lucky for me, Starbucks is one of his sponsors, and I was able to meet him for coffee.
Born in Toronto and raised in Owen Sound, Zach is the oldest of four siblings. He has a popular podcast called The Zach Bussey Show which he co-hosts with his best friend Meg Button.
Here are some interesting things I learned that day about Zach.
He wasn’t very popular as a kid.
Growing up, Zach was very shy and he spent a lot of time getting to know himself. “I think I spoke a hundred words the entire time in high school.”
This is not the first time Zach has committed one year of his life to something.
When he was 10 years old, his parents offered him $250 if he would NOT watch TV for a year. And Zach did it. His tenth year was full of all kinds of activities, but no television.
His birthday is in 4 days.
He turns 28 this year. For his birthday, Zach likes to do a podcast.
He went to Seneca College.
It was when he was studying marketing at Seneca that he realized that he could be anyone he wanted to be. It’s his days at Seneca that brought him out of his shell.
He seems to pick the wrong time to do the right things.
After Seneca, Zach started working in banking, but with the 2008 economic downturn, he was let go. He did not find his work rewarding, and felt that he was expendable. So he switched gears and started working with start-ups. His first startup experience was “Campography” which was a social network for summer camps. In those days, Zach tried convincing the team of the importance of social tools and media, but they did not feel the same way as him about the network. Zach’s intentions for Campography were a few years ahead of their time. After this, he worked with real estate agents, and taught them how to use social media tools. However in 2010, not many realtors understood the important of social media. This, too, was ahead of its time. After real estate, he started working with Trendhunter.com for social media.
He has more than one Twitter account.
It’s no secret that Zach loves social media. This fall, he celebrated 5 years on Twitter. He is the only person on the planet living his life off social media freebies. And so it’s no surprise that he has more than one Twitter account. You can find him at: @zbussey or @asponsoredlife or @zachbussey or @zachbusseyshow
He is living off social media freebies all of 2013.
While blogging for some clients, Zach realized that he received products to review all the time. In October and November of 2012, he was getting many pitches for coffee machines (Keurig, Tassimo, Starbucks). As much as he wanted to review them all, he could not want to alienate his audience. He wanted to find a way to review them and then to donate the products so others can use them. He had watched The Greatest Movie Ever Sold by Morgan Spurlock. Inspired by this movie, and the PR culture he was in, he asked himself “Can I do this for a year?”
On January 1, 2013, he packed away all his belongings in a storage facility, and started A Sponsored Life. It would a personal challenge for him. Approaching the end of the experiment, he admits that last year, he had slightly different expectations of how this year would turn out. He has learned from his experiences, specially around marketing and public relations.
His tax refund for 2013 will show an income of zero.
But in this case, he made a conscious choice to make no money in all of 2013. He will accept products from sponsors that he can write about, but no money. Not even from his grandma.
His total budget is $100 a month.
Zach paid his rent for the entire year in January. And for the rest of the year, his budget for each month is $100. This covers medication, TTC tokens, taxi rides, and other emergency supplies. You can imagine how quickly he runs out of the $100.
If he could do this again, he wouldn’t.
And that is fair. After living with no furniture, no television, no movies, and no freedom to join his friends at the local bar for a quick drink, for an entire year, it is understandable that Zach wants to get back to a normal life. “The project was way more difficult than I imagined it would be.”
He is wiser and more humble at the end of this year.
He has learned that working with marketing and PR companies requires a lot more time and effort than most people think. He has also learned that he doesn’t need all of the things that he used to have. In fact, when he opens his storage container in 2014, he plans to donate most of it, and bring home only what he needs.
He is outspoken, and a really nice guy.
Some people love his podcast, and enjoy his upfront attitude. Others are offended by it. In fact, many people don’t understand why he started A Sponsored Life, and have been picking on him online. After Zach explains that this is just a one-year experiment, and at the end of the year he will donate everything, they usually come around. But honestly, he is a very nice guy.
He does not have a grocery sponsor.
This means that he cannot go out and buy groceries when he needs them. He cannot eat Ontario strawberries, even if they are in season, unless they are sponsored. He will not buy toilet paper, unless it is sponsored.
He does have a toilet paper sponsor.
Charmin and Cashmere both sponsored him. He ran out in November, and luckily enough, Charmin sent a booster pack to last him until the new year. Gillette has also sponsored deodorant and shampoo. Colgate sent toothpaste and a toothbrush.
He is exhausted. Mentally and physically.
Zach explains that there have been times when he has been in tears because he is mentally and physically exhausted. He has been under a lot of stress from not having the freedom to purchase the things he needs, and from not having the freedom to join his friends for a night out unless they go to his sponsor’s restaurant. Not having a real bed to sleep in or a chair to sit on is tough. There is only so much sitting-on-the floor as you can do.
He is in the worst shape of his life.
In the first 4 months of 2013, when he did not have a lot of food, Zach dropped 18 pounds. As sponsors came on, he started eating more, but it is not always good food. He has also not been to a gym all year because he does not have a gym sponsor.
He may or may not write a book.
Many people have suggested to him to write a book. He is considering it. “I have no plans for it whatsoever, but it is something that I’ve talked about recently with a few people.”
He has not been on a date all year.
According to A Sponsored Life rules, he cannot go on a date unless it is to an establishment that is sponsoring him. And he is allowed to write about it. Lucky for him, 2013 is almost over.
His closet is full of NFL clothes.
Since Zach can only wear sponsored clothing, he has a decent collection of NFL clothes sponsored by Nissan (they are doing a promotion together), and promotional t-shirts from a number of companies pitching him, like the Beer & Wine Zone. The folks at Caruso Tailoring were good neighbours and were nice enough to make him two dress shirts.
His sponsors have been great.
Zach feels that his sponsors have been very supportive, especially Starbucks. They understand what he is doing with the project. This includes large companies and small businesses like Amathia Soapworks, an artisan soap company that sent him good-smelling soaps.
He is famous.
He has been featured on the front page of the Toronto Star, Forbes, Urban Toronto, Globe and Mail, New York Post, BlogTO, CP24, Metro, National Post, CityTV, and a few blogs. You can see Zach’s media appearance here.
Zach misses some things from 2012.
He misses freedom of choice. He misses being able to buy things. He misses the freedom to do things without writing about them. He misses cooking at home. He misses making money.
He does not know what his first purchase will be on January 1, 2014.
He may buy a new cell phone since his current phone is slowly dying or he may pitch some companies for a sponsored post. Right now, he has not figured it out.
He likes How I Met Your Mother.
The show is not a sponsor. But that’s okay. Since Zach can’t go out for movies, he enjoys shows at home. (Note: He does not have cable). Other shows he enjoys: Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.
He doesn’t know what next year will look like.
He has some proposals for jobs and projects, but he feels a little lost. He may go on vacation, and hope that it all settles down when he returns. His ideal vacation? “Brazil for the world cup.”
It was a pleasure to get to know Zach. Not many people have the courage to embark on year-long experiments that consume their lives.
I wish Zach the most epic trip to Brazil in 2014. You can find more information on Zach on his website.