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Johnny Davis

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team. 

Johnny Davis is up.

Johnny Davis

Who are you and what do you do?

I grew up in Raleigh and fell in love with climbing while in college at NC State. I saw such an incredible community at State's climbing wall as well as at the local gym, Triangle Rock Club (TRC), where I began working as a track out camp counselor. Studying Industrial Engineering, I wanted to apply what I was learning and connect it to my passion of climbing, while also promoting the importance of sustainability.  May 23rd, 2017 - after climbing that night at TRC, I began looking at the hangboards for sale because I wanted to work on my forearm strength at home. All the sudden I began thinking about an even more versatile design and how the hangboards on the shelf could be improved. I called up my pal Tate, and together we began putting Acorn together! Less than a year later, our hangboard would be on that very same shelf for sale.

What did it take / how did you get started?

I began research on how existing hangboards were made using CNC machines. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the programming of such machines (g-code), and I had to teach myself how to model CAD files and develop g-code to cut out a hangboard. I didn't have the money for my own machine at the time, but I discovered NC State's Entrepreneurship Garage had a ShopBot CNC, and I got right to work. One specific challenge we faced was how to secure the raw material to the machine given the board needed to be cut on all faces, so clamping wasn't an option. The solution was to use the same technology for outdoor climbing bolt hangers and implement expanding anchors that lock the board into place without interfering with the CNC cut. I spent entire weekends and nights in that space to eventually cut our first hangboard. We sold our first hangboard on October 17th, 2017 to my pal Nick during our product release at State's climbing wall.

What does the future look like for you and your hustle? 

With the help of strong sales, Acorn was able to both relocate to a two car garage I now rent from my pal Josh and invest in a larger CNC that cuts six hangboards in one batch. Sales have continued to grow as we begin working with distributors and Fulfillment by Amazon. In recent days, COVID-19 has actually boosted sales beyond our current capacity. With everyone stuck indoors, climbers are eager to get their hands on a hangboard. We've been challenged with meeting demand prior to the virus, and I've been applying some process planning strategies to increase throughput. Our next step will be to both relocate to a bigger space capable of providing more power once the lease with Josh ends in July, and invest in a second CNC machine.

What drives / motivates you?

My two biggest drives are listening to others' shared appreciation for the environment and hearing feedback on our products. Either uplifting or constructive, it shows that others care about the work we are doing and making a difference in the community.  

What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?

Listen. Honestly, just hear the need. It's gotten me so far by just hearing others' experiences and listening to feedback. Voice of the Customer has been critical to Acorn's success. We developed Midnight (our current hangobard model) after hearing climber's feedback on our original board. We changed from red to white oak, made the board more versatile for all skill levels, smoothed corners, and improved design for manufacturability.

I'm looking to my next venture involving more sustainable agriculture in which, to be honest, I know nothing about! I'm just fascinated by the idea, and I've met with 15+ people to hear their stories and formulate my idea with their guidance. I've also started volunteering at Raleigh City Farm to experience first hand the skills and requirements necessary to establish the venture.

What has been the hardest part of the hustle? 

Meeting demand, which is a good problem to have I guess! I've been able to apply much of what I've learned in school with optimizing systems and processes to better provide for the climbing community.

What are a few resources that you'd recommend? 

Here's the part where I realize I need to read more! I don't have that many resources yet regarding entrepreneurship, but I'm always open to suggestions! I do like listening to both uplifting podcasts and ones that share healthy lifestyle advice.


Side or full-time hustle?

Side for now, but turning into full-time

List the founders

Johnny Davis

Tate Sandman (no longer active, but still a great friend!)

How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?

30 hours

# of Employees?

1 (me!)

When did you start?

May 23rd, 2017

How much did it cost to launch?


What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?

Organic growth, never needed to fundraise

Annual Revenue?

$70,000 (2020)

Projected Revenue?

$135,000 (2021)

Any call to action?

Industrial real estate, connections to climbing product distributors



Me: @johnny.davis_

Acorn: @acornclimbing



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