While many of his former Thunderbirds teammates pursued careers in basketball after graduation, Michael Steele decided to start his own company instead.
Coming out of high school, Steele had the grades to make it to UBC but wanted a chance to play basketball. So he chose to go to Camosun College in Victoria for a year before transferring to Capilano University. After a couple of good seasons with the Capilano Blues, Steele was accepted into Sauder and thought that his basketball career was finished. However, the basketball itch never went away.
“I kept on playing and stayed in great shape, but I was honestly not really planning on playing for UBC [but] I really wanted to,” said Steele.
Steele knew that the Thunderbirds weren’t going to offer him a scholarship, but he still elected to try out and the rest is history.
“I made the choice to go to UBC and [played with some Thunderbirds] over the summer. And they basically had a tryout so I went to the tryout and then walked on to the team so I made the team via tryouts, which I guess is pretty rare,” said Steele.
Making the team was a complete departure from his original plans of being a full-time student, but it was a welcome surprise and Steele still looks back on his time with the Thunderbirds with fondness.
“It was a total change [since I] planned on just going to Sauder, but playing for the Thunderbirds was a lifelong dream so I was super excited.”
During his first season in 2012/13 with the team, the Thunderbirds won Canada West and made the Canadian Interuniversity Sport now known as U SPORTS final eight. Steele was a versatile player who was listed as both a guard and forward — he mainly played down low in high school due to being 6 foot 4 but was only big enough to be a guard during his college career.
Transition to businessman
After graduating, Steele decided to start his own company instead of pursuing basketball, something he’d dreamt of from a young age. He and roommate Tonner Jackson, who also played for the Thunderbirds, co-founded The Good Stuff, a meal delivery system focused on smoothies. The idea behind the company was influenced by their athletic background since they both found it difficult to stay in good shape while working a full-time job. Drinking smoothies was a convenient way for them to maintain a healthy diet.
“We usually just put some frozen fruit and protein powder [into our smoothies], but we were aware from our nutritional experience in basketball that we need to have vegetables [as well]. [Unfortunately], having a holistic smoothie with everything in it is such a pain because the vegetables might go bad in your freezer and you have to go buy them fresh and it’s very easy to get the wrong ratio and make [the smoothie] taste bad.”
In a way, the idea was formed by Steele and Jackson solving their own problem by creating smoothies that were convenient, healthy and tasty. The Good Stuff was a success and provided Steele with lots of invaluable experience, but he’s currently in the process of selling the company due to it being too time demanding and not liberating enough.
He’s now focused more on Flywheel Digital, a technical marketing agency that he started a few years ago and has provided him with more freedom.
“I see digital marketing as one of the most freedom-enabling careers there is because there’s so many opportunities to work from wherever [and you can] set your own pace, hours and prices. If you’re driving good business for people, you get a good amount of money.”
Steele says the two companies lost customers when the country went into lockdown in March, but managed to bounce back by providing other clients with their services.
“We’ve been really lucky ... I would say, probably since COVID they’ve both at least doubled. Flywheel more than doubled and I would say The Good Stuff exactly doubled. So that’s been great, it’s been a bit of, like, just riding the wave,” said Steele.