Every day is a Saturday for the ‘Bucket List Family’
Who ever said that bucket lists are for the old has never met the Gee family.
Their family roll call — which they do every morning — is Garrett, 35; Jessica, 36; Dorothy, 9; Manilla, 7; and Calihan, 4. Millions know them as YouTube’s Bucket List Family, a self-made family of traveling photojournalists.
This young family of five has a huge story, and for local readers that story starts with Garrett Gee.
Gee was born Nov. 6, 1986, at the American Fork Hospital, the fifth of six children. His father, Joseph, is an orthodontist in American Fork.
His early years were filled with friends, fun and football — the real kind, soccer.
However, his early life was not all a bed of roses either. His parents divorced when he was 9. His dad remarried, but that marriage only lasted six years.
Though there were many sad times, there were many good times too. One of the best parts of Gee’s life growing up was his relationship with his both his father and mother.
He spent the summers and holidays with his mother in California and during the school months with his dad in Utah.
The two had a daily tradition of eating breakfast together and reading the Daily Herald. They started with the sports and comics. Gee said it is one of his fondest memories of growing up.
Gee went to first and second grade at Highland Elementary School and then started third grade at Legacy Elementary in American Fork. One of his teachers was Michael Bottita, who saved some of his Garrett’s early writings to see where he would end up in adult life.
“He sent me two papers I had written in his class,” Gee said. “One said, ‘When I grow up I wanted to be a voice of a cartoon.'”
The other paper said he wanted to travel. Gee started traveling when he was 11 years old. His mother told him to pick a country and she ended up taking him to Greece.
Gee played soccer in high school and was captain of the team at Lone Peak High School, where he graduated.
While all of this was happening in Utah, a cute blonde was growing up in Denver, playing soccer and cheerleading. She would be a driving force and stalwart of the family. But first, Jessica Maughan had to endure “Elder” Gee.
Garrett and Jessica Gee are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and like most young men and women in the church, they chose to serve a mission. Both were called to the Russia Vladivostok Mission.
During their time of service, Garrett became a zone leader and Jessica was in his zone, but it was not love at first sight. In fact, Jessica was not impressed with Garrett’s leadership skills at all.
“I was competitive in sports and I was looking for ways to compete, to pour my passion into by being the best missionary I could be. I was strict and I was so intense,” Garrett Gee said.
That changed when he came home. He started college at Brigham Young University, played soccer and found Jessica. They fell in love and got married April 24, 2009, in the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple of the LDS Church.
The couple moved into an apartment in Provo and that begins the story of the famous Bucket List Family.
What would it be like to have every day be a Saturday?
That was Gee’s dream, but he had to tell two big life-changing lies before he got his wish.
“Back in 2011, I created the iPhone app Scan. I teamed up with two of my friends and classmates, Ben Turley and Kirk Ouimet,” he said. “Scan actually started as a small side project. We had big plans for some big apps but thought that this simple barcode and QR code scanner would be a great way to get our feet wet in the space.”
The team’s goal at the beginning was to earn $5,000 by the end of the school year.
“At the time, $5,000 seemed a bit too lofty for my poor freshman mind to even imagine,” Gee said.
The app burgeoned in popularity. It got to a point when the app was being downloaded once each second. And that is when the investors came calling.
“Soon we were flying out to San Francisco to meet with potential investors,” Gee said. “Eventually, I learned how to speak the foreign language of ‘investor pitching’ and we received our first funding of $1.7 million.”
The money came from some of the biggest names in the investment world including: Naval Ravikant, David Krane, Shervin Pishevar, Ariel Poler, Jonathon Triest, Chris Redlitz, Troy Carter, Jim Pollatta, Lady Gaga and others.
The investors encouraged Gee to move to Silicon Valley, “where the best tech companies go to really become successful,” he said.
The Gees packed up and moved to San Francisco, leased an office and hired 16 employees.
One day, Gee was invited to a San Francisco Giants baseball game to watch with the most famous tech founder in Silicon Valley after Steve Jobs.
“I idolized this guy and the company he created. He was a designer like me, had multiple successful startups, and I thought he was the epitome of success,” Gee said. “I was lucky enough to sit next to him for the entire game.”
“I was so excited to learn more about who he was, what were his interests, hobbies, family life, etc. I quickly learned that he had none. No family. No friends. No hobbies. Just work. He loved to work,” Gee said. “This broke my heart. The man I thought was my idol was nothing of the sort. It was time for me to figure out my own definition of ‘success.'”
Gee said he moved to San Francisco to eventually earn ultimate freedom, to live his day how he chose, but found himself doing the opposite.
“I had become heads down in my own business, neglecting my marriage, friends and personal health,” he said.
Gee said growing up he had school, homework, practices, chores and church that filled up six days of the week, but Saturdays were his. He had ultimate freedom those days.
So that became the goal, to create a life where every day is Saturday, Gee said.
It only took about a month after the baseball game encounter to pack up and move back to Utah.
Gee enrolled back into BYU, not for education but to play soccer. He said he filled his days with sports, hanging with friends and family and working hard on the Scan app.
“I truly felt like every day was Saturday and I spent my days doing exactly what I loved to do,” he said.
Gee would meet with his team in the office on the first Monday of the month to just catch up. The rest of work was remote.
“There was one in-office day that hit differently. The mood was anxious and the office was full of contention. It was very weird and discomforting. Our growth was at a breaking point and our path moving forward was unclear,” Gee said.
“I returned to my apartment and told Jessica, ‘Something needs to change or this company is going to fail soon.’ The very next Sunday I woke up to an email — “Great app. – Evan” — from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gee was leery. People like that (Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel) don’t send emails like that, just because.
But Gee responded, said thank you, and told the CEO it meant a lot. The end result was a lunch appointment in Los Angeles that week.
Lie No. 1 — Gee said he was going to be in LA. He wasn’t, but the lunch was on and he booked a flight. They didn’t eat lunch but instead took an hour-long walk along Venice Beach that ended with Spiegel asking Gee if he would ever consider selling his company — for $40 million.
“He told me to give it some thought and call him before the end of the day,” Gee said. “I was freaking out.”
“I was connected with an acquisition lawyer, Larry Chu, to help guide me through the upcoming week of negotiations. It was hell-level stressful,” Gee added.
A quick side note; this entire time, he was still a student in college, about to go play off-season soccer at BYU-Hawaii.
“So I’m at the airport about to board my flight, chatting with this lawyer about an acquisition process I know nothing about,” Gee said.
The conversation went something like this, Gee said, with the lawyer saying, “He offered you $40 million. Call Evan back right now and tell him you’ve thought about it and you can’t do anything lower than $50 million.”
Gee called and said he couldn’t do it for less than $50 million. He held his breath. Spiegel said “too bad” and hung up. Gee’s heart sank, but Chu told him to wait 10 minutes.
The phone call was at the airport and Gee’s flight was boarding. Sure enough, Gee got the second call.
“Hey, Garrett. I don’t know if we can do $50 million, but we’ll see what we can do. I’ll talk about it to my team and we’ll call you tomorrow. I can hear you’re at the airport. Have a nice flight,” Gee recalls Spiegel saying.
“I boarded my flight, and Jessica, Dorothy and I ‘moved’ to Hawaii,” he said.
Then began the crazy week of negotiations from 3-7 a.m. He’d take a break and sprint to soccer practice for two hours, then immediately get back on the phones.
With a proposed purchase price of $44 million, Gee planed on finishing his senior season of soccer and then join Snapchat in three months, then Spiegel threw a curveball at Gee’s heart.
“I don’t want to wait three months for you to join the team. I want you to join now. If you quit soccer and move here next week, I will up the acquisition price another $10 million cash,” Spiegel said.
While Gee knew it didn’t make sense, he said, “No thank you. I’m going to finish my soccer season. Let’s keep the price where it is.”
“I hung up and called Kirk to tell him about that crazy curveball offer. And thank goodness I called Kirk,” Gee said.
His friend reminded him how many other people would be affected by the deal. Gee realized he’d been selfish and that he was about to turn down $10 million for soccer.
The second big lie was when Gee called Spiegel back and said he wanted to quit soccer and get started at Snapchat.
He quit the team and moved to Los Angeles the next week. He told Jessica to plan on living in California for up to five years.
“Within weeks, maybe even days, maybe even hours into my Snapchat welcome orientation, I was miserable,” Gee said.
“This toxic feeling was completely new to me. I knew I needed to get out ASAP,” Gee said.
He called his older brother Brennen Gee and explained the whole situation, salary, what he would be walking away from, everything.
Brennen, a high school math teacher, was living in a one-bedroom house with his wife and four kids in Utah.
His brother knew Gee’s heart and after thinking, he told Gee to quit his job. The next day, Gee met with Spiegel and told him how he felt. His response shocked Gee.
“I get it. I knew it was a long shot when I hired you. You and I think very alike. I could never work for someone else. Thanks for giving it a shot. If you ever change your mind, you have a job here at Snapchat,” Spiegel said.
Coincidentally, he had received a phone call from his soccer coach. After apologizing, the coach told Gee it wasn’t too late, that he could move back, reenroll and play in the season opener.
“I’ll talk to Jess,” Gee told the coach. “Little did I know, that conversation/fight/debate/argument with Jess would be the conversation that hatched a plan to change our lives forever.”
Headlines went viral: “Tech millionaire sells everything to travel the world!”
“In reality, people become rich all the time. Why was our story unique? It was the decision to leave the money all behind, sell everything, start over and become The Bucket List Family,” Gee said.
The Bucket List Family
So that is what the Gees did. They put their portion of the $54 million (not as much as you think after paying investors and the partners) in savings for later, sold everything, got about $45,000 and set off to see the world.
They figured they had about six months of money so if they liked the traveling they would have to come up with a way to get more funds. The Gees began working their magic and before they were done they had airlines, hotels and travel companies on their support team.
They called themselves traveling photojournalists and took photos and videos everywhere they went. They posted on YouTube, Instagram and other platforms, and in just a short time they had more than 2 million followers.
Their first stops were in the South Pacific, New Zealand, Tonga and Australia. Little Dorothy celebrated her third birthday in Australia. Manilla was only 10 months old.
The Gees found their freedom and at the same time, over a space of seven years, they have been on every continent.
Whether it was going on safari in Africa, living with monks in Bhutan, walking the streets of Budapest or swimming with humpback whales off Tonga, the Gee family has not been emptying their bucket list, rather filling it with memories, new friends and an education of a lifetime, and they have done all as a family — just the way Garrett and Jessica dreamed they would one day.
During their travels, a new member joined the family: baby Calihan. For a few months, the Gees came home to Utah so Calihan could be born at American Fork hospital like his brother, sister and dad were.
According to Gee, the family of five have visited 89 countries, and many more before Calihan joined.
They have built fun traditions along the way. They pat and kiss each airplane as they embark, the kids jump on the beds when they arrive at the hotel — or hut or wherever they are sleeping. They are always by water, warm or cold, and they make friends wherever they go.
“In my mind, our YouTube videos are for the kids. They don’t realize it yet but they are a love note to my kids. I want them to know how much their dad cared for them and for them to follow that pattern,” Gee said. “It is also a love note to countries, cultures and our viewers.”
The Bucket List Family has experienced playing with giraffes, standing with rhinos, swimming with sharks, and visiting unusual and sometimes remote places.
All of these adventures have given the Gee family years of Saturdays to choose what they wanted to do.
Garrett and Jessica also realized that life couldn’t last forever. The time would come when they would have to settle in one place.
That became a stark reality for Gee as they all discussed their 2022 New Year’s resolutions. Dorothy was the last to say what she wanted to accomplish. She told her parents she wanted a best friend.
The first reaction out of Gee’s mouth was silence, followed by tears. In his heart, he knew it was time to settle down — for the kids.
The family had purchased a home on the big island of Hawaii, right on the beach, where they all can snorkel or surf every day.
While they still plan on traveling, a new plan has been in the works and is now front and center in their future.
Gee has been working on taking The Bucket List Family and turning the videos in to educational cartoons for children.
Rather than a large studio doing it — he’s had offers — Gee has creative control, and that took money.
He asked friends and family around the world to help crowdfund his cartoon idea. Within a day, 30,000 people had raised $10 million.
Now Gee is scoping the world for any one of a number of “boutique” animation studios to produce his Bucket List Family cartoon.
While Gee has been doing this project, Jessica has signed a deal with National Geographic to write the end-all travel books for parents with small children.
Jessica also looks for ways to serve as others. Three weeks ago, she saw a news program that showed the difficulties Ukrainian refugees were having trying to cross the Mexican border to get to members of their families or friends waiting for them in the U.S.
Jessica speaks Russian and Spanish. They needed her. She grabbed a packed bag, told Gee what she was doing, told him to take care of the kids and she went to the airport, bought a ticket and spent four days translating for medical crews and others at the border.
The Gees now have a good life balance. The kids are in charter school so they can travel easier. Dorothy has friends but is still working on a best friend. Garrett, Jessica and Calihan go surfing every morning. For Dorothy and Manilla, its “get your homework done” and then the whole family is in the water.
“It’s all about family,” Gee said. “In most of the world, the family unit is getting more rare. I absolutely love being a father.”