1.) Partners are tough to come by; there are more stories of failed partnerships in the outdoor industry (Business in general) than you can possibly imagine. My attorney went so far as to tell us he normally steers people away from partnerships especially if there are more than 2 partners, but having known us for some years he wished us the best of luck. Its almost been 3 years and we are still in business and still talking.
2.) Talk to other people in the industry and take notes; people in the outdoor outdoor world are typically very friendly and love to talk about their products and their experiences.
3.) You may have to keep that day job, or at least keep a part-time job to pay the bills (assuming you don’t take out a loan or do a Kickstarter campaign).
4.) There is the product you want to sell and the product you can sell. One may pay for the other, so never discard the product you do well, i.e. Patagonia’s Synchilla Snap-T, TNF Denali, Mountain Hardwear’s Mountain Tech Fleece, and for us its been our messenger bags and chalk buckets. Our luggage was something that I did for fun and we had hoped our custom rain-gear line would be our niche… Turns out we have a knack for packs.
5.) Designers rarely make good marketers, hopefully you can partner with someone that compliments you well. My brother and girlfriend love my designs but they know that to make a living doing what we all love I cannot constantly change directions with my products. -This drives me absolutely mad, but they’re right. As my friends in Jiu-jitsu say “You have to remove your ego from the equation.”
6.) If you want to find fabric, sewers, and designers take some classes at your local junior college; these are people that have been in the trenches rather than spent their last 20 years in academia. Plus you’ll make some great friends along the way.
7.) Never stop designing and trying new things.
8.) Go and talk to the big boys… I took a road trip from Dallas TX to Bozeman MT to ‘make’ an interview with Dana Gleeson of Mystery Ranch. We talked for 2 hours, and he asked if I knew how to use Power Point, I was an idiot and said “Any of your employees should be able to use PP.” -He was offering me a job, I was just to dumb to realize it. Don’t be dumb.
9.) You’re going to make mistakes and some of them will cost a small fortune. Don’t give up if it is what you love just scale the master plan back a notch.
10.) Think ‘Organic Growth,’ lets compare two modern companies; Patagonia and NAU. Patagonia started with what they had which at the time was Pacific Iron Works (think hardware for climbing) it was a niche market and really only paid for their hobby, now they are one of the most talked about brands in America. Then there is NAU; a brand that was created by former employees at Patagonia, TNF, and Marmot. They sought over $51 Million for the start-up and planned to reach $250 Million in revenue in only 2 years! -Well NAU 1.0 went the way of Windows Vista and is now NAU 2.0 with much smaller goals and is slowly climbing the success ladder.
Lesson? It’s much harder to tear down a company that has spent time growing and investing in its self then it is to tear down a company that has borrowed from others heavily and promises extreme returns in a short period of time.
Special Thanks to Brenda Carlson and Michael Anthony of El Centro a Dallas County Community College, Dana Gleeson of Mystery Ranch, and my family and friends; without your help I’d still just be digging holes.