al tabor headshot


What are you passionate about? In the outdoor markets, and especially as entrepreneurs, passion is such an important asset. But it can also, sometimes, get in the way of our own clear thinking about the ideas and projects we’re so in love with.

This is why I’m so excited to be talking with Al Tabor, tech worker and market forecaster extraordinaire about what we in the outdoor markets can learn from tech start-ups. He’s translating what he knows about how tech startups get going and making it applicable to outdoor startups. And it’s working – Al has worked wonders with Sierra Designs, Mountain Headwear and recent visitors to the Intrepid Entrepreneur Podcast, Martin Zemitis of Slingfin, and Brad Stewart of Caravan Outpost.

Al and I both know that the outdoor markets are a completely different animal than tech start-ups, but something Al says every entrepreneur should read is The Lean Start-up, by Eric Ries. Al is admittedly not a business book person, so if he says it’s good, you better believe him!

The Lean Startup mentality is all about learning. You need to learn what path your business is on, and if this path will lead to success! And, you need to learn it as fast and cheaply as possible, to save yourself a lot of time and heartache. This sounds overwhelming, but Al’s talking me through the steps on how to evaluate your startup idea and find your minimum value product, your MVP!

Something else that we entrepreneurs in the outdoor markets can also learn from tech—and from basketball!—is to pivot! If you find out your idea isn’t working, keep one foot in it, and spin until you find a new opening. This is where passion can be a challenge to us outdoor market entrepreneurs. We’re so in love with our project, we don’t want to change anything. But Al says, you have to keep one foot in that passion, and use the other to pivot to a new way forward. Who knows what you’ll find!

Al’s giving some great examples of what it looks like to pivot in the outdoor markets by talking about his work with Slingfin and Caravan Outpost. He’s also discussing using the Root Cause Analysis system to hit the hard reality of any problem – in business or in your personal life.

Bravery in Business Quote

“The job of a startup is to learn. More than anything else, you have to figure out if you’re on a path that’s going to lead to some sort of success” – Al Tabor

(click to tweet)

       

Cliff Notes

  • Tech and outdoor markets are different animals, but can still both learn from Lean Startup Methodology
  • Definition of a startup (from Reis) a human endeavor that’s trying to deliver a product or a service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.
  • The job of a startup is to learn what path it’s on and if this will lead to success. Important to attract and reward investors.
  • Try to make explicit your assumptions. Who are target customers, assumptions about distribution, etc.  Once you have made all of this explicit, test it. Find sales or feedback or metrics to validate the assumptions supporting the value of your proposition.
  • If you can’t support your proposition value, it’s time to pivot (like in basketball). Keep one foot in what you know and spin to find a new opening.
  • Passion can sometimes get in the way of a pivot, because you constrain yourself and are not willing to take one foot off the ground or experiment with an idea that you are in love with
  • Pivoting is probably hard for most passion-driven founders. Need to keep one foot in the passion, and used the other to find a more viable way forward.
  • Learn, Build, Measure cycle part of the Lean Startup. You want to find a way to shorten this cycle as much as possible for efficiency.
  • 5 question approach (Reis calls it Root Cause Analysis, Tabor calls it Root Cause) / Six sigma methodology. Asking “why?” five times (or more!) until you get to the root causes, the “hard reality underpinning the situation” to find the corrective.
  • Continuing to ask “why” can lead to finding an area in which you need to pivot. Leads to clarity. Passion is personal but you have to be clear about the business viability of the product.
  • Minimum viable product (MVP): find the fastest, cheapest way to test your product viability/market to save yourself a lot of time and heartache. The sooner you know you need to pivot, the fast you can move.

The Lean Start-Up:

        Step 1: Define your value of proposition

        Step 2: Validate this proposition.

        Step 3: If it’s not going to work, pivot. Keep one foot in what you know, and spin around to find a new opening.

 

“You’ve got to listen to everybody but you don’t have to take anybody seriously.” – Al Tabor

(click to tweet)

 

Resources

SlingFin.com

CaravanOutpost.com

IntrepidEntrepreneur.net/Brad-Steward (Past IE podcast w/ Caravan Outpost founder)

IntrepidEntrepreneur.net/Martin-Zemitis (Past IE Podcast w/Martin Zemitis)

IntrepidEntrepreneur.net/Dylan-Enright (WeFunder IE Podcast) PeakDesign.com

TheLeanStartup.com (Lean Startup book website)

YouTube.com/watch?v=fEvKo90qBns (Eric Reis google talk referenced)

 

Eric Ries / Lean Startup
Lean Startup Google address:
Two interviews from TWIST (This Week in Startups):
Presentations, etc, from the 2015 Lean Startup Conference:
 
 
MVP example using Peak Designs on Kickstarter:
Peter’s OIA presentation. (Imho, the best single presentation of how to use Kickstarter.) https://outdoorindustry.wistia.com/medias/sobytnmrvh
Transcription (click to expand)

[INTERVIEW START]

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Al Tabor, welcome to the Intrepid Entrepreneur podcast.

Al Tabor: Well, thank you.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It’s awesome to have you here. I’ve gotten to know you recently through the entire journey, I guess you could it, of coverage and following a visibility around SlingFin. And we have a lot of great stuff to talk about today. I’m so grateful to have you here as a resource for my amazing audience of outdoor founders. You’re here to talk about The Lean Start-up, Eric Ries’ approach to basically taking what you know from tech and applying it to outdoor start-ups. So that’s really, really exciting. And I’m really excited that you’re here to translate that and help make it applicable for my people. But before we go there, Al, can you please give us a little bit of insight on your amazing career in the outdoor active lifestyle market?

Al Tabor: Okay. So, I was working at Sierra Designs doing forecast, essentially, trying to predict the future. But as a tech guy. And during that time period, as the North Face, [inaudible] all got bought by [inaudible] which exploded in the bankruptcy and we spent some time trying to buy Sierra Designs, gave up, and all quit. The six of us on Halloween 1993.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Wow.

Al Tabor: And started Mountain Hardwear.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s dramatic. Okay, so.

Al Tabor: It was dramatic. In the morning, we were quitting in the late afternoon. I was sitting the bar across the street watching them change the locks on our former office. And the following Monday, we were in a borrowed office, and cafeteria tables with the stuff we just bought at the Office Depot in competition with our former selves, and it was tons of fun. And there I was in charge of computers or anything that happened on computers. So phone systems, accounting systems, but also primarily managing capital and forecasting along the supply chain.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: You’re right, that pretending the future. I don’t think people realize unless you’re in it yourself that that is such a crazy job. I mean, literally you have all this–you were doing data before it was sexy, right?

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And you obviously had to be global with where things were produced, how you’re sourcing–everything that goes into the product, and staying on a timeline. I mean, that really is, like, a foundation for a company like Mountain Hardwear or Sierra Designs or any of the other brands you’ve served.

Al Tabor: Right. And when you’re small, you basically get a couple opportunities a year to [inaudible] because capitol is using your [inaudible] factor and the both of your capitals are going into–acquiring inventories. So you’re placing some big bets.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Wow. Wooh, that makes me feel pressured just talking about it. So, you have this amazing background where you cut your teeth doing I.T. forecasting and being the tech guy at these amazing, iconic outdoor brands. Obviously, you’re a founder of Mountain Hardwear. Tell us how you got into helping to shepherd and support entrepreneurs and how you’ve become an active investor.

Al Tabor: Okay. Well, two things came together. Well, one is about six, seven years ago. If you’re in tech, you got to relearn your job every three years. But what I started finding more interesting than tech was the way tech was funded. So I went to dozens, literally dozens and dozens of meet-ups, big launch festivals, small local Shark Tank-y like things. [inaudible], marketing, growth hacking. And then [inaudible] among that was the lean start-up trend which Eric Ries started. Simultaneously, my buddy Martin was starting a tent company. And Martin is–so that’s all about love, basically. Well, Martin’s got a huge heart, he’s my favorite guy in the design side from all those years in the biz, and he’s arguably the best tent designer in the world. So it seemed to me that if you’re the best tent designer in the world, you should be able to make a living at it. Even if you’re in the Top 5, you should be able to make a living at it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Amen.

Al Tabor: But Mart isn’t predominantly a businessman so he’s got the start-up business going. I picked in somebody early and then just slowly become more and more involved overtime. Changing from a supporter to a sort of an activist and actually kind of de facto part of the company. I help with a little of the I.T. stuff. And a lot of what I’ve done is try to pull insights from tech start-ups over into the outdoor biz. And they’re quite different animals. But if you’ll look at the Bay Area as a start-up is kind of the lab rat of business development because literally hundreds of things try to start every year and 80% of them fail. There’s this churn that’s generated a lot of wisdom about how you were to predict the future in this business. What are the factors that go into making a successful start-up. And a lot of that wisdom is sort of consolidated around The Lean Start-Up Methodology.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Now, before we go here, I want to show the audience that once again, we have extreme empathy for them. Because you and I both know–you more so because you’ve worked so much with the foundations of these large bands. I’ve worked more on marketing and visibility, obviously, in my career. But we know that outdoor brands are not tech brands. Some of them are, some of them [inaudible] tech like I get that whole thing they kind of have started more recently, but there are a lot that are trying to uplevel or maybe start and disrupt with a different path with a start-up idea.

So what I’m really excited about today, Al, is talking with you about how brands or start-ups can take principles from the lean start-up and Eric Ries’. I mean, he’s iconic in the entrepreneurial world. And apply it to improve their businesses in outdoor which essentially increases the viability and sustainability of the outdoor industry which is really what I think founders can do and what they have to do. So this is super exciting. So if you could maybe take us through some of the main points–and then of course, I’ll put a link to the book and any other–anything that Al has to say in terms of links in here, you’ll find in the podcast notes page so just take it from the top.

Al Tabor: Okay. Well, so this is [inaudible]. So I think the best thing to do is look at how it’s stated and then look at some of the challenges when you start applying it to, say, somebody that makes tents and has to manufacture them, ship them to the U.S., distribute them at much different situation. And the place to start is the definition of a start-up which Eric defines as a human endeavor that’s trying to deliver a product or a service under conditions of extreme uncertainty. And I’d like to emphasize that last part because you’re coming to the world with a valued proposition of your own, products you think are great, service you think is great, and approach that you think is great.

But you don’t know how it’s gonna work out. So how do get from that [inaudible] idea and this condition of extreme risk to a successful product? And his thesis is that the job of a start-up is to learn. More than anything else, you have to figure out if you’re on a path that’s going to lead to some sort of success. Both in terms of your own, because most of us in the outdoor industry have nonmonetary objectives in terms of those objectives but also you need to be able keep body and soul together, reward investors if you want to attract them, and so on. And step 1 is to define your value of proposition. And I would encourage your listeners after this to go back and listen to Brad Stewart’s Caravan Outpost.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Thank you for pointing that out. That’s one of my favorite podcasts for Intrepid. I’ll put that link in the show notes as well. So, Caravan Outpost and Brad Stewart is–I think that’s relatively reason is about three months ago now, but I’ll definitely but that in there. But tell us why that struck a chord with you.

Al Tabor: Well, he’s not [inaudible] at all in lean start-up terms, but he is very precisely doing lean start-up methodology. Everything from–and does not sequentially–listen to the whole thing but somewhere around minute 14, he starts talking about how hard they worked to define their value of proposition. That’s step 1. Try to make explicit your assumptions even if they’re as simple as we can make great tents and then we can them to people. And often it’s much more complex than that because you’ve got target customers, you’ve got assumptions about distribution.

Try to make all of that explicit because the next thing you’re going to want to do is test that. Test that explicitly and this is where Eric takes his inspiration from science is you have a testable hypothesis then you figure out, “How can I tell if that’s true or false?” Well, you need some sort of metrics sales or feedback or something but try to figure out a way to tell it if you’re going to succeed or fail because the idea is to validate that valued proposition as quickly as you can. So as not to undergo unnecessary pain and suffering. And then if it’s not going to work, figure out what the next step is. So this is where we get to the trickiest part of all this because in tech, it’s called the pivot. And pivot from basketball. You keep one foot on the ground, rooted in what you know, but you spin around, trying to find an opening from that grounding.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Where you left it at, you have to put your elbows out, too.

Al Tabor: Elbows out, right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Sorry, I’m an ex-basketball player. Actually I will–

Al Tabor: Keep them at bay. Yeah. So in tech, this process is pretty simple. Because often you’re building a software product. So you can iterate quickly. You can change [inaudible] and try it the next week or even the next day. Metrics is simple. If you’re looking for sign ups, it’s easy to quantify. And most tech companies are not started by people that are totally passionate about the space, they’re started by serial entrepreneurs. So they’re willing to pivot into anything. Flickr started out as a game, right? They had no intention to be a photo sharing site. So eBay–

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So you think passion might slow down your ability to pivot because you’re kind of in love with an idea. Right?

Al Tabor: Or the space. So you’re constrained. You don’t want to end up selling used cars. You’re trying to be in the outdoor business. So even if you’ve got a great location, and it turns out that great location is a wonderful place to sell used cars, if you wanted to sell used cars, you probably would have started doing that immediately. You wouldn’t have gone for this kind of [inaudible] route. So you can manage damages sometimes in a pivot or escape using a pivot. But let’s say our feet are more firmly planted on the ground than some of the tech entrepreneurs. Because we’re doing what we love.

That’s a constraint we impose on ourself. We want to do what we want to do. So that constraints the pivot somewhat. But there’s lots of room to maneuver within that but you’re mixed of specially retailed versus direct to consumer. Can you go on the road and sell stuff out of the back of your van? I mean, when you’re–on fantasy airlines, you can throw out any number of ways to distribute your product or tell folks about your service or to enhance your service. That’s where you have room to pivot. So that’s usually where the pivot analysis would come in on an outdoor [inaudible].

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I really love this. So you just went right for the jugular here. The pivot process is something inherently that as passion-driven founders, we’re going to have a hard time with. So can you give us maybe a coaching statement or something that might enable us to say, “Okay, we’re going to pivot, but that foot, that foot that’s planted firmly–” Because we don’t want to travel, right?

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: The foot that’s planted firmly is still in the passion and what you’re trying to do is essentially tease out a way forward that actually is more viable than maybe the one that you’re emotionally attached to as the founder.

Al Tabor: Okay. So let’s look back to Caravan Outpost.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yep.

Al Tabor: So after he pretty clearly spent what sounded like hours and hours of meetings, getting everybody in the team to work through–there goes the train,.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yep.

Al Tabor: Work through the value proposition. He then said how do we test this? How do we do a limited test to prove our value proposition and then he had a very explicit theory about how customers would even find out about them. Something like sixth pass where somebody could end up using his product. And then he said, “And then you hid it, and it’s a big unknown.” You walk through this door and you know something’s going to be wrong, but you don’t know what. So that’s the pivot process. To use a simpler example, one thing we did at SlingFin–okay, so, tent business.

Classic specialty shop tent business is you got a yearly cycle. You are developing a new line or adding to your line once a year, you go sell it to the retailers, the retailers bring it into their shop, they sell it out, and sometime like 12 to 18 months after you’ve design that tent, you’re getting some real customer feedback. Well, you can try to get around that a little bit by sending out some tents to test or whatever. So what we did at SlingFin is every couple of months, we bring in a collection of people I’ve sort of chased down through meet ups that the groups that do a lot of sort of community organizing outdoor stuff. People we know in the industry, designers, North Face, and Mountain Hardwear, [inaudible].

Folks currently working in warranty repair because they know how things fail more than everybody else. We get everybody together and we run through our ideas, show them some prototypes, talk about what this tent could become and what it can’t become, and then inevitably coming out of that meeting are some significant design pivots. Because rather than waiting for the end of the process to get a significant amount of feedback from potential consumers we’re baking that into processes as it continually [inaudible] process.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right.

Al Tabor: So that’s sort of a pivot within to finding how even though we know we’re going to do tents, and even though we’ve got a pretty good idea that our market is the mountaineers, the backpackers, how that’s implemented–it flexes fairly continuously.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So I have a couple of questions before you go on.

Al Tabor: Okay, go for it. Sure.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So if I’m thinking about your–you brought up a once a year product cycle having interviewed Martin at SlingFin. He’s not–I don’t think you guys necessarily [inaudible] consumer brand but I know you want to layer in points of entry that include wholesale, so. Is that a once a year thing kind of driving the business right now or is that something that you guys–

Al Tabor: Oh, no.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay.

Al Tabor: We are way away from–we just design.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay.

Al Tabor: And hope that some of our designs are ready to fit in within the normal yearly cycle. I mean, there is a component. It’s a seasonal enterprise. And it’s tough to get off stuff to Australia and New Zealand for us at the moment because we’d have to–just getting that there is kind of expensive, so. There is–you can kind of balance the hemispheres. But really, we’re so unconstrained by backpacking season and mountaineering season.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right. Okay.

Al Tabor: On the other hand, we’re in California. So we can get people out with our stuff all year round. So we’re not limited by that seasonality in terms of our ability to build a prototype, get it to some people to go out in a meet-up with a bunch of folks. That couldn’t happen continuously. And that’s a critical part of the business. That’s where we’re going to end to a lean start-up methodology. We’re trying to shorten the information loop, there’s a classic [inaudible] slide that he calls it the learn, build, measure cycle.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right. I’ll put this in the show notes, folks.

Al Tabor: So that’s–we’re trying to speed that up. And if your–our theory is that if we’re competing with folks in the yearly cycle, and we could do it every two months. We’re going to be nimble. So we would lack some of the [inaudible] of a larger company. But since we’re small and nimble, we might as well use that to maximum advantage.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay I have one more question. Well, it’s probably not–I more than one question. But a question for right now: as we’re looking at this loop, you mentioned the importance of the roundtables and I love the collection of people that you bring in and I think it’s great to open the doors like that and obviously we have to have thick skin and welcome feedback as entrepreneurs.

So, my next question is: having gone through Wefunder, and I understand that you guys have recently just in the last few days and we’re recording this at the first week of July. But you’ve reached your Wefunder phase, correct?

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And didn’t that allow or afford you the opportunity to have some two way conversation with end consumers, and now investors around the product? Like how was that, with folding that into your loop that was maybe more traditional with the roundtable in the past?

Al Tabor: Well, our theory, particularly since we set the perks to really reward outdoor enthusiasts so if you invest a thousand bucks and you buy enough of our stuff overtime, you’re gonna get that thousand bucks back in discounts. So we thought that the core of the investors were going to come from our community And we’re gonna return to that community now again and again but over the last twenty days, the original [inaudible] was that but over the last 20 days it’s mostly been folks that are reading investment newsletters or frequent in [inaudible] website.

And as far as I can tell, many of them aren’t even going to use the premium which is sort of good because it tells us our business model is attractive to folks that are actually going in and reading the numbers. But yes, so some of those–a few of those folks have–are clearly outdoor enthusiasts. And we have engaged them in conversation about what they wanna see, what problems they are–and the major advantage is that’s taken a [inaudible] amount of [inaudible] base to folks that are in Appalachian Trail folks as opposed to just PCT folks. And that’s something we’re going to try to leverage more overtime.

We’ve just begun the conversation with those folks. And ultimately, that’s the goal is we want to fund a business with enthusiasts. That folks that understand our market that are going to hold our feet to the fire in terms of the vision and the integrity of the business we’re trying to build. And purity of the brand, if you will. And that can take a tent out and dry it. Tell us what they think. So, if you’re one of those folks, come on down. Where are your people? We would like [inaudible] going to island with you at any level you’d like, so.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s great. I have another question to you because obviously you’ve built a career on analyzing data and enabling people to take the right next step that’s based in a grounded place, right, from data.

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: How has it been for you to move your, I guess incorporation of lean start-up principle is through the digital era over the past five years. Like, since basically you’ve been tied in with Martin on SlingFin is when really things have kind of the pedals hit the metal more so on our market, I think, in that regard.

Al Tabor: Well, quite honestly, mostly what I’ve been doing is just trying to help them build systems. So support websites and things like that. The–well, clearly we’re trying to distribute direct through online third party online shops–[inaudible] countries and specialty shops, all of those. And look at each of those channels and try to evaluate what they can provide, what we’ve got to do to service that channel. Selling direct online is great but you need a lot of people to show up the site to look at things. So advertising is expensive. So we’re kinda nosing our way along all those channels and then trying to get an update and to really make decisions. We’re still in [inaudible] we’re in a gathering rather than evaluate and rebuild.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I’ll tell you what I’m curious to see and I’m wondering if maybe this could be a future show is what it might be like for you to show up–and maybe you’re doing this already–but show up to the meeting with the RAI buyer the back country merchandiser, and actually be able to showcase your own data against theirs and try and make the case for them to onboard and take risk with your product.

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Is that something you’ve already started to do?

Al Tabor: Well, it’s more aimed at–I don’t think we’re–to sell RAI, you’ve got to be ready to–it’s a long discussion. I don’t think we’re inappropriate RAI customer at the moment. And quite honestly, I don’t consider RAI a visionary organization. I don’t think they buy in the cutting edge they’re a step back from that. When a concept has been proven, that’s what you’re talking about coming to a data.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right.

Al Tabor: Then they buy into it and support it. But you don’t want to walk at the RAI and say, “Hey, here’s something totally new. You want to buy it?” They’re going to say, “Probably no.” Whereas the small specialty shops are all over, something like that. RAI is one–three quarters of a step back behind those folks.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right.

Al Tabor: Which I think is their bread and butter. They can be there first.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: They’re kind of the gateway drug, I hope, for the future consumers.

Al Tabor: They’re–yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And we’re in, I don’t know, 40, 50, of the little shops.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s fantastic. Wow. So let’s keep going here on the lean principles because I know you have a lot to help my audience with here. So can you talk a little bit more about the five-question approach? Around, I guess, you call it root cause or Eric Reis calls it root cause analysis. Is that something that you feel comfortable talking about for outdoor founders versus tech founders, and how that might be different?

Al Tabor: Well, yeah. I think it’s important for everybody. The [inaudible]–very commonly, you get a question, like, why isn’t this working? And you answer what’s the first thing that pops into your head. And it’s not all that helpful. So it’s sort of–basically, you’re interrogating the question with further questions. And I think, in example that he uses, which–I’m just going to read it. It sort of illustrates how it gets there. It’s–Okay, why did your car stop? Well, it ran out of gas. Why did it run out of gas? Because I didn’t buy any gas on my way to work. Why didn’t you buy any gas? Because I didn’t have any money. Why don’t you have any money? Because I lost it all in a poker game. Why did you lose it in a poker game? Because I’m not very good at bluffing, but I have a good hand. So, or don’t have a good hand.

So, okay. So, apparently, this guy is stuck on the side of the road because he’s not a very good bluffer. Well, if you stopped at the first, second, or third question, you would never have gotten there. And this is part of the [inaudible] what’s called a six sigma methodology which is an attempt to be an exceptional business. But it’s something I found extremely useful because usually, even on question 2, you’re not really getting to the underpinnings of a problem. So if you got a real difficult question, it is really worth sitting down and just trying to push yourself to answer one more question. And maybe five isn’t the magic number. Maybe it’s seven, maybe it’s three. But you want to make sure you’re dealing with something that is some hard reality underpinning the situation and not just the first thing that pops into your head. And this is the corrective.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Right. And so with SlingFin for an example, it would be the question series would yield different [inaudible] will come from reducing the cycle to innovation.

Al Tabor: Right. So, let’s–yeah. Or marketing. So, let’s say, okay, we’re not selling [inaudible]. Why aren’t we selling it [inaudible]? Well, it’s because people don’t know about us. Well, why don’t they know about us? Well, it’s because blah, blah, blah. Maybe it’s–maybe that’ll lead to a pivot in our efforts because there’s not a lot of folks there to try to get great reviews or maybe they’ll lead to a pivot to try to provide some support material to the dealers we’ve got. It’s thinking the way down through the layers of a problem till you get to something that you can really implement against. Set up a metric, test it.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And you’ll gain clarity, too, which I think is, again, as passion-driven founders, I personally feel that clarity is one of the biggest challenges. I mean [inaudible] have a big–I love my systems and process obviously learned that the hard way at Verde and I totally–that’s what I live and die by now. But it’s very hard sometimes to extricate the lens of that passion can give you and I believe that your question and answer that you’re bringing from, the lean start-up principles to the outdoor market is literally a way to gain that and make it about the business because the passion is your personal but you have to make it about the business, the viability of the product.

And I love you keep bringing up Caravan but you mentioned in our conversation that we had around some of the things you noticed from Brad’s story as he founded Caravan and Brad founded bonfire, snowboarding, [inaudible] was in-house at a mayor for 20 years. Like the guy has had an interesting career trajectory in terms of doing start-up and then keeping an entrepreneurial spirit alive within a corporation.

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And so, maybe you could go over how he defined his value proposition. You have four things listed.

Al Tabor: Before we hit that, I think we want to make sure we hit the minimum viable of product cuts, though.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Okay, hit that.

Al Tabor: So this is another thing that’s kind of easy to do in tech but harder to do. But you’re making bets, right? You’re making bets to obtain information early on. The basic question is: what is the easiest, cheapest way to validate that value proposition? So in our case, it was a minimum viable product line. I mean, what do we got to put out there to test it? Well, SlingFin started with mountaineering tents. He built three, right? And they showed up on Everest, and they ended up acting as a windbreak for other’s people’s tents, and they never blew down, and people loved them.

So and what he was trying to validate is both that essentially he had an intellectual property on the architecture of those tents. But he was also trying to validate, “Is there a room for a new tent company? Is there space in the world for a new tent company?” And yes, he could come up with a better mountaineering tent. Yes, people would buy it. Whatever.

But instead of trying to raise $3M and [inaudible] straight out of the [inaudible], he’s smaller than Nemo, smaller than [inaudible] just trying to validate the patent, validate the value of the proposition in a controlled situation, and then expand out from there to other markets. So every–in tech, it’s much simpler. You just figure out what’s the simplest thing I can build, put online, and see if somebody will–and [inaudible], right? And often in technology–four guys eating ramen can come up with that minimum viable product in a month. Airbnb was like a weekend project and instantly validated.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It’s almost impossible to have an artist like Martin associate with the term MVP after he extricated himself from kind of more of a “mass market” tent [inaudible] so that he could become this inventor which is yet another obstacle I would think from an outdoor founder being elegant with lean start-up principles.

Al Tabor: Right. So it’s continually a balancing act. And one assumption that someone could easily make is, “Okay, here’s this great methodology. I’ve got adopted wholesale or it’s not going to work.” Really, you get a huge amount of benefit from pushing things just a little bit in the direction of some of these methodologies. So if you can shorten your build, learn, evaluate cycle a month or two months, or 50% or even 10%, you gain an advantage. If you can figure out a prototype or a test market or show up in front of [inaudible] people if they’re buying tents and show them yours and say, “Would you buy this one instead?”

Whatever you can do to get that feedback a little quicker or validate a tent design a little faster, or figure out a cheaper way rather than getting it completely off the market and failing to test your valuable proposition to make your minimum viable product, even a little bit more minimal, and still get the information you need, it’s a win. So this is a whole basket of techniques. I think the only essential ones are that explicitly [inaudible] valued proposition. Figure out the cheapest way to test it and go do it. Save yourself, your investors, your family and friends a lot of heartache if you can shorten that whole thing down.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s it. Thank you for bringing that up because MVP, like, as in, overarching umbrella concept feels crushing. But if you just look at it like look at these five efficiencies you’ll gain from staying this to this approach, that’s where the value is.

Al Tabor: Yeah. And a great example of that is the [inaudible]. I don’t know if you know about them but they had this huge win on Kickstarter with a multi-million dollar camera bag. And it was the largest in that space ever. Well, they didn’t start there. It started with one guy that designed a way to clip your camera to the outside of your packs so you could grab it easily. And he said, “Well, the minimum order for this is X number.

And I’m going to buy that and try to sell it to find out if I got the basis for a camera equipment business.” And he got on Kickstarter with it and it succeeded. But it succeeded not at the $4M level which she had five years later with his fifth Kickstarter. His first Kickstarter hit $50,000 or $80,000, or something like that. And he sold out his [inaudible]. Well, he had a minimum viable product line [inaudible] one product. And he approached consumers directly to test that on Kickstarter. And the rest is sort of history. It’s worth going checking out both his first and his last Kickstarter. Just put in [inaudible]. That’s very close to a tech start-up methodology.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Interesting.

Al Tabor: And that, surprisingly, he’s in San Francisco and spends time in bars with tech founders, so.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And you’re also in the Bay Area, correct?

Al Tabor: We’re in the Bay Area. So I get to go watch this stuff. It’s right here.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s really cool. Cool. Well, this is all super, super helpful. Are there any other things that you’d like to make sure that my audience catches around lean start-up principles from Eric Ries? I mean I know–

Al Tabor: No. Yeah, and the book is an easy read. At least if you have any tolerance for business books. And I know you’re a business book reader. I kind of dislike them but this one I loved. So take it from somebody that prefers to read science fiction. It’s a quick read.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s good. And I know that there are some online resources that the author provides you so if you have any of those that you’d like to share, we’ll, again, have those on the show notes page.

Al Tabor: Yeah. I’ll try to send–he did a talk at Google, like, five years ago on this methodology. That’s a pretty quick summary. You can watch online and [inaudible] got the slides to that on Slideshare. And it’s thinking as evolved some since then but you can get the essence of it in–watch a 45-minute podcast.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So, I’d like to just do this one real quick. Maybe go through these four things. It’s–#1 is really deep, dive deep and discover your value and proposition. Obviously, don’t do this in a vacuum, bring in VIPs, your network, anybody who you trust that could be part of your inner circle at the launch. Get to know who your target customers are, call that my avatar in my world [inaudible].

Al Tabor: Yeah.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And then six ways to find them–that’s fascinating. I mean, I love that because to me, that’s the points of entry. It’s the platform by knowing who they are. Ultimately, you’ll know how to find them so those are connected. But they’re important to keep separate, too. And then, test, prove, be nimble, pivot, repeat. That’s the loop.

Al Tabor: Right. And don’t put up with stupid pivots. This is my last anecdote, but. So we pitched, we took SlingFin out and to these mini pitch events, mini Shark Tank things in the Bay Area. And we actually won-won and all that but talking to tech investors and adventure capitalist types you get, like, some totally brain damaged assumptions and you can see exactly where they’re coming from, and their heart’s in the right place, but it’s like, one guy said, well, he talked about how he always likes to look for [inaudible] markets and could we turn this upside down and build a hammock out of it? Which was–well, we have a hammock design. That is, like, goofy.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: For the love of God.

Al Tabor: Yes, exactly. And the other one was, and this makes a little more sense is, “Hey, don’t worry about it.” If you can’t develop the market here, you could probably just sell all your patents to RAI. Well, also true. But we don’t–we’re not in the business to get out of the business. Which is the thing you got to watch out getting advice from a tech [inaudible]. Most of the people are serial entrepreneurs. And they’re doing it to be out of it in 3-5 years.

And we’re not–we’re doing it because we love bikes or we love backpacking, or we love climbing, and we want to align our business life with our personal life. Do what we want to do, help other people do it, too. Get more people outdoors. The whole package of values that goes into being an outdoor enthusiast. And you got to listen to everybody but you don’t have to take anybody seriously, and you got to be a little careful when you border over to tech investors.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It’s almost like a climbing analogy. Everybody’s waiting for the climbing analogy. We don’t have to take everybody’s bait up.

Al Tabor: Right.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: In fact, we might even have a [inaudible] free zone. You go through the pitch and then you maybe give yourself a couple days.

Al Tabor: Right, exactly. Exactly.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Like the peanut gallery. Like, they do mean well, but I love what you say because it’s so much of my training and teaching and insights, you have so much more experience than I do. Also, it’s wonderful for me to learn and talk with you. I just also see like, as plain as day to me that in these markets, we do business very differently and you literally just summarized exactly why right there. You really did. We’re not in it to do something and get out. We’re in it to actually bring more people in, to be as stoked as we are, and to build this lifestyle around a business that kicks ass, basically.

Al Tabor: Yeah. And with a little luck, we’ll help save the planet. It’s always great when you’re out on a mission from God. What’s the old Blues Brothers like. So it’s not a social zero. We’re actually doing what we love and contributing, I think, to the welfare of everybody.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So you really just did the impossible. You brought lean start-up principles, you used the phrase six sigma which I haven’t heard since we worked for eVent fabrics owned by General Electric. You brought all these things in that normally would send passion driven outdoor founders running for the door and instead, you made it something that we could totally get. You brought great analogies in, and you’re gonna help a lot of businesses survive and thrive which is only going to make our markets better. So thank you so much. This has been super fantastic and please make sure to check out the podcast notes page because there’ll be tons of resources there than Allan and I will put together for this. But thank you, Allan, it’s really been a pleasure talking with you.

Al Tabor: Sure. Yeah, my pleasure as well.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: All right. And we will get you back on the show. I’d love to hear how things are going with SlingFin down the road a little bit. Maybe we could have a show with you and Martin here in a couple days.

Al Tabor: Yeah, that’d be fun.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Awesome. Thank

[INTERVIEW END]

Join the Conversation

comments