How We Grew 3x By Launching A New Suite Of Ski Goggles And Helmets
This is a follow up story for Glade Optics. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Curt Nichols and I am the founder of Glade Optics - a ski goggle and helmet brand based in Breckenridge, Colorado. Our flagship products are our goggles and helmets, but we have recently expanded into other accessories including apparel and sunglasses.
We primarily sell to skiers and snowboarders who spend more than 30 days a season on the mountain - the type of people that consider skiing a big part of their identity. We have grown about 2x since our last Starter Story submission, and we expect to grow 2-3x again this year.
Product-market fit is everything. If your ads aren’t working, you are unable to get PR, or you otherwise aren’t seeing traffic growth - chances are you aren’t really solving a problem or offering anything compelling enough for people to talk about.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
We’re growing! We’ve made two new hires since we last spoke and we are on track to grow another 2-3x this season. These hires are helping me with product development and customer service, and ideally I’ll make another hire to help with marketing in the next few months as well.
We’re releasing a brand new suite of goggles and helmets that we have been working on for about a year now, and we’re already seeing tremendous demand for these products via our presale. It’s really nice to see that we’re developing new products and features that our customers actually want and need.
We have two new marketing channels that we are experimenting with this year that I am excited about - direct mail and a key strategic partnership. Both channels are relatively low risk for us to test (<$5k investment), but could potentially have asymmetric outcomes for the business due to their scalability.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Talk to your customers! We conducted a series of ~20 phone interviews with our customers, as well as multiple surveys to hundreds of other customers this summer. The information we gained from these interviews is invaluable. Everything from website copy, marketing channel selection, and product development has been greatly impacted by these conversations. We learned so much about who our customers are, and why they chose Glade over our competitors. Now it’s just up to us to amplify that message as we grow.
We got crushed by the freight frenzy of 2021 (we paid ~$18k for a container!) but unfortunately, I am not sure if there is much of a lesson here… other than make sure you have enough margin to absorb shocks like this.
Finally, this year I learned to hire early and often. I was reluctant to bring on outside help, but now that I have my first two hires up and running I want to hire 10 more :)
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Our biggest plans right now revolve around an off-season sunglasses lineup. As you might imagine, we are an extraordinarily seasonal business. This makes things like cash flow, product development, and marketing particularly challenging - so the idea is to release a suite of products that we can sell in the spring and summer that are applicable to our customer base.
We learned from our customer research that over half our customers mountain bike, and over 90% are active in at least one ‘mountain activity’ during this time. This tells us that we are likely able to sell into our existing customer base with a set of sunglasses built specifically for these activities.
Beyond next year… I’m most excited about growing the team and producing more content for fans of Glade. I think there is a huge opportunity to start building out a media arm of the business aimed at recreational mountain athletes.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I have been spending some time away from the usual books oriented towards early-stage business building... I think this is an important way to build new mental models and ultimately be more creative. A few of my favorites:
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Product market fit is everything. If your ads aren’t working, you are unable to get PR, or you otherwise aren’t seeing traffic growth - chances are you aren’t really solving a problem or offering anything compelling enough for people to talk about. Rather than spinning your wheels on tweaking product features or ad copy, go back to the drawing board and really take a hard look at what you are selling and who you are selling it to.
I hear so many entrepreneurs complain about FB/GOOG prices, or an inability to get earned media, and it’s almost always because there is no real reason for their brand to exist. Dial-in your product, your story, and your reason for being - then step on the gas!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We just recently hired two employees in product development and customer service, but we will be looking to hire someone on the marketing side of things in the next few months. If you are an out-of-the-box thinker and like finding and testing new marketing channels, you might be a good fit!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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