This is a follow up story for Ventana Surfboards & Supplies. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 5 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m David Dennis, and I’m the co-founder of Ventana Surfboards & Supplies in Santa Cruz, California. I’m also a product manager on the Outlook.com team at Microsoft.
Ventana Surfboards & Supplies has the highest bar for artisanship and environmental responsibility. We create hollow-framed, reclaimed wood surfboards, bodysurfing hand planes, eco-surf apparel, and sustainable surf supplies that are loved by collectors and adventurers everywhere.
The Ventana team lives and works in Santa Cruz, California where we test our products on some of the most challenging waves on the planet. Ventana donates at least 5% of profits to ocean conservation including to the Ventana Ocean Conservation Scholarship.
Ventana is a lifestyle/hobby business for my business partner, Martijn Stiphout, and me. Martijn is one of the top woodworkers and surfboard builders in the world, and I focus on sales and marketing. We generate about $100K a year in gross revenue.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
Sales have been steady since we last spoke, and we’ve closed a large surfboard deal with a major Swiss brand that we’re not allowed to mention publicly. That’s helped us weather the post-pandemic slowdown.
We continue to receive a a good deal of press, we’ve been on several podcasts, and we have a short documentary coming out about us. We also recently filmed a TV show that will air soon on Channel 4 in the UK. Here’s a surfboard that we created together with the show’s host.
Also, I continue to work at Microsoft, as well. I’ve been on the Outlook.com product team for 13 years, and I’ve been at Microsoft for 22 years. My job in tech helps inform our marketing and product development approaches at Ventana, and my work at Ventana helps me understand small business needs more deeply. The symbiosis between the two roles has helped both be more successful.
Spending a good deal of time thinking about what pivots you can make is critical - new products, new customer audiences, new ways to position yourself…
We’ve shifted much of our marketing to focus on interior designers as a channel. We offer a strong value proposition for them by providing one-of-a-kind reclaimed wooden surfboards for their clients and offering discounts and commissions. We’ve invested in providing tools that designers can use to place our boards in mock-ups.
Finally, we’ve started to focus more on TikTok and YouTube shorts. Those haven’t paid off organically yet, but perhaps they will in the future. We’ve also done more on our LinkedIn page. That’s driven a couple of very large paddle board sales. For now, Instagram remains are best sales channel.
I do all of the marketing and social media management myself because I love doing it, and it helps me stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies. As I mentioned earlier, this helps me be more successful in my role at Microsoft, as well.
We’re getting excited about the potential of artificial intelligence, and we’re using Dall-e, GPT4, and Midjourney to accelerate content creation.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
During the pandemic, so many people were stuck at home that interior design projects took off. That was great for our business given that our reclaimed wood surfboards are terrific art pieces for walls.
After the pandemic, it’s been harder, but we’re doubling down on our interior design channel, and it’s starting to pay off. We still love what we do, and as long as it’s fun, we’ll keep going. One of the fun things we’ve done of late is to create the Legend of the Ventana Surfsquatch. People love it, and the T-shirts sell well.
We’re still profitable, and customers still love our focus on sustainability. We continue to have the highest bar for environmental responsibility of any surfboard maker in the world. And, we have a high bar for our apparel and other products, as well.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Our biggest lessons this year have been to curtail spending and not go too deep into debt during the downturn. We’ve also found that people love connecting with us at our workshop to see where the artisan magic happens. It’s also easier and less expensive for us to have sales events at our workshop, so we’ve been doing more of that.
Finally, we’re getting excited about the potential of artificial intelligence, and we’re using Dall-e, GPT4, and Midjourney to accelerate content creation.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We plan to stay small and keep focused on our core business of building surfboards as art pieces. If we can find a third partner to help drive a retail presence for us, we’d do that, too.
We expect to grow our custom surfboard business through our more dedicated focus on interior designers as a channel. We’ve also been able to raise prices year over year as the sources of our reclaimed wood get more and more interesting, and as my business partners' creativity gets even cooler by the month. Our boards have gone from about $2000 each ten years ago, to as high as $17,000 now. The market for used Ventana boards is good, too, with customers who resell their boards often making a profit.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their businesses?
I’ve seen too many companies trying to do what worked for them pre-pandemic or even during the pandemic and assuming they’d see the same success they may have seen them. Spending a good deal of time thinking about what pivots you can make is critical - new products, new customer audiences, new ways to position yourself, new marketing approaches, big changes to sales channels, etc. should all be on the table.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re not looking to hire at this time, but we’re always open to talking to people who might be interested in becoming a third business partner to manage retail sales in a physical location or to manage event sales for us around California.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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