Looking for a new board or skis that’s ahead of the curve?
Get your hands on a Gilson Snow and their patented Soft-Edge technology
To find out more behind how Gilson Snow got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Gilson Snow co-founder, Nick Gilson
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Gilson Snow co-founder Nick Gilson. Nick Gilson came up with his first prototype snowboard when he was 14-years-old but, it wouldn’t be until about a decade later, in Nashville of all places, that his journey to creating the fastest growing snowboard company would truly begin. Gilson has grown from it’s humble beginnings of being ran out of a functional donkey stable and offering snowboards to creating arguably one of the most revolutionary shapes for skis and snowboards of recent years. In this episode of the ReddyYeti Podcast Nick, walks us through the ups, down, and all-arounds of what he and his team have gone through to build this huge up-and-coming company.
Have an opinion? We want to hear it! Join the conversation and leave a comment, check out show notes, and get all the links mentioned in this episode below
- Check out Gilson’s website to learn more about the Soft Edge
- Learn more about Gilson Snow
- Grab a Gilson Snowboard or Skis or gear up with some apparel
- Keep an eye out for the Gilsons Demo Tour
- Follow Gilson Snow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
How is Gilson different in the ski and snowboard world?
“We started this company to design skis and snowboards with fluid dynamics in mind. At speed snow really does behave like a liquid or fluid and, by designing the three dimensions with fluid dynamics in mind we’ve been able to build skis and snowboards that are fundamentally different feeling and, many would agree are really fun to ride…”
Did you grow up Snowboarding?
“I grew up surfing and snowboarding and skateboarding and also skiing. I skied for 13 years before my mother let me get on a snowboard and then something clicked…”
What did you study at Johns Hopkins?
Earth and Planetary sciences. I was really interested in the space sciences and physics is really my jam…”
What happened after you finished college?
“After Hopkins I moved to Nashville Tennessee to teach middle school science…”
How did you go from teaching to starting the fastest growing snowboard company?
“Actually the students played a pretty big role in that. I was the 5th and 6th grade science teacher and about November of my first year a guy named Austin Royer was hired to be the 7th and 8th grade teacher. We started collaborating together to form these lesson plans. The first real challenge we ran into is there’s such an amazing diversity of talent and previous education...What Austin and I ultimately ended up doing is writing our curriculums around hands on learning… at one point we had year long projects where students would be pursuing their own topic of interest and we decided, as an act of solidarity, to do that ourselves. So we brought in the first prototype snowboard that I ever made…”
What was the next step after your students helped push you to take the leap into Pursuing Gilson?
We built the first six prototypes in Nashville, we turned the basement crawlspace into a rudimentary workshop and built our first press that blew up after the first six prototypes so that put a halt on production… By march break we had three prototypes that looked like garbage...but from a performance standpoint they’re the first boards that had the soft edge and they had started to show there was real potential with designing in three dimensions with fluid dynamics in mind…”
What is the “Soft Edge”?
“Basically, your typical historical snowboard or skis is flat edge to edge across the ski. What we’ve been able to do is by putting a bend in that base plastic and curing the base up to meet the steel, we’ve developed a shape that allows you to drift on the snow and float, surf, and pump and move laterally with your skis or board. That motion is very much like surfing on a wave…”
How did you go from the very first prototype to now offering one of the most unique skis and snowboards out there?
“The original idea came because my dad was building a catamaran sailboat. He was paying such attached to the curvature of each haul. This thing is moving through water, right? So he’s thinking about how this boat’s going to be moving through a fluid and, it really begs the question why aren’t we asking the same question for skiing and snowboarding…”
How did you cultivate such a strong community within Gilson Snow?
“It was really an organic thing...There are some business that you start from the outside and you build in and there are some businesses that you build from the inside out...Our story is a little different. This dates back to when I was fourteen, it dates back to the classroom, it dates back to the first team of six people moving into the woods when we left teaching full time…because of that there’s this amazing culture that started with it, we didn’t have anything...We started building our first shop in a donkey stable that wasn’t retired, it still had donkeys in it...”
How did you build your following?
“...We have an amazing community now and we love building snowboards and skis for these folks. The great thing is we still have zero sales people in the company. The world right now is in an accelerating rate of change and so there’s so many more ways to reach people these days that didn’t exist when some of our competitors were building their business. One of the really interesting things that happened is we tried to go the traditional route. We got rejected by over 3,000 retailers in our first 18 months of trying to run this company...they told us we were too weird, too different, and a lot worse things…”
How did you guys end up in Pennsylvania?
“Serendipity...We were planning when we were teachers in nashville to go to the stereotypical headquarters, Colorado. But, we looked at our bank accounts and we could have either afforded rent for a few months or got our first machine, that’s a no brainer. So we ended up with rent free manufacturing in a stable. We figured at that point, as soon as our finances were in line we’d move to Colorado but, the way that the folks in this community rallied behind us was a totally inspiring thing…”
Have you had any mentors that helped you get to where you are now?
“So many. When you let down your guard and you ask for help it’s amazing the flood of response you get from even really exceptionally talented people...There’s something really disarming to say ‘I know this, I know that, and I have no clue about that what are your thoughts?’...By just asking and letting down our guard we’ve attracted the talent of some truly exceptional people...”
What would you say are some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve made?
“I can think of a couple manufacturing, process engineering mistakes. There was an aesthetic issue at one point of epoxy getting on our bases and I had an idea to put a protective layer of material on there...when we shipped out these boards before we caught the first problem, these boards were sticking to the snow like velcro…”
What are your biggest fears in regards to Gilson Snow?
“I sleep pretty well these days. I think one of the biggest early stressors is uncertainty. Both in yourself and your team and the variables you can’t control...Now, honestly, as a result of the extraordinary people I’m surrounded by, we got this…If I really back it out, not to get too serious but it is obviously a really important thing that we’re facing… There’s more than enough evidence that our winters aren’t disappearing they’re relocating and it’s much less predictable...”
What’s in store for the future of Gilson Snow?
“We have a lot of stuff in the pipeline that I’m really excited about...From a higher level perspective, there’s a lot of different paths we can take that would make me really happy. The overarching criteria is so long as our people are happy, doing the right things for the right reason, engaging in our community in a really positive way, and continuing to build meaningful products and relationships then I’ll be really happy…”
What’s the best part about running Gilson Snow?
“I think for me it’s that as a 14-year-old kid this is what I looked forward to doing when I got home from school...from a design standpoint this has been near and dear to my heart for well over a decade now. I think the most inspiring thing is to engage with people in our community all over the world and see what they’ve now done with these designs and what doors it’s opened for them…That brings tears to my eyes every once in awhile, just to hear how people feel about what we’re doing...”
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start a business?
“One thing that I’ve learned to be consistently true over the last several years is some of our greatest wins have come out of failure. And some of our failures have been tried and true failures and they sting but, the ones that ultimately lead to success sting the same way at first. It’s very hard to differentiate between what is a failure that will lead to success and what’s a failure that is a true failure...I think when being really calculated and data driven about failure, that is the moment when you fail when you have the opportunity to learn the most. When something goes right all you can say is ‘don’t touch that dial’, when something goes wrong you get to figure out ‘why’?...”