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To find out more behind how Glade Optics got its start and what’s in store for the future, Josh interviews Glade Optics founder, Curt Nichols
More about the episode...
Josh sits down with Glade Optics founder Curt Nichols. Glade is a company that embodies the notion that proper planning and research can make all the difference in building an outdoor brand. Beyond making fantastic goggles and sunglasses, Glade Optics is a HUGE disrupter of how customers interact with the brands they love and they’re showing no signs of stopping. Tune in to listen to how Curt managed to make top of the line sunglasses and goggles and insanely competitive prices.
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How does Glade Optics stand out as an eyewear brand?
“I think in an industry like eyewear that is hyper competitive and super saturated that differentiation is really important. What we’ve done, that I am really trying to push in the industry is that we’ve created this direct to consumer model within the snowsports industry…we’ve essentially cut the retail channel out of the supply chain completely and, what this has enables us to do is offer a really high quality product for a price point that you’re not really gonna find...”
What was your background in before you started Glade?
“...Growing up I was a pretty avid snowboarder and it was always part of my life. After college I had got a job outside of Boston at a research firm that was basically on a team that was tasked with identifying new models and new ways of setting up your business. A lot of that was thinking ‘how can we set up the end to end customer experience to make it a more favorable interaction for both parties’…”
What was the process like developing your goggles?
“The prototyping process and product development process is in my mind totally priority number 1… The ski tribe and the ski community is a fiery one. They’re an amazing community to have support from but you really have to get it right...When I was setting up the business and going through the process, to me it was a non-starter that I needed to have the best product that I can get my hands on…”
How did you build up your customer base once you developed your product?
“I went into it knowing I was going to have to market test it pretty heavily. In order to make something like this work you have to be really confident in the math of the business. So, once I had the prototype and I had the model, I did an initial production run, super small, a couple hundred pairs, basically with the idea that I’m going to take as little risk as possible in starting this to try to figure out if it works from a marketing and distribution standpoint…I’m going to do as much throwing stuff against the wall as I can and pursuing marketing channels that are working...”
What are the most profitable marketing channels that you discovered in that first year?
“First year was definitely social. We have a pretty big instagram following and what we’ve done, that I think is a bit different is we feature people who are using our gear. We’re not throwing up pictures of someone hucking a 30 ft backflip on instagram and, I think involving people who are actually wearing the goggles in that marketing and imagery part of that has been super helpful…”
Was it instagram specifically or a combination of channels?
“It’s a combination I mean, we’ve tried a bunch of different things. We’ve found that video tends to work really well on instagram but, there might be a different image or copy combination that’s working better with facebook…”
What strategy did you use to lock in sales once you build out your marketing channels?
“A lot of what we focused on was building that social proof. It’s inherently hard to try out a new brand if they don’t know anyone who’s wearing that brand. So, for a company like Glade that relies heavily on that brand perception, getting that social proof of having that imagery up there of people using our goggles was super important...”
Did you have any mentors that helped you along the journey of building Glade?
“I don’t have one specific mentor that I could point to. Im super lucky in that I have a really big network of friends and family that are supportive and knowledgeable about specific areas of the business and are willing to connect me with people that are important for various stages of the business…”
What is Glades commitment to sustainability?
“The reality of the ski goggle market is that finding a green ski goggle or one that’s 100% eco friendly is next to impossible. You’re not gonna find a bamboo goggle that’s also going to protect you if you smash into a tree...That said, sustainability has been a huge part of my life for a really long time...So when going through the process of manufacturing and finding where we’re going to get our goods I’m super diligent that nothing is contracted our meaning we know exactly where our products are coming from…”
What is the day to day grind for you with Glade?
“...Right now I’m focusing a ton of my time and effort in releasing this new goggle model that we have coming out this winter. That really sort of took up the passed three, four months of my time it’s been the main focus. But, a lot of it is interacting with people who are curious about the brand which I really love. There’s certainly a lot of the administrative stuff, making sure the accounting is above board, and making sure our supplier’s in line but, what’s happening more and more as the brand grows is I get to talk to people who are interested in what we’re doing…”
What would you say have been some of your biggest fears with Glade?
“My immediate fear is always with production issues. So, whenever I get that shipment of this seasons goggles, or this seasons glasses, or whatever it is, my heart is pounding when I open that box...The business is really seasons and the lead times are really long so, if I were to get a production run that wasn’t up to par, that would crush the season which would probably crush the year…”
What have been some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve made with Glade?
“I think in the beginning I was pretty convinced that customization was going to be a huge selling point and a super important part of the product that we delivered. For context, the first winter that I did this I offered a crazy amount of SKUs...in reality it just created a ton of complexity and it was a lot of complexity for basically a few more SKUs that were not a significant portion of the revenue…”
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own business?
“My primary advice is that it’s very easy to get caught in a loop of reading a ton of content and trying to figure out ‘ok how am I going to start this and how am I going to do it’...I think it’s important that you actually get down to the ‘doing’ and not getting caught in the loop for that next piece of content...in reality what you should do is go for it and see if it works...That said if I had an ancillary piece of advice I feel that just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t necessarily make it a good fit for a business…”
What’s the best part about running Glade Optics?
“It’s just so fulfilling day in and day out. I 100% believe that what I’m doing with Glade can reshape the industry in the way people buy gear and really change the way the market and the customers interact with the brands they buy from. And, to get reinforcement on that from emails and messages from customers, even people on the mountain, that’s so amazing…”
What’s in store for the future of Glade Optics?
“I have this vision of Glade as this scrappy ski brand that’s really well positioned to seize that everyday skier category and, I think we’re doing really well through our messaging and developing that tribe of loyal brand advocates. In the next X years for me, I think the top priority is just figuring out how we achieved the success that we’ve had and then how do we scale that…”