How I Built This: Burton Snowboards: Jake Carpenter

  • The predecessor to the Snowboard: The Snurfer. It was like riding a bucking bronco downhill. It allowed you to surf on snow. They sold 800,000 @ $10 each.

  • I saw Snurfing as something that could be developed: I was sure someone was going to continue to develop the Snurfer. No one did. I thought I could make a better version of Snurfer. If I could make 50 a day I could make $100,000 a year. That would be awesome!

  • How did you get the money to start the company: My mom died young. So when my grandmother died the money that my mom was going to inherit went to me. I inherited $200,000 and spent $150,000 developing Burton Snowboards.

  • No one cares about your idea. You have to make them care: I told manufacturers I was making a modern rendition of the Snurfer. I was afraid the minute ski companies found out they would jump on it, and I would be out of business. But nobody cared. I was so alone.

  • Initial distribution & the importance of perseverance: I was a traveling salesman. I would load up my car with snowboards and visit ski and surf shops. I went out with 38 boards and came back with 40. One guy gave me two back that he bought and said this is a joke. No one wanted any part of it. I was getting rejected all day long. I had a few days where it was tough to get out of bed.  

  • The opportunity for Snowboards: Skiing costs $20 a day. That was a lot of money. Snowboarding was a cheap way to have fun with snow on the ground. It was a low-cost alternative to skiing. Ski companies were oblivious to what was going on in front of their eyes.

  • There was no major point where the company started to really take off: It was slow, consistent growth. It was not like internet companies that can explode from day one.

  • It doesn’t happen overnight! We had to convince ski resorts to allow snowboarding one by one. It took years. 10 years after founding Burton Snowboards fewer than 7% of ski resorts allowed snowboarding.

  • Why did you keep the company private? I met with investors and I didn’t like the vibe. It wasn’t us. Wall Street takes things and projects unrealistic expectations. People have realized working for a private company has many advantages. 

  • The company culture reflects Snowboarding culture: No suits. Meetings on sofas. Bring your dog to work. If it snows over two feet it is an automatic day off for the entire company.

  • Why didn’t you sell the company? I wouldn’t take those phone calls. This is the best job in the world. Why would I walk away from it?

  • Full podcast here.