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Bob Hall is 40-year veteran in the outdoor industry, with executive stints at Salomon and Ride Snowboards, who served as president of ORCA (now OIA). His return to the outdoor industry came not from his role as an angel investor, but with a knock on the door from a neighbor. Jeff Picket, NuDown’s founder and chairman, sought out Hall to help develop the brand. Last year, the samples were so late for NuDown’s launch at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, that CEO Bob Hall had to cancel his flight and drive to them to Salt Lake City. This year, he’s better prepared and returns with a sophomore product line of carryover jackets revamped with more flex and lighter weight, and a few new pieces.
Besides NuDown’s technology, what inspired you to come out of retirement?
I sat on a rock and did my thinking. Why would I un-retire to go back into the hectic world of a start-up again? My preferred cause is the Nature Conservancy. I like their flexibility, their willingness to leverage to get results. And as a business guy, I connect with that. And what I concluded is that by building a business again, and building it with a certain set of values, I can make a bigger difference than if I went out and planted trees one at a time.
Can you go over those core values for us?
Employees: We will create good jobs for good people. We want to create genuine, fair-paying jobs and see those filled with good people. Shareholders: We will respect our shareholders. We understand they deserve a reward for the trust and investment placed with us.
Conservation: We live on a finite planet yet with infinite creativity and the minds of its inhabitants; we will respect and support both. I didn’t want these to be just words, so before we ever had a penny of revenue I made us sign up for 1% For the Planet. [which goes to the Nature Conservancy]
Local: We will go out of our way to work with local. We make that effort, which is not to say we will pay a significant premium. For example we chose a local bank. They don’t do a lot of wire transfers to Asia, it’s not routine for them, but we find if we plan better, they can do it.
Fair Play: We believe in fairness. To me fairness is almost a catch-all. At the end of the day, we all want to walk away thinking that we’ve done fair play with everybody.
As an angel investor (and member of Sierra Angels group), what do you look for from a start-up business?
I’m a strong believer that you bet on the jockey, not the horse. It’s a cliché statement, but here’s why. In 15 years of angel investing, I have never once seen a business plan that was presented to our group survive 24 months. (I could probably say 12 months.) We look at over 100 deals a year, and we invest in maybe only six to eight.
That’s not to say the business plan doesn’t matter. I’m looking to see if the raw material has legs, so even if the market changes, the ingredients are there to evolve the business plan to the vagaries of the market.
I also look for company leaders who are passionate and dedicated to what they’re doing, yet at the same time they’ve need to have the openness to be flexible when presented with compelling evidence that a change in strategy is needed.
So you have to have a bit of stubbornness, but when it comes time to pivot…
If they’re too dedicated, then they’re too slow to change when they need to make a change. I think that’s where strength becomes a weakness. We talked about it with NuDown. We know the science is there, it’s just simple physics. But not every good idea works. We have to be dedicated, passionate about what we’re doing, but at the same time must be realistic.
Outdoor Retailer is no stranger to new companies with new ideas and hopes. What advice do you have for emerging outdoor companies?
What’s your competitive advantage? As a startup, you’ve got to have one. So many are just pipe dreams and it’s got to be more than one person’s capability. There’s lots of people like that in the outdoor industry, —and look, I’ve spent my whole career in the outdoor industry and I love it— but there’s got to be a sustainable advantage. Otherwise you’re just buying yourself a job, which is fine, just don’t expect investors.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll publish articles from Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2016. Find this article on page 60 of the Day 1 issue.