How to Infuse Oxygen into Your Business: Lessons Learned from the Snowboarding Industry

May 19, 2013 / GROWTH IS OXYGEN

How to Infuse Oxygen into Your Business: Lessons Learned from the Snowboarding Industry

May 19, 2013

Andrea Kates CEO, LaunchPad Central; Author: Find Your Next

Andrea Kates is a globally-recognized leader in bridging the gap between innovation and commercialization. She is dedicated to introducing a radically new approach to growth for companies looking to combine the agility of startup DNA with the scale and impact of large enterprise.

Based in San Francisco, Andrea is CEO of LaunchPad Central, a technology company initially nurtured by the rapid rollout of a distinctive methodology invented by co-founder Steve Blank and catalyzed by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) and National Institutes of Health I-Corps (Innovation Corps) programs. In the healthcare/tech arena, Andrea has led projects in innovation for clients including Mayo Clinic Ventures, Carolinas HealthCare System, Roche, FirstSight Vision (Walmart), and Embrace (Bangalore). Her original research on innovation with case studies on Sharp HealthCare, GE ecomagination, EMC, and Johnson & Johnson resulted in her bestselling book, Find Your Next.

Andrea has been a featured speaker/key opinion leader for the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, Cisco’s Global Innovation Summit, Rueda de Innovación (Bogota), Insight One20 (Los Angeles), the Renaissance Executive Forum’s National Leadership Initiative, TED, the Edison Awards, Midtjysk Lederforum (Denmark), Jones Lang LaSalle’s global women’s summit, and the Zurich Insurance global innovation summit.

You can’t say “no” when someone asks you to help them and the Virgin Mary is looking over your shoulder. That’s exactly how I ended up saying “yes” to an invitation to work with leaders from the active sports industry on how to breathe oxygen into their beloved sport.

I was sitting at a café that’s home to the Surf Madonna mural in Encinitas, California. The surfing shrine is a legend in its own right—a semi-sacrilegious, tongue-in-cheek tribute that inspired tons of grassroots support that led to its permanent home right in the heart of surf country. However, on this particular morning, the focus was on surfing’s sister sport—snowboarding. The question at hand was, “How can snowboarding find its ‘next?’”

Just a couple of months after that fateful chat, I found myself in Sun Valley, Idaho with people representing all aspects of snowboarding to uncover creative ways to breathe new life into the sport, which Christopher Solomon’s New York Times article, “Has Snowboarding Lost Its Edge?“ described to be on “a path of substantial decline.”

Right after that article came out, I began to gather facts about the state of snowboarding, including expert opinions and opportunities for expansion, with the understanding that growth is the oxygen needed to build any industry. What I learned could serve as a primer that any business can follow—whether they are facing real or perceived threats to that oxygen, or whether they are simply reviewing their strategic options for future growth.

Oxygen expansion technique #1: Face the facts.
It wasn’t pretty. First, the New York Times article came out, then TransWorld Business declared that snowboard sales had “plunged 17%” this season. To get to the bottom of the issues and establish a good foundation for a trend reversal, Kelly Davis, a top researcher with Snowsports Industries America, provided a detailed briefing on all the facets of the industry, from resorts to equipment to lessons to weather. The facts told a complex story—snowboarding was definitely suffering but it wasn’t too late to shift that trend.

Oxygen expansion technique #2: Look at the edges of the industry for growth clues.
Snowboarding can look toward skiing, skateboarding, gear (helmets, headsets, goggles, clothing, and accessories) travel and resort trends, and technology (Nike Fuel bands, playlists, helmet-mounted cameras) as a starting point for growth ideas. Once trends are identified in these adjacent brands, snowboarding can begin to adapt and grow accordingly.

Oxygen expansion technique #3: Exchange a competitive perspective for a big-picture view.
It’s natural to think of other industry brands as competition, but when facing big shifts and needing big ideas, it makes more sense to collaborate with them and reshape the entire ecosystem together. During the conference in Sun Valley, leaders from all areas of the sport looked at everything from the feeder system for children all the way through to highly-skilled athletes, and re-thought how snowboarding could be injected into public parks, schools, and family experiences so that the slopes were only part of the overall snowboarding fever.

Oxygen expansion technique #4: Think outside the box. Way outside.
The Snow Conference attendees looked for outside inspiration to find new sources of oxygen. They considered other brands that had caught on in a big way, breaking down the snowboarding experience to its basic components:

  • Model for getting kids to think something is cool: Got Milk campaign
  • Model for re-igniting a brand that had once been for rebels: Harley
  • Model for instituting “baby steps” toward mastery of a sport: Training wheels for bikes
  • Model for fun: Tailgating at football games
  • Model for social change: Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign

Successfully combining all these elements will begin to reformulate the industry’s mojo.

So, how did Mike Lewis, Editor-In-Chief of TransWorld Business—the guy from the Surf Madonna breakfast—react to how the industry rose to the challenge of infusing new life into snowboarding? He came out in favor of the big picture view fueled by cross-industry inspiration. We’re all committed to “lifting the tide on the sport we love and keeping winter wonderful.”

Amen.

Andrea Kates CEO, LaunchPad Central; Author: Find Your Next

Andrea Kates is a globally-recognized leader in bridging the gap between innovation and commercialization. She is dedicated to introducing a radically new approach to growth for companies looking to combine the agility of startup DNA with the scale and impact of large enterprise.

Based in San Francisco, Andrea is CEO of LaunchPad Central, a technology company initially nurtured by the rapid rollout of a distinctive methodology invented by co-founder Steve Blank and catalyzed by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) and National Institutes of Health I-Corps (Innovation Corps) programs. In the healthcare/tech arena, Andrea has led projects in innovation for clients including Mayo Clinic Ventures, Carolinas HealthCare System, Roche, FirstSight Vision (Walmart), and Embrace (Bangalore). Her original research on innovation with case studies on Sharp HealthCare, GE ecomagination, EMC, and Johnson & Johnson resulted in her bestselling book, Find Your Next.

Andrea has been a featured speaker/key opinion leader for the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps, Cisco’s Global Innovation Summit, Rueda de Innovación (Bogota), Insight One20 (Los Angeles), the Renaissance Executive Forum’s National Leadership Initiative, TED, the Edison Awards, Midtjysk Lederforum (Denmark), Jones Lang LaSalle’s global women’s summit, and the Zurich Insurance global innovation summit.

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