You and I chatted a bit before I posted - as my post will likely be a bit more critical than the standard "hey - when can I buy" or "make the osama pros" or any of the other generic NS posts I would expect on the new ski company thread variety. But you said go for it, and figure it will drive the conversation a bit. Also this is through my specific lens. I have not worked in other parts of skiing - so the only experience I have in it comes from ON3P. But I also took a path that could be somewhat similar to what you describe - so will offer my insight on to the reality of that path.
Everything I post is not about telling you not to go down this path - only to brace you for the reality you face as you do.
I think there’s a good number of you by now who have seen my various threads and responses shitting on 12 year olds. I am here with my hat in my hand to ask for some advice.
Ive been thinking about this for a long time, but wanted to hear what NS thinks. I’m toying with the idea of starting my own ski company. Nothing large at all, just as a sort of side hustle if you will. I have a few shapes drawn up, and would attempt to make the skis as cheap and durable for consumers as possible. I am willing to front the cost of starting the company up (building a press, raw material) and I wouldn’t be doing it for profit. Skis would be listed at almost cost, and would be customizable to an extent. Very interested to hear any input, from anyone who has had similar thoughts, or has even built their own press which I know a few of you have. Cheers!
oh, and if anyone would actually be interested in taking a leap of faith and doing this with me, I’d love to work with a fellow NSer!
Side hustle where you...
Build your own product...
Customize them for customers...
Make skis extremely durable...
Sell them just above cost...
Not doing it for profit...
Let's make a few assumptions that solve not trivial problems - but that skirt around the main issue you will face - which is time. So let's assume:
1) You are financially independent of the ski company
2) You are financially capable of funding the ski company
3) You have the manual skills needed to work with your hands and become a master ski builder
From there, you face an escalating set of production hurdles that will always be hindered by time.
So step one - which sounds like you are in now - is the preliminary research and mental designs of the skis. You can be in that forever, but at some point you will reach a place where you step beyond your head and into the fiscal & physical world - call it step two. For me - that was buying the steel for a ski press. It was the first manifestation of the company beyond an idea. As you build up your infrastructure - even just for a garage build - this will escalate and you will constantly be in a state of limbo where you have some tools, have some materials, but really don't know what you are doing and will be constantly having to be making the call to ante up and continue.
No matter how much you think you know, this process will take time and be slow. But let's say that you got through the process of acquiring all the materials, tools, and raw assets needed to start a small build operation.
Now you are to step three - which is developing the production process & fitting the infrastructure to it. This isn't a turnkey factory, even if it is run out of a one car garage. You don't have experience there - so your guide will be what you can find from the internet and trial & error. This process takes patience, time, and a lot of commitment. It took me two years from buying the steel to pressing a ski. And I didn't even base finish Tacoma skis - so I was only doing about 60-70% of the process there. It took me another 6 months - including basically every waking hour that summer - and help from a number of friends - to get that number to 50+.
Even with the information out there - replicating production processes is hard - they won't be automatic and will take hundreds of hours to understand, then tailor to your capability, then process develop, test, review, alter, and test again before you get consistency to your process.
Over the long term - to create a durable product - standardization and complete understanding of your process is going to be paramount. Otherwise - why do this?
Once you have spent the time taking raw materials and a raw production process and developing them into something that can produce a good ski - you need to standardize that process in a way that will create repeated good skis - call that step four. That is the only way to bring a garage build to a real company build.
Again - this is just going to take time. And know - these past two steps will never stop. The process will constantly be in flux. Every problem you solve will only present the next. Right now - to build a ski from raw materials to finishing product in here - it is literally in the 1000's of individual steps. And you are going to have to spend enough time finding and developing them to learn about them, understand them, and control them. Otherwise the product will suffer.
I spent about 2 years in college basically getting from an idea to 50+ garage made skis. Moved to Portland, spent a year or so figuring out what the fuck I was going to do with the recession - and finally committed to making ON3P a real thing around May 2009. Mind you - I thought I had some idea what I was doing. We moved into our first factory August 1st and started taking orders - hoping for something like a Thanksgiving ship date.
I believe it took us about 3 months to get the factory from 0 to even producing a ski. And this was working long, long work weeks - 80-100 hours - sleeping there - 7 Days per week. It was gnarly, right @RudyGarmisch
? Year one I think we started shipping skis around Thanksgiving - and didn't get everyone's skis finally out until February. And that was for only a couple hundred skis.
The first thing we did when we finished the year was realize that - even after two years of garage building - we started the year knowing jackshit and complete tore apart and rebuilt the factory again from scratch. And if you were to ask me honestly, I'd tell you it likely took us 4-5 years of operations before we really got an expert handle on the ins and outs of the production process. And even today things are constantly being worked on and improved.
The point being - if you want to do this - and actually build skis - you need to be in or out.
You cannot be known as someone making high quality, durable skis without putting in the time to learn how to do it - and side hustle just isn't going to cut it. The process is far more complex that most know and it will take you thousands of hours to understand and master.
If you are going to put your name on a product that you actually build, it has to be done right.
I won't touch on the supply issues you will run into being small, or the labor/hour cost you will be running into selling skis at cost, or the complications like liability insurance, or any of the other hundreds of issues you will run into on the business side alone. The biggest thing to me is that conceptually - side hustle and durable, handbuilt skis - is one that is not achievable.
So where would I say you go from here?
1) If you want to start a ski company - do it
- but just know that it will become all consuming if you really want to make it real and do it right.
A ton of people have had the idea of starting small ski and board companies in the past decade and then either shut down or bailed before it go going - something I can personally attest I completely understand. I am sure everyone here has at least one regional company they heard that was making skis and then just disappeared. Or a friend that built a ski press that then sat in their garage for a few years before they sold it. You can see the same thing as a reality in the skibuilder's forums classified.
It is really hard to go from idea to reality.
2) If you just want to learn to build skis and make them for you and a few friends - do it
- but know that you won't compete with people doing this professionally. Your sample set of production will be small - so the time to vet and improve your processes will be slow. Doesn't mean the skis will be bad, but durability comes from consistency.
3) Skip the production end entirely. You want to run it is a side hustle? Design the skis as you want them and outsource them in small batches to a factory that will take the order - Never Summer, Utopie, Elan, GP87, etc. I mean hell, even Revision was basically a side hustle. I believe the owner's day job was in medical equipment sales. That brings your ideas and concepts to market - but skips over the literal thousands of hours you will have to spend to bring similar quality product to market.
I write all this as someone who had pretty similar ideas to you - Build the most durable skis possible and do it in the states. But I cannot stress enough how much time, money, and personal sacrifice it will take to get there.
If you want to do it, and are willing to do it, it is worth it. ON3P has given me a very unique experience with lots of ups and downs but I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
I just want you to have an honest perspective as someone who went down that path, basically hasn't been caught up with work in living memory, and is posting this at 9pm on a Sunday still at work because I haven't had time to enjoy a weekend stress free since August 2009.
If you want to bounce more questions my way - continue our direct message conversation and I will give you my email/cell. Happy to hop on a call sometime if it might help off further insight into your direction here.