Turn your Passion into a Business
from Fast Company.com 03/15 enhanced by Peter/CXO Wiz4biz
I’m fascinated by the different types of people I meet in the business world and the way that their personalities show up in what they do. I’m drawn to people who have a quiet inner confidence that is expressed in their interactions & their output. They know who they are and operate with a kindness of spirit that makes shared time & conversation pleasant. They exude confident energy to everyone they come into contact with. Matt Larson is the Chief of Product Design for one of the Surf industry’s most exciting new brands, Matuse – which designs incredible, high-end wetsuits. He is a soft-spoken, kind-spirited design thinker who is passionate about surfing and technology. Through the following 10 ideas, you’ll learn how Matt has combined his love for surfing & design while building a company he loves.
1. Listen to your Customers. In addition to his role at Matuse, Matt continues to work at a La Jolla, CA Surf Shop. Matuse was born, like many world-class brands, by observing & understanding consumer needs & circumstance. Over time, he noticed a trend. Customers wanted more from their products and wanted to be educated about what they were purchasing. The average surfer was becoming increasingly demanding about technology. When customers walked into the store for a new wetsuit, they were bombarded with fanciful new names that tried to create excitement for the product. What they didn’t get was the science behind the wetsuit—what’s on the inside, what’s keeping them warm, what exactly is that $450 suit made of? This is where Matuse was born.
1a) Working at the Surf Shop is an invaluable asset for Matuse & Matt, as the line of products is sold at both locations. Working on the floor, Matt is the eyes & ears of Matuse and understands what the customers are saying, thinking, & experiencing with his products. Being immersed in the customer environment is an invaluable education – if you take the time to observe & listen to what people want.
1b) Matt’s personal Inspiration for starting Matuse was to make a difference, to contribute and to leave a mark to improve the industry in which he was raised. Matt told me he wants people to get as excited as he does, about surfing + the science & passion that goes into Matuse’s products.
2. Surround yourself with People smarter than you. Matuse was founded by three partners—Matt, John Campbell & his father. John, who came from the advertising industry, was working on a textile project and had a material he was interested in selling to the surf industry. He was looking for anyone who might know something about wetsuits. That’s when they first met, and the magic happened. Matuse’s genesis is special for Matt; he believes there are people in your life you meet for a reason.
3. Take time to Plan your business. Matt & John met many times to talk about philosophy, art, design, culture, & affinities they had for other great companies. Over this time they thoughtfully created the foundations for Matuse. They created a brand pyramid, which helped them to delve deeper into their concept of a company with human traits. They took time to think, create, plan, & build a company that the surf industry had never seen before.
4. Let the Challenges of Business “bond” you. Matt loves what he does and believes that when you start a business you need to have that “passion” to get through all of the long hours and stress. At the end of the day, loving what you do is essential. His business partner is now one of his closest friends and he describes the people he works with at Matuse as family. They hustle & sweat the details together and, in doing so, have become incredibly close.
5. Stick with it. [There is always a light at the end of the tunnel] Matuse’s biggest challenge was starting a company focused on an high-end market in a down economy. Matuse delivered its first products late summer of 2006, shortly after that the economy started its nosedive. That aside, the team at Matuse has worked intelligently and looked for the best retail partners to help deliver their message and be their ambassadors. They had to dig deep & stay focused, and are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Their product line, which started with 3 pieces, is now close to 40. I predict that Matuse will grow into one of the surf industry’s most admired & successful brands in the years to come.
6. Move to the Beat of a different Drum. Matuse has developed the “crème de la crème” of limestone rubber with the Yamamoto Corporation from Osaka, Japan. They call it “Geoprene,” a titanium-coated, limestone-based rubber that is not only functionally superior (it’s warmer, lighter, dries faster, + lasts longer). It’s also more sustainable and kinder to Mother Nature. Matuse’s limestone Geoprene is 98% water impermeable, compared to that of petroleum-based rubber, which is only 65%.
Matt never refers to the company as “Matuse Wetsuits.” Instead, he’d prefer Matuse to be thought of as a way of thinking for people who want the best and are passionate about quality products. When people look at the Matuse logo, Matt wants them to think of something that has been well thought-out and designed with intention. Their visual imagery is distinct & original.
7. Your Brand is a Pledge – an undertaking by the company to produce an expectation. Everyone is innately conscious of branding. Large brands elicit certain emotions, thoughts, & memories from the consumer, and this drives their decision to purchase or not. While brand identity & advertising campaigns are visually important (especially in an industry like surfing, which is built off of imagery & emotion), they’re only effective if the brand can reinforce the original pledge. The pledge is a company’s expectation for something to perform the way it should, to look a particular way, & to deliver on the trust of a consumer. Matt believes companies don’t become brands overnight. It takes years of delivering on the pledge.
8. Use everything that you’ve been taught. Matt believes every job you have as you grow through life, goes with you to the next project, whether it’s school, work, or creating art. His prior experiences helped him develop better inter-personal skills, organizational tools, and also improved his multi-tasking abilities. He will tell you all his skills are in constant growth mode and he’s an expert of none of them. He knows that to grow as a designer, he needs to avoid getting trapped by the idea that he knows anything in its entirety.
More uncommon-sense Advice for starting a business today. Before you start a business, make sure it’s your passion, because you will be tested time after time. Be ready to work harder than any of your friends. Surround yourself with the best & brightest people. You will learn so much from these people. Surround yourself with people you trust implicitly, whom you can turn to when you need advice. Lastly, have “fun”. Even in the midst of all the long hours and work, you will put into your business, you will have the time of your life doing it or else don’t bother.
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