By Alex Comstock
Let's switch it up for a minute, and rather than talk about a tactic, strategy, or story, today I wanted to bring you a different type of interview. I'd venture to guess that at some point in your hunting life, you were dissatisfied with a product. Maybe you even thought you should start a company of your own so you could make that product how you wanted. But thinking about this and actually doing it are worlds apart.
I got to thinking on how one actually goes about getting a company off the ground in the hunting industry, and what that might entail. If you're at all curious about this yourself, this interview with Chad Sylvester will be right up your alley. Chad is the Vice President of Exodus Outdoor Gear and was one of the founders of the company. Read on to see what he had to say about bringing his company to life, and how it could help you.
Q: How did you first come up with the idea to create a new trail camera?
Chad: Initially, the idea of Exodus Trail Cameras wasn't necessarily focused solely around a product, but rather born out of an idea that a company, with today's technology could surely build a better product than what was currently available. Not only that, but also a company that truly put out more effort on the back end for their customers. Truthfully, that was provoked by frustrations Matt and I had experienced as consumers buying trail cameras over the last 10+ years and having them consistently fail between 12-24 months in addition to getting put through the ringer on the customer/product service side.
Q: Was it intimidating trying to come up with a better product than existing ones in a market where there were already so many different types of trail cameras?
Chad: Matt, Steve, and I probably all have different answers to this. Actually, it wasn't intimidating for me, but that wasn't solely out of confidence. I actually think being somewhat naive and truly having an entrepreneurial mindset was the biggest part of that. There's always worries when you risk everything in your entire life, including possibly the well-being of your family. At a point you ultimately have to decide if the potential outcome is worth the risk. It also helped that we had done some of the leg work prior to even officially forming the company in January of 2015. We knew it could be done, and it simply rested on our shoulders to execute.
Q: How did you differentiate your company from others, and what would you tell somebody who is in the process of creating a new product in this industry and is trying to differentiate themselves from the competition?
Chad: Matt is really the brain child in this aspect of the company. He has an uncanny way of looking at brands to decipher what is missing, and what the end consumer is longing for, and the being able to strategically plan the execution on those points. For us, that involved solving the longevity issues with trail cameras and offering the industry's best customer service, something that is a lost art in today's world. At the end of the day, the folks who are buying your products are the lifeline of the business, and they should be treated as such. I would give the same advice to anyone launching a company, regardless of the industry. Decipher who your end consumer is, meet their needs in a way the competition isn't, and hold them as first priority.
Q: How much testing did you have to do with your trail cameras before you felt comfortable enough to bring them to market? Do you think people might underestimate how much behind the scenes work actually has to go in before releasing a product?
Chad: There was somewhere between 6-8 months of actual product sample testing before our first manufacturing run of the LIFT. Even prior to that there was hardware testing and data analysis to just gete to a point where we could even test prototypes. For us building from the ground up, that preliminary R&D was pretty time consuming. Throughout the entire testing process, our core focus was basically on two things. The elimination of moisture ingress, largely the most common cause of trail camera failure. That testing ultimately led to our case design. Secondly was the lifespan of componentry which plays a huge role in offering our 5 year warranty.
I do feel most people understand there's a lot of moving parts and pieces when talking about consumer electronics, and I think they realize there is a very high level of effort and work that goes into a product release. At the same time, until someone actually goes through the entire process, it's hard to comprehend the hours put in.
Q: What was it like after you released Exodus Trail Cameras when you reflected on the day when you first had the idea? Was it pretty unique to think of how an idea eventually evolved into a physical trail camera that you now sold to customers?
Chad: There was no doubt a sense of accomplishment, pride, and excitement. We went public with a grassroots type Facebook video in April of 2015 where Matt introduced the company and our debut product. I can still recall watching the interaction with folks and being so humbled by the overwhelming support and positive feedback.
Now, the day we launched our first product was a totally different feeling. After 24 hours of pre-orders I recall being excited, but more so motivated by all of our earlier adopters to not only deliver on the product but also the willingness to really go to the ends of the earth for those folks. I remember going to bed that night telling myself now the real work starts. It's funny looking back on those days, it was only 2 short years ago, but it seems like a lifetime.
Q: What was your biggest hurdle through the whole entire process of getting Exodus off the ground? Was it one particular thing, or maybe a few things?
Chad: Finding a manufacturing partner was pretty difficult. When sending out RFQ's, there were a lot of companies that were more than happy to build our products from a financial standpoint, but finding a company we truly had confidence in being able to produce the quality we expected was a totally different story. This was absolutely the most frustrating part of the process because almost everyone tells you what you want to hear to simply get the business. After a couple meetings, it became pretty easy to sort out those full of smoke and mirrors.
Q: If somebody who is just starting out on the trek of bringing a company to life in the outdoor/hunting industry asked you what might be their biggest challenge, what would you say?
Chad: Honestly, that answer would be different for each person pending their market sector and business plan. An archery company is surely going to see different obstacles compared to an apparel company. Strategically, there is so many facets that play a part in lauching a company...finances, R&D, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, it's really difficult to single out one challenge. Obviously startup capital and cash flow are two keys, because they play some type of role in every aspect of business. At the end of the day if the market says your physcial and corporate product is good enough, you can overcome just about anything.