Skate companies are typically started by pro skaters who want to leave their own creative stamp on the culture, make some money, and—perhaps most important—maintain their street cred. "Keeping it core" remains the unwritten theme of nearly every skate (and surf and snowboard) start-up business plan. Of course, that often leads to liquidation. Mock their naïveté or praise their principles—either way, most action-sports companies come and go quickly.
But every now and then a young exec will get it right: retain his authenticity, turn a profit, and plant seeds for a new style that spreads vinelike through the culture. Among skaters, Steve Rocco did it with World Industries (although he was more interested in shock than style), Tod Swank did it with Tum Yeto, and Jamie Thomas did it with Zero. In the surf world, Richard Woolcott did it with Volcom, and Conan Hayes did it with RVCA.
I jumped into a venture once with that kind of potential. It was a denim company started by Jade Howe, a surfer and former Quiksilver designer who'd launched his own line of über-fresh pants and shirts—a look that would ultimately be copied by dozens of established denim companies.
But this story is not about success. It's a cautionary tale about a venture that cost me a lot of money and ultimately caused me to sever ties with my original business partner, Per Welinder. But I still look back on it as a worthwhile effort with great potential—and ...