20 Questions: Jason Levinthal, J Skis

JE: You’ve said you want to do everything the opposite of how things are currently done, and I want to get clear on what you have in mind. For starters, let’s go back to the idea of building in small batches: You’ve talked about making 20-50 skis at a time. So is the idea that you are only going to build one-time, limited-edition skis, regardless of whether everyone says they love the ski and people want to keep buying them? For example, will this be like a high-end restaurant that won’t make the same dish twice, on principle?

Jason: You’ve got to divide out “models” from “shapes.” When you look down at a ski, that whole sidecut, that whole profile, the outline of the ski—that’s the shape. And that shape will live. And it may live for a long time, and it may be the same. So you get the “98” shape, the 98mm width. And then you’re going to be able to buy that shape again, just on different models. And a lot of them will just be a graphic change.

Then maybe I’ll change the rocker, I’ll change the flex. You’ll be on the “98” shape with this flex, with this rocker, with a different graphic. The models aren’t necessarily leaving in a traditional sense. But I don’t know, really—I’m just starting out, but that’s what I’m thinking, that I will have models for a long time, they’re just going to be different versions of those models.

JE: That answer makes me want to ask whether you’ve read Eric Ries’ the “Lean Startup?”

Jason: Nah, I never read any books. Since high school, I think I’ve read one book. I just don’t have the patience to read, though I’d probably learn some good stuff.

JE: (Laughs.) Well my main interest in asking the Lean Start-Up question is to find out whether you’re coming into this new venture with a clear roadmap, a preconceived blueprint, versus coming in light and super flexible? Right now, are you basically looking to execute ideas that have already been well-defined, or are you coming in nimble and flexible, ready to react and see what J Skis might evolve into? Is the idea to stick to a plan, or to remain open? Rigidity v. Flexibility?

Jason: I’m not rigid. You can’t be rigid and change, and if you don’t change you’re not going to cash in on whatever the next thing is. So I have a plan, but the biggest parts of those plans are what you’re definitely going to say No to, and what you’re going to go gung-ho into.

So I’m going to say “No” to retail, and I’m going to say “No” to producing infinite quantities of a model.

And I’m going to explore direct selling. I don’t know where that will go; I’m sure there are whole new worlds of direct selling that I could capitalize on and leverage that I just don’t know about right now. So I don’t have a rigid plan of what exactly I’m going to do, but I do have a rigid rule that I’m going to do this, and when I get there, I’m going to continually adjust to optimize that part of the plan that I’m saying “Yes” to.

It’s more important as a business what you say “No” to than what you do—what you don’t do establishes the depths that you can explore. For example, if I sell to retailers, I can’t even look into selling direct. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Plus, you’re going to spread yourself so thin that you’re going to only be “okay” at everything, and before you know it, you’ll just be doing what everyone else is doing.

I like to set up walls, challenges to myself. For instance, up until just a few days ago, there were no pictures of skiing on my website.

Jason Levinthal, Blister Gear Review.JE: Right. Just a lot of cats.

Jason: I wondered whether I could sell any skis without showing any skiing on the site? I mean, I will have skiing on there, don’t get me wrong, but that’s part of the flavor. I want people to say What the Fuck? when they’re looking at the website or when they’re looking at our first graphic. I want to shock people in a good way: Wake up, people! I want them to think different. After looking at all this, I want them to think, “Wait, this isn’t your normal ski company.” That’s the point.

So those are some of the parameters I’ve set. I’m definitely a brand-positioning person, so there are definitely rules. But from there, it’s like dropping into a line:

If you decide to go backcountry skiing, then you’ve basically stated that you’re not going to ski the park. But once you’ve made that decision, once you get to the top of the mountain, you don’t know where you’re going to ski. You don’t know how it’s going to go, you’re going to adjust as you go. You’re going to fall, get up, and do it different next time.

It’s always jumping into stuff you don’t know, and trying something you haven’t done. But it’s also making clear decisions as to what you’re not going to bother doing, and what you are going to explore.

That’s how I operate, just like I ski.


Now, on to Part II.

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3 comments on “20 Questions: Jason Levinthal, J Skis”

  1. I’ve got people on contract doing work for me who are the best in the biz, and whoever that is, that’s who I’m going to be working with.


  2. Great reading. Sounds like he is going in the direction that Kingswood Skis in NZ took a number of years back, and look how great that has worked out! I look forward to seeing what he brings to the market and some good reviews on them here.

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