The Build Cycle Podcast #018 – Tepui Tents’ Evan Currid

My favorite quote from this interview with Tepui Tents founder Evan Currid?

“Are we going to buy a house, or are we going to start this company?”

It’s this mentality that makes things happen. Setting aside creature comforts, sleep, an easy day job, and other “sacrifices” barely seem like such when you’re following a dream. Tepui was started with personal savings of $33,000 right after Evan and his wife married, and that question up above was the decision they had to make. Here’s how that even became a consideration, and where they’ve gone from there to build the most well known North American brand in car roof-top tents!

DISCUSSION TIMELINE

  • 01:45 – Where’d the idea for a car-top tent come from? And their first attempt at selling roof-top tents in the U.S.
  • 05:10 – Switching from an import business to designing their own tents, and the challenges of manufacturing in the U.S.
  • 10:05 – There’s also challenges with manufacturing overseas.
  • 17:15 – Testing the designs.
  • 19:20 – How’d they start marketing their first products?
  • 22:30 – How their sales volume and SKU count has grown, and getting into REI.
  • 29:10 – Getting big brand retailers to carry your product can help boost your brand’s credibility.
  • 30:30 – Figuring out retailer margins when you start out consumer direct.
  • 36:10 – More hard lessons and challenges with overseas manufacturing.
  • 40:10 – Materials selection process, and developing proprietary tech.
  • 46:35 – Looking beyond the rooftop tent for line extensions.
  • 51:25 – Starting to delegate.
  • 54:10 – Why they’re growing on revenues rather than investments.
  • 55:10 – Dealing with the competition.
  • 1:00:00 – Evan’s advice for other entrepreneurs? Make sure you’re always having fun, and that makes it easier to go back when things get tough.
Evan at Tepui Fest 2015.
Team Tepui, with Evan shown up front in the light blue shirt.
The roof top tents fit on more vehicles than you’d think. They also offer weatherproof rooftop storage bags and related gear.

POST GAME ANALYSIS

If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you’re into the adventurous lifestyle. So here’s music to your ears, justification for travel. Had it not been for their surf trip in another country, Evan and his wife may never had come up with the idea for Tepui Tents.

From a product design perspective, adding the Zipper Gimp system lets them streamline the retail and distribution process while also giving customers options. It also gave them a unique technology that’s protected with a patent, helping them maintain an edge in a category with low barriers to entry. Another thing going in their favor? Getting retail placement in REI and other major retailers, which are only likely to carry one or two brands for each non-clothing category.

What’s surprising is that once you’ve seen a Tepui on someone else’s car, you don’t forget it, yet Evan says 70% or so of potential customers aren’t even aware of the category. So there’s a lot of growth potential, but they need to be careful about growing faster than they can support with a small crew of 12 people and small business resources.

One important lesson they’re having to figure out now is pricing. When they started, they were mainly consumer direct and priced as such. That makes it difficult to sell through retail channels, more so if you need to go through a distributor to get to those retailers. This is why it’s so important to think through your long term plans when creating your pricing.

LINKS & RESOURCES

Tepui’s Zipper Gimp system allows you to change the tent cover to suit conditions.
Manufacturing the hardshell pop-up tents.

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