One of the surprises in the new post-pandemic economy is that 25-year-old skateboard executives from Portugal have things to teach CEOs more than twice their age.
Pedro Andrade, CEO of Hunter Boards, a Lisbon-based company that makes battery-powered electric skateboards, isn’t your typical stair climber. He went to ISCTE Business School, where he learned how to sell beautiful things to modern people. (The Lisbon School in Europe is famous for teaching marketing.) After that, he attended Parsons School of Design in New York, where he learned how to make beautiful and functional products. (There aren’t a lot of seasoned CEOs out there.) Finally, bring it all together in a business that designs, manufactures and sells high quality skateboards – growing rapidly while disrupting an established market.
By all accounts, he and Hunter boards succeeded. Andrade and the company’s chief production officer, Miguel Morgado, made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2021. The company increased production by 700% in less than two years — an increase typically seen in software giants, not small batch manufacturers.
Lessons learned from Andrade’s experiences can be applied to any group launching a new product in a market dominated by big players or any company trying to maintain market share among young consumers.
Product quality is important. Hunter Boards started as an idea in 2017, when Morgado, who studied mechanical engineering, was making an electric motorcycle. He knew the full-size electric car market was filled with competitors with billions of dollars in bank accounts. Can’t compete with that. But, why not an electric skateboard? Inspired by the idea, Andrade and Morgado worked nights and weekends, sweating over prototypes made of hot metal. They knew that to break into this crowded market, they needed something that wasn’t 5 or 10 percent better, but standard deviation better. Keep testing and testing.
Skateboards withstand the rider without foot force; The small electric motor powers the wheels just like an electric motorcycle – a top speed of 34 mph.
Andrade secured $1.3 million in financing by early 2022. His company was soon making $199 skateboards, generating $299,000 in profits over the past two years.
The Hunter Board justifies its higher price point by noting its premium parts: aerospace-grade aluminum, a 24-mile rechargeable battery, and custom pre-shipment buyer weight suspension.
Andrade and Morgado have relentlessly improved the product. “It’s okay to start selling before the product is perfect,” Andrade said. “We continued to receive feedback, and we continued to upgrade the product.”
Quality control – the key to customer retention – should be a fact, not a slogan. All materials are produced in-house in a warehouse in Lisbon, rather than being flown in from all over the world – saving transportation costs and time. “While the rest of the industry buys parts from Chinese factories and they just assemble them, we develop the board ourselves,” Andrade said. “This is something that totally sets us apart from the rest of the industry.”
The target market is bigger than you think. Hunter Boards are positioning themselves to become a leader in the “micro-kinetic” industry, which is just beginning to boom. The team is targeting not just snowboarders, but snowboarders and snowboarders as well — expanding the target market, Andrade said, from 20 million to an estimated 200 million.
“Because it’s a new industry, the precision mobility industry, you can really innovate. Smartphones, ten years ago, all looked very different. The smartphone industry has really matured now,” Morgado said. “But there is no perfect skateboard right now. We’re in the process of discovering what makes the perfect skateboard.”
Andrade said you know more about your customers than anyone else in the universe. No government can give you a monopoly on skateboards, but your customers can monopolize their interest.
It’s okay to copy what works. The company was directly inspired by the leading smartphone maker, Apple. The Hunter Boards website is very similar to Apple.com. Andrade admits that this was done on purpose.
Apple.com screens for iPhone and other products offer many insights for website designers who study them carefully. One of the lessons that Hunter Boards adapted was close-ups to highlight product details.
Watch that supply chain. Morgado, the company’s chief product officer who often makes skateboards himself to understand the assembly process, learned the importance of in-house production when he faced a shortage of joysticks due to the supply chain. (The Hunter board has a joystick-guided remote control feature.) With a 5-month wait time for key parts, Morgado has begun experimenting with creating his own joystick.
“We are keeping production limited,” Morgado said. “So that we can address every issue that comes up with the product.”
The boards are still made to order, giving the high-end product a sense of exclusivity and ensuring that each board is crafted with the utmost care.
By using small batches and building and designing in-house, Hunter Boards minimized supply chain risk.
Live in your target market. Once the founders realized that Americans had bought 80 percent of the company’s first batch, they realized they had to get closer to their primary customer — to the skateboarding world, Los Angeles. So he replaced Andrade with another coastline.
The high concentration of skateboard hoarders in Southern California, including a variety of snowboard and surfboards, has led to increased recognition of the skateboard startup brand. Customers quickly turned into ambassadors – the brand offers a meet-and-greet service for people who want to test the board, pairing potential customers with nearby board owners. Soon, customers formed a social network that established the brand.
“We went into the market with a different product like this. We have opinions varying from this scam to this amazing,” Morgado said. “Now, we don’t have to defend ourselves because our customers are already doing it for us.”