Adventure Meets Brilliance

I picked up a copy of Entrepreneur Magazine on my flight to Florida yesterday.  The title of this issue caught my eye — 100 of the Most Brilliant Companies on our Radar.  As an entrepreneur myself, I enjoy reading about emerging companies and how they have come to be successful.  What sets these companies apart?  In the Editor’s Note, they state the common threads among these most brilliant new companies: “Simplicity and clarity, from idea to execution: Sureness of Self, reflected in a company’s success and presence.”  The theme is simple, obvious, curious, playful and innovative.  They say that these companies will inspire the next generation of greatness, they will effect change and they will directly impact the economy.

One of the feature articles in this issue is about the Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard.  As an athlete reading, I instantly gained respect for this man when they described his personal accomplishments pre-Patagonia, such as ascending the 2900 foot Yosemite Valley Muir Wall at age 26, surfing insurmountable breaks in Baja and along the Pacific coast and claiming the first decent of the Clarks Fork River by kayak at Yellowstone National Park.  Chouinard is a true adventure-seeker.  But as an entrepreneur, what really stood out was the way he was able to translate his love for the outdoors and playful attitude into a successful business model.  While many other brands in his industry have been stepping back and lowering prices due to the recession, Patagonia has continued to thrive by maintaining brand integrity.  They are focusing their efforts, more than ever, on creating innovative products that will reach the conservative customer.

Chouinard took risks along the way that were criticized, but he stuck to his guns to ensure an appropriate long term growth rate for the company.  He also claims that part of his business success was listening to his gut and sticking to what feels right.  As with kayaking or climbing, you “make small bets that make it safer and easier later” as a way of learning.  Chouinard says, “Entrepeneurs are like juvenile delinquents who say ‘This sucks, I’ll do it my own way.'”  He warns that if you wait for the customer to tell you what they want, you are going to be too late.  He relates this concept all the way back to Henry Ford: “Customers didn’t want a Model T, they wanted a faster horse.”

Some of the latest Patagonia innovations include:

  • Common Threads Recycling Program – Transform unusable clothing into new garments as a pledge to keep Patagonia products out of landfills
  • 1% for the Planet – Businesses sign up to pledge 1% of their revenue to environmental causes
  • Conservacion Patagonica – Protecting wildland ecosystems and restoring land in Chile to create Patagonia National Park, powered with energy derived from renewable sources
  • Recyclable Zippers – Convincing zipper companies to make zippers out of polyester or nylon synths, which can be recycled infinitely, allowing Patagonia to melt down jackets into their original polymers to make new jackets
  • Let My People Go Surfing – Company “flex-time” that allows independent-minded employees the ability to maintain their entrepreneurial spirit (ok not really an “innovation,” but a perk none the less!)

Quite clearly, Patagonia exemplifies the theme outlined in this issue: simple, obvious, curious, playful and innovative.  They “believe in using business to inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.”  There is a unique confidence in Chouinard’s character that has influenced the bold direction of his company and ultimately led to his success.

Now if that doesn’t inspire you to be “brilliant,” I don’t know what will!

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June 2010 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine

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