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In this edition of SUP Company Spotlight, InflatableBoarder.com interviews Red Paddle Co founder, John Hibbard. Since 2008, Red Paddle Co inflatable SUPs have led the world in popularity and the company is renowned for their dedication to top-shelf build quality and innovative designs…
How were you initially introduced to the sport of stand up paddle boarding?
I was a professional windsurfer at the time so I was exposed to the sport fairly early on. At first, I didn’t really “get” it. I couldn’t see the attraction. Then I had a go and was instantly hooked. My first session was in small surf. That was amazing. Super long rides on an uncrowded beach break, My second session was paddling up a river. It was that second session that opened my eyes to what the sport could be. The fact that I could take my friends paddling up a river on a social paddle was brilliant. There was this social side of the sport that hadn’t been obvious immediately. Windsurfing is really sociable in that you spend a lot of time hanging around on beaches taking about how good it’s going to get but the actually doing of the sport is a solo thing. Don’t get me wrong I love windsurfing but it’s not a sport I can easily do with friends who haven’t already committed a lot of time to learning it. With SUP I realised I could take friends with next to no water sports experience and have a great time.
What ignited the spark in you to get involved in the industry?
I could see that whenever I took anyone out paddling they loved it. What they didn’t love was the bulky nature of the boards. There were a few inflatable boards available but the performance was awful. I could see that if we could improve the experience of paddling an inflatable board then we would open up the sport to millions more people. That entrepreneurial spirit is what spurred me into action and I got to work creating Red Paddle Co. I could see that the rest of the industry was focussed on the elite end or at least on progressing technique and therefore developing equipment to ride faster or turn tighter. To me the biggest and best bit was the experience of simply going out for a paddle. Forget technique, forget wanting to be the fastest – this was the bicycle of the water. An experienced driven sport rather than technique driven sport. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with developing the elite side of the sport but it should not be at the expense of the pure enjoyment of paddling up a river or across the bay with your friends and just enjoying being out there. So, I guess I saw a gap in the market to develop really good quality equipment for the pure basic enjoyment of the sport. It wasn’t a success from day one. It took a lot of work but I believe inflatables have helped keep the sport grounded and in touch with the people rather than just the pros.
How important have good employees been to your success?
The team is stronger than the sum if it’s parts. We started off small, just me but quickly I needed more help. Building a strong team that shared the vision was super important. We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without them.
If you had a chance to start your company over again, what would you do differently?
Probably take more risks early on. But that is easy to say with hindsight. Ultimately, I probably wouldn’t have done anything different. Working 7 days a week in the beginning was all part of building the business. I believe you have to throw everything at a project like this. Passion and a need to achieve is what drives all successful businesses.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Believing that I could do it all myself in the beginning was an interesting lesson. Every time we have added a skilled person to the team you see the benefits quickly. I wish I’d employed a bigger team earlier than I did but again that’s hindsight and maybe it wouldn’t have worked out the way it has if I had done it differently.
How many hours a day do you work on average, and what does your typical day look like?
Work never really stops. I’m usually up around 6:30am, replying to emails from our Southern Hemisphere teams that have come in overnight. That way they can get a response by the end of their day. I then walk my son to school at around 8:30 am and I’m in the office just after 9. My day then will be a mixture of keeping on top of our various teams activities (we have dedicated teams looking after marketing, design, operations and customer service.) and replying to emails and helping plan future projects. My role is part facilitator part visionary and part steady hand on the wheel. We’ve come a long way from the days of it just being me and a laptop.
What motivates you, and who has been your greatest inspiration?
I am motivated by making the best products and delivering amazing customer service. It feels so good to get good reviews and be able to advise and assist a customer or a potential customer. Ultimately, we are selling fun. That is a brilliant position to be in. We are so passionate about people having a good experience on our boards. I still take time to answer some of our customer service enquiries. I like to keep in touch with the type of questions being asked and I like to be able to make a difference.
How do you define success?
We want to be number 1. That’s an easy definition. But at the same time, we want to do it right. So success for me is delivering the best product with real value and knowing that all the work we do to make the boards the best is really making a difference. Sometimes it might be hard to see the difference from an untrained perspective but I know that the 10 years of R&D has allowed us to understand our materials down to the tiny details. There is no one that knows more about inflatable boards than the team at Red. These means we can trust in our products. We run our own production facility. We have total control over the way we build a board and we are able to develop the raw materials ourselves and try different things behind closed doors. We are not just placing an order with a supplier and hoping for the best. We are involved from one end of the process to the other. Most inflatable boards are made in factories making all sorts of inflatable beach toys. I would never be happy to make a board in this way. It may seem the easy option but there is just no way we could put our names to something we didn’t have complete control over.
What do you enjoy most about being involved in the SUP industry?
The Challenge of making a successful business out of a sport is great. I also like the fact that we have helped develop businesses in over 50 countries. Some of our distributors in other countries rely on Red Paddle Co as their main source of income. It feels great that we can help facilitate this. There is still heaps of innovation to come. We have a team dedicated to this. All our innovation is based around making the products easier to use and more user friendly. We believe that riding an inflatable board shouldn’t mean you have to compromise on performance looks or quality.
Where do you see the paddleboarding industry in 10 years? 20 years?
I feel we are only really now getting to the start line for the sport. Everything that has come before is just the warm up. We have taken that time to become experts in what we do. It has also taken that time for the sport to develop and the promotion to the mass market to start to happen. We now have a brilliant opportunity to see the sport develop and reach so many more people. We are focused on innovating our products to keep them relevant for all types of paddling and paddlers.