Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Here in Austin, TX, it’s common to see hundreds of Austinites paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake during the warmer months. A relatively easy sport for many to participate in, SUP is a great outdoor activity that can be done alone or with a large group. Did we mention that it provides a great photo for Instagram?
Some of the most affordable stand up paddle boards on the market have been created by one of our Volusion merchants, Tower Paddle Boards. Founded in 2010 after the CEO fell in love with the sport, this ecommerce business appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank the next year. In the past six years, they’ve gone from $3,000 in yearly revenue to a multi-million-dollar company. All of this has been possible while operating on a 5-hour workday.
In the Q&A below, Stephan Aarstol, CEO of Tower Paddle Boards, discusses the success of his company, how Shark Tank has helped them get to where they are today, and gives some entrepreneur advice for those looking to open up their own ecommerce business.
Q. How did you get into the SUP industry?
A. A buddy took me out to do SUP off the La Jolla shores. At the time, I was running another ecommerce business selling poker chips. I was looking for a new ecommerce business to get involved in that was similar to my poker chip company, BuyPokerChips.com.
Q. What advice do you have for someone who is new to SUP and wants to get into the sport?
A. It’s an easy sport to get in to. I recommend renting a board the first few times to make sure you’re in to it. There’s no downside to SUP – it’s a very social sport that has benefits all around. Plus, it provides a good workout.
Q. What makes Tower Paddle Boards stand out against its competition?
A. Tower Paddle Boards does the research to see what the customers wants for that specific industry. The current problem is that there are too many choices for consumers and they can’t do all the research. As a direct-to-consumer company, we’re able to pass along savings to our customers directly. We only sell directly, so our value proposition is off the charts.
Q. What has been your biggest obstacle while running your own business?
A. Financing and inventory. During the first ten years of entrepreneurship, I wasted a lot of time on businesses that required investors. I recommend dividing a business list into two separate lists – one that requires capitol and one that does not require capitol. From there, focus on the list that does not require capitol.
How to deal with employees and how to manage a team has also been an obstacle. My previous company didn’t require a team.
Q. How has Shark Tank helped Tower Paddle Boards grow?
A. We’re an SEO-focused company and it’s why we went with Volusion. The platform has allowed us to build an SEO friendly site. Creating a lot of content and getting inbound links has helped improve our SEO. Thanks to Shark Tank, we got a lot of inbound links. Press coverage was key to helping us get high quality links. It helped put our efforts ahead by two to three years. Having Mark Cuban as an advisor is also helpful. Along with his original investment, he has also extended a line of credit to us.
Q. With a following of over 30K fans across your social networks, how has social media contributed to your success?
A. I was a little late to the game with social media. We started focusing our efforts on social about 2-3 years ago, and it’s been good to us so far. We’ve been growing our audiences across every network. We also started a Tower Magazine online and that has helped. Our magazine has over 50k subscribers, so that really helps.
Q. What tip would you give someone who is just starting their ecommerce business?
A. Find a competitive advantage, whatever environment you’re in. Right now, direct-to-consumer is a great way to go. Companies are still scared of social media marketing. If you’re starting, you have nothing to fear. Try to identify what others are afraid of and go all in on it.