The Good Product Bad Products course continues on its way. I will continue to report on it. If you want a preview, if you go to the left sidebar, slide down to “archives” and you will find a series of dates. Click on the word “archives” and you will see more, and if you look at posts I wrote during Stanford’s winter quarter (early January to March) for the years 2012 and 2013, you will find information on the course for those years. This year will be similar. In fact, if you are new to this blog, and have not looked through the archive, you might enjoy some of the other posts that are there.
The first lecture last week was devoted to the process of doing field research by use of video and the case of a very successful company,. One guest speaker was Scott Doorley, who has a large amount of media experience, showed examples, and talked about story telling and use of video. The second speaker, Peter Dreissigacker, was a student during my early days on the Stanford faculty, and received a master’s degree in the Product Design program , which was at the time my academic home at Stanford. I remember him well, as a large, happy, talented, idealistic person, an Olympic class rower, and an obsessive drawer of nice pictures. Upon graduation Peter, his wife-to-be Bari, and his brother Dick (also Olympic rower) went to Vermont, and bought an old run-down farm. These were the hippie days, and moving to Vermont not only placed one in beautiful and not overly-populated country, it was considered a cool thing to do.
Their dream of working a couple of days a week as bartenders or in equivalent jobs, upgrading the farm, skiing and rowing, was interrupted by the need to make money. They decided to make oars and sell them. For various reasons, they decided to experiment with fiberglass, and after the usual experimentation and contemplation, worked their way up to oars reinforced with carbon filaments, at the time new on the market, but seemingly made to order for strengthening oars. Their present oars are far beyond wood.
The result was not only a very successful company, but one that receives an outstanding grade as to be a place to work—as Peter said, if you want to live in a small town and if you like rowing. Their web page is here.
The company began as a family company, and still is, although it has 60 employees (a large family). It provides oars to a very large fraction of the teams competing at international competitions and to top school rowing teams, It also makes perhaps the world’s highest quality ergonometer for rowers and others looking for exercise devices. The ergonometer has become a feature of well equipped gymnasiums, It not only provides excellent exercise, but it has spawned a large following who compete remotely and in winter gatherings in areas where it is not much fun to row on top of the ice, using their scores on the sophisticated electronics in the machine. Finally, they produce exercise machines for competitive skiers, or if you are a skier, for the gym or home.
Why are they so wonderful? It is a company built on life-style, not profit or growth. It is after perfection in its products. It has kept a focus on its markets and listens closely to its customers. It benefits from extremely long employment and devoted employees, and Peter and Dick and Bari are wonderful people and take very good care of them. It is also very proud that although it has only 60 employees (a size where it is possible to operate informally and in which everyone knows everyone else), it provides two or three hundred other jobs in the area by outsourcing to individuals and small companies to produce components for its product. No China—just Vermont.
It is always a real upper to me to visit the company, or to have the pleasure of Peter and Bari’s company. Happily we will get to see more of them, since one of their daughters, Marlo Kohn, runs a lab for “makers” (open to any student and providing tools ranging from 3d printers to sewing machines) at Stanford, and she is on the verge of having a grandchild for Peter and Bari. In the midst of the Silicon Valley with its manic desire for growth and money, Concept 2 looks like a very good business model indeed. If you are ever in their area in Vermont visit them, especially if you are interested in starting a company. You might consider basing it on what you love, being patient in becoming wealthy, staying away from venture capitalists, and hiring people who love what you do.
Peter Dreissigacker is still a large, happy, talented, idealistic person who rows disturbingly well for someone his age, and not only still draws nice pictures, but includes his sketches in his PowerPoint presentations along with text and photographs.