Jon Callahan could have made it as a pro snowboarder, but he decided that he wanted to start his own snowboarding business instead. So, he founded Launch Snowboards, which sells assorted snowboarding merchandise everyone could use, from pros to hobbyists.
The whole thing began on a chairlift, too. Jon Callahan thought of starting his own line of snowboarding merchandise while riding a chairlift, which soon became a game-changing company in the sport. Launch is an “independently grown brand” that produces deluxe snowboarding products that enhances experiences and gives new highs even to veteran athletes.
Because Jon Callahan is an avid fan of snowboarding, he has imbued Launch with a genuine passion for the community of snowboarders around the world, and for the creation of an environment that continually fosters the love of snowboarding among enthusiasts and even amateurs curious about the sport.
Jon Callahan’s roots as a snowboarder has allowed Launch to “stay true to its authentic roots,” which has also pushed the company to go beyond existing as a merchandise brand, but as a lifestyle.
As Jon Callahan puts it on his website, Launch is “the future of snowboarding.” Launch “is snowboarding.”
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
Jon Callahan: Thanks for having me. I’m Jon and I am the founder of LAUNCH which started as a snowboard specific lifestyle brand that has expanded into skateboard and streetwear.
I guess I started out as many people in my space. I was introduced to skateboarding and fell in love with it. One winter we had so much snow that I couldn’t skate and that led to the decision to get a snowboard. SO I shoveled a bunch of neighbors driveways and sidewalks to afford my first board. That passion for skate expanded into snowboarding and I was lucky enough to get sponsors and travel to some of the best resorts and have some amazing experiences while doing so. I also got very involved in product development and marketing for my sponsors, which helped a ton when I was ready to start my own brand.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the Aha Moment that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Jon Callahan: I don’t know if I had an Aha moment as so much frustration of the way the industry has been run and where it was heading. I watched a lot of great brands come in and get gobbled up by the big boys and just terrible products getting released. Also, when I was sponsored I had hours of meetings about product development to then see an inferior product come to market just to hit a specific margin or price goal for the retail market.
So basically, I just wanted to release the products that no one was doing. I came across bamboo and have incorporated that in our snowboards, which has been wildly successful and many bigger brands tried to replicate but failed miserably. When we went into to skateboarding I wanted to have the tie to the snow side of things and bamboo came back into the equation and we were able to create boards with bamboo which much like the snowboards have better pop and last longer. By building different unique products that allowed us to expand into apparel that immediately was embraced by our retailers and consumers because they knew it would be quality and driven by performance as well as durability.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Jon Callahan: As a business owner you face a ton of pressure and honestly early on, I think I was naive and clueless to what was happening and being built. But to be honest, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to quit at times. I honestly love what I do and it never feels like I work a work a day in my life. But you do have outside factors that affect your business life and that can drive you insane at times. I just usually have to dig deep inside myself and know I will get through it and walk away from the situation to think about it and come back stronger and clear headed. I am really into cars, in a major way, so basically when I get stressed it is not uncommon for me to go for a drive, listen to some of my favorite music, and turn off the phones and just get away. Take in the scenery, people watch, and most times drive way too fast to just blow off steam.
So, I suggest hobbies that take you away from your situation to just disconnect. For a lot of people that is golfing, for me it is cars and fishing.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Jon Callahan: Things are going really well, and myself and brand are doing things I didn’t think we would achieve for years to come. When I first started this brand, I literally got laughed at by people, I was told I was stupid, I’d be wasting my time and money and it was going to fail. Some of those same people started asking to work for the brand a few years later.
I think the most important thing for a founder is to listen to your gut and your heart. Once you start a business and build a team, you get a lot of things thrown at you. Tons of ideas, opportunities, and new products to create. But if you don’t feel comfortable with it, then don’t do it. Even if you are unsure, wait. On average we take our time with products, sometimes two years of development to make sure it is the right product to be released. I know that a lot of our products are technical whether it be boards or apparel and if you are spending your money with us, I want you to be happy and come back again. So it is really just a train of thought and process that I refuse to stray away from.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
Jon Callahan: It really wasn’t a starting out situation that was funny, and it will probably be funny in hind sight. But a few years back we developed our revised version our patented and exclusive snowboard binding. We thought long and hard about how to bring it to market and we were approached by a marketing firm that was a partner with Kickstarter. SO we proceeded with that path and it was literally one thing after another. They spammed the hell out of our customer base, that many people ran away and didn’t want to follow us. Then we get a decent traction behind the project to move forward, even though we didn’t hit anywhere near where we wanted to be.
I think it’s Murphy’s Law, if something could go wrong it will and damn did it. We had one issues after another, prototypes didn’t pass our quality control, we had to switch factories, we had to change the development team. It finally got to a point with my frustration that I had to pull people out of retirement to follow through on what I wanted to see. I am very particular and most products go through two years of testing before we even considering bringing to the market. This one was finally on track after all the adjustment and then Covid hit and our factories started feeling the effects starting I think in late November early December. Needless to say, it got completely stalled but we took the time to dial everything that needed to be addressed and our factories are back in production, even though at a limited capacity, but at least the binding will be everything we promised and more. I am honestly grateful that many stayed with us during that difficult time both from a business perspective as well as I had family matters that I had to address as well.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Jon Callahan: There is so much in the way of analytics that is crucial to your business. For instance, Instagram now gives you a breakdown of what your consumer market consists of age, location, gender, and when your posts best perform. Almost everything you use from social media to your website should track this. Just pay attention to it and use it build your audience and grow, as well as cater to your already existing customer base.
We have had a lot of success with Shopify and their platforms. When we first started out you had to spend so much money to connect shopping carts, to online bank processing and so on. Now you can use Shopify as a one stop where everything plugs in and links up really easy. Plus the apps that you can add to your site are amazing and using custom coding for special things is pretty easy as well. It is a lot different than when we started 8 years ago.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, conversion means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Jon Callahan: Definitely proper SEO practices and using keywords to get the right customer to your site. This is very overlooked and you should have an expert handle this side of things.
Engagement is essential as well as to keep your customer active while spending time on your site. By curating the user experience.
Also using email marketing and social media can help drive the proper traffic to your site. This can be done with new releases or updated news and or events that are coming up that would interest your audience.
The final part is to make the checkout and shipping experience as seamless as possibly for the customer. Otherwise this can bottleneck a potential purchase and drive a customer away or lose them completely.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Jon Callahan: I think the real simple answer is to be authentic. The world is full of so much fake and unfortunately a lot of brands have built a following doing such that. Consumers will catch on, and walk away. You have to have an ethos for your brand or good quality product/products that you stand behind. This is what wins every time.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Jon Callahan: Building an e-commerce brand is much like creating a typically brick and mortar, so I think a lot of them same rules apply but people don’t think of that.
Much like an in store or event you may attend, the experience is everything. So there are a lot of things that play into this. Have great photography and videos to show off your products and how they work. Remember this is your way to show to the world how amazing your brand is, so have fun with it. Consumers want to be able to navigate through your offerings on your site with ease, so have as few clicks as possible for them to get to the check out.
Cart- Make sure your cart is very easy to work with. Once again, not a lot of steps to buy your products. Plus I think a lot of companies go wrong with forcing you to sign up. If a customer is going to be a steady customer they will sign up to make the cart process faster and easier. But don’t make it mandatory. I personally have walked away from purchasing things because I need my login and all that, I don’t have time. Who does? Make it easy for them to buy your products. Period.
Newsletters or email sign up is a must. But don’t misuse it. LAUNCH has a great email list and our customers are very loyal and like to know what’s going on. We have had great response from our customers on emails and how people are excited about the updates of new snowboarding and skateboarding products and industry news. We don’t send emails just to do it. I think that is overkill. At times, we don’t even announce things so people have to pay attention to our Instagram.
Social media is very important but not always necessary. Remember it is social, meaning you need to interact and keep things moving like a conversation, be engaged. If we don’t have anything to say or are leading up to a big product release, we might be silent. Nothing wrong with that. But use it as a tool to keep your customers in the know and aware of the upcoming things you are doing. In our case, we know our audience and they like the videos or our team riders and they like to see the new products being released. But if your brand or business isn’t going to be active on it, don’t waste your time, stay away.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential at this point. It is also a very tricky world. But if people are trying to find you and don’t know you exist, it will continue to stay that way without utilizing SEO. It is a great way to boost your presence and when someone is looking for that product you come up in the rankings. What’s even cooler is if you have something very specific you can really go crazy with SEO and really drive your product through the roof with sales. I have seen some of the most random products kill it because they have really solid SEO and people are constantly searching keywords that come in this space and they rank super high as a result.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jon Callahan: You can find me on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!