Industry Profile: Rome Co-Founder Paul Maravetz
01 Oct, 2009
Shay: What is your job title?
Paul: Co-founder, Director of Product, Janitor (retired)
Shay: Did your parents question your job choice?
Paul: Not really – but looking back after 18 years in the same business maybe they should have. Seriously though I can say that my parents were always supportive of my decisions. Even though I had my own serious concerns about how taking the unheard of job of Snowboard Design Engineer would most likely dead end my fledgling engineering career, they were supportive, maybe even encouraging for me to take the position. It didn’t hurt that taking the job meant moving out and they likely wanted me out but also they probably had a perspective that I for sure didn’t at the time – that in your early 20’s you have your whole life in front of you and there is plenty of time for exploring, making a few potentially bad career decisions and still not find yourself living in a trailer down by the river.
Shay: What was your first set up?
Paul: One of the few choices that were out there at the time (circa 1984-1985) – it might have been a Burton, or perhaps a Sims, maybe even a Barfoot – (selective amnesia perhaps?) but funny enough one thing I will say with certainty is that it had a rockered camber line.
What is your current set up?
Paul: Early season I tend to ride some of the easier riding boards in our line – the Headline is a great option for freeriding and early season (ie.“shallow”) powder days and the Agent’s are equally fun while you get your riding legs back. Later in the season I tend to toggle between an Anthem and an Agent for most conditions. For powder days I’ll grab a Notch – either the 158 with our Powder-S camber or the 158 1985 with our Reverse-Mtn camber. For bindings I switch between the Targa if conditions are a little firmer and the 390’s when softer. Boots – Libertine and Marshals if I am doing some hiking.
Shay: What was your first job?
Paul: Right out of college I worked as a Project Engineer at a consulting engineering firm that specialized in designing and setting up cellular “sites” (towers and antennas) all around the Tri-State area (NY-NJ-CN). I did that for about 2 years wearing a shirt and tie most days. While the tie never felt quite right but I really did learn a lot at the job particularly about keeping multiple projects at various stages moving and seeing them through to completion . Very often we’d start from absolutely nothing but a location in the woods and would be responsible for shepherding it through from the initial site survey till the site went live anywhere from 3 to 9 months later.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Paul: The expected answer is any day out riding with your friends is a great day right? Well turns out that this is true for me too but it would be an even better day if it started out with an early morning hike with my dog (Wiley) as the sun is coming up and powder turns down to the lift where I might meet up with some friends to ride a few more runs before leaving the hill as the hordes arrive in the parking lot. For sure there are other days I’d consider great – riding in the alps, in stable conditions, with friends, for example – but the above is far more likely to happen so I’ll stick with my answer.
Shay: Who are your influences?
Paul: That’s a tough one to answer for me. Outside of my parents I can’t really call out any individuals or specific events that have had an inordinate impact on shaping who I am or where I am at in life. I can acknowledge that life is an ongoing series of experiences that constantly influence my perspective and that there have been many people who have influenced me in multiple ways along the way.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Paul: I got my first snowboard in time for the winter of 1984/1985 and probably got out on a hill at a local golf course a half dozen times that season. The next winter I was up in Vermont at UVM and was able to ride on groomed ski trails at resorts after the lifts had shut down which was such a big step up from the golf course that it was surprisingly satisfying…at least for a little while anyway.
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Paul: I hate this question not so much because of the question but because I don’t like my answer which is – not nearly enough anymore. I’ve never kept a journal of my riding season but more than a few years back I probably got on snow close to 100 days a season while holding down a full time job. That was a good 10 year run and included a couple of trips each summer for testing at Hood, on the glaciers in Europe or full winter conditions in New Zealand. Since starting Rome, the number of days I get in has definitely been fewer – I don’t know – let’s say half of that now but I am selective on which days I go and I internally justify it by thinking I am getting quality over quantity.
Shay: What is your role at Rome Snowboards?
Paul: My primary day to day role is Director of Product in which all of the Product Managers/Merchandisers in charge of the various product categories at Rome report to me. In this capacity I am involved in the design process (brainstorming, design review, etc) if not the actual design for all of our product categories. Specifically for the snowboard category I still fill the role of Product Manager and Design Engineer.
At the corporate level, Rome’s other Co-founder Josh Reid (Rome’s Director of Marketing) and I are Rome’s Co-Presidents and make up Rome’s Board of Directors. At this level we share responsibilities for all the other aspects of running the business which pretty much fills in the gaps between everything else that needs to get done.
Shay: What prompted you to create Rome?
Paul: There of course are multiple reasons and events that led to the starting of Rome but I guess outside the (naive) idea that it would be “cool” to build and run something of your own, I’ll say that one of the primary drivers was the admittedly boring text book “market opportunity” reason.
Ten years ago the number of independent snowboard brands had consolidated dramatically from a peak in the mid 90’s when it seemed like new snowboard companies were starting up weekly. In 2001 as we worked on the business plan for Rome, something like 70+% of the snowboard market was controlled by 5 or 6 brands of which 4 to 5 were actually ski companies in ownership if not also in name.
I really don’t have anything against skiers or skiing but from my perspective as a long time snowboarder there didn’t seem to be many brands that I cared to support by buying their product – by this I mean truly independent snowboard brands that offered a something of a complete line of competitive products across multiple categories at that time. So perhaps a bit naively, there did look to be an opportunity for a new snowboard brand to enter the market that was run by snowboarders with authentic roots in snowboarding as well as a long term interest in the health and direction of where snowboarding was going.
Shay: What were some of the challenges of starting your own snowboard company?
Paul: For sure finding start up capital and working around the sometimes severe resource limitations that go along with getting a company up and running with very little money was a huge challenge but these are pretty much universal to starting any type of company.
Some of the challenges specific to starting a snowboard company at that time though were breaking down the snowboard market’s preconceived expectations for what a new snowboard brand needed to be and then trying to convince them that yes there was a need for yet another snowboard company in the market. The expected new snowboard brand role out involved a massive traditional marketing push with full spread ads in every magazine, a team of high profile riders and participation in heavy video projects (not to mention flowing tons of free product, etc).
Being a product of the industry I can’t say we didn’t have many of the same notions on what Rome “needed” to do but looking back where I think where we differed from several other companies starting at the time was how we utilized our limited resources. Instead of spending on ad campaigns and high profile riders we embraced that we just couldn’t afford many of these things right away and instead spent energy communicating other aspects of what made the brand unique and viable (e.g. our focus on listening to snowboarders, our intent to establish profitable partnerships with retailers and of course a focus on building solid product for real snowboarders). In the end several of the companies that went that more traditional launch route at the same time we started Rome are no longer in business and I believe in most cases it was a result of them spending well in advance of building revenue and establishing a real foundation for the brand itself.
Yeah – everything after that has been pretty much easy street for us.
Shay: What were some of the marketing tactics that helped grow Rome?
Paul: “Grassroots” is for sure an overused marketing “tactic” but it does a good job of describing what we did originally out of necessity and continue to do because it makes sense.
A big idea was that we could connect ourselves and the brand with a network of snowboarders through other channels than a big expensive media campaign. This was the fundamental idea behind the Snowboard Design Syndicate (SDS) and since day one we have worked on building this into a direct connection between the company and riders. This connection is something that helps inform us of what we really need to do at all levels of the company (product, sales, marketing and even operationally) to make the brand grow.
Shay: Why the name Rome?
Paul: That’s like asking Pepsi for their secret recipe now isn’t it? Seriously though there is a bit of a mystery behind it but not much – we primarily were looking for a memorable name that didn’t mean anything to anyone in snowboarding. Rome was a blank canvas that would allow us to imprint meaning on as the company grew and developed it’s own personality. Hopefully now when you ask most snowboarders about Rome they first know you are talking about a snowboard brand and not some city in upstate NY and second have a strong idea of what the brand represents.
Shay: What’s the best part about founding a company?
Paul: Being able to put a product (board, video, etc) out there in the market that I can believe in as a snowboarder. One that isn’t designed by committee or someone who is looking in at snowboarding from a purely marketing analysis perspective trying to determine “what the kids will be buying this year”
Shay: What is your favorite Rome Snowboard?
Paul: Historically – probably our first season Agent 158. This isn’t to say that I am not a believer in the idea of having a quiver of boards optimized for conditions but given how tight our year one line was this board was designed to do everything really well and looking back now I think that it really defined where snowboarding was going at the time – getting back to its origins in versatile, fun snowboarding from a time where things were getting a little too specialized in my opinion.
For powder – a Notch 158 or better yet our Notch164 swallow tail – but I will admit that this is probably more related to an association with the conditions I get to ride these boards in more than the boards themselves.
Shay: What were you steps you took to making your first prototype?
Paul: Somehow it was the same as it is now and ever was – you have an idea and you put it on paper, think about it a ton from a bunch of different directions before you commit to building it, make it and test it in the lab and on the snow, revise, repeat. The thing that was different was that I wasn’t just building a prototype board to add to an established line of boards as much as I was establishing our first snowboard line more with every prototype. There was so much riding on that year one board line that I have to say I probably stressed about those first designs than any before.
Shay: What do you look for in Rome employees?
Paul: Not to sound corny but optimism and energy for snowboarding. I think for many snowboarders a job at a snowboard company would be a dream job but working here really is a job in every sense of the word as well. If you aren’t able to step back from time to time and have perspective that what you are doing can make a positive impact on something you really love, the work can burn you out at best and at worst turn snowboarding into something you don’t remember why you started doing in the first place.
Shay: Is there any truth to Jake Burton having a role in Rome Snowboards?
Paul: My first impulse to this question was to come up with a clever response but given how persistent this rumor has been since we started in 2001, a clear and unequivocal “no” is probably best. Outside of Josh, me and a small group of investors, no one else has anything do with starting, funding or the running of Rome.
Shay: Do you see social media as an important future in marketing?
Paul: For sure social media has become a big part of people’s lives and important medium for connecting with consumers. How long this will continue or in what form it will next take is a huge question and one that I certainly don’t see with much clarity. I just think about how fast the shift in popularity from MySpace to Facebook happened and know that nothing is going to stay static.
I do think that “marketing” efforts through social media, regardless of what those might be, need to be carefully considered from a brands perspective. One reason that people are finding them so successful is that you can be in more direct contact with your consumers than ever before and on a more regular basis than traditional marketing will allow. A key to this access is that the consumer has invited you in and I think that companies need to treat this trust carefully and “market” to them less with a focus on selling them something and more on providing them information that allows them to make an educated decision to buy, or not buy, your product.
Shay: What are your thoughts on the current state of the snowboard industry?
Paul: Regardless of what I think about the current state of the industry – I think at worst snowboarding is an incredibly fun activity for even the most casual participant and at best a way of life for myself and many others. Given this I hope that as an industry of participants (brands, retailers and riders) we can reach some kind of healthy equilibrium that allows snowboarding to be a viable business and lifestyle and not just become another commodity driven market.
Shay: What’s your average day like at work?
Philip: A blur.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from working in the industry?
Paul: Heliboarding in Alaska. Meeting, working with, riding with and getting to know some of the best snowboarders in the world. Did I mention heliboarding in Alaska? SIA Vegas 1993 through 1995.
Photo: Lee Crane
Shay: How is working for Rome (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Paul: I might not be the person to ask this – I don’t see myself doing anything else and (for the most part) love every day I am able to come to work.
Shay: What education/experience did you have before getting the job?
Paul: I have a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and as I mentioned I worked at a consulting engineering firm (aka a “real” job) for a few years. Looking back I think this first job was good for me as it was an opportunity to really produce something using the tools that you learned about mostly from a theoretical standpoint in school.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Paul: With a little advance planning I can probably travel to any snowboard spot in the world and meet up with someone who loves snowboarding as much as I do and spend the better part of a day exploring and experiencing their local snowboard scene more from the perspective of a local than the tourist I would likely be if I just showed up somewhere to ride. As a result I have been able to ride in so many incredible places all around the world with some of the coolest people you could ever hope to meet and it never gets old although it does get harder to coordinate.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Paul: The hours required and the fact that there isn’t any “off” switch when you own the company.
Shay: Since you started in the snowboard industry, what’s been the biggest change?
Paul: I guess I seem to meet more people than in the past who I wonder about their motivations for being in the business actually. But then I’ll meet someone who is bleeding snowboarding and I kind of think everything will take care of itself in the end right?
Shay: Do you try out other companies products?
Paul: To be honest I don’t often get on snow with competitor’s product. A long time ago I tried to get on anything and everything possible but in the end I don’t think I ever learned all that much of value that I couldn’t have learned by testing ideas of my own. For sure it is important to stay on top of materials, features and price points that others are working on but this is stuff you usually get from checking stuff out at a tradeshow or shop and don’t necessarily require getting on snow with them.
Shay: What’s the busiest time of year for you?
Paul: It’s probably easiest to say that historically there has usually been a bit of a lull for me in the April/May timeframe but even this is changing. Every other time of year there is more to do than I can say I can easily get through in a very full day.
Shay: Education vs Experience…which do you think is more important?
Paul: It’s easier to say than to explain but I believe they are equally important – I’ve seen people with a great educational background come up short due to lack of experience and the reverse as well. Try and get them both whenever you can.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to start a snowboard company?
Paul: Definitely don’t do it if your aren’t prepared to commit yourself completely to it, if you do decide to do it then don’t do it without a solid plan and if you do have a plan be prepared to throw it out the window and start all over again …repeat as needed. Oh yeah – also surround yourself with like minded people who you know and trust.
Shay: Final thoughts?
Paul: I’ve probably already taken too much of your time so will leave it at that. Really thanks for the questions and the opportunity to participate in your blog. I think what you are doing is very cool to see, is great for snowboarding and am glad to be even a small part of that.