Startup Lessons

Startup Lessons

Photo: Olivier Koning

Blue Planet Surf Gear began 15 years ago as a college project. Founder Robert Stehlik, then a business major at the University of Hawaii, created a business plan for a surfing distribution company as part of a course requirement and ran with the idea.

He started small - selling T-shirts out of a box - but the company has slowly ridden the waves to success. Last year, Blue Planet, which now includes a retail and wholesale operation grossed $1.6 million in revenues. The experience, Stelhlik says, has taught him a thing or two about getting a business off the ground, working with partners and not getting ahead of yourself.

HB: Having started a business at such a young age, what learning experiences did you encounter early on?

In the beginning, I got ahead of myself. We were pretty successful, our clothes were pretty popular. So I found a partner and opened a retail store on Maui before I was really ready for that next step. We ended up closing the store after one year and the partnership went down the drain. So I learned not to try to do too much.

What else did that experience teach you?

It taught me to always write things down, and to be clear with the other parties about exactly what the agreement is. My partner and I had made verbal agreements and didn't talk about contingency plans or what would happen if things didn't work out. We were just too gung-ho, and thought we weren't going to make any mistakes. From that point on, I started writing everything down. I still do a lot of business on a handshake basis, but it it's really important, I always write it down and have both parties sign. It's not that I don't trust people, it's more that I don't trust people to remember everything.

What are the challenges of running wholesale and retail operations?

You just have to be careful, because wholesale customers are my retail competitors, in a way. If we undercut the pricing on the products we sell to our retail store, we basically hurt our wholesale customers. So everything we sell, we try to stick to the suggested retail price. If anything, the stores we sell to will undercut their prices.

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