Founder Stories: David Dennis On Building The Ventana Surfboards & Supplies
In today’s Founder Story, we feature David Dennis, the co-founder of Ventana Surfboards & Supplies.
Read on for lessons he has learned from launching and marketing his surfboard business.
1. Please introduce your business and share your role.
Hi there! I’m David Dennis, the co-founder of Ventana Surfboards & Supplies. Our business is focused on creating hollow, reclaimed wooden surfboards that are pieces of art and that perform well in the waves.
We also have a line of eco-apparel and surf supplies that match our boards and fit with our brand values: Artisanship, Responsibility, and Adventure. We donate 5% of our profits to ocean conservation organizations, including the Ventana Ocean Conservation Scholarship. Our customers are surfers and collectors who appreciate the artistry and environmental responsibility of our products.
2. What’s your backstory, what kind of challenges did you face, and how did you come up with your business idea?
My business partner, Martijn Stiphout, is our master artisan. I met him while photographing him for an exhibit I shot to raise money for the Surfrider Foundation Santa Cruz Chapter. I was inspired by the surfboards he was building out of reclaimed and eco-friendly materials and suggested we join forces to launch what aims to be the most environmentally responsible surf company in the world – one that could set an example for the industry.
Our biggest challenge has been not having enough time to grow the business at the rate that I’d like. I am also a product manager at Microsoft on the Outlook.com team, and that takes up most of my time. I love my job, and I plan to stay at Microsoft until I retire. So, right now, I don’t have time to hire people and manage them or to grow our retail and wholesale businesses.
I do all of our sales, marketing, and business development, and I’m having a good time with it, so keeping the business small for now is fine. I did a TEDx talk called “Don’t Quit Your Day Job” a while back, and I take that advice to heart whenever I think about focusing exclusively on Ventana.
3. How did you prepare for, and go about your launch?
We launched the company with very little advertising or marketing. We set up a booth at a local holiday craft fair with a few products and surfboards as a test of our positioning and concept. The event was a huge success, and we generated almost $10K in gross revenue in just a few hours. That helped us understand that we were on the right track, and we’ve never looked back. We continue to test products and sales and marketing strategies on a smaller scale before we go bigger. We’re big believers in Lean Startup methods.
4. Since launching, what types of marketing campaigns and designs have worked best to attract and retain customers?
The most effective thing we’ve done is to build our social media following across every platform imaginable. We showcase the process of creating our surfboards, and people love to see a real artisan in action.
We also partner with and promote other small businesses and artists. They then promote our business, and that helps grow our customer base. We also do a few major events a year – craft fairs and open workshops at our studio. Those are big revenue drivers for us.
5. What have been the most influential brands for your business? Whose branding and marketing do you aspire to and why?
We work with other brands that share our values, and those are the ones that inspire us the most, businesses like Opolis Optics, Pelican House Swimwear, Anato, Humble Sea Brewing Company, Khordz Mugs, Ser Winery, Locus Surfboards, Ashley Lloyd Surfboards, Sagebrush Bags, Rareform, Western Flyer Foundation, Santa Cruz Guitar Company, Surfrider Foundation, Save the Waves and Save our Shores. Of course, larger brands that are focused on sustainability, like Patagonia, have been inspirational, as well.
6. What are your favorite marketing platforms/tools?
We couldn’t survive without social media. We do little paid advertising. Organic growth and promotion in social media have helped us close many very large surfboard deals.
We’ve also been relying heavily on artificial intelligence for marketing content and image editing. That has accelerated our execution and allowed us to up our game in terms of content quality. Of course, the surfboards that my partner makes are some of the most beautiful and sustainable in the world. It’s easy to market them, as they’re so unique.
Promoting the surfboards helps pull through other product sales, so the boards themselves are a marketing tool. Email marketing works well for us. We love Klayvio for that. We also love to be guests on podcasts. That’s been effective for us, too.
7. Who or what inspires and motivates you?
The ocean and surfing are my daily inspirations. I live and work on the Westside of Santa Cruz and spend as much time as I can in the water.
My wife, Linda, is a continuous inspiration, as well. She’s a special education teacher and has done more to impact the lives of others than I could ever imagine doing.
My parents, Steve and Sona, are a major inspiration, as well. They have both been docents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for more than 25 years, and they’ve instilled values in me of caring about others and the environment.
8. What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way that you would share with entrepreneurs hoping to launch or who have just launched?
My advice is to start small and test your ideas and products before going big. I see too many people assuming that they’re going to be successful and investing way too much time and money into something that they’re certain will be a winner. They then wind up in debt quickly and fail. Do your research on the opportunity, talk to potential customers, test your ideas at a small scale, use data to make decisions about the next steps, iterate and adjust – then go big!
9. What do you believe are the qualities of a good entrepreneur? And what makes a team successful?
I believe that the qualities of a good entrepreneur include creativity, passion, motivation, product or service knowledge, ability to network, self-confidence, optimism, vision, goal and growth mindset, risk-taking, persuasiveness, decision-making, tenacity, money management, and adaptability.
A successful team is one that has a clear and measurable goal for what they want to accomplish. They have a shared scoreboard and a collective identity that fosters a sense of belonging and helps team members work together as a unit. Mutual trust, diversity, and patience are also top qualities that make a team successful.
10. Let us know where we can go to learn more!
You can learn more about us by visiting our website at Ventana Surfboards & Supplies or by following us on: