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Founder Stories: Kent Wilson On Building RV SnapPad

In today’s Founder Story we feature Kent Wilson, the COO of RV SnapPad!

Read on for lessons he’s learned from launching and marketing his business.

1. Please introduce your business and share your role. 

I am the COO of RV SnapPad. We make the world’s only permanent jack pad, a new product category in the RV accessories space. I was previously the head of marketing and growth, but have moved into the COO position to help smooth operations as we transition from a startup to an SMB. 

2. What’s your backstory, what kind of challenges did you face, and how did you come up with your business idea?

Ours is a family business involving myself, my two brothers (Devon and Barrett), and my father (Gordon). The genesis for RV SnapPad actually began over 30 years ago, when my father and his partner conceived of and launched a new RV leveling accessory that is still a staple in the industry today. 

Unfortunately, this was pre-internet and before DTC (direct-to-consumer), so my dad had to raise a lot of money in order to sell his product to RV wholesalers at the time (the only viable path to market). An unscrupulous investor diluted both of the founders out of the company over time, resulting in my father and his partner leaving the business just as it was gaining traction. 

Despite the setback, Gordon decided to take another crack at the RV space with a new product concept (permanent jack pads) back in 2014. We worked with him for a year to find a manufacturer, conduct market research, create a website, and launch the new company on a shoestring budget. 

RV SnapPad officially launched on Sept 29, 2015. We made our first sale the next day. By the end of the year, we had garnered over $10k in revenue and knew that we had found product market fit.  

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3. How did you prepare for, and go about your launch?  

Barrett and I have backgrounds in SEO, web development, and digital marketing, so we drew on that experience to create a single-page website with a free Shopify buy button. We had just one product type, packaged into three SKUs (two, four, and six packs). We didn’t have any money for marketing at all initially, so we had to go the grassroots route. 

Thanks to my father’s previous experience in RVing, we were able to connect to some people still in the industry. They put us in touch with user-facing organizations like ownership groups and messageboards, which allowed us to gather very early feedback on the product concept. 

Once we began to make some sales, we diverted a tiny portion of money toward Facebook advertising ($5/day, maximum). I designed the first assets and campaigns using Canva and our own product photos.  

4. Since launching, what types of marketing campaigns and designs have worked best to attract and retain customers?

Facebook remains our primary paid acquisition channel. We have made sure to lean into social proof and UGC/testimonials as much as possible given how powerful those assets tend to be. 

One of our earliest tactics was “product-for-review” arrangements with RV lifestyle micro-influencers, especially on Youtube. This has proven to be one of the biggest value strategies for us over time because it can yield leverageable UGC, social proof, organic awareness, and direct sales, all at once. Product seeding and Influencer partnerships are now key aspects of every product line and new product launch for us. 

5. What have been the most influential brands for your business? Whose branding and marketing do you aspire to and why?

I try to draw inspiration from other consumer brands that sell one big idea or tentpole product as we do. For a digitally native brand like ours, it helps to give me ideas for everything from landing pages to general UX and buy flow. 

Some brands I follow include Anova precision cookers, Ooni pizza ovens, and Supply razors.

6. What are your favorite marketing platforms/tools?

Shopify Plus is our ecommerce engine, so that’s the obvious one. We also use Stamped.io to collect reviews. They have been a great vendor since day one. We use Landbot to power our product compatibility quiz/lead capture UX, making it one of the most vital tools in our tech stack. 

7. Who or what inspires and motivates you?

This venture being not only a family-run company but also something of a “redemption” business for my father is extremely motivating. Beyond that, I have always been extremely curious and passionate about discovering and building new things. 

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? 

Here are a few things in no particular order.

  • Try to find a good partner or partners to help launch the business. Entrepreneurship is extremely challenging, so having at least one “co-captain” who you can trust and who complements your skillset makes everything easier.
  • Know your numbers and finances early. Once you are off the ground, having a solid financial understanding and foundation for your business is absolutely critical. We did not pay enough attention to this initially, and it took us a long time to untangle that knot. 
  • Having a robust supply chain can make or break your business if you are selling a physical product. During the pandemic, our business was almost sunk because we were overly reliant on one supplier who buckled and collapsed under the pressures of COVID. We luckily managed to find other suppliers and a new distribution partner as well, but it took two years for the transition to be fully realized, during which we dealt with back orders of more than 40,000 units. If we were not the category creator of our product, we would have been completely sunk.
9. What do you believe are the qualities of a good entrepreneur? And what makes a team successful?

Emotional resilience in the face of uncertainty is pretty much required. There are days when you will feel invincible and there are others where you will have no idea if the company will survive. There are huge swings in momentum and there will be issues that arise for which you have no experience or immediate answers. I’ve seen a lot of talented and intelligent people who had to bail on startup life because they just didn’t have the constitution for it.  

Related to this is the ability to be relentlessly and even unreasonably positive. I don’t mean in the motivational speaker sense, and I don’t mean you have to be someone who leaps out of bed in the morning with a perpetual smile on your face. More than that you have to have unshakable faith in the fact that the world is knowable and that problems can be solved. 

Having enough conviction to go on but also being open to changing course and being proven wrong is also a must. Startups are an iterative process with a lot of course corrections and feedback loops, so you must be able to continue in the face of headwinds, but not be so stubborn as guide the ship in only one direction. 

The leadership of your team must over-index in the above qualities. Beyond that, you want people who are committed, competent, and with high integrity as you build your business. You’ll want flexible and ambitious generalists who can wear many hats in the early going, and then expand to specialists hired to plug key gaps as you grow.

10. Let us know where we can go to learn more! 

You can find us at

Website https://rvsnappad.com/ 

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Youtube 

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