Business survival tips: The North Face founder speaks at CMU event
Kenneth “Hap” Klopp sees similarities between the social and economic upheaval of the late 1960s and the financial and political turmoil of today.
When Klopp helped found The North Face in the San Francisco Bay area in 1966, the Vietnam War was tearing at the fabric of the U.S., and the economy was struggling. That didn’t stop Klopp, however, from thinking “we were going to change the world.”
His accomplishments over the next 20 years as president and chief executive officer of the outdoor-product company may not have been that far-reaching, but they did revolutionize the backpacking industry.
Urging them to ignore what he believes is an overabundance of negative news and predicting the next 10 years “will be the best in the history of commerce,” Klopp on Wednesday encouraged entrepreneurs to make their own successful mark in the business world through a combination of creativity, risk-taking, passion and a sense of urgency.
“Any decision is better than no decision,” Klopp said in his keynote address during Colorado Mesa University’s seventh annual Entrepreneurship Day. “If you keep waiting around, you’ll miss the opportunities.”
Before he sold the company in 1990 and began HK Consulting, an international management-consulting firm, The North Face carved out a niche by using innovation to create high-quality merchandise, Klopp said. The company applied materials that were in excess after the Vietnam War to the camping industry; aircraft aluminum made durable but lightweight tent poles and backpack frames.
He said one of his greatest challenges at the outset was convincing others to take him seriously. The North Face was proposing a new industry at high price points consumers hadn’t seen before.
Klopp cited four requirements for the successful business leader: having fun leading, being creative, empowering people around you and being proactive. Speaking to a mixture of community business leaders and university students, he advocated pursuing what they enjoy doing and not fearing failure.
Steve Jobs, the late Apple founder, “failed and failed and failed, and then became the biggest success story that ever lived,” Klopp said.
Chandler Burgon, a CMU junior majoring in business administration, said he appreciated those comments.
“Failure is what makes you successful,” he said.
Burgon also identifies with the idea of shunning unenjoyable jobs. He previously sold cellphones at Sam’s Club and home-security systems but quit those jobs because it simply wasn’t what he wanted to do. Acting on the advice of a friend, he and his business partner, Craig Morris, started simplytungsten.com, a website that sells tungsten rings. The business, launched just six weeks ago or so, already is taking off, selling $2,500 worth of rings during one four-day period, according to Burgon.
Burgon’s business pursuits won him first place in the so-called Idea Challenge—a competition in which participants pitch a business idea to a panel of judges—and $1,500 in seed money.
Prior to Klopp’s speech, Grand Junction-based sportswear company Loki was recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year.