GabelliConnect reporter Catherine Migueis (GSB ’12) sat down with Josh Salvo, a Gabelli junior, to talk about his startup company, ReddyYeti.com, a web site where skiers can find American-made skis and snowboards that fit their exact preferences.
Name: Josh Salvo (GSB ’13)
Major: Business administration
Concentrations: Marketing, entrepreneurship
How did you come up with the idea?
I started skiing when I was 3. I have two best friends whom I’ve been skiing with since I was little, and about eight years ago we wanted to buy our own skis. We tried probably every major brand out there, and we weren’t really happy with the products offered. A few years later, we decided to make our own skis. We’ve been building skis in my basement for about two years, and we’ve since stumbled upon a lot of homegrown ski and snowboard makers. We saw that their quality was a lot higher than the generic, mass-produced items that are imported from places like China and potentially made by people who are not skiers. We decided to launch Reddy Yeti as a central hub for all sorts of different products made here in the United States, so that when people go online and search for skis and snowboards, they can see that they have an alternative to big-name companies that build for the masses.
Is this web site the first of its kind?
Yes it is! There are two parts to the business. One is a source for high-quality, American-manufactured skis and snowboards. The other a “ski finder.” You enter information about your skiing or snowboarding, and out comes a pair of skis or a snowboard that works for you. We help to accurately match people to products. You don’t have to worry about buying an $800 pair of skis and not being sure if you’ll like them.
How did you build relationships with the manufacturers whose goods you list?
It was tough in the beginning! Manufacturers didn’t really want to talk to me at first, especially when I told them I was a college student. Then I started pitching them. I told them that I’ve been skiing since I was 3, and that I had started building skis of my own — I tried to relate to them to build a relationship. I made sure I knew their stories before I talked to them; most of these people started their own companies because they were unhappy with the products on the mass market. Eventually, most manufacturers came to feel that Reddy Yeti was a great idea. There’s no overhead for them. I just act as a sales rep for them; if I sell their products, I do, and if I don’t, I don’t. There’s no cost to them, so that made it much easier.
How does your business model work for you, then?
We are the middleman, so we work kind of like PayPal. We get a portion of every transaction that takes place on our web site. For example, consider an $800 pair of skis on our site. When someone purchases it, we send an invoice to that manufacturer and tell them to ship the skis to the customer’s address. We get a certain percentage of the sale. We are working on developing contracts with companies and organizations, too — including the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines want to buy only American-made skis for service members who are training in Utah and being deployed all over the world.
That’s amazing! How did the Marines find you?
Google. They did a Google search for American-made skis, and we were the first one on the list. Pretty crazy.
What other challenges have you faced as you started up?
In the beginning, web technology was the biggest challenge. Both of my business-partner friends are studying to be engineers, and I study business. None of us had any idea about web design. The first outside quote we received to program the web site was $60,000! I nearly died. I re-strategized and finally found someone in India to build it for $1,500. There’s a language barrier, but you deal with tradeoffs to get what you can afford.
Has Fordham helped you?
It has been great for networking. I’ve met many people who are similarly entrepreneurial. They also push to start businesses and do what they want for the rest of their lives. Fordham entrepreneurship programs such as TrepCon have connected me to entrepreneurs I never would have met otherwise. I went to lunch with one of them last week to pick his brain and see what I could learn.
Where do you want to see Reddy Yeti go in the future?
We want to become more well-rounded by branching out into summer sports, like surfboards and skateboards, all American-made. We also hope to become a social network for skiers, snowboarders and other people who do extreme sports. We are working on a smartphone app that records a skier’s vertical feet, speed, runs completed, calories burned and other data. All of the information is uploaded to the site, which becomes a network of people you can compete with. We want to become a hub where people who want to talk about extreme sports can meet others who share that passion and interest.
Do you have a business or personal role model?
My business and personal role model is my dad, who founded a thriving financial-services firm more than 30 years ago. Ever since I was really little, he would always say: If you can take what you are passionate about and build a business around it, you’ll never work a day in your life. My dad instilled in me that you have to love what you are doing and motivate the people around you to be passionate about what they are doing. If you can do that, you can create a very successful business and have a successful life.
What advice do you have for other Fordham entrepreneurs?
My advice is to find a mentor. Latch onto someone who’s done this before, because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to start a business. Your business might be very unique in one sense, but in a lot of ways, it’ll be like any other startup. Someone else who has done it before can help you dodge a lot of the mistakes.
Photographs courtesy of Shay Haas (top) and Dave Lundquist (bottom) on Flickr’s Creative Commons.