Before UBS, before Tuck, and even way before his time in the Army and at West Point, Brendan Walker has been (and likely will always be) a snowboarder. He prides himself on being one of the “[hard]core riders” – the freest, the coolest, and the boldest of the pack (basically, he’s not afraid to punch a bear-velociraptor hybrid, if ever faced with such a threat) – and it’s precisely this “core” group that he initially targeted when he launched his company, Bon Hiver. He soon discovered, however, that this “core” market wasn’t necessarily his…well…core market.
If you’re familiar with the French language (or the band, Bon Iver), then skip the rest of this sentence; otherwise, FYI: it’s pronounced ‘bone e-vair’. Bon Hiver is a startup that designs and markets a revolutionary snowboarding binding design that enables snowboarders with more time to do some actual boarding.
One of the frustrations with snowboarding is the time spent on having to attach and detach one’s self from the board when mounting the ski lift. To save time from having to deal with un-strapping the bindings, Bon Hiver’s patented, freebase binding design utilizes neodymium magnets that allow riders to lock-in on their boards hands-free on the lift itself or by simply stepping in and rotating the binding while riding.
“A lot of startups start off addressing one market, only to recognize that they’re actually aiming for another market or audience altogether,” says Walker.
When marketing for Bon Hiver, Walker initially went after the wrong audience, and targeted the “[hard]core” snowboarding market, who represented only 5 percent of the market and 15 percent of the sales. The company quickly discovered, however, that they may not have immediate success in such a finicky market. ”We immediately realized that our customer isn’t necessarily the ‘core,’ but everyone else – the other 95 percent of the market.” Soon, it wasn’t just about the hardcore market or just about the beginning market: the goal was the average rider – essentially, anyone who just wanted to spend more time snowboarding than strapping themselves in and out of boards.
“[In the process of saving time for snowboarders], I realized that I hit an industry-wide problem.”
After refocusing efforts on the average snowboarder, Walker later expanded his audience after having presented at various tradeshows, demos, and expos. “I found that, at the resort-level, [Bon Hiver's freebase binding design] was a massive asset to have: it increased revenue, decreased operation expenses, and [would get] consumers quicker through shops (and ski lifts) than ever before.” Basically, by shifting from its initial “core” market, Bon Hiver has managed to increase its audience exponentially.
In the process of finding the right focus, Bon Hiver has stumbled upon an unexpected market: adaptive riders. The company is currently working with New England Disabled Sports to adapt Bon Hiver’s technology so that it’s both beneficial to the mass market, as well as adaptive riders.