The idea

AW: ‘I was somewhat of a kayaker, though not a crazy hardcore one. After I finished my master's degree, I moved into a small studio apartment in San Francisco and had to put my kayak in storage. Then I read a magazine article about origami and artists, engineers and designers who were doing amazing things with it. That was the original inspiration to solve my own need – to try to figure out a way to fold this big thing up into a small package.’


AW: ‘I was looking at the internet primarily, but there was one book I found particularly useful, all about origami techniques for designers. Understanding the DNA of different folds and how to combine them was really useful. I didn't have any idea that it would be this big, complicated project; I was just trying to make the simplest thing that would float. I thought I'd just make a couple of them and use them myself on the weekend. I started out just folding pieces of paper and then I progressed to making the first prototype of the kayak out of a piece of stock sheet from a sign shop – which, it turns out, wasn't big enough to support an adult of my weight. That one sank almost immediately.’ 


AW: ‘The first prototype came a few weeks after reading that [magazine] article. But it took many more prototypes to get to the point where we launched the company – around 25, I think. It was three or four years of primarily nights and weekends. I was working as an architect at the time. About six months before we launched [in 2012], I thought it was a business I could pursue – I met Ardy at around the same time.’

AS: ‘Anton was looking for someone who could join him. I met him across the Golden Gate bridge and went out on the kayak. I could see the fog coming through the bridge, and the materials are translucent, so you can see the waterline. It was such a transformative experience that I wanted to be part of it and I wanted to bring it to life. I was pretty naive at the time. I didn't know what it would take to make it production ready.’


AW: ‘At the very beginning, it was personal savings, just to get up to the point of Kickstarter – that was really the thing that got us off the ground.’ 

AS: ‘It took off pretty rapidly. Our goal was to raise $80,000 total. We ended up doing $100,000 within the first 24 hours and ended the campaign at around $450,000. We sold about 500 kayaks. Then we just had to figure out how to build them! It would take Anton and I two days to build one kayak. So we had to figure out how to scale this thing. For a year and a half, it was figuring things out. Because the margins were off, we later did a couple of small rounds of friends-and-family investment to bridge the gap for us to grow.’


AS: ‘We launched the boat and called it Oru Kayak. We soon realized that wasn't going to work – that's the name of the company, not the kayak. We came up with this method of using names for different bodies of water. The first boat was the Bay.’ 


AS: ‘We weren't product people or manufacturing people; we had never run an [online sales] business. It was learning as we go – just hustling, pivoting very quickly and being OK with failure, and then getting the right people in the room to bridge the gap in our knowledge. We rented a car and drove around Southern California to find the factory, and one of the factories we found was a sheet manufacturer. We started our factory within their factory, and that's how we grew.’


AS: ‘We went to our first trade show in 2013, but we didn't have any boats. We didn't even know how retail margins worked. It was trial and error – our price point was off compared to how much it cost to make, and our cost of goods kept going up. At first we were quoted $90 labor wise, and it ended up being around $300 later on. Over the course of a few years, it just kept going up and up. There were lots of additional costs we weren't aware of, like taxes and shipping. The first product ended up being $1,600. Now the Inlet is our most affordable kayak at $899 – we always wanted to have a product under $1,000. It just took us seven or eight years to get there.’ 


AS: ‘We got a professional kayaker to try it out to see what the issues were and what we needed to work on. He ended up becoming our marketing person. We also connected with a lot of different people to see if this was something that could work in the market. Customer insights and feedback were very important for us – and still are, to this day.’


AS: ‘Initially, it was just through crowdfunding. From there, we did [online sales] via our website. It just made a lot of sense – kayaks are hard to ship. The retail channel was always in the picture, but it couldn't fit in the early years. For us it's not either B2B or B2C – we're both. But our main business is obviously B2C, and we want to make sure that stays the core.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too