Highkey Reaches Over Half The Undergraduate Student Population


A constant struggle for students has remained the inability to adapt to an eventful university environment due to the lack of a singular platform that informs all students of events and parties that take place on campus. Having faced that issue as an exchange student from Finland himself, Vili Vaananen along with his CTO Max Prokopenko and Frontend Developer Jesse Takkinen came up with an app to end their problems – Highkey.

Inspired by their previously launched app in Finland as students at Aalto-University, Populic, Highkey was inspired by the same principle – a medium for all students on campus to be engaged and informed about events that can be mapped and updated in real time. With an existing, running app in Finland that was trending #1, Highkey was launched for students of USC last August and soon tracked the same popularity with now over 10000 users that post and advertise their events on the app to reach a larger base of students.

Vili expressed optimism for the future of Highkey with plans to expand to bigger party schools such as University of Alabama. “We’ll continue to make college life funnier in the whole nation.” Vili also revealed that Blackstone Launchpad has been one of the most helpful resources on campus; in terms of conversing and interacting with other entrepreneurial-minded students. Highkeys team is confident moving forward as the ultimate platform for all campus events information and live updating.  

Written by- Mehak Arya

Petitas Los Angeles – Selected For Inaugural Blackstone LaunchPad Techstars Lift Accelerator

This morning, Petitas, an LA clothing brand founded by USC Marshall 2018 alumna Chelsea LaFerla, was selected as part of the newly created Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars “LaunchPad Lift” program.

Chelsea LaFerla is the CEO & Founder of Petitas Los Angeles

According to LaFerla, “Petitas Los Angeles is a clothing brand made by and for petite, professional women. The brand empowers petite women to be #clothedinconfidence through uniquely-tailored, high-end garments; their Signature Label is made in the USA using premium, hand-sourced fabrics.”

USC Marshall School of Business prepares small businesses for large contracts

Kimberly Kelly-Rolfe, a Locke High School graduate, teaches the Certified Business Enterprise Supplier Training at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Photo by Jason Lewis


New Southern California Ed-Tech Accelerator Seeks Diverse, Global Reach

Senior Editor
A new program at the University of Southern California will bring together education and engineering faculty to support startup ed-tech companies–with a big focus on helping minority- and female-owned businesses.

The program, called USC Rossier EdVentures, bills itself as the “first ed-tech innovation hub in Southern California.”

The program has already announced the first cohort of companies it will support–see the full list below–which includes a mix of startup and early-stage businesses serving the K-12, postsecondary, and adult education markets.

The first cohort has a global makeup. It includes ed-tech providers and programs from not only the United States, but also Mexico, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Rwanda.

While the business focus of those ed-tech companies is all over the map, there’s a big focus on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality, said Doug Lynch, a senior fellow at USC’s Rossier School of Education, in an interview.

The program will provide the companies with mentoring and support from both USC’s Rossier School of Education and its Center for Engineering in Education. The engineering center focuses on applying “engineering thinking and learning” from pre-K through college. EdVentures is also backed by USC’s Marshall School of Business.

The program is being supported by a number of foundations and private entities, including the Michelson 20MM FoundationBisk Ventures; and Blackstone LaunchPad USC. The EdVentures program will also engage in “match-making,” or trying to connect the ed-tech startups with potential funders, said Lynch.

The program will not take an equity stake in the companies, he added.

In creating the EdVentures program, USC officials were well aware of the incubator and accelerator programs that dot the U.S. ed-tech landscape, said Lynch.

One way the USC program will distinguish itself is by offering “customized” mentoring and support, akin to what school aspire to offer students through personalized learning, he explained.

The program’s interest in supporting ed-tech companies run by minorities and women stems partly from the belief that doing so will bring new strategies into classrooms and product development.

EdVentures officials have sought to get the word out that they’re keen on supporting under-represented businesses, Lynch said, and the first cohort reflects that work.

“We need more, better ideas from everywhere,” Lynch said. “You come up with better solutions to problems when you have many people from different backgrounds noodling at the problem.”

The companies supported in EdVentures’ first cohort are:

  • Akilah, a Rwandan women’s college;
  • Ampligence, a 4G communication technology for math that aims to  help people do math with much more efficiency;
  • Class Calc, an AI-supported calculator meant to help students learn math;
  • Easy Teach, a customizable WordPress plug-in for creating & providing online courses;
  • Equally, an augmented reality social learning network designed to help students with math and science;
  • Giblib, a subscription service of videos of medical procedures for medical students;
  • Intervene, a data-driven adaptive intervention software to help close skill gaps among low performing students;
  • LoanBuddy, a student loan analysis software for financial advisers.
  • MandarinX, a Taiwanese-based organization offering MOOCs in Mandarin;
  • OctagonEDU, an Indonesian organization offering a visual science Wikipedia that uses augmented reality;
  • Reto, a Mexican-Based adaptive test preparation company focusing on Latin American Medical Education;
  • Studioso, a music education application for music teachers and students;
  • Ucroo, a web and mobile platform that integrates with existing college systems to provide a digital campus where students are better connected, supported and engaged.

Source: EdWeek MarketBrief

A business school professor who studied 20,000 startup founders says ‘going ugly’ can be the key to a successful partnership — or marriage

ceo employee mistake embarassed meeting fired
Don’t avoid tough conversations — “going ugly” benefits all parties in a relationship.
Strelka Institute/Flickr
  • Most of us try to avoid tough conversations, but the most successful people tackle awkward subjects head on.
  • A professor who studied 20,000 startup founders said “going ugly” and addressing uncomfortable issues can help you both in the business world and in romantic relationships.
  • From planning for the departure of a company’s cofounder to drawing up a prenuptial agreement, “going ugly” tends to benefit all parties in the long run.

It’s human nature to want to avoid tough conversations.

But the most successful people know that skirting around uncomfortable subjects just makes things worse in the long run.

That’s what Noam Wasserman, a professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, discovered after almost 20 years of studying 20,000 startup founders.

Wasserman wrote about the lessons he learned from his research in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, and he said they apply to both business and life itself.

The professor wrote that the best startup founders he studied had a tendency to approach tough discussions head on — “going ugly,” as he calls it.

“In a hypercompetitive environment, there is little wiggle room for balky products or ineffective team members,” Wasserman wrote for The Journal. “As a result, the best founders move quickly to identify and deal with any problem areas they see, despite the natural inclination to avoid tension-filled issues.”

In one case he studied, two of the three cofounders of a software startup had doubts that the third founder would remain with the company. The third founder had just become a father, and they suspected he might take his ownership stake in the startup and leave for a more stable job, leaving the company unable to attract a good replacement.

To cover their bases, the founders “went ugly” and drafted a plan about what would happen in such a scenario.

“It was a tough conversation, but it paid off,” Wasserman wrote. “When the new father decided that he couldn’t found a venture while founding a family, the company had a deal ready to go. The co-founders reclaimed his ownership stake, used his shares to lure a replacement executive and, down the road, attracted a buyer.”

But “going ugly” is more than just good business advice — it can help in personal relationships, too.

Wasserman said one of his students had a habit of “going ugly” on first dates, refusing to tiptoe around awkward topics like income prospects and where he wants to live.

Prenuptial agreements are another example of how “going ugly” can benefit both parties in a relationship.

“Just as in the entrepreneurial world, agreements like these can strengthen relationships by surfacing issues early, revealing people’s true intentions and motivations and clarifying expectations while adjustments can still be made easily,” Wasserman said.

Source: Business Insider

Facebook and the Founder’s Dilemma

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is unusual in the corporate world in that he is still in charge of the company he founded.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is unusual in the corporate world in that he is still in charge of the company he founded. PHOTO: GERARD JULIEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Facebook Inc. FB -1.36% Chairman and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has vastly outperformed expectations for company founders.

That’s not just because the company he started in his dorm room is now among the most valuable stocks in the world and has made him vastly wealthy and globally influential, but because he is still the boss.

Recent research of about 6,000 American startups between 2005 and 2012 reveals fewer than half of their creators are still at the helm; earlier research suggests 80% of founders are eventually forced to step down as CEO.

Has that time come for Mr. Zuckerberg? After a string of missteps—and his clumsy efforts to defend them—related to user privacy and outside influence over the social-media platform, many have suggested it has.

He says he has no plans to relinquish control of the company he started in 2004, and he has the voting power to back that up. He also indicated the job of his top lieutenant, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, is secure.

Still, Facebook’s directors should be contemplating how to get an iconic founder to step back before it’s too late. Is Apple Inc.’s firing of Steve Jobs in the 1980s a potential path for Facebook? Or was the decision by Google’s founders to hire an experienced CEO in the early days a more relevant template?

Few companies seem to find the right answer to what Noam Wasserman dubbed “the founder’s dilemma.” He led research on thousands of startups and said entrepreneurs who start a successful venture are reluctant to hand it over to someone else.

“The majority of founders overkeep control at their peril,” said Mr. Wasserman, a professor who started the University of Southern California’s “Founder Central” research program. Even prominent founders “tended to get into deep trouble in recent years when they remain largely unchecked,” he said, citing Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, Theranos Inc.’s Elizabeth Holmes, Groupon Inc.’s Andrew Mason and Uber Inc.’s Travis Kalanick.

Years after Apple fired him in 1985, Mr. Jobs returned to the computer company to reinvigorate the product line. That outcome is rare. It is also an unlikely one for Mr. Zuckerberg given his hold on the voting shares.

Founders at Google, now a division of Alphabet Inc., took a different approach that is worth considering. Three years after Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin created the company as a better way to search through the internet’s ever-expanding material, they hired former Novell CEO Eric Schmidt.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal a few years later, Mr. Schmidt talked about the balancing act of running a quickly-growing company where the founders remained involved but not in charge.

Among the big changes that he made was installing rigor in the decision-making process. Mr. Schmidt said the founders were still involved in charting strategy or guiding Google’s attempts at innovation, but they were spared having to deal with managerial decisions.

Clearly, Facebook’s problems are complex and different than those faced by a young internet search engine. The company is under fire for a slow response to uncovering Russian manipulation during the U.S. presidential race. Executives face scrutiny for not adequately protecting user data and a lack of transparency. Facebook has acknowledged it should have reacted more quickly to signs of Russian activity and has taken steps to give users more control of the data it collects.

But Facebook could still learn from Mr. Schmidt, who said he created a culture at Google where “decisions are made in front of people.” That advice that could go a long way at the social network, where the culture appears to be insular and the response to the current crisis had been controlled by a handful of leaders.

Mr. Schmidt no longer runs Google, but his tenure represented an important hinge in the company’s timeline. When he handed control and ultimate accountability back to Mr. Page in 2011, he said the transition would be seamless because, for a decade, “we have all been equally involved in making decisions.”

Steve Blank, a Stanford professor and a former CEO of startups, told me Facebook’s board needs to take the company’s ongoing trials seriously because it is facing a similarly consequential inflection point in its own timeline where a misstep could be very costly.

“We’re kind of running a bizarre experiment in how we approach social media,” Mr. Blank said, and Facebook is playing a lead role in the U.S.’s wild-west scenario. Executives like Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg need to show more urgency and resolve, or risk getting run over along the way.

“They have been gamed and are now dealing with the consequences,” Mr. Blank said. “Rather than being upset they were gamed, they went into a defensive crouch.” Fresh eyes may be needed in the management suite and in the boardroom, he said, or government regulation may be the only solution to Facebook’s problems.

“The question should be ‘what is the right thing to do for our customers and our employees and the country?’”

Mr. Zuckerberg, at 34, isn’t soon stepping away from Facebook. But tech giants who went before him, including the late Mr. Jobs, have something to teach him about taking even a small step back at a still relatively young age.

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out getting fired from Apple was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Mr. Jobs said in a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford. He was fired at 30, a decade after Apple’s founding. “It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

The CW Buys Drama ‘The Progeny’ Based On Thriller Novel From Chris Roberts, Edward Burns & Radar Pictures

Rex/Shutterstock/Simon & Schuster

The CW has put in development The Progeny, a drama based on Tosca Lee’s bestselling book, from writer Chris Roberts (Orphan Black), Edward Burns’ Marlboro Road Gang Productions, Radar Pictures and CBS TV Studios.

Chris Roberts
Roberts – Courtesy of Verve

Written by Roberts, The Progeny centers on a young amnesiac who discovers she’s a descendant of history’s greatest murderess, plunging her into a deadly underground war as she fights to stop a secret society that has preyed on her kind for centuries.

Burns’ Marlboro Road Gang Productions and Radar Pictures teamed last year to develop the project and went out to writers. Burns and producing partner Aaron Lubin executive produce alongside Radar’s Ted Field, Michael Napoliello and Mike Weber. Roberts is co-executive producer. Maria Frisk serves as producer. CBS TV Studios is the studio.

Roberts most recently worked as a supervising producer on Frontier for Netflix. Before that, he wrote on all seasons of Orphan Black for BBC America. He is repped by Verve and Vanguarde Artists Management.

Radar is producing fantasy drama The Wheel of Time recently ordered to series at Amazon.

Burns and Lubin, through Marlboro Road Gang Prods, produced Burns’ coming-of-age, ensemble comedy Summertime. Burns, along with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, executive produced the TNT period cop drama Public Morals, which Burns wrote, directed and starred in.

Source: Deadline

USC has a new varsity team: The Trojans of esports

USC has a new varsity team: The Trojans of esports
Members of the USC varsity esports team are reflected in the screens of their monitors during practice in a basement lab. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The players on USC’s newest varsity team wear the familiar cardinal and gold, with Tommy Trojan splashed across the front of their jerseys. But on their backs, fans will find names that have never graced a playing field: TankNStein, Kamdono, Loopy, bestty, and Study Meta.

As they scrimmaged in a windowless campus basement Monday night, eyes glued to the popular online battle game League of Legends, the team’s student analyst, Michael Ahn, took note of how players could improve their form. Coach Peter Zhang, recruited from the pro leagues, tracked from his own screen how well the squad followed his strategies.

They were prepping for their game on Thursday night, when the team will battle UCLA in an exhibition match at USC’s Conquest pep rally. The teams will face off onstage in front of an array of gaming computers. Spectators will be able to follow the action on giant screens displaying the players’ monitors.

The varsity League of Legends team is the most public face of a larger organization launching Thursday, the school’s new Esports Union, or ESU.

Unlike most college esports leagues, which are overseen by athletic or campus life departments, USC’s initiative is an offshoot of its game design program, which draws on resources from the film and engineering schools.

Michael Ahn, center, goes over a replay of his team's last match, while team members Duc Minh Nguyen, Ulysses Quesada, William Huang, Jonathan Chai and Jack Johnson look on.
Michael Ahn, center, goes over a replay of his team’s last match, while team members Duc Minh Nguyen, Ulysses Quesada, William Huang, Jonathan Chai and Jack Johnson look on. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Along with of the official team, the ESU will support student clubs across a number of games, and run programs such as League of Legends clinics, where more casual players can pick up pro-level pointers from the varsity squad.

In coming years, the ESU will also support classes dedicated to the event-management and business side of esports, add more varsity teams in popular games such as the team shooter Overwatch and Nintendo’s brawler Super Smash Bros., and help set up scholarship programs for e-athletes.

The creation of the program was spearheaded by current USC senior Keanu Concepcion, who pitched the idea in the fall of 2017 as a way for the school — which is already home to a top-ranked game design program — to remain competitive in all aspects of the growing field.

“My argument for the administration was: If we start the process to make a varsity esports program now, by the time it matters in terms of rankings, USC will be excellently positioned to maintain our top spot,” Concepcion said.

“We always have to be where the industry is and where the art form is,” said Danny Bilson, chairman of the Interactive Media & Games Division of USC’s film school. “It was already on our radar, but once the enthusiasm of the students became clear, we started talking about how we start from zero as USC — one of the better game design schools around, with a well-renowned athletic department.”

With students taking the lead on running the Esports Union and faculty advisors clocking long hours to get the program off the ground, the program is running lean to start, but corporate sponsors such as Red Bull and Logitech are helping fund the initial push.

“We have to bootstrap everything; we’re a school,” Bilson said. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s throw off a bunch of budget,’ like we’re a game company,’ it’s all homegrown.”

USC's esports team includes, from left, in front: Duc Minh Nguyen, Jonathan Chai, Ulysses Quesada, Michael Yuan. In back are Brandon Gunning, Jack Johnson, Hoang Phan, William Huang, and Damian Dorrance-Steiner
USC’s esports team includes, from left, in front: Duc Minh Nguyen, Jonathan Chai, Ulysses Quesada, Michael Yuan. In back are Brandon Gunning, Jack Johnson, Hoang Phan, William Huang, and Damian Dorrance-Steiner (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

In spring, posters across campus announced open tryouts and the team began taking shape. The program settled on League of Legends as its first focus, both because the game has a well-developed collegiate league with more than 80 schools split among regional divisions and because its founders, Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, are both USC alumni.

USC also looked to nearby schools for models. UC Irvine has the best-developed esports program in the region, with a campus esports arena and about $80,000 in scholarships for students who make the cut for competitive League of Legends and Overwatch teams.

Zhang, the USC coach, has worked with UC Irvine in the past, and has also served as the head coach for the L.A.-based professional squad Team Liquid.

Michael Sherman, head of Riot Games’ college esports in North America, said school teams help teach players the responsibility and social skills needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“The average pro player is 21.5 years old — trending older as opposed to younger,” Sherman said. “That’s because we’re looking for a lot more of the soft skills. The path of a 17-year-old moving out of his parents’ house and into a team environment with no experience completely on their own was not creating the best team players.”

It’s a boom time for college esports, with Sherman saying that Riot’s program has more than doubled year over year since starting in 2014. It follows the success of the esports industry itself, which has seen dedicated arenas opening up across the country, prize money for major competitions in the tens of millions of dollars, and a global revenue estimated to hit $1.4 billion by 2020, according to market research company Newzoo.

With esports currently falling outside of the NCAA’s jurisdiction, student competitors are allowed to take home cash prizes.

But Neal Robison, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy who researches esports, said cash is beside the point for most collegiate esports programs.

“It’s more about recruitment,” Robison said. “Especially for the smaller schools, this is a way of attracting computer science talent to their university, and specifically attracting female STEM students.”

USC’s varsity program is coed, though its inaugural team has only one female player out of 16.

Concepcion, who has become the program’s director for his final year at USC, said it also serves as another connection to the growing industry.

“Varsity esports is a pathway to build a community on campus, but I think most importantly it’s a pathway to working in the space,” Concepcion said.

And on Thursday night, he’ll be cheering for the team along with the rest of the crowd. Despite running the program, he isn’t on the team. He said getting the ESU off the ground is plenty of work on its own.

Plus, he didn’t make the cut. “I am nowhere near the level of our frontline team,” Concepcion said. “They’re on a whole other level.”

Source: LA Times

The Modern Era Of Skiwear: 686’s Hydrastash System Is Taking Over The Slopes This 2018/19 Ski Season

Nov 5, 2018, 02:59pm

686 on the slopes686

Every revolution has its landmarks and every revolution has its heroes, who invariably wind up with a chestful of medals. Today, the rise of connected consumers has resulted in a sharp uptick in brand expectations. The fresh consumer audiences hold strong opinions that are derived from knowledge acquired through online communities.  This naturally imposes new standards and expectations for both brands and retailers alike.  In a word, consumers today wish to be viewed as loyal patrons instead of ordinary supporters.  Society’s acceptance of social media culture has united people around the world in a manner never seen before in history. But back in time, about 25 years ago, for the first time in it’s history, skiwear apparel and it’s influence was starting at the bottom of the fashion ladder and working its way upward rather than the reverse. Don’t get me wrong, much success has been gained from taking the alternate route.  For example, take the great French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was known for having placed a few of his calvary behind the enemy – blowing on their bugles so that the enemy would think they were being charged at from both ends. Now back to skiwear, at this time, skiwear was generating more excitement and attracting more press coverage than ever before. By the 21st century however, the smoke had cleared away and after several decades of frenetic change and technical advancements, skiwear was not only to be worn on the slopes but rather in cosmopolitan settings. And it was out of this frenzy and fury that today”s skiwear evolved full of spirit and imagination. I can almost guarantee you that skiwear will never be dull again. On the contrary, this season brings forth technically spectacular new product offerings with a story to tell. Real clothing today must not only be known for its visual image but rather for its advanced intricacies. I can only emphasize that learning and understanding the multiple attributes played by cloth and fabric is pivotal in how you will move forward with your product in a volatile activewear marketplace. Current selections hold a group of variants whose function is to make certain states of the material signify its suppleness, the relief of its surface and its transparency. The transposition of a garments attributes and the feelings that it invokes is not simply the effect of the overall garment as a casing, but more so, of the body itself. We learn today as consumers that there is now an intimate relationship between the body and the garment as one that positions clothing as a type of body surrogate if I may.
I often reflect back to a time of superhero images and their associations with law, power and even patriotism. Superhero garments and its matchmaking accessories make explicit reference to the symbolism of authority and confidence. With its emphasis on functionality and uberfashion skiwear currently reflects and acts as an insulating coat of armor the is well suited for performance enhancing qualities that are necessary for heroic deeds. Welcome to the era of conscious design. The modern era of outerwear. The impact of technology is also breeding a generation of apparel with remote control systems, signal transmitters and power grids with military techno augmentation developments. In plain English, your skiwear now can stretch as far as you can without injuring yourself and still retain its shape virtually indestructible yet its breathes like the finest cotton you can find around the globe. These new age fabrics offer thermal control through quick absorbing fabric enhancement by pulling perspiration away from the body drying it quickly and keeping the body cool and comfortable.

Cool Down686

 I recently came back to review a skiwear brand that has successfully evolved with time. 686 celebrated their 25th anniversary last winter (winter 17/18 snow season) year, but few realize that the little outerwear brand from the edge of Compton remains one of the oldest, independent, technical outerwear specific brand in the U.S. Founded and still owned by Michael Akira West, who remains at the helm as creative director. The brand has evolved a lot since its early days as a pure snowboard brand. It’s gone on to collaborate with everyone from Toyota’s Scion division to creating the first snow fat tire mountain bike line of apparel with specialized and licensed products with the likes of the iconic Motorhead. Their line has been refined recently into two categories GLCR (appealing to a more technical user, interested in back/side-country and resort riding) and 686 (aimed at the fashion forward park and freeride crowd). Two years ago they broke away from the snowboard apparel moniker and started sponsoring skiers, including Parker White, which is a huge step for any brand that until recently, was known as just being for snowboarders.

686 Motorhead Jacket686


In the Spring of ’17 they launched their first 3-season jacket (a real 3-season jacket that you could be on snow in when conditions are rough… not just one that “kind of works” on snow – https://vimeo.com/209685185) and this year introduced a capsule collection of gear that includes more multi-season apparel, as well as an innovative travel pant for men that has 10 pockets, packs up into itself and has an RFID protection pocket for the ultimate in security. This year their history of innovation continues with the Hydrastash system, incorporated into their men’s and women’s reservoir jackets. These jackets provide seamless access to hydration that skiers and snowboarders can access as they move down the mountain or rest on the lift.  Quite frankly, there’s never been anything like this techno-advanced product to have hit the sloped before.

686 Core Down Insulator686

Core Down Insulator: A very unique insulation piece that works under your shell or on its own. Heavy insulation where you need it, light insulation where you don’t. This hybrid insulator has slick, poly bonded DWR sleeves that slide easily into the sleeves of your technical shell. The vest’s core has 600 Powerfill 100% Responsible grey goose down insulation to keep you warm. The jackets center front zipper is also compatible with 686’s SMARTY 3-in-1 system jackets.

686 Cross Multi Shell Jacket686

Cross Multi Shell Jacket: Most 3-season jackets fall short when real winter weather takes hold. 686 changed the game through the release of a quiver-killer GORE-TEX jacket last year that worked on snow and off. This fall they’ve redesigned it using their infiDRY® 20K Stretch Fabric to bring the price down to a more affordable $200. The Multi is truly a jacket you can ski/snowboard in but is designed and tailored to be appropriate for other adventures the rest of the season as well. One of its highlights is the removable Cross Strap System, which is similar to the straps of a backpack, so you can temporarily remove the jacket, without actually taking it off, to cool down while hiking the mountain or riding in an overheated subway car. Lightweight, durable and packable, the Multi can be your go-to for traversing through traffic or the trees, lift line or airport.

686 Air Tank Reservoir jacket686

686 Reservoir hydration jacket: This is the first and only jacket on the market to have their patent-pending Hydrastash system. It won six major ski/outdoor industry awards when it was previewed at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show and it’ll make its retail debut this winter (late September is when shops will start having it in stock).

686 Motorhead jacket686

Motörhead Collaboration: 686 continues its two-decade history of collaborating with artists and musicians through a new capsule with one of England’s loudest exports, Motörhead. The cornerstone of the collaboration is a mid-weight technical winter jacket, featuring the iconic Snaggletooth logo, complimented by a technical fleece hoody, hat, neck gaiter and premium mittens that round out the harmonious partnership. Of course, the jacket and hoody have easy access audio pockets, because tunes are mandatory when this is a part of your kit.

Gore Tex Stretch Zone Jacket686

GORE-TEX® Stretch Zone jacket: Part of the progressive technical GLCR collection, the Zone combines 4-Way stretch GORE-TEX zones and 686’s Thermagraph body mapping insulation with stretch panels into a jacket that stretches where you need it, but also keeps the price tag affordable. The Thermagraph Insulation System is designed to give you extra warmth in strategic areas where you need it most (vital organs and heat loss centers), incorporating ventilation zones in other areas that reduce bulk. This jacket is the ultimate in lightweight warmth and flexibility, backed by the GORE-TEX technology some don’t want to head to the mountains without.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Michael Akira West 686’s founder about what makes the brand unique, how licenses have helped launch the growth strategy and the recently developed hydration jacket that is will be defiantly taking over the slopes this season!
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to us about your launch 25 years ago. Give specific examples. 

Michael Akira West: I founded the company as a student at USC and combined my passion and innocence with the main goal to innovate apparel from a rider perspective. I worked at the local mountain in Big Bear (outside Los Angeles) as an instructor so I had a direct relationship with the customer and just as importantly, I was the customer. I felt that I knew what others had no idea of. Being on the inside of the growing freestyle snowboard scene, having my finger on the pulse and channeling its raw, youthful energy was an intangible that I believe helped create the authenticity within 686.  My on-mountain experience combined with my college business plan laid the foundation for our launch. The DIY ethos I learned in my youth through skateboarding helped me explore the things I didn’t know and eventually grow the brand. Mix all of that plus the perfect timing of where the industry was about to go, and that made all the difference for success. My own personal growth experiences also directly affected the products and the brand in those early years. For example, early on I still had really no clue what people outside of Southern California needed. During my first trip outside the sunny snowboard parks of Big Bear to Banff Canada, my life, and subsequently the future brand, changed. It was unbelievably cold and I was completely ill prepared. I realized right then that I didn’t know how to layer correctly and there were probably a lot of people out there just like me. This is where I invented the “IT” product that’s still a leading product industry wide –The Smarty Cargo 3-in-1 Pant that has interchangeable pant liners for warmth and après. Twenty-two years later and while materials, design and construction have changed; our current SMARTY Cargo Pant is still very similar in scope to the original.

JD: What has been the brands greatest challenge and how have you dealt with these challenges 

MAW: The greatest challenge is to operate as an independently owned and operated brand with a single seasonal business. It’s been a blessing and a curse as we do it on our own unique terms with the limited by the resources we have. We are one of the last brands to do it for this long and we’ve done it by choice. Each year we try to make the smartest decisions that we can that insulate us from a bad season, bad weather or anything else that may be out of our control. With more seasons, each little thing that goes wrong theoretically would hurt us less, but then we would also be making decisions that may not be as profitable as the ones we can make for our single season. Yes, we take risks, but we also provide stories that are totally unique. We like to build our own “moat around our castle” and try to insulate ourselves and our success from invaders. We do this primarily through unique products. Examples of these would be our product collaborations and licenses we do seasonally that are in high demand, our proprietary technologies and features like our new patent-pending Hydrastash system, or our current trademarked features that set ups apart from competitors. We have found that focusing on leading through products that we believe in and not chasing other brands successes seems to be a great road to seasonal success. Another challenge is our size. From the outside looking in, we get compared to many others who in reality are 10x bigger than us. It’s flattering when people think we are as big as some of our competitors, but we simply are not. We have to be smart and witty to compete. We’ve managed to lead and be relevant because we make our own path and don’t chase what others are doing.

JD: How have your licenses help develop the brand 

MAW: We license some properties, but for the most part the bulk of our collaborations are actual collaborations where we work hand in hand with the collaborator (brand, artist or property) to develop the product. The partnerships that happen organically are always the most successful. These collaborations begin a connection to myself, the brand or the lifestyle that will compliments the product or capsule and end with everyone working towards the same goal of putting out something very unique into the world. We started collaborations back when almost no one was doing it. Around 2000, we launched our first collaboration with artists. Back then no one was giving artists credit, they were most background and we wanted to change that. Shepard Fairey (now famous from the Obey and Obama HOPE visual campaigns) was a mutual friend and we started ACE (Artist Collaboration Effort) with his collaborative jacket. At this time showcasing visual artists in technical apparel was completely new. We then collaborated with eyewear, watches, denim, footwear, music, automobiles, work wear and more. We always wanted to surprise people with our collaborations. We teamed up with brand leaders and icons that were equally passionate to create something entirely different. A few of the ones that come to mind are Levis, New Balance, Dickies and Toyota.

Levis, we created some of the first waterproof and breathable denim for the mountains. Levis sticks out because not only was the product amazing and coveted, but the actual innovation was a small part of what later became the Levis commuter series. For Dickies we created weatherized versions of their work wear for three seasons. This collaboration was super fun and successful and we only ended it for the simple fact of keeping it quarantined to a concrete place and time and limited in nature.

New Balance started out as a collaboration capsule with a shoe, jacket and snowboard boot (something very unique for New Balance) led to us licensing the New Balance name and technologies for 5 seasons of a full snowboard boot collection. The relationship also led us to developing New Balance’s first weatherproof running collections, the Olympic Opening Ceremony jackets for Ireland through New Balance and being a part of founding New Balance’s skateboard shoe line “numeric” in conjunction with Black box and New Balance.

Lastly, Toyota was an interesting one because it really was outside of winter apparel. We first created a concept Scion xB for Scion’s booth at SEMA. Then a few years later we were invited to create a limited edition production xB with Scion. Scion fittingly limited the number of cars available in North America and Japan to 686. It was a dream come true to design the aesthetics of a production car with Scion. These are just a few highlights and we are grateful to every brand, artist, athlete, musician and anyone else who has shared in collaboration with us.

JD: You recently developed a hydration jacket; talk to us about how this caters to consumer’s needs
 in today’s market. 

MAW: We are very excited to introduce our new Hydrastash system this winter. About 4 years ago, I was on a snowboard trip and while on a chairlift we started discussing “what if’s” about outerwear. One of the ideas that came up was, “What if you had water on you and could constantly be drinking?” We all probably realize that we don’t drink enough water while skiing and snowboarding on a resort. Yes, everyone does a water break or a lunch, but with the amount you are exerting, you probably need more water than you are drinking. The only reason you don’t drink more water is because it is not really the standard currently. Water bottle cages on bikes, hydration bladders in backpacks and runner’s hydration vests were also not the norm at one point. Someone had to come along and invent them out of necessity. We feel that is what we are doing for winter sports. The beauty of Hydrastash, and the reason it took so long to develop, is that we had to find a way for you to carry 25 oz. of water with you without negatively impacting your experience on the mountain. The trend in hydration packs is to move the water lower towards your true center of mass. We take this one step further and actually wrap and suspend the fluid weight around your waist, effectively reducing the sensation of weight to almost nothing. The reaction by our team of professional athletes and testers last winter was overwhelming. We expected people to have positive experiences, but to actually have athletes tell us that they felt fresher and stronger for longer than a normal day of riding was amazing to hear. That is the physiological response we hoped would happen, but hearing that from professional athletes really put a smile on our faces.

JD: How has technology been implemented in product development. 

MAW: We utilize technology to our advantage in a few ways. First, we implement the most advanced technology in all of our products. Each season we search out the newest technologies in fabrics, zippers, insulation and waterproofing. In this manner we usually work collaboratively with our suppliers to develop, test and implement the newest technology. Staying on the forefront of technical apparel is very important for us. Take our newest “Everywhere Pant” for example. The 4-way stretch poly fabric we use is one of the longest lead-time and developing fabrics we ever have. Most consumers will take the insane amount of stretch for granted, but they will never realize the hours that went into making sure this pant not only had the stretch, but the rebound and durability not often associated with the amount of stretch we put into the fabric. The result is a long lasting pant that retains it shape even though it has a massive amount of stretch and comfort. We expect consumers not to notice most of the technology we employ. That’s the goal – to seamlessly improve the user’s experience. We also use technology during the development cycle of all of our proprietary products and features. On any given day our 3D printer will be printing a prototype of some small part that may go into our Tool belts, Hydrastash or other products. We also use technology to visualize our 2D drawings for apparel into 3D as early in the process as possible. Apparel is traditionally a 2D design world, but we are working as fast as possible to visualize our designs in 3D to cut down on development and sample time and costs. We also are employing tech to help speed up our workflows in color merchandising and with our sales force. Becoming faster and more accurate in all aspects of our business is very important for a brand of our size.

JD: What makes 686 unique. What is your comparative advantage

 MAW: For years, I have believed our advantage has been a combination of the people we hire, the products we create and the risks we are (and aren’t) willing to take. The people are paramount. Since day one, we have been our own customers. We use the products, we participate in the lifestyles and we take pride in our daily work. We constantly strive to stay connected to our core customer through interaction, both in person or online and their is nothing like a trip to the mountains with co-workers to recharge the mind and body. Most of our true innovative ideas have come during trips together. We think of ourselves as an innovation company, not just another apparel company and we continue to push boundaries and create innovations – big or small that we can add to our stable of products. I am a true tinkerer and not a day goes by that I’m not putting some challenge or idea out to our design crew. We also have the advantage of being a smaller, independent company and can pivot much faster than big companies. Over the years, being able to quickly shift our path, products and business has definitely been an advantage.

Joseph DeAcetis: What is the greatest achievement at 686 

MAW: Our greatest achievement isn’t our products, but the community of incredible people, riders and retailers we have created over the last 26 years. To us, the people and the experiences far outweigh the innovations and products. We are most proud of lasting 25 years independently in a tough seasonal business and feeling like we are setup for 25 more productive years. There are a few products that come to mind as great achievements, but they pale in comparison to the community and culture built and all the people who have been a part of our little family over the past 26 years.

JD: What are your day-to-day job duties

MAWOver the last year I have actually shifted my day job duties quite a bit. Up until last year, I used to really be heavily involved in everything. My title was CEO and President, but in addition to that I was creative directing the brand and product, leading all innovation and product design and development and trying to aid in marketing and sales. Last year I made the decision that business could be more positively affected and I could be a stronger part of the brand, and ultimately happier, by focusing where I felt most effective and into the tasks that gave me the most joy – innovation, creative direction and design. I promoted our CFO to president and he has taken a lot of the business analysis and strategy work off my plate. I have always heavily trusted my marketing and sales teams, but now having a business team I trust has freed up a lot of my time to be creative and ultimately drive the brand forward through product. I still am involved in every department at a high level in some form of another to ensure that every department is cohesive with the brand vision and engage with every person in the building daily – keeping them on their toes and driving them forward. My motto is “today, not tomorrow” because tomorrow is never guaranteed and I continue to push everyone with the motivation like its our first year in business.

JD: If you had the choice of one famous person wearing 686, who would that be and why. 

 MAW:  Warren Buffett – He would bring some sort of Wisdom to our story and make it last a lifetime, the Warren Buffett way.

JD: Where do you see the brand in the next 5 years?

 MAW: We continue to keep our eyes on the horizon and we see big things. Of course I can’t give everything away but I see Hydrastash being adopted by more people and growing into something much larger and with a wider breadth than most people may see right now. We are starting to tackle other seasons with new innovative product and a fresh perspective and I hope in 5 years to have a much stronger year-round offering than we currently have. In five years we will be much closer to the end user in terms of physical contact, speed to market and customization. Most importantly I see an even happier and healthier internal team that continues to get outside, explore the mountains, valleys and oceans that we have been gifted and a professional team of athletes and advocates that continue to push the boundaries of what can be done on snowboards, skis and in nature in general while taking advantage of our apparel and innovations.

I am the former Creative Style Director for Forbes Media. My interest lies in the ever-evolving industry of fashion and lifestyle and how as both a consumer and authority I perceive these changes. The focus being, power dressing to compliment one’s corporate ascension.

Joseph DeAcetis

Source: Forbes