Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with David Dennis, Co-Founder of Ventana Surfboards & Supplies, located in Santa Cruz, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Ventana Surfboards & Supplies has the highest bar for artisanship and environmental responsibility. We create hollow-framed, reclaimed wood surfboards, bodysurfing hand planes, eco-surf apparel, and sustainable surf supplies that adventurers love. The Ventana team lives and works in Santa Cruz, California, where we test our products on some of the most challenging waves on the planet. Ventana donates at least 5% of its profits to ocean conservation.
Our surfboards are built for waves and walls and are on display in hundreds of beautiful homes and business spaces. They are one-of-a-kind, surfable art pieces that are the most sustainably built on the planet.
Tell us about yourself
I lead sales, marketing, and business development for Ventana. I was raised in Northern California and live with my wife by the beach on the Westside of Santa Cruz. I learned to surf late in life together with my daughter and son, and it quickly became a passion for all of us. My love for surfing, travel, photography, and family keeps me grounded and passionate about the world.
My love for the ocean deepened at the age of sixteen when my family and I became certified SCUBA divers. I was an instructor by age 19 and saved a two-year stint in Madrid. I have always lived near salt water. I began surfing later in life, and it quickly developed into a daily love affair. I have traveled to more than forty countries. I am passionate about travel photography and shooting street portraits in developing countries. For over 20 years, I have also worked in program and product management leadership roles at Microsoft.
I also put on photo exhibits to support causes focused on improving education, ending homelessness, and the conservation of our oceans. Through a photo portrait project to support the Surfrider Foundation, I met Martijn Stiphout, the co-founder of Ventana. WE became friends and realized that we shared a vision to create a surf company focused on artisanship, responsibility, and adventure. We hone our business and product plans in the surf lineup and are working to ensure Ventana is the most loved and environmentally responsible surf company on the planet.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I'm most proud of the bar we've held for environmental responsibility over the last 8+ years of our company's existence. We use reclaimed and salvaged wood in all of our surfboards and other woodworking projects and products. And the wood we use has incredible provenance: https://ventanasurfboards.com/partners. We were the first company in the world to have all of our surfboards Gold Certified by SustainableSurf.org, and our apparel and supplies lines are among the most sustainable anywhere.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The hardest thing for me has been finding the time to grow the business. I still have a full-time job at Microsoft, and I love it. But finding the time to take Ventana to the next level and beyond has been challenging.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Start with brand values. Everything else should follow from there. Everything you do should stay true to those values. Our Ventana brand values are artisanship, responsibility, and adventure: https://ventanasurfboards.com/brandvalues. Staying true to those values has driven our success.
- Start small with everything you do, and test, test, test. The Lean Startup Model is ideal for any business. Never assume your new marketing program, product line, sales approach, etc., is going to work at first. Start small and use success data to determine if you should go bigger. You'll save a lot of money that way.
- Hire and work with people and partners that round out your skill gaps. Working with clones of yourself is a recipe for failure. Everyone has weaknesses. Be honest with yourself about what those are, and bring on people whose strengths are your weaknesses.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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