Axial's Growth 100 : Caro Krissman

Caro Krissman

CEO, Outdoor Tech

Tech for a Trek

Outdoor Tech® was not the first company Caro Krissman founded, but it was the one he “always dreamed of.”

Caro envisioned a company that integrated the drive to be outside with the need to be connected through technology, and his personal interests fed this ambition. “I wanted to create products that I wanted to use myself,” Caro says. “I wanted to grow, and I wanted to create a powerful consumer brand in an area I was passionate about.”

Caro founded Outdoor Tech® in Los Angeles, California in 2009, while he was the CEO of another company he founded, Source Abroad – by Prime. He left Source Abroad in 2012 to fully devote his efforts to Outdoor Tech®.

Outdoor Tech® is a consumer electronics brand, aimed at the outdoorsman, skier, and adventure traveler. Products are ruggedly styled and include wireless audio, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, and portable power for USB devices.

The company makes apparel, accessories and replaceable parts as well.

High Speed Growth

Caro founded Outdoor Tech® in 2009 with just one employee. Fast-forward six years and the business will close out 2015 with roughly $12m in revenue and 24 employees. It projects $18m in revenue for 2016, and plans on keeping its team as is for now.

In 2014 the company grew more than 150%, and since 2011, Outdoor Tech® has grown by more than 1,800%. While the company saw a bit of a slow-down from previous years’ growth, it was still up over 50% in 2015.

The growth has earned Outdoor Tech® a spot on the 2015 Inc. 500 List of Fastest Growing Companies. The company predicts at least another 50% of growth in 2016 and the same in 2017.

Rosenthal & Rosenthal currently provides Outdoor Tech with asset based lending services. “We have tripled our line of working capital with them,” says Caro.

Outdoor Tech® sells products directly to the consumer and also via retailers across the United States and Canada. The company will experience growth through expansion of existing accounts and new retailers may come on board. REI Store and Brookstone are two of the company’s strongest dealers.

“We also have very aggressive new product growth strategy,” Caro says. “We will continue to pursue top-notch products and emphasize authenticity in our market branding and messaging.”

Innovative Product Development

The company’s highly innovative mindset has generated success and recognition. Inc. featured Outdoor Tech® in The Coolest Products of the 2014 Inc. 500 list.

When he created the brand, Caro planned to develop outdoor electronics for the younger, modern consumer. The products would “look good, be easy to use, not be super-high in price point, but maintain ultra-high quality.”

The company is a competitor and leader in a number of different spaces including cycling, camping, beaching, surfing, skating, running, skiing and snowboarding.

“We knew we wanted to make electronics for the snow industry, but what it morphed into wasn’t something we imagined at the time,” Caro says, referring to his favorite Outdoor Tech® product, the patented CHIPS Universal Wireless Audio system. “They make a day on the mountain so much better.”

CHIPS are “Bluetooth wireless audio drop-ins for ski and snowboard helmets.” Users can “seamlessly” integrate them into any helmet that has an audio liner and listen to music and answer calls.

Another patented Bluetooth product offered by Outdoor Tech® is the Turtle Shell. It is a wireless, shock-resistant and waterproof speaker with trademark rugged design.

Outdoor Tech’s Kodiac, a waterproof portable power bank, has become a strong player in the adventure travel market. “We have a really strong, fast-growing line of portable power,” Caro says. “We took a product that was cutting-edge in consumer electronics and made it ruggedized and waterproof.”

The company has also developed products specifically tailored to the cycling market. The Buckshot, a Bluetooth speaker with a bike mount feature, has been successful in the space, both in urban and mountain communities. Outdoor Tech® also created the Turtle Claw so customers can mount their Turtle Shell speakers to their bicycles.

In the running channel, Caro says the company has a wireless ear bud that is “doing really well.”

Outdoor Tech® is in the midst of a few more highly innovative projects, including an app that will allow for walkie talkie communication during outdoor activity.

Creating The Brand

Caro wanted to create a brand he loved. “It is all about the brand for us,” he says. “The first thing I think when I come in in the morning is, ‘what is the right thing for the brand?’”

Outdoor Tech® is geared toward a consumer who loves the outdoors but needs to remain connected. Portable power devices allow customers to go hiking and have the ability to charge their Smartphones. CHIPS permit users to listen to their favorite music and answer phone calls via Bluetooth while skiing and snowboarding.

The integration of the outdoors and technology is right there in the company name and it runs through the brand.

He describes it as “stylized, seasoned, clever and honest. We try to convey that in our imagery, video, copy and product.” Outdoor Tech® also aims for its products to be part of the customer’s style and fashion statement.

“Our logo is something that’s been sticky and a cornerstone to the brand,” Caro says. It is called a Yowie, which he describes as “the Australian Big Foot.” The image expresses the brand’s underlying premise of being drawn to the outdoors.

A Personal Connection

As the CEO of Outdoor Tech®, Caro believes his most valuable quality is his vision. His foresight into the marketplace and strong connection to the customer enable him to steer the direction of the brand.

Caro is native to urban Los Angeles, but always loved the great outdoors. “I was a very passionate skier,” Caro says. “I’ve skied my whole life.” He notes that he spends up to 40 days per year on the slopes. This is pretty rare for living in Los Angeles, but he makes the trips (frequently to Mammoth Mountain) to do what he loves.

Caro enjoys many other outdoor activities including hiking and being outside with his dog, as well. While growing up in California, he spent a significant amount time visiting Ketchum, Idaho, where he did things like snowshoeing and fly-fishing.

“I was also a total gadget nerd,” says Caro. “I wanted to reconcile those things and build a really cool product.”