Founder and CEO of Kulkea, Westwood, Mass.
What was your inspiration for founding your business?
I’m an avid alpine skier, but one weekend skiing I decided that I’d had enough with trying to keep track of my gear and schlepping my way from the parking lot to the lodge. I had a ski bag and a boot bag, but they weren’t very good at helping me keep organized and carry all the stuff. I figured there had to be a better way, especially for people with young children like myself. So I checked out the local shops, but when I looked beyond the shapes, colors and graphics I realized the products functionally weren’t any better than what I was already using. So, I decided to see if I could create my own ski and boot bags.
How do you describe your products to people who are not familiar with them?
We tell them our products are patent-pending solutions like nothing they’ve seen before. They may look like ski boot bags they think they’ve seen beforehand, but they’re not. We explain that our backpacks are genuinely innovative, high-quality solutions designed to keep recreational alpine skiers organized and take the schlep out of skiing. We explain how our Boot Trekker pack is a total organizer with an incredible number of unique features, and how our Ski Trekker pack makes going from parking lot to lodge on those 5-15 minute treks or with children as quick and easy as possible.
What’s the significance of the company name?
Our company, like our product development, is a collaboration between a lot of different people. To come up with the name, we worked with my cousins in Finland and Denmark. The word Kulkea (pronounced “cool-kee-ah”) in Finnish means “to go.” It’s the perfect name for us, because we create the products that keep skiers going.
Describe some of your top products:
Right now we have two top products.
Our first, the Boot Trekker (MSRP $129), is an organizer, ski boot bag. This pack is loaded with so many innovative functions and features that we’ve been repeatedly told it’s like a “smartphone” of ski boot bags. The concept of this pack is to keep skiers organized at all stages of the ski experience, and to make getting to, on and off the slopes as hassle-free as possible. That’s why we’ve designed the bag into several distinct compartments and included features like our quick shoulder strap Pack Release, dedicated glove pockets, a content revealing main front-facing pocket, an external Helmet Sling and a soft material internal Goggle Pouch. With the Boot Trekker getting away for the weekend and time on the mountain is so much easier.
The next product, the Ski Trekker (MSRP $179), is our most recognized product. The Ski Trekker is a ski boot bag with all of the benefits of the Boot Trekker, but it adds a number of other features, such as waist belt pockets and the ability to carry skis. There is no other pack on the market like it. It’s not a backcountry technical pack, although we’ve tested it at Tuckerman Ravine to rave review. Instead, it’s a fantastic ski boot bag with an internal vertical ski carrying capability designed to answer the need of recreational skiers for those 5-15 minute walks to the lodge or when dad needs to help the children out with their gear. It’s really a unique solution directed right at these scenarios, which is why we went through three mock-ups and four prototypes to ensure skis could be loaded as quickly and easily as possible. The result is loading skis can be accomplished in as quickly as 10-15 seconds. It’s pretty amazing to see the stares we receive and the comments we get from onlookers in parking lots when we load the skis and trek up to the lodge.
Both of our products are geared and marketed toward recreational alpine skiers. The Boot Trekker is marketed toward men and women. The Ski Trekker we see as a product generally for men and dads because it carries a heavier load.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Keep moving and always look for solutions.
What were you doing before you founded the company?
I was senior corporate counsel for a telecommunications company.
What were some of the challenges you faced starting the company and how did you overcome them? Product development was challenging at times. When you’re trying to create solutions rather than just push product it takes a lot more to perfect things and get to market. Basically, that meant dealing with more time, trials, resources and changes than we had hoped for. We overcame the development challenges by staying open minded, persistence and seeking solutions.
For example, at one point we were at a development standstill. Although we have an extremely talented team we were stuck. I felt like we were going in circles trying to make something work that would never get us where we needed to be. So, I brought in an outside engineering group for troubleshooting. The value that came from involving the engineers was that our team came to the realization that it needed to find a completely new solution to the main issue. As soon as we accepted this we quickly found the correct solution.
What are some of your goals for the future?
Our overriding goal is to keep skiers going. By this we mean our products keep skiers actually moving by removing the needless hassles and hurdles that slow them down or stop them altogether. I’m 47 now, and I’ve heard about way too many people giving-up on this terrific sport because of the needless hassles. Our goal at Kulkea is to keep skiers going!
A more specific goal is to bring our product roadmap to life. We’re already working on that, and we’re excited to move down the path to production.
Another goal is getting our brand name out in the market. We have the products, the resources and the vision, and now it’s a matter of getting the word out.
-- Compiled by Ana Trujillo