By Virginie Van Zandt
One of the surprises of the new post-pandemic economy is that 25-year-old Portuguese skateboard CEOs have things to teach executives who are more than twice their age.
Pedro Andrade, CEO of Hunter Boards, a Lisbon-based company that makes battery-powered electric skateboards, isn’t your typical corporate ladder climber. He went to ISCTE Business School, where he learned how to sell cool things to hip people. (The Lisbon school is well known in Europe for teaching marketing.) Next, he attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, where he learned how to make products that are both beautiful and functional. (Not a lot of budding business executives out there.) Finally, he’s brought it all together in a company that designs, manufactures, and sells high-end skateboards—growing rapidly while disrupting an established market.
By any measure, he and Hunter Boards succeed. Andrade and the company’s chief product officer, Miguel Morgado, made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2021. The company has increased production by 700% in less than two years – an increase typically seen among giants of the software, and not at the manufacturers of small batches.
Lessons from Andrade’s experiences can be applied to any company launching a new product in a market dominated by big players or any company trying to preserve market share with younger consumers.
Product quality matters. Hunter Boards started as an idea in 2017, when Morgado, who studied mechanical engineering, was building an electric motorcycle. He knew the market for full-size electric vehicles was teeming with competitors with billion-dollar bank accounts. I can’t compete with that. But why not an electric skateboard? Inspired by the idea, Andrade and Morgado worked nights and weekends, sweating over hot metal prototypes. They knew that to break into this crowded market, they needed something that was not 5 or 10% better, but one standard deviation better. They kept testing and testing.
Skateboards carry the rider without foot force; the small electric motor powers the wheels like an electric motorcycle – with a top speed of 34 miles per hour.
Andrade secured $1.3 million in funding in early 2022. Soon his company was making skateboards priced as high as $1,999, grossing some $299,000 over the past two years.
The Hunter board justifies its high price point by highlighting its premium parts: space-grade aluminum, a 24-mile rechargeable battery, and a custom suspension system based on the buyer’s weight before shipping.
Andrade and Morgado relentlessly improved the product. “It’s normal to start selling before the product is perfect,” Andrade said. “We continued to receive feedback and continued to improve the product.”
Quality control – the key to customer loyalty – should be a reality, not a slogan. All materials are produced in-house in a warehouse in Lisbon, rather than being flown in from around the world, saving time and transportation costs. “While the rest of the industry buys parts from Chinese factories and they just put them together, we are developing the board ourselves,” Andrade said. “It’s something that completely sets us apart from the rest of the industry.”
The target market is bigger than you think. Hunter Boards is positioning itself to be a leader in the “micro mobility” industry that is beginning to explode. The team isn’t just targeting skateboarders, but also snowboarders and surfers — expanding their target market, Andrade said, from 20 million to around 200 million.
“Because it’s such a new industry, the micro-mobility industry, you can really innovate. Smartphones ten years ago were all so different. Now the smartphone industry has already matured,” Morgado said. “But there’s no perfect skateboard right now. We’re going to find out what makes the perfect skateboard.
Know more about your customers than anyone in the universe, Andrade said. No government can give you a monopoly on skateboarding, but your customers can give you a monopoly on their attention.
It’s good to copy what works. The firm was directly inspired by the leader of smartphones, Apple. The Hunter Boards website bears a strong resemblance to Apple.com. This, Andrade admits, was done on purpose.
Apple.com’s displays of its iPhones and other products offer a wealth of information for web designers to study carefully. One lesson that Hunter Boards adapted was close-up photos of differentiated product details.
Monitor this supply chain. Morgado, the company’s product manager who often builds skateboards himself to understand the assembly process, learned the importance of in-house production when faced with an induced joystick shortage. through the supply chain. (The Hunter board has a joystick-guided remote control feature.) With a 5-month wait time for key parts, Morgado began experimenting with creating its own joystick.
“We are keeping production limited,” Morgado said. “So that we can resolve any product issues that arise.”
Boards are always made to order, giving the premium product a sense of exclusivity and ensuring that each board is crafted with precise care.
By using small batches and building and designing in-house, Hunter Boards has reduced its supply chain risk.
Live in your target market. Once the founders realized that Americans were buying 80% of the company’s first batch, they knew they had to get closer to their main customers – from the skateboarding mecca of the world, Los Angeles. So Andrade traded one coastline for another.
The high concentration of board-hoarders in Southern California, including those of the snow and surf variety, increased brand recognition for the skateboarding boot. Customers quickly turned into ambassadors – the brand offers a matchmaking service for people who want to test the board, matching potential customers with nearby board owners. Customers quickly formed a social network that prosthetized themselves for the brand.
“We entered the market with such a different product. And we had opinions ranging from this scam to this is amazing,” Morgado said. “Now we don’t have to defend ourselves because our customers are already doing it for us.”