Founder cites innovation, strategic planning and adaptability for success
This series of articles about clients and friends focuses on companies that have grown during the downturn with new business models, flexible strategies, and superior execution. This article was originally published in Colorado Biz magazine on April 26, 2011.
Curt Richardson, CEO and founder of OtterBox, recently spent time with me, sharing some of the challenges and keys to OtterBox's explosive growth. The OtterBox tagline, "We've got technology covered," is descriptive of the protective cases the company designs and sells for smartphones and other technology devices.
How do you compete with all of the other cases and covers on the market?
Our biggest competitor is ourselves. We are a premium brand and have a superior product. We need to stay ahead of the market, to continue to "out-innovate" both in products and business processes, systems, and brand. Sensing and adjusting to the market is very important. What does the customer "feel" with your product? We are constantly looking to improve. We re-examine our strategic plans and action initiatives every 6- 8 weeks, sensing what is happening in the market and making any necessary adjustments.
Why do you revisit strategic plans every 6-8 weeks?
We have grown 1600 percent over the past 3 years. We operate on what we call "Otter-time." Change that may occur over a year or more in another environment may happen at OtterBox in a month. Plans and initiatives need to adapt to the rapid growth and the changing market. We utilize a strategic planning process that focuses everyone in the company on productivity, competitiveness, and adaptation. Every division in our company has a "plan on a page" that contains their initiatives. Every 6-8 weeks we re-evaluate and make adjustments based on the progress and any market changes.
With such significant market growth, is it difficult to keep the organization focused?
We have said, ‘If it doesn't fit in your pocket, we do not do it,' meaning that we are focused on smartphones and other pocket-sized technology." That may now expand a little bit with the growth of the iPad, but we intend to remain very focused.
Has the growth path always been smooth?
There is always a bottleneck or constraint. The constraint seems to rotate through three departments. Last year, we focused on improving the supply chain (getting the right mix of products, to the right customer, at the right time) and staying ahead with systems. This year we are working on upgrading our sales systems, and processes. Then, we will move the focus on to engineering design and product development.
You have a unique culture. How do you maintain the culture and still build the team required to grow?
We may change the way we do things, but our core values do not change: Treat each other the way you want to be treated; being totally open and honest. Things like gossip are not tolerated. We don't throw people under the bus. We use open book management. We have profit-sharing. We focus on high performance, being adaptable and accountable, and systemic in our thinking.
Is it difficult finding good people?
Yes, finding people who fit the culture is a challenge. We look to hire people who have ‘been there and done that.' One of our best sources is our employees. Each good hire typically knows three other good people. Again, it all backs up to the strategic plan which dictates the organization, which then dictates the specifics for the job and the person.
How do global factors influence your growth?
We are truly a global company. This impacts many things: product design needs to be country-specific, in tune with needs of the region; distribution needs to be global; we are moving manufacturing closer to the end-customer. We have offices now in Cork, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen.
You have grown to one of Colorado's largest private companies. What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?
Continued innovation: sense what the customer wants and exceed their expectations. Innovation needs to be in systems and business processes in addition to products. Speed and adaptability will be critical. We need to continue to focus on what we are good at - product development and marketing. This will be facilitated by the way we develop and execute our strategic plan. Last year we managed for growth. This year we will manage more for profitability. The market itself is projected to more than double by itself this year, so we expect to double our size again this year. Revenue size is not important in and of itself. It is more a measurement of our brand, a high-end brand. We are building a long-term company with a strong legacy.