By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It’s been more than three years since we met student entrepreneur Jake Rheude, and it is clear that the soon-to-graduate MBA student at the University of Tennessee is as focused as ever on the start-up environment.
Today, he and two classmates – Dustin Giltnane and John Born – are about a year into a company named Guru Skins. The new venture placed third in an entrepreneurial pitch competition that was part of the 2015 “SEC Symposium.”
For Rheude, Guru Skins represents the continuation of a lifetime passion.
“I’ve been skiing since I could walk and boarding since I was a teenager,” Rheude says. Both interests are at the heart of Guru Skins.
The idea for the company came from the Co-founder’s experience with skis and snowboards that are beaten-up over several seasons of normal use. They are still functional, but not particularly attractive.
“Do you make a $600 to $700 investment buying a new board just for an aesthetic upgrade,” Rheude asks? The answer is not necessarily, thanks to Guru Skins and its creative approach that combines an innovative design concept with a lean operation.
Rather than replacing a snowboard, wakeboard, or set of skis all together, Guru Skins sells high quality vinyl wraps that restyle boarding equipment with custom designs, while also protecting these expensive pieces of equipment from the elements.
“The coolest thing about our company is the crowdsourcing business model,” he says. It is based on a cultural reality that was a new concept for us.
“There’s a special connection between artistic expression and board sports that’s hard to describe,” Rheude explains. “Both cultures are built around creative, expressive individuals. Guru Skins exists in order to let those expressive qualities flourish, and let amazing artwork come to life.”
Here’s how it works. Artists download a template from the Guru Skins website, create their own design, and submit their design for approval. Guru Skins serves as the platform to sell these designs as high quality vinyl wraps for various board types. There are nine pages of optional designs from which customers can select the one that best meets their needs. Once the selection is made, the order goes to Guru Skins’ contractor that prints the design on a vinyl wrap that is shipped to the customer.
The customers get to update their skis or boards with a much less expensive option in a customized way. There’s even a benefit for the design artists.
“We share 20 percent of the sale’s profit with the artists,” Rheude says.
The most popular designer thus far is a New Hampshire resident named Taylor Rose.
Up to now, the student-led start-up has relied on its website for sales, but Rheude says the team is beginning to build a Guru grassroots team to help with marketing. As you might expect, the initial focus is on individuals in snow regions of the west, but that geographic focus will broaden as wake boarding and water skiing seasons emerge.
“We’re doing everything we can to generate sales, and get this concept out into the market,” he says, adding, “We’re not focused on making money right now.”
The team won $4,000 in the recent “SEC Symposium” event.
“It was the highest level of competition I’ve ever seen.” Rheude said. That statement comes from an individual who has participated in a number of pitch competitions while a student at UT.
Guru Skins is the third start-up of which Rheude has been a part since arriving in Knoxville. The first was SummerSett Foods, a company the Cincinnati native started with Cedric Brown. We profiled the enterprise focused on pre-packaged chilidips, a Cincinnati delicacy, is this October 2012 post.
Once he graduates in December, Rheude plans to remain in the region. That’s good news for the entrepreneurial community.