How to Build an Empire While Surfing: UGG Founder’s Surprising Insight

I recently had the honor of interviewing UGG Founder, Brian Smith, on my podcast and a couple things struck me immediately. First off, he’s a laid back, wide grinning, and truly personable individual… and why wouldn’t he be? He did found and build a billion boot company. However, something tells me he would be just as happy and laid back if he were still in his original profession of accounting.

Brian is the type of person that sees opportunities, not challenges. When he talks about the struggling years of UGG, when he was selling them out of the back of van between wave sets along California’s coast, you can still hear the passion in his voice 40 years later.

Like many businesses he saw a gap in the marketplace and set about filling it. As it turned out sheepskin boots were very popular in Australia, but practically unknown in the US. He knew he needed to bring them to the American marketplace, but how? He ended up targeting the people he knew best, the surf community. Brian spoke openly about the first few years mentioning that the sales were small, but that’s what was needed. As he stated, the first year was $5000, then $12,000 the second year, $15k the third, $20k the fourth year, and then BAM! $280k. From there things grew quite steadily and rapidly. As we talked about those early days I inquired about frustration and how to grow a businesses more quickly. He responded with an analogy that was both hilarious and insightful. He said “the fastest way for a tadpole to become a frog is to live everyday happy as a tadpole!” He went on “Everyone wants to build something quickly, but that’s not a reality. Every business need those early stages to gestate and grow. Many people long to grow their business, yet become frustrated when it doesn’t grow as fast as they desire. This is where people need to be taking the time to enjoy the early phases of the business. The fastest way to grow your organization is to enjoy the stage you are at now.”

What Brian was telling me is that most businesses aren’t ready to become a frog yet. Businesses that grow too quickly often topple because of a lack of processes in place. Being content in the phase you are in, allows for planning and organic growth. We need time to get used to the legs as they start to come in. His main message was one of contentment.

The best way to get to where you want to go is to enjoy where you are right now. This seems like a simple little piece of advice that my grandmother would have told me, only difference is that it came from the man that built a billion dollar shoe empire. I think contentment is something everyone probably struggles with from one time or another. We all want our businesses, careers, or even relationships to progress faster than they are, but maybe we should take Brian’s advice and be happy as a tadpole.

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