Start Up Blog

The original pivot – Oakley

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 17, 2012

There’s a lot of talk in startup circles about finding business models and the idea of making a ‘pivot’ to an alternative idea, model or technology. The pivot being taking part of what’s working and moving more pointedly in that direction. In the old school pre-tech startup days we used to call it a related diversification or a simple direction change. In many ways it’s far easier to do when we are in the information sector as we are only moving ones and zeros as opposed to factories, retail outlets and customer segments.

Recently I’ve embarked on a new project (a passion play with no intended financial outcome). The project is to build the BMX bike I wished I had when I was a kid. I did have one, but not the mac daddy version… So now that I can afford it, I’m going to find all the parts I need and build it piece by piece. My research on the topic currently lives here.

One of the parts I need want is a pair of Oakley 3 handle bar grips (seen below) Which as far as I can tell have been out of production for 20+ years.

It sent me on a bit of a search around the web, which gave me some nice insights into Oakley Inc - the company. They are a classic example of how to pivot. They seamlessly moved into new product arenas which spoke to the same type of consumer, using their core competency. While you probably know that they went onto make sport equipment including sunglasses, sports visors, and ski goggles , watches, clothing, shoes and even prescription eye wear…. they started with a mad scientist in his garage (James Jannard) trying to invent a better rubber / plastic to make better motorcycle and BMX grips with. He ended up developing a material known as ‘Unobtanium‘. Their first ever grip was made of it… as are the Oakley 3′s above. It is still used today in many of their products and eye wear.

The really cool part is that James could see 3 important things:

  1. How else the material could be used in his categories of interest (Motorcross & BMX)
  2. Which other sports (many had consumer cross over) had a cultural & product usage fit for brand extension (Skiing, cycling surfing)
  3. How to cross fertilise design ethic and brand cache by focusing on multiple niche markets.

It really is a modern example of entering passion categories, entrepreneurial endeavor, elbow grease and marketing smarts that resulted in a 40 years of innovation. I happened upon this video that explains a little more on the history of Oakley (and the pivots it took) which I think is worth a few minutes of your time.

Thanks for the lessons Jim!

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One Response

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  1. Oakley said, on July 26, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    It is unbelievable that James managed to create such a big company by starting so small. Kudos to both him and later on entire Oakley team.


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