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Segment 1: Introduction To Tower Paddle Boards And Founder Stephan Aarstol

Below is an excerpt from our 2019 interview with Stephan Aarstol, the Founder & CEO of Tower Paddle Boards, who sat down to chat with Brad Kauffman, Editor-In-Chief of NoMiddleman.com. If you’d like to read or listen to the full interview, visit the Tower Paddle Boards blog post.


Brad: I’m here with Stephan Aarstol of Tower Paddle Boards in San Diego. Stephan how are you today?

Stephan: Good! Thanks for having me on.

Brad: Excited to have you here! And I can’t wait to dive into the past, present, and future of the Tower brands. Let’s go ahead and hop in! Explain to us how you began, how you found the paddle board industry when you started, and what’s changed since then.

Stephan: Sure. OK. So I started Tower Paddle Boards in 2010 and I started my first direct to consumer business in 2003. I started a company called BuyPokerChips.com … selling poker chips. My first experiment in e-commerce. And after about a year it got up to where it was making more money than I was making in my day job, so I quit my day job and went full time as an entrepreneur.

I think 2004 was when I moved into that, and I did that company for three or four years. It sort of blew up like a rocket ship and then leveled off, and then started to decline every year. I was looking for other businesses to start and experimented with a bunch of different businesses. And in early 2010, I was about six months into doing a portal for the green energy industry … when a buddy of mine came down and took me out paddle boarding. I’d never done it before and we went to the water in the waves in La Jolla. It was like six or seven in the morning and he took took me out.

I had surfed a little bit but wasn’t a very good surfer. On these paddle boards it was just super easy, because it’s a huge board and you’re standing with a paddle so you can like get going faster to catch waves. So on my first day, I was catching waves left and right, and there was like a 55-year-old dude out there next to me that was catching waves. He was catching them all. I mean it was amazing. He wasn’t in shape. And so I asked him, I said, “Wow you’re pretty good! How long you been doing this?” And he said it was only hi third day or something like that. I was like, holy cow, that’s amazing! And I could do it pretty easily.

So after that day, I decided I was going to buy a paddle board because it was a lot of fun. I had a son at the time and I lived right on the bay. So I figured I could use it in the flat water just for exercise, throw my son on the front… sort of a father/son thing to do together and then take it out in the ocean and surf as well.

And when I purchased my first paddle board, well first, it was really expensive to get paddle boards. I mean these things were like $1,500 dollars, and I was like, that’s ridiculous! It’s just a large surfboard. Why are they so expensive?

But then when I got it, after a couple of days on the water my five-year-old son was able to do it by himself. So I was like holy cow. Like a five year old can use this thing? And the 55-year-old out-of-shape guy can ride this in the waves. This product has really broad appeal.

My entrepreneurial mind kicked in and I’m thinking geez, maybe I should go to the paddle board business and sell these. Maybe I can sell them for a lot cheaper. Let’s go find out what these things actually cost to make.

And if I sold them direct to consumer, like I did the poker chips, could I offer a better value proposition to consumers? And would there be an opportunity to do that?

When I looked at the market, it was staggering, the growth… the stand up paddle boarding industry was literally growing like 100 percent a year. For the last five years it was widely considered the fastest-growing water sport in the world. And nobody at the time was doing it well online.

I thought wow, this is actually a lot like my poker chip business. I was struggling to start this green energy business portal, which I hadn’t really done before, and needed a raise a couple of million dollars or something. But in paddle boards, I was like, man, I can see the future in this business, because it’s really an e-commerce company, almost exactly like my poker chip company.

So I dropped the green energy business and went full on into the paddle boards. I took about 30 percent of my inventory in the poker chip company and I discontinued my top-selling line so I could take that money and buy paddle boards.

So I had this declining business that I didn’t know when it was going to completely die. I sort of killed it even more, and used the money to get into the paddle board business, which I thought would take off. That was that was the hope.

I think in 2010 my income was nine thousand dollars for the year. I was divorced, I was supporting an ex-wife, paying alimony and child support and all this stuff. And I was even job hunting at the same time I was starting Tower Paddle Boards. Of course nobody would hire me because I’m an entrepreneur. They’re like well you’ve got three running three businesses… why would you work for me?

Fortunately the paddle boards started to take off just as the poker chips were dying. And then a year later we were on Shark Tank. We got a little investment from Mark Cuban, and things really took off.

Next: The Shark Tank Effect At Tower Paddle Boards

When Shark Tank came calling, Aarstol answered, and Tower Paddle Boards took off like a rocket ship. But it almost didn’t happen—Aarstol froze on stage, delivering what he calls “the worst pitch in Shark Tank history.” Learn how he crashed, recovered, and landed a deal with Mark Cuban. Read more >>


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Full Interview: Tower Paddle Boards

If you’d like to skip ahead or go back for previous content, no problem! See below for links and summaries for every segment of our amazing interview with Tower Paddle Boards founder Stephan Aarstol.

Segment 1: Introduction To Tower Paddle Boards And Founder Stephan Aarstol

In this segment, we dive into where it all began for Tower Paddle Boards. We cover Aarstol’s background in online marketing, and how he pivoted away from his poker chip company to pursue his hunch that paddle boards would soon be mainstream. Read more >>

Segment 2: The Shark Tank Effect At Tower Paddle Boards

When Shark Tank came calling, Aarstol answered, and Tower Paddle Boards took off like a rocket ship. But it almost didn’t happen—Aarstol froze on stage, delivering what he calls “the worst pitch in Shark Tank history.” Learn how he crashed, recovered, and landed a deal with Mark Cuban. Read more >>

Segment 3: How Tower Paddle Boards Cut Out The Middlemen And Delivered More Value To Consumers

How did Aarstol figure out how to cut out the middlemen and deliver Tower Paddle Boards direct to consumer, for half of the retail price? In this segment, Aarstol explains how he overcame the price-fixing of the industry’s dominant players to bring consumers lower prices, higher quality, and better service. Read more >>

Segment 4: How Tower Paddle Boards Sourced Factories

When building a direct to consumer business, finding a dependable factory is a competitive advantage, Aarstol says. In this segment he reveals his best tools and tips in sourcing factories: how to find the best ones, how to avoid the scams, and why anti-competitive behaviors are a sign of bigger problems. Read more >>

Segment 5: The Retail Equation At Tower Paddle Boards

“We never want to be that company that just pads our direct-to-consumer margins so we can accommodate retail partners that are taking a 50% cut,” Aarstol explains. In this segment, you’ll learn how Tower Paddle Boards uses their core principles to evaluate retail opportunities. Read more >>

Segment 6: Tower Paddle Boards on Amazon

For direct to consumer brands, Amazon is the elephant in the room. In this segment, Aarstol explains how Amazon has become expensive for consumers and crowded for brands—and why he believes Amazon is merely an online convenience store, carrying the high markups of offline retail middlemen. Read more >>

Segment 7: Disadvantages Of Amazon For DTC Brands Like Tower Paddle Boards

Amazon was good for direct to consumer businesses—until it wasn’t. In this segment, you’ll see the astronomical sales numbers Aarstol enjoyed in the early days, but also the growing challenges: disconnected customer service, increased return rates, and increased fees. Read more >>

Segment 8: Will Tower Paddle Boards Walk Away From Amazon?

Is it time for direct to consumer brands to leave Amazon? How will they survive if so? In this segment, Aarstol explains the two consumer behaviors that he believes will not change in the future, and why that’s good news for brands like Tower—helping them survive without Amazon. Read more >>

Segment 9: On The Horizon At Tower Paddle Boards

What’s next for Tower Paddle Boards? In this segment, Aarstol reveals his perspective on the ideal balance between pricing and quality, and how keeping expenses low (and advertising minimal) impacts Tower’s ability to expand into popular products with exceptional value for consumers. Read more >>

Segment 10: What Informs New Product Ideas At Tower Paddle Boards

By living the beach lifestyle themselves, Aarstol’s team has insights into new products and quality design. “If a company out of New York is creating beach lifestyle products, they really don’t understand the market as well as we do,” Aarstol says. “Our brand has this authenticity, because we’re making products that we know.” Read more >>

Segment 11: What Tower Paddle Boards Is About (From A Value Standpoint)

Tower Paddle Boards went in two unique directions, when it comes to delivering value. Product development is focused on what the consumer needs (not what it costs), and team productivity is fueled by Aarstol’s revolutionary idea to live more by working less—with a five-hour workday. Learn the secrets behind Tower’s popular products and productive culture. Read more >>

Segment 12: Tower Beach Club Offers New Experience With Tower Paddle Boards

In this segment, you’ll learn how Tower Paddle Boards is taking the beach lifestyle experience to an entirely new level with the launch of Tower Beach Club in San Diego. Whether you’re a fan of Tower, or a direct to consumer brand exec, you’ll want to read the innovative retail plans and fun experience ahead for Tower customers and visitors. Read more >>

Segment 13: Connecting with Tower Paddle Boards

As we wrap up the interview, we provide links and information on connecting with your favorite Tower brands—from paddle boards to sunglasses to electric bikes—as well as how to reach out to Tower Founder & CEO, Stephan Aarstol. Read more >>