Snowboard Addiction is the go-to source for online snowboard training and physical training products. They’re one of the biggest players on the market and it all started when former snowboarding coach Nev Lapwood decided that he wanted to scale his passion and reach more people. In episode 33 of The Famous Business Podcast, Alistair sits down with Nev and gets to the bottom of his business model, learning how Nev uses digital content to sell real products.
Alistair: So take us back to the beginning of this business how did it come to be, and how does online snowboard training work?
Nev: I grew up in New Zealand and snowboarding is my passion, that is what I love to do. My life revolved around that and so as soon as I finished university I moved to Canada – because the snowboarding over here is some of the best in the world. When I got to Canada I wanted to snowboard for free – I didn’t have much money, so I became a snowboard instructor so then you have a free snowboard pass! And then I would work evenings in a restaurant so I could snowboard all day. And when it came to snowboard instructing it came naturally to me as I’d snowboarded most of my life, I started when I was 10 years old. And I just felt good at it and I felt good teaching people, and what I did was after a few years of living in Whistler was I decided to build a course that would teach people to snowboard, which I could sell through the internet.
And that is when Snowboard Addiction started – our original product was a course you could buy and download to teach yourself to snowboard. And that was 10 years ago. 2007 – and at the time it was quite unique to have that style of course because it wasn’t very common and so we were the first to the market with this snowboard course. And we did have a really good course, there was a lot of really good information. That’s how we started. It was also the start of learning how to use digital content to sell real products.
Alistair: So, back in 2007, this is the early days of online training why do you think you saw an opportunity there that other snowboarders hadn’t seen?
Nev: Well, what I saw really was that I wanted to make more money and I had to think well what can I do that will make more money? And one thing that I was really good at was snowboarding and so I thought why don’t I try to make a course and sell it online…it wasn’t even that I saw an opportunity it was just something that I thought I could make money on. There wasn’t really an online course that existed. So I saw there wasn’t something that existed and then thought well, let’s give this a go and see if it works. It worked relatively quickly actually and how we got our traction was YouTube. I don’t know what time it started but when I got on the bandwagon of YouTube it was just really starting to kick off – that was THE video platform – if you wanted to do ANYTHING video, you would have to look on YouTube. So what we did was we put some example lessons on video on YouTube, and from that it drove tonnes of traffic! It probably drove 60-70% of all our traffic for the next 5 years!
Photo credit: Snowboard Addiction
Alistair: That’s incredible. And before we came on this call you mention that you were very unique, the only course out there of this kind, but now it has become a very crowded marketplace out there in the online training world, how have things changed for you? How has that made you adapt the business?
Nev: In terms of producing snowboard videos, we still do it now, but originally it was to sell those videos and make money off of those videos – whereas now they’re more used to promote the other products that we sell. So roughly 5 years ago we actually started to sell physical products that would teach people how to snowboard – like a trampoline board, a board you take on a trampoline to practice snowboard tricks, and we also sell what is called a balance bar – a training tool that you can use in the living room, it simulates what’s called a rail or a box, so yes 5 years ago we started to diversify into these physical products and now as a result that is the huge majority of what Snowboard Addiction is about.
So we still sell snowboard training videos but that’s maybe 10% of the business now – 90% of our revenue now is driven by these physical products. And what we did find with the videos is that as it came easier and easier to create videos, for example, everybody now had a smartphone, Go Pros or video cameras and you can make your own videos quite easily – 10 years ago you couldn’t they didn’t exist! If you wanted to produce a video back then you had to have a really good camera or hire someone with a really good camera which created a little bit more of a barrier to entry for information products. So with snowboarding, we’ve definitely found more of a resistance in the last few years to purchase a digital product – people just want to get that for free. And that is largely what we do now – we give it away for free to promote our other products.
Alistair: Wow, so your business has really evolved that you’re now creating content to build and nurture that audience and then that audience you then sell products directly to that audience.
Nev: That’s exactly right. We are using our videos and our education to build an audience around snowboarding and that audience is then more likely to buy the products that we provide, which are for training processes for snowboarding. So the audience we build ties in directly to the products that we sell. Essentially we use digital content to sell real products.
So the big content strategy that we use is… anything that can teach people to snowboard better – so I have a guy that does all our video editing and filming, and then we have a couple of different coaches who work with the crew and myself and we’re always coming up with ideas. For example, physical snowboard tutorials and trampoline snowboarding tutorials – tutorials you can use at home in your living room and we probably produce maybe 50 video tutorials a year and then we just drip feed that throughout the year – in a lot of different mediums. So let’s say we produce a video about how to learn a 360 on a trampoline – so that you can take that to real snow. So we write the script for that video, record to voice over, record that video at a trampoline place, put a few snowboard shots in to make it looks really cool and then once that’s ready for release – the first release we do is we blog about the video on our website and that is almost a written script that comes out of the video together, and then from that – it gets blasted out to our newsletter, a base of around 40 thousand people – so they get that straight away when the blog comes out. But then it also goes out straight away to Facebook – Facebook now is the huge medium for us. As I said before – YouTube was massive for us for a long time, so the training videos that we produce also get posted to YouTube and I think we have like 100000 subscribers on YouTube. But YouTube is of least importance now – obviously YouTube is great for SEO because it is owned by Google, so when you put your video up on Google you have your keywords, title, tags and description – all that stuff is super important.
Photo credit: Snowboard Addiction
But then even more important is you get that video on Facebook. Do not post your YouTube video to Facebook – it doesn’t work, Facebook and YouTube are different companies they are competing against each other, and if you post a YouTube video to Facebook, you are not going to get much traction. It is unofficially part of the Facebook algorithms, they are not going to favour your video if you are posting a YouTube video! So what you have got to do is you’ve got to post to Facebook – and then – this is where the beauty comes in, if you have enough budget – let it run organically but then start boosting that post with paid advertising on Facebook because what we have found with Facebook is that if you can provide content that people actually like and then you are willing to a pay a little bit – that content goes a long way!
On Facebook, we basically promote every post we do and sometimes we get video views for about less than 1$ a view! Sometimes it is actually cheaper than that – I’ve got one of my employees who does all the Facebook marketing for us so he is really clued into that. But the amount of traction that we get is huge – some of the videos we release on FB get over 1 million views video on FB!
So YouTube is still very valuable but FB is the dominant force. In 2017 if you think about what you spend your time on more, 99% of people spend more time on Facebook than YouTube. And you have to go to go where the eyeballs are! Eyeballs right now are on Facebook! And if you can combine that with a little bit of paid advertising on Facebook – Facebook loves you because that is their business is to sell you advertising. And if you are willing to play ball with what they want then your content goes that much further!
Alistair: So how much of your business is this content machine? How much is the content development side in comparison to the product development side?
Nev: You know it is both because – if you don’t have a great product – what are people going to buy? There are so many aspects to a good business – you’ve got to have products that people want to buy and you have got to have a good website but then the content is really what drives our marketing and no matter how good your product is if you don’t have people going to your website – nothing is going to sell! So you have got to have a way of getting people to your website and for us that is content. So we’re doing tonnes of content, we are doing it all the time. We are releasing something every week, and when you release something every week – sometimes that video will be on Facebook being promoted for a month – sometimes. And every comment that gets, every Like it gets, every share that gets, it revives that post! So if the post is getting engagement it stays active! Eventually, the post will go dead because it has just done its thing and that is when you have got to have new content. So we are creating good, interesting content that helps people help them with their snowboarding – and that is what people want on the internet – they want good, interesting content and they want it free!
Alistair: So you are building this really strong and loyal community of snowboarders – how are you deciding what content to give them? How do you decide what they’re going to respond to? Are you listening to what they like and then creating this two-way content? How do you know what is going to go down best with your audience?
Nev: We kind of decided on our content ourselves and that is because the products we sell are based around freestyle snowboarding – and what I mean by that is people doing the jumps, and rails, flips and spins and the halfpipe, so most of our content is around improving that side of snowboarding. Predominantly – we do other stuff too like learning to snowboard, like riding powder and then riding more on the mountain, but most of our stuff is based on tricks you can do because a lot of the products that we sell are designed for people who want to learn these types of trick, so for us it is easier to decide what our content is and then for other people with different businesses it’s kind of like what content works for the products you’re trying to sell…
Alistair: It sounds like you guys are really keen and want to bring value to your customers – really helping them to improve and transform, it doesn’t sound like you’re driven by flogging Facebook ads or something like that. So how have you made bringing value to your customers to the core of your business?
Nev: That’s entirely true! Our goal for Snowboard Addiction is to make you a much better snowboarder or rider. So our focus on Snowboard Addiction is to improve people’s snowboarding – get them to be better, make them have a lot of fun – that’s what we’ve done and that is what we have always done. Our products and videos are focused on that. That is what we bring to the market, people like us for that – it is genuine, we’re are not just flogging products. We’re selling products that are going to help you, and that’s why people love us and why people love our products.
Want to hear more advice from Nev? Listen to the rest of the podcast here or check us out on iTunes and all good podcasting platforms.
Find out more about Snowboard Addiction here