Leading through Difficult Times with Noah Dentzel at Nomad Goods

Every business will face a change in strategy at some point. The skills of leading through challenging times will align your resources and give everyone hope for better times. Today’s guest is Noah Dentzel, CEO & Co-founder at Nomad Goods. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1523 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Nomad is a consumer electronics and lifestyle products company based in Santa Barbara, California. Noah shares his insights on leading through difficult times. He gives you some practical perspective on what to do when the business goes through a tough stretch. When you are leading through difficult times, you give your organization a vision of a brighter future ahead.

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Noah Dentzel: The Transcript

About: Noah Dentzel & Brian Hahn met in Santa Barbara, CA, and set out with a vision of creating a minimalist iPhone cable that would seamlessly integrate into your everyday carry. ChargeCard, Nomad’s first product, launched on Kickstarter on July 18th, 2012. Like many startups, we relied on help from friends, family, and strangers to bring Nomad from concept to reality. We started off in Noah’s grandma’s basement and bounced around from Agoura Hills to San Francisco and finally back to Santa Barbara, California, where we are headquartered now. Read more about our origins here.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Noah Dentzel: [00:00:00] When you look back before 2020, so much of the past 10 years was relatively smooth. You know, we’re not used to back, you know, boats getting backed up in the port of LA. I was flying over LA one time over the past year, and you could just see the boats just stacked up all these boats. There they are. These are the things you read about in the news. Literally see it with your eyes. And if people ask us for you guys affected by the supply chain disruption, I’m like in every single step of the journey we are affected by it. Shipments being delayed to customers, you know, shortage, longshoremen on processing inbound freight from Asia air surcharges. And so, so we just had so many problems, but sometimes in life and in business when you’re running into so many problems. And so is everybody else, you know, that we weren’t unique in this, that builds camaraderie.

Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders [00:01:00] and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: Today we look at what does it take for you to be the leader through difficult times, specifically preparing your team to go through potential hard times? When we talk about this, we know that this last few years have been tough on a lot of companies and a lot of leaders and teams and people individually. There are a lot of uncertainty and doubt, but many leaders were able to rise to the occasion. Well, our special guest today was one of those leaders. He is the co-founder of Nomad Goods. , his name is Noah Dentzel, and really great conversation. Before I jump into that, you want to check out some of the things that Nomad Goods I was looking at, their website, really cool products for men really rugged gear some really cool things as it relates to cell phones. If that’s what you’re into. And really enjoy being able to promote and really talk to founders that are doing some exciting stuff out there. Nomad was number 1523 on the Inc list this past year. And they went through a couple of different hard times that [00:02:00] we look at specifically and how he rallied the team around it and how you can actually learn from this whole process of going through difficult times and preparing your team for these potential hard times.

Now, when you think about your own journey as a leader, hopefully, you know, that it takes great leadership to navigate tough times and even good times. You want to make sure you’re making the most of it. Leadership is the cornerstone of success in any company. And this doesn’t mean just leadership at your level. It means leadership at the executive team level and the directors and the frontline leaders. All of this cascades down throughout the organization, you want to make sure your company is prepared for all of this. That’s my job. I help you figure out what’s missing. If you identify some of the things that are getting in your way, and I’ve been doing this for a decade, I love to help you in your business. Just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call inside that call. I’ll ask you a few questions about what’s going on and get to know you and really connect with you. I won’t try to sell you anything I promise, but I will try to serve you as deeply as I can. Inside that conversation, you will leave with more clarity in very [00:03:00] specific what to do next and who to be next. As a leader, just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call.

Now here’s the interview with Noah,

Noah. How are you?

Noah Dentzel: Hey, doing well, Gene. Thanks for having me here.

Gene Hammett: I’m excited to have this conversation. We’re going to dive into the heart of preparing for potential hard times with your team. Before we get there. Tell us about Nomad.

Noah Dentzel: So we are Nomad. We make tools for the modern nomad. Th the, the main tool of the modern nomad is, is a, the smartphone. So we keep you protected with really nice, cool cases. , keep you charged with a whole array of charging solutions from wireless desktop stuff to really portable stuff. And we actually got our start with a USB cable shaped like a credit card that would fit in your wallet. So the idea was sort of empowering the mobile lifestyle. And we got started on Kickstarter about 10 years ago in 2012. So we’re 10 years in and it’s been quite a journey where we’re a crowdfunded company. So the feedback from people, it’s something that’s always been near and dear to, to everything we do [00:04:00] and really how we got, how we got started. We’re carrying on today. We’re based in Santa Barbara, California, where a team of 30 people. We also have 10 people in Asia, so we’ve, we’ve grown a lot in the past two years have been a particular interesting new stage to the journey with everything happening with COVID, but we’re, we’re alive and well.

Gene Hammett: Noah, I, you mentioned Kickstarter. Tell us just a little bit about that first project and how much money you raise.

Noah Dentzel: So our first product charged card, and it’s one of those things where, you know, you’re growing up as a kid or something, you have an idea, like what about this gadget or gizmo? And we actually took that idea and took it online to Kickstarter and, you know, had, had experienced this, this problem a lot myself you’re out on the go and your phone dies at the time. It was Blackberry’s. If we can remember way back then in another yesteryear there and the phones were always dying. And so it was like, look, is there a USB cable that you can always have on you? And so the idea was sort of a jumper cable for your phone. It fits in your wallet. You always have your wallet on you. USB ports are proliferating. So you could charge [00:05:00] from a TV at a bar or anywhere in between. And I’ve done every type of weird charging. I’ve even plugged my phone in before and inadvertently taken over the TV at an airport. And it’s like showing stuff on my phone. But so it was all about, it’s all about just staying charged on the go.

And we raised 160k you get about 90, 95% of that. There’s some fees and failed payments. With that 150k we got in over our heads on first production. What I mean by that is we needed to keep on selling, getting more revenue. So we launched on Shopify, turned out to be a really great decision to could us to my co-founder Brian on choosing Shopify in 2012 before they are what they are today. And we turn into an e-commerce whole program. We started launching more products. Sure enough, here we are. 10 years later, cables where we got our start is one of maybe 10 product categories that we do in product family, spanning from cases to, we made a really cool wireless phone charger specifically for the Tesla model three, which was a huge success. So we’ve really [00:06:00] continued on building tools for the modern nomad with that crowdfunded stock back. And we actually just emailed our Kickstarter backers the other day as a sort of thank you for getting us started those 10 years ago. And we’re kind of forever grateful to them.

Gene Hammett: Wow. I appreciate you. The context around that and how the business got started. It is a cool brand. I want to dive into the core reason why we had to be on the show. We’ve done some research on the company and you’ve talked with some people in my team really diving into what would we talk about today? And what came up was you felt like there’s some things that you wanted to be able to share with others about how do you prepare your team when you know you’re going to go through a storm or through a difficult or hard time. Tell us a little bit about where this came from and I’m sure you went through a hard time recently.

Noah Dentzel: Yeah, so Nomad like so many other businesses out there and, and organizations was, you know, we were, we were definitely just, as we were coming into, maybe our eighth year in business, we were just getting kind of, kind of getting things streamlined, feeling good. We have a system it’s [00:07:00] working we’re systematizing process sizing, all those things. And that was February of 2020. We were looking, we were planning the year ahead and we had our revenue goals and our profitability goals, trying to get the company a little more profitable now that we built this thing and with marketing, with everything that happened with COVID and we’re still experiencing that with the supply chain in various aspects, we were in for a lot of unexpected territory. So this was kind of a crazy opportunity to either kind of get down on ourselves and kind of sort of close in, or what we chose to do is just sort of embrace it head on. And we actually got our factories producing PPE during March, and we actually started producing a hand sanitizer right here in Santa Barbara county with a, with a partner company.

And it was just such a crazy wild time. We’ve we figured if we’re gonna have this whole thing happened rather than have it happened to us, let’s have it happened [00:08:00] with us. Let’s be part of it. So we were able to sort of mobilize and engage the team. You know, HR manager is now shipping medical goods and, you know, The court manager is dealing with doctors, taking their orders for hand sanitizer, sending them to, you know, nursing homes. And so in this wild uncertain, chaotic time, we kind of, everyone took on new roles. We still had our core business, but we sort of took on new roles. And what was wild is that a year just went by like that because when you’re busy and you have something to do, it really has a way of passing the time. The worst thing you want to do is be in a situation that’s sort of stressful or traumatic or whatever it might be.

And you have, and there’s nothing you can do. And you’re just sitting there counting the time slowly, go by. So by engaging everyone, it also gave ev it gave something everyone’s something meaningful to do, to be part of. Which, you know, moved things forward and also recreated some of the startup experience. I never would have thought of this [00:09:00] at a time where we had to cancel all team-building events because of COVID. We actually had the biggest team-building event we’ve ever had, which was everyone coming together to get through this. Sure enough, we get through the first year, and then come the second year. We’ve now been experiencing COVID in a different way. We have a supply chain, disruption T component disruption, two, 300 X on our shipping pricing. Now we’ve got a new challenge in 2021, which is sort of a big financial challenge of cool. We got through the first year and now we have the second part of COVID.

Which is all the supply chain disruptions. So again, we rallied the team in March of 2022. And this time it was, how do we double down on launches and initiative to calendar out the slowest time of the year for us, we’re just summer and kind of creating and build own destiny, because it’s always a bummer when you’re beholden to the destiny of when apple launches their new phone or when there’s a big surge in demand. But how do you create your own destiny? So we’ve had times where we’ve sort of [00:10:00] caught the Tradewinds and that’s always nice and we’ll take it. But March of last year, we had to kind of, we had a row ourselves forward and through doing that, we just had another incredible team building experience where we had to double down on ourselves. And people saw that look, there are times where the company pays payroll. It has money and it pays the payroll, but there are a lot of times where we make that payroll and we make it together.

And I think people experiencing that firsthand and seeing the process and being involved. And back to your question, sharing with the team and letting them understand some of the problems that leadership is going through and that we’re dealing with. There’s a tendency that where you want to hold back and sort of keep people away from the scary stuff and not share the challenges. And there are times where maybe that’s good to do you don’t can’t share every single issue or legal threat or challenge that you face. But when the going really gets tough, I’ve really doubled down on that Sage advice. I read once I think. That Ben Horowitz, was it about a kind of sharing and sharing the [00:11:00] challenges with the team and engaging your team and allowing them to step in and help and not thinking that you got to somehow figure out this magic plan, you know, for yourself.

Commentary: Hold on for a second. Know many leaders keeping the hard stuff from their people. Well, both of us agree that this is a difficult thing to do because what you really want to be able to do is be able to share openly even the bad stuff with your employees. Because when you share the bad stuff, what I’ve found happens is people are willing to take ownership. They’re willing to rally together the willing to share ideas. Because they don’t want to lose their job and they don’t want to lose the opportunity and their friends. They don’t have to look for other jobs. They want to rally. And so sharing the hard stuff, you know, maybe it’s not, you know, company ending, but maybe just, you know, we’re going through a tough time. We need everyone to, to understand what we’re about to go through because they will rally together. And that’s, what’s most important. If you keep that information away from them, they don’t rally together. And that’s what I’ve seen across many origins. Back to Noah.

Gene Hammett: I’m glad you got to that point inside of this, the [00:12:00] story of the different changes that your company’s been through. What did you experience as a leader, as you had to, to rally the team around a different direction?

Noah Dentzel: So we had to move fast when COVID first happened. We had to move quickly and when March 2021 happened, we had to move quickly too. And when you’re doing these things. You kind of need to have people on board because when you’re tacking, when you’re young and you’re pivoting taking a big directional change or taking a mission on, there’s not a ton of room for, for kind of disagreements, we all need to be in this together. We can have a healthy discussion. We can have different viewpoints, but we need to lock in and do this. So engaging with people with the problem and bringing them on board with it. And sharing like, honestly, like what’s going on and I’m sure we could have done an even better job, but to the extent, we were able to do that, I think really opens people up from kind of, instead of being on different sides of the table, you’re kind of getting onto the same side of the [00:13:00] table.

Instead of they see each other and pointing fingers, you’re kind of like caught hold, locking arms together, going forward. And I think that those are things that helped us with because you know, Steve Jobs said one time, you can please some of the people, some of the time, not all of the people all the time. And, and that’s so true. And when you, of course, when you, the larger the organization, you get the more opinions you’re going to have, and that’s good and healthy part of product development, organizational development. But when you’re going through tough times, you need to pick something and lock it, and move forward. And by, by doing that and by people coming together and understanding that we need to pick something if we’re going to be successful and get through this. I mean, people see that they’re, you know, their butts are on the line, but this is a chance people are willing to take you know, take a bet and to you know, connect with each other for the greater good. I think when people see that there’s a greater, good involved, they understand that not everyone should or needs to get their way.

But if we can collectively do something, it’s what works for us all. And then when you’re involved in that decision-making, or you’re involved in the execution, you have genuine [00:14:00] skin and interest in the game. And I think that that’s what got us through 2020 and 2021, just this kind of real understanding that this is a problem. We are the people. Sometimes you look at these problems and you’re looking in the mirror. Yeah. Who’s going to do it and you realize it’s us. And that’s a humbling thing that’s also kind of creates a bit of a camaraderie.

Commentary: Noah, just talked about getting everyone on the same side of the table. In other words, getting people to understand what’s going on in the company and be included in those ideas, understanding the problem, being included in the solutions, and being, including in the decisions that we make moving forward. A lot of leaders want to shoulder that themselves, but there are times in the company and there are certain problems that you want to address as a team, not as an individual founder or as an authority across the team or CEO, you want to make sure that inclusion actually gives you a greater sense of ownership across the team. It’s one of the things I specialize in with my coaching is helping companies understand what does it take to have people feel like owners even [00:15:00] without financial tools. So just my 2 cents on that. Back to Noah.

Gene Hammett: What challenges did you have to overcome after you were getting everyone rallied together to this new direction?

Noah Dentzel: Wow. Well, we had a lot of challenges. You name it because there were so many black swans, there was, you know, terrorists and shipping quotas, FedEx limitations on imports for goods. So all these things that we have. Dealt with before, you know, when you, when you look back before 2020, so much of the past 10 years was relatively smooth. You know, we’re not used to back, you know, boats getting backed up in the port of LA. I was flying over LA one time REL over the past year. And you could just see the boats just stacked up all these boats. There they are. These are things you read about in the news and you can literally see it with your eyes. And if people ask us where you guys affected. Supply chain disruption. I’m like in every single step of the journey, we are affected by it. Shipments being delayed to customers, you know, shortage, longshoremen on processing inbound freight from [00:16:00] Asia air surcharges. And so, so we just had so many problems, but sometimes in life, in a business when you’re running into so many problems. And so is everybody. We know that we weren’t unique in this, that builds camaraderie. It’s kind of funny. We would laugh. Oh, there’s another surcharge. There’s another one. So it’s kind of like when you, when you’re trying to like, you know, I don’t know, cross a river bed and knock it wet. And then all of a sudden you get wet and you, at a certain point, you give up.

You’re just going to trudge on through, because you’re dealing with you’re dealing with this already. So in that sense, we were very kind of inundated with all sorts of problems. With that creates a bit of a positive energy back. There are times where I think morale was, was up, even though we were going through these challenges because people were involved and running around and shipping vehicles, going over to the warehouse, getting medical goods in a truck, coming in and stuff coming in and going out. And you. Energy during a commotion during a time of sort of commotion uncertainty, you know, that you’re moving forward, despite all the challenges and not feels good, and getting that positive feedback is empowering. It’s [00:17:00] still fun to be spinning your wheels or second-guessing or not moving forward. And sometimes in business, we found just like in life, if you’re moving forward, that’s really powerful. And that gives you momentum to dial in and find the things that will ultimately work.

Gene Hammett: So we’re here talking about, you know, preparing for. , potential hard times as you grow your company. And I want to turn the tables on you. What did you learn about yourself inside this journey of leading your company through these two different

Noah Dentzel: Yeah. that’s a, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a big question there. You know, I realized that I’m not stressed and uncertain. I think there’s times when you are expected to have all these answers, maybe those expectations come from yourself. I think that founder. Can have, have, you know, maybe unfair expectations of their own selves. There’s this, you know, guilt, you can almost feel reading this article about founder guilt. And I was like, wow, that really sort of is describing some of these [00:18:00] things where you’re just, you’re trying so hard and doing everything you can and there’s limitations. And I think because it forces you to max out in some sense, I think it forced me like maxed out, which you know, can actually help you and force you to face challenges and to face, you know, engaging, empowering your team through delegating responsibility, you know?

Maybe some founders like myself, aren’t always the best at that. We take these things all, and then we get overly involved and, you know, we want to try to do everything everywhere all the time, but we’re only human. So when you’re when you’re stretched so thin or facing these challenges, you’re forced to do some of those things. And I think that that helps growth. And I definitely, for me, it was a really challenging time in there. There were long periods of time where I’ve take it day by day. Here’s our goal. Here’s what we need to do. Here’s what has to happened. But by sharing that and onboarding more people and getting the team involved, gather with these challenges, then it was something where, where that there, [00:19:00] the challenge was shared with more people. And we were able to like divide and conquer or collaborate and do these things and kind of, kind of get, get out from under some of that weight and pressure and engage and empower and its incredible team to help move us forward. And when you look at 2021 for us, I think that’s really the story of 2021, where we rallied as a team to pull off one of our most prolific years in company history, which is wild because going into 2021, it was like, you know, what, how are we going to get through this?

So through, through adversity, it can really, really challenge that yourself and challenge the team and it, and it just forced us to grow and improve so much. And we had just such an incredible year. So in a weird way, I’m thankful for what the, you know, for the challenges we went through because it made us the better for it. And we actually built momentum. And these sound like words that, that if I were to hear these, I would, I would question it, but having experienced it myself firsthand over the past two years, I I’ve seen this reality of challenge equals opportunity and growth. It’s sometimes no [00:20:00] fun to go through. It was not fun during a lot of times, but. I’m really happy with where we’ve landed.

Gene Hammett: Noah, thank you for sharing your story here. Cause I, I really appreciate you giving us behind the scene look at two different times that your company was able to rally and move forward. And what I pick up on this has really come together. I appreciate you sharing those insights here on the podcast.

Noah Dentzel: Yeah, great to be here Gene, and happy to share.

Gene Hammett: Here’s a chance for me to reflect back on what we’ve just experienced here. And what I like about these kinds of stories is Noah is talking about preparing your company for hard times. Like we all know that hard times are something that we have to we’ll endure. I mean, every company has been through them. I mean, you mentioned Steve Jobs. He went through some certainly hard times in his journey. , but one of the first keys around this is we’ve got to rally the people first. You talked about the power of sharing what’s going on and really figuring out okay. Let’s, let’s, let’s make them a part of the solution and not just get down on ourselves. And, and actually, I think the second step in this was just including people include [00:21:00] others. It doesn’t have to be just you or just your executive team. You can include those. Those are included, become a part of the team in a much deeper way. And then finally empowering the team in, in ways so that they do come together through this big change. That’s going on.

So all of this is a wrap-up of you must be an effective leader. And in fact, I think you must go beyond effective. You must be powerful in these times. If you have any questions there, any questions whatsoever about being powerful, make sure you reach out. Go to my podcast page GeneHammett.com you can schedule a call with me. I’d love to talk to you about what’s going on. I can help you get insight around what’s missing in your own leader. It’s absolutely free and loves to talk to you about what’s going on with your business go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call today.

As always remember when you think about leadership and you think about growth, think about Growth Think Tank. Lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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