Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 1

I am going to start a weekly series where I highlight one company and talk about why they are better than their competition. I will talk about their innovations and strategies as well as their pitfalls. No company is perfect in the same way that no person is perfect. My list is biased by the activities I do. That is to say I am not going to highlight companies like investing firms and healthcare providers because I have very little experience in those areas as well as not being greatly impressed by those industries. I am not sure how long this series will last, perhaps 20 companies, perhaps 300.

So here it is, the first Successful Innovative Company of the Week: Cilogear


This is a tiny (three people I believe) start up company that was founded in 2004 to make backpacks for alpinists. The founder, Graham, was living in Turkey doing consulting and when his company was getting restructured he decided to start a company. He soon moved to New York City and recently moved to Portland, OR.

Why they are amazing: Their backpacks are really incredible. I own a 60 liter sack and it weighs in around three pounds which is much less than most of the competition. Their backpacks are very adaptable. They have a removable frame, an aluminum strip and hard plastic board to keep the backpack stiff and distribute the load. They have a removable back pad, a folded in half closed cell foam sleeping pad which cushions your back from the frame or can be used alone for lighter loads and as part of a sleeping system to provide extra warmth. They also have removable compression straps so you can compress the backpack or strap things to the outside using their patented (or patent pending) Dee-Clip system. You can also leave the straps off all together for an even lighter backpack. The hip belt is also easily removable. Cilogear use many different types of materials which allows for durable fabric in high wear areas and lighter fabric in low wear areas. I believe they use three or four times as many fabrics as the industry standard for backpacks. One last little detail that makes me happy is their ice axe holders. They are the best I have ever used because they keep my axes from twisting around and getting in the way yet are still very simple.

In a business sense they are cool because they have an informative blog, which unfortunately they don't update as often now as they used to. They also do most of their business through their website. They do not go through the big retail chains and can thus avoid huge markups. This allows them to keep their prices low. They also build backpacks on demand instead of making huge quantities and then trying to sell it. They also do not do much advertising in the tradition sense. They give free backpacks to high profile climbers, which end up featured in other companies promotional products, and get reviews on popular websites from high profile climbers and reviewers.

What they could improve: Communication to their tribe of followers. I am planning to buy one of their new backpacks which was supposed to be available several weeks ago so I sent them an email and they did not respond and have not posted any blog posts about when the new back packs will be actually be ready.

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