Turn Your Hobby into a Career: Tips from Line Ski CEO Jason Levinthal

Tips from Line Ski's Jason LevinthalJason Levinthal is no stranger to the com­plex­i­ties of the action sports world. In 1995, Jason noticed some­thing off with the cur­rent pop­u­lar ski design. So he did some­thing about it.

I asked Jason how he made a hob­by into his career.

Alec Ross: Tell me about Line Skis’ mis­sion. What are you try­ing to accomplish? 
Jason Levinthal:“Make ski­ing more fun than the day before.” In 95, ski­is were hold­ing ath­letes back. Every­one had to deal with skis that weren’t made for them. Not easy, fun, play­ful, or intu­itive — the cur­rent styles were lim­it­ing and one dimen­sion­al.  When I snow­board­ed grow­ing up, I saw bikes go to BMX, skate­boards got sym­met­ric, and moun­tain bikes sprung from cycling. All these sports were lim­it­ed by the prod­uct. I thought, “How can I take this to the next lev­el?” I loved ski­ing. I asked myself. “What can I do to these skis to be able to do what I want­ed to with them?” So I made my own. [laughs]

But I got lucky. Doing it by myself, I had trou­ble get­ting peo­ple on board.  The game chang­er was when I got an order from a Japan­ese dis­trib­u­tor. In the third year, Salomon, took it up. They had the voice. We were a core, authen­tic, ath­lete-dri­ven brand. What kept us grow­ing and grow­ing was our ded­i­ca­tion to our mis­sion: “Make ski­ing more fun than the day before.” We won’t lose sight of that. That’s the key. Our identity.

 Think dif­fer­ent­ly.

AR: When did you decide that action sports was going to be a life-long pursuit?

JL: When we didn’t go out of busi­ness. We almost went out of busi­ness twice. It was dif­fi­cult get­ting things rolling. There were no hol­i­days, no week­ends. But when I had got­ten that far, I knew it was some­thing that I was going to do for a liv­ing. It was a busi­ness invest­ment. All about tak­ing the prod­uct to the busi­ness lev­el. When I sold to K2, we had just hit the glass ceil­ing. For us, it was about cost-effec­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing. But I want­ed to do that with­out betray­ing our orig­i­nal mis­sion. No mat­ter what’s behind the cur­tain, we don’t blend in with any­one else. That’s who we are. No one can recre­ate it.

AR: Were you always inter­est­ed in the busi­ness side of skiing?
JL: From the first day my par­ents took my fam­i­ly to the moun­tain at age twelve, I knew that my life need­ed to be based on this sport. Lat­er, when I made my first pair of skis as a col­lege project, I was at a point where need­ed to deter­mine what I was going to do for a job. A job of any kind is a busi­ness, whether you run it or work for it. Any­thing you get paid to do is busi­ness. I fig­ured if I have to work, it might as well be doing some­thing I enjoy. I still tell peo­ple today when they ask what they should go to school for: go for what­ev­er you enjoy. Then your work will be a pas­sion and not feel as much like a job, and you’ll like­ly suc­ceed much more at it. So my inter­est was always in ski­ing. When it was time to get a job, I was des­tined to get one in ski­ing. I just hap­pened to have made my own instead of apply­ing for one.

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AR: What inad­e­qua­cies in the then-cur­rent design did you note when design­ing your first pair of skis?
JL: The skis at the time — no one real­ly remem­bers it, were per­fect­ly straight. You couldn’t carve at all. There was no life in it. They were based on the rac­ing mod­el skis, with square tails and tiny tips. They were skin­ny and very long. Just doing a 360 was an achieve­ment. They weren’t nim­ble. Every­thing today is the opposite.

AR: From your expe­ri­ence, does it require exten­sive ski expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge of ski cul­ture to pros­per in the ski equip­ment market?
 JL: Yeah, absolute­ly. If you don’t play golf, how are you going to know what a good golf club is? You can learn account­ing, but you can’t learn the ski­ing cul­ture. The best employ­ees I have are those that are skiers. I can teach Excel and every­thing else. But it takes cer­tain expe­ri­ence to make a good ski prod­uct employee.

AR: What char­ac­ter­is­tics of your prod­ucts at Line Skis make them unique in the frees­ki equip­ment mar­ket?                                                                                                                       JL: Tech­nol­o­gy. Def­i­nite­ly. We go to great lengths to keep our skis state of the art. But it’s a sub­tle­ty about them that make them unique. They’re not of a rac­ing or tra­di­tion­al ski back­ground. Our her­itage is not lim­it­ed in one cat­e­go­ry. We are not adapt­ing old tech­nolo­gies; everything’s new. Even our expec­ta­tions. Unlike the tra­di­tion­al ski, ours are nim­ble and light. They’re intu­itive. We use wood tips that run the length of the ski. We design not from what a tra­di­tion­al ski is, but we ana­lyze the lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent prod­ucts and innovate.

AR: What would you tell to any young per­son aspir­ing to be inno­v­a­tive and intro­duce new prod­ucts into the ski industry?
JL: Think dif­fer­ent­ly. Don’t do what some­one else is doing; do whatever’s going to make the best prod­uct today. Don’t wor­ry, think, or even look at what oth­er peo­ple are doing. We need fresh ideas. I look out­side the ski indus­try for ideas and bring them in. Do what’s best for your sport. Do it all in the name of the sport.

Check out the lat­est with Jason and the rest at Line Skis here.

 

Writ­ten by Alec Ross