Thursday, October 8, 2015

Interview with Ardy Sobhani from ORU Kayak

Ardy and his team in their amazing kayaks!
Some of you may have seen this innovative new company on the popular show Shark Tank, but I first became aware of Oru Kayak from our very own Angela Bearor.  An avid paddler, Angela told me about a kayak that was designed with portability in mind with design aspects based on origami.  I became very intrigued the with idea and some of the EQ challenges that might come along with being so unique in a very conventional industry.  We reached out to them, and Ardy generously agreed to participate in an interview.  

JS: What skills do you think are absolutely essential for a startup CEO to have?

AS: I think first and foremost a startup CEO needs to be prepared to be a Master Generalist. As the leader of a small company it is imperative to possess and utilize multifaceted skills. Of course, at Oru Kayak, we all have our own focus based on our expertise but I need to be a Swiss Army Knife for my team until we become a mature startup.

Another essential quality is having a high level of empathy. It is my true belief that teams with high levels of empathy, collaborate better, understand each other’s needs better, and are simply more productive, and as the CEO I lead by example. It isn’t only the culture of the company that benefits from having empathetic people on the team, but it’s the customers as well. An empathetic team will be motivated to focus on client-centered solutions and that is exactly what the team does at Oru Kayak.

The biggest asset any startup has is its team. Their individual talents, personal culture, goals, skills, etc. will all contribute to the success of the team and its dynamic. A great CEO will learn to put a multidisciplinary team in place because there is nothing like challenging discussion from different perspectives.

Adaptability is also key. Any good business will have a solid Mission, Value, Vision and Strategy but it’s just as important to remember that pivots are OK – Changing directions is OK when done at a right time and executed properly (changing the mission [or pivoting] should not disrupt your team). To that point it’s extremely important to recognize in order to be successful is not in the product but in the team (people before product).

JS: Do you consider yourselves to be optimists or pessimists, and why?

AS: I consider myself an optimistic person with a dash of dystopia. Recognizing the potential of an idea will lead to innovation and when approached with a slight skepticism, it allows me to examine it from a new/different perspective, which ultimately leads to a new opportunity.

The reality is having one foot in the manufacturing business (US made kayaks) I constantly need to be prepared for volatility. At times it seems nothing goes as planned but this doesn’t mean I am pessimistic, it only means I have my firefighter suit on and ready to put out any fires in my way. I tend to do well when everything is going wrong. Things seem quiet in me and I can see the problem clearly. We all know finding the solution to a problem is half the battle; the other half is execution.

JS: What are your techniques for maintaining emotional stamina in an industry not typically known for innovation?

AS: Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness! Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” It is in that space that I recognize how emotionally charged I am to change the world, and the community Oru Kayak has built is proof of that! Hearing how Oru Kayak has reinvented the way our customers explore the outdoors is a testament to our mission and that is what pushes our team to innovation in every aspect of the company. I believe everything can and should be designed better. We humans respond well to beauty, elegance, usability, and meaning beyond functionality. The era we live in requires more than just the right answer; it requires companies to deliver meaningful, human centered solutions to the people (and kayaks or other outdoor products are no exception).

When you get the right group of people with synced vision under the same roof you can change the world, or at least small part of the world - for now!


      Ardy is an entrepreneur and business strategist, energized by ideation, iteration, and systems design. After earning an MBA in Design Strategy from California College of the Arts in 2012, Ardy helped launched Oru Kayak via Kickstarter with his two co-founders. The response to the project was incredible, with over 700 backers supporting the folding kayak company. In three years since, Oru Kayak has grown quickly, from a weekend hobby to young and scrappy startup to international brand, all under the guidance of Ardy, Oru Kayak's CEO.

Today the company markets and sells through a wide variety of channels, has a robust and efficient manufacturing and fulfillment process in Southern California, and has developed key partnerships with REI,, Montbell, and many other major distributors. Looking forward, the company--which has doubled in growth each year since its founding--is poised for rapid expansion, riding a wave of good fortune and a dedication to the aggressive strategies put forth by Ardy and the rest of the executive team. Oru Kayak's dream of changing the way people experience the outdoors is closer than many believe.

As a leader, Ardy is motivated by a desire to use human-centered design to make the outdoors more accessible for all. He believes that clever, forward-thinking solutions will soon create game-changing products and services in the outdoor industry, and that Oru Kayak is position well to be a catalyst for this change. Ardy uses design thinking frameworks to inspire innovative thinking, merging design and business to create and deliver value to the customer and faster growth for the company.

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