20_Ken Block and Damon Way

Cofounders, DC Shoes, Inc.
Vista - CA US

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Professional skateboarder Danny Way set two successive world records the week of June 12 for the longest and highest aerial maneuvers on a skateboard. He was wearing DC shoes, of course, made by a company founded by his brother, Damon (left), and Ken Block (right). Determined to treat skateboarders like athletes, the duo focused on durability and details. Their performance-based skateboarding shoes are distributed in 52 countries and generated more than $250 million in retail sales in 2002.

From their original entry:

Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.

We are DC Shoes Inc., the leader in performance skateboarding shoes. DC Shoes are on the feet of some of the best skateboarders in the world, and we are represented by the best snowboarding, bmx, surf and motocross athletes as well. Specifically, we are co-founders Ken Block and Damon Way, and we met 10 years ago at a San Diego Community College. Today, we employ more than 150 and distribute in 52 countries and will have more than $250 million in retail sales this year. We built the DC Shoes brand by filling a need we saw in our own lives in our early 20's. Skateboarders need technical product and we developed the first technical skateboarding shoe. Because skateboarding style sets the trends for all action sports, it is important for a company to have credibility with skateboarders. Our commitment to the culture and superior product gives us credibility and allows us to dominate the market. Larger mainstream brands, including Nike have tried to infiltrate the culture but they will never live it the way we do, day in and day out.

What was your moment of truth?

After creating three successful skateboarding and snowboard entities, Eightball Clothing, Droors Clothing and Blunt Magazine, we decided in 1994 to change skateboarding shoe style. With no experience, we set out to make skateboarding shoes more durable and incorporate performance-based elements along with an athletic design. Until that time, no one had ever produced a performance-based skateboarding shoe. We did simple things that made a big difference, like putting nylon loops around the spots where skateboarders shoe laces would wear away from abrasion. Damon convinced his pro skateboarding brother Danny Way and fellow skateboarder Colin McKay to defect from their shoe sponsors and put their names on our first two DC shoe models. Lacking a shoe design and designer, Ken jumped into the role, collaborating with the skateboarders and designed three-dimensional shoe outlines on a computer to use as shoe designs. All of this while running three successful brands and launching a fourth brand. Today, Ken serves as the company president, responsible for shoe design and oversees all marketing and advertising. Damon is vice president, handling apparel design, including snowboard and outerwear, and oversees production and distribution.

What were the results?

The immediate result was that the first DC model was back-ordered by retailers. By the end of 1995, the three brands we created grossed almost $7 million. We developed teams within the action sports categories that consist of some of the sports most exciting and dominant athletes. Today, DC continues to make breakthroughs in design and push innovation, including building the first privately owned product testing and training facility for snowboarding—The DC Mountain Lab. Nearly all of DC's breakthroughs in design—both aesthetic and technical—have been copied by competitors. For the fourth consecutive year, we have been recognized, as skateboarding's "coolest brand of shoes," according to Board-Trac research.

What's your parting tip?

Enjoy what you do or don't do it.

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