John Mix – Member of the Board at FINIS Inc

Taking time to process ideas, involving others who have specific expertise to bring the ideas to life and a passion for not making something just for the sake of making it, but because we can make it great and desirable.

John Mix was born and raised in Northern California. He grew up swimming, playing water polo, and skiing with his parents and siblings. John attended the University of California Santa Barbara where he also played water polo. John spent a semester in Austria where he first encountered a monofin, the product that led to the inception of FINIS, Inc. Today, John lives in Northern California with his wonderful wife, Paula, and their two boys. John and his family continue the Mix family tradition of spending time together while enjoying water activities and skiing in the mountains.

Where did the idea for FINIS and the Duo underwater MP3 player come from?

In 2004, we had been in business about 10 years and I had begun to lose personal interest in swimming. Each time I went to the pool, even with all the great products we were developing, my mind would race about other things that perhaps I should be doing. Should I still be at work? Should I be going home to do something with my family? I would get out of the pool and feel tension and stress – I was no longer enjoying my swims. At the same time, as someone who exercises regularly, running with music would allow me to escape and have creative thoughts. At that moment, we knew we needed to develop a method to deliver high fidelity music for the individual swimmers. The Duo is the newest generation of our underwater MP3 players utilizing bone conduction technology. With each new version, we have improved the sound quality and simplified the user experience.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

At least three days a week I start my day before 5 AM. I’ve been and early riser all my life, beginning with morning swim and water polo practices. Starting the day early with some exercise also gives me a few hours in the office before others arrive to organize and prioritize my day. My mornings are most often engaged with business associates in Europe as they are finishing their day. The middle of the day is to work with my staff and the end of the day is to catch up on activities that happened during the day while I was working with my team members. It is at the end of the day that our business partners in Asia are getting their days started and fortunately, we have a very good team here at headquarters to work with them so I can transition my evening back to some family time. Prioritizing and finding balance are the keys to productive days.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We use a product filter process. This allows us to answer a series of questions about a product idea and to quickly eliminate those that don’t meet the requirements to pursue. Once an idea has scored high enough to consider further development, we put it on a priority list. From this list, we go through a quick prototyping in order to prove the concept or validate the idea. It is critical to know when to say stop. Not every product idea that we try to work on will go from start to finish. Stopping at the right time saves energy and resources.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Wearables. There is a great deal of resources being devoted to wearable technology for every sport category, however, wearable technology that works well in the water hosts a significant degree of difficulty. We have been able to successfully develop electronic products for the water from a technical and specifications standpoint. With the added understanding of what the market wants and needs, we expect to impress the swimming world over the next few years.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Taking time to process ideas, involving others who have specific expertise to bring the ideas to life and a passion for not making something just for the sake of making it, but because we can make it great and desirable.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was the coordinator of subcontractors for a developer. On one particular job, this meant driving the garbage truck and picking up all the garbage from every site. The learning lesson was certainly that the workers on the job worked more effectively in a clean environment, but more importantly, this job instilled the sense of balance that I value so much today. Although my working days were tough, I made my free time a priority. The projects were based in a water ski resort community and the days were complete by 4 PM, which meant I always made time in the evenings for fantastic ski sessions.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Find a way to avoid distractions that are not core to our market – spend a little more time writing great product development specifications and involving marketing more in this process.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Talk with your staff to be sure that everyone understands why you are doing something or why you are not doing something. When everybody understands and is in agreement on ‘The Why’ the team is more effective.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I have a particular passion for our 90-day goal setting. Every quarter, every member of the team writes down goals to share with management. The basic premise is to identify the few, key things that, if completed during this 90-day period, will improve our team and work environment. Our goal setting process also helps eliminate distractions. Distractions are inevitable, but our goal setting helps to decipher which distractions are worthy of further attention. The distractions that only take away from the important goals at hand must be noted, but set aside for the next round of goal setting. Period.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In the early years, we tried to develop several brands along with FINIS. FINIS was our technical collection, Lane 4 was our Goggle collection, and Water Pals was our kids collection. The thought process was that the retailer would like to show different brands and that they could get them all from the same company. The problem was that consumers and retailers did not realize that FINIS, Lane 4 and Water Pals were all the same brand so it did very little to grow brand strength. So we made the conscious decision host all products under the FINIS brand. Merging all the three brands took a significant of time and communication, but it was certainly for the greater good of the company.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

For those of us who travel, having the exploding cosmetic bottle in your luggage is a huge inconvenience. My personal solution is to unscrew the caps and put down a small piece of plastic wrap and then put the cap back on. While this is very easy to do from home, I have often thought just like Post-It notes, the person who comes up with a small index card with assorted round stickers that can be placed on a cosmetic bottle to secure the bottle from bursting while traveling would have a very niche and unique business opportunity.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Two lift tickets to Bear Valley where I spent a weekday on the mountain with my 17-year-old son. No lines, great snow, great quality family time.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I am an iPhone user – it’s simple and I love it. Of course, I use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to name a few, but on a personal level my preference, if I cannot meet with someone in person, is to use Skype. I like the ability to see the person with whom I am speaking – to be able to see the expression on their face helps me understand their interest level and their true understanding of the conversations taking place. Most often my Skype calls are international because I find time to see those in the USA in person or speak with them on the phone regularly. On average, I would say I have four or five Skype calls per day with business industry people around the world.

From a business standpoint, I am most proud of our use of Brandfolder. Brandfolder is a digital asset management platform that plays to our strength in the photography space. It is a clean, crisp access to the company resources we make available to our partners. I am also a fan of ReadyPulse, which allows us to collect and share user-generated content. It feels great to see how swimmers of all varieties are using our products.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I read a lot and I also listen to a lot on Audible. Most often I am reading business books because I find them interesting and they fascinate me. I have a large collection, which I pass out to friends and business associates and staff regularly. Many times they are not returned or I don’t recall to whom I loaned them so when a particular book seems to be missing, I simply order it again. Three books particularly stand out for me so much so that I don’t think I could pick just one; The 10 Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelly, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. All three are fantastic reads that I have recommended many times over, each offering unique insights and motivation.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My father passed from cancer at age 55; I was 25. He taught me a lot about hard work and finding a balance in life. He told me before he passed to believe in myself and to believe in others. He told me to find good business partners and to stick with them and not to sacrifice quality for the price. My two older brothers gave me a lot of mentorships, allowing me to work with them to learn about business and then they have helped me in building mine. Also, my high school water polo coach, Larry Rogers, had a major impact on me. As a player, he was not the most likable person but the respect that other players and I had for him is an absolute testament that hard work and good fundamentals are a key to success not only in sport but also in everyday life.

Finis Inc on Twitter: @FINISswim
Finis Inc on LinkedIn: