Kent Wilson

COO of RV SnapPad

Kent is the Chief Operating Office of RV SnapPad, a rapidly growing accessory company in the RV space. Kent helped launch the company from his parent’s garage with his father and two brothers back in 2015.

Prior to moving into the COO position, Mr. Wilson was the head of marketing and growth, spearheading many of the company’s brand and performance marketing initiatives. Kent’s efforts were informed by a background in social media and content creation, having previously been the lead social media strategist for the Calgary agency Evans Hunt Group, as well as the editor-in-chief for a network of digital sports publications.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

Over 30 years ago, my father successfully launched a leveling accessory into the RV market that is still a staple in the industry to this day. Unfortunately, he and his partner at the time were diluted out of the company by an unscrupulous investor, so they never got the opportunity to enjoy its success.

Back in 2014 my middle brother, Devon, was working on a new PPE product for industrial workers (an attachable, ergonomic handle called WilGrip), which he was able to launch but not able to effectively monetize. The family shifted from helping him on that project to RV SnapPad when my father noted that there was an opportunity for a new kind of “jack pad” – one that attached permanently to leveling feet. This didn’t exist in the industry and seemed like a potential “10X” idea over the existing alternatives, so we got to work.

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

Because our revenue grows over 80% YoY on average, this can vary widely. Originally I was the head of marketing for the company, so I was very active in conceptualizing campaigns, art-directing creative assets, and launching new digital user experiences.

As the company has grown in terms of headcount, I’ve had to move more and more into an executive operations role. These days I spend a lot more time vetting major new initiatives/vendors and finding ways to lessen internal friction points so department heads and new hires can execute at the best of their abilities. A busy day for me now is likely a mix of meeting with external vendors, planning with other executives, and contributing to a marketing project (I still have to jump in now and then).

To stay productive, I try to block off portions of each day so there are no meetings or Zoom calls. I also try to make sure at least one day a week is completely “clean” on my calendar.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am an avid reader, note-taker, and writer. My content diet is mediated by newsletters and Twitter lists, where I try to engage with people who are accomplished, interesting, inspiring, or challenging in some way. I have a notebook, post-it notes, and a whiteboard in my office, all of which I use to capture and develop thoughts. I am the office’s “memo writer” and tend to eschew PowerPoint presentations for more traditional essays, which I use to share high-level concepts and company priorities. Sometimes this is done in an email or a google/word doc, but I also use Notion to create and share things.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The rapid improvement of AI in many fields is becoming very exciting. Just as the industrial revolution replaced a lot of human labour with machines, I think we are on the precipice of AI freeing people from many layers of intellectual “labour”, which could spark a kind of creative revolution.

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

The drive to constantly level up every aspect of the business. Even when we have established a process that apparently works well, I seek new ways to improve it in terms of efficiency, output, ease of use, etc. My operating philosophy isn’t just to find things that work but to double down aggressively on those things once you uncover them.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry about grades so much, worry about learning. Your grades won’t matter as an adult, but your knowledge base and skill level matter very much. Go out there and start doing stuff and figuring out how to make it work rather than taking a class and getting an official stamp of approval.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I’m not sure if this is disagreeable or not, but I consider the education system and modern pedagogy in general almost irredeemably broken. Many of the political battles you see over schooling in the US or Canada are minor skirmishes before the major upheaval and evolution that is likely coming. I suspect that at some point in the future, people will look back at how we educate children and marvel at how poor and backward it is.

This is not to say any particular person or group of people is at fault (many teachers are committed and do their very best in school’s every day). It’s that the entire system simply needs an overhaul.\

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

This might seem counter-intuitive given the question, but the one thing I try to make sure to do is to develop a key interest or hobby outside of the business I am building. This is because growing a business as a founder or entrepreneur can be all-consuming, potentially leading to burnout or mental health issues. I do not completely escape this myself, but it has helped me to have something else rewarding to focus on beyond the company.

For example, since the business launched in 2015, I have continued to write about hockey, both professionally and as a hobbyist. I have also gotten deeper into cooking and wine, buying books and taking classes to improve my knowledge and skills in those areas when I have some free time. Having other things to look forward to and ground you outside of the business can enliven the good days and even out the bad ones.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Tough question, but I’ll go with the crawl-walk-run framework of business building. I’ll be honest, this is mostly due to necessity rather than purposeful strategy because SnapPad is bootstrapped and none of us had any capital or wealth to fall back on when this started.

We launched the business with a single-page website we cobbled together with copy and some photos we took of our prototypes installed on an RV. We added a free Shopify sales/cart button to our 3 SKUs. We launched with zero PR, no established SEO, no marketing of any kind. We merely wanted to know if we could find product-market fit (and we had no budget for any of that anyways). Our initial sales efforts consisted of posting in RV community forums and making posts/gathering information.

Everything that has worked well for us has been crawl-walk-run. Beyond finding PMF and building sales, we’ve had to create a unique compatibility UX, build an RV compatibility database from scratch, launched over a dozen new versions of the product, etc. Many of the business’s pillars began as question marks or experiments, and almost never with a giant budget or team attached to it.

I’ll add here that user feedback and establishing rapid feedback loops are critical to this kind of framework because that is what determines the pace and direction of the experiment. On top of participating on message boards, we were also committed to reading every bit of feedback from customers once we started advertising on Facebook. We also attended multiple customer-facing rallies in the old days, where we learned how to refine our pitch in face-to-face interactions with RVers.

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

This is a hard one because being an entrepreneur usually involves many, many failures since that is a natural outcome of trying to build something new. You just have to be sure they are minor rather than fatal errors.

The one main existential threat we have faced as a company so far reared its head during the Pandemic, although it was actually a consequence of us not prioritizing a major risk factor earlier. During the shutdown in 2020, our brand momentum was already strong, but the demand for our products also suddenly spiked due to COVID restrictions (since RVing became the one way people could travel).

Usually, this is a good thing, but it was the opposite for us. Up until that point, we had outsourced our manufacturing and shipping to a lone manufacturer. As a result, this one contractor represented our entire supply chain. Furthermore, this supplier had already shown sides of buckling under the pressure of our growth rate as early as 2018, even before any Pandemic pressures.

The COVID shock completely demolished this arrangement. Our manufacturer collapsed under the pressure of our new level of demand and from myriad other challenges both related to COVID and underlying problems with their operations. By the end of 2020, we had turned off all marketing and direct-to-consumer sales but were still 40,000 units back-ordered (and counting).

We had to locate and spin up multiple new manufacturers and a new distribution center, remotely, and within the confines of shifting COVID pressures and policy. We managed to accomplish this, but it took more than two years before we were back on our feet again.

The 2020 year undermined our cash flow and pushed us to the brink of destruction, but it also showed us how badly we misinterpreted the risks associated with our supply chain. Should I ever do anything like this again, I will prioritize building a robust supply chain as early in the process as possible.

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

Printers remain a necessity in business life, but I dislike (hate even!) most of the printers we’ve ever bought for our business. They are either relatively cheap to buy, but expensive (and grossly unreliable) to use, or they are prohibitively expensive (and still not intuitive to use).

It feels like there is a potential middle ground in the market where a good, reliable, easy-to-use, but not absurdly expensive printer could take off, especially for SMBs.

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

Most of my recent purchases are either well over or under that price point, so I’ll list a couple without reference to the cost.

I picked up a library release from my favourite Canadian winery (Black Hills Estate). While I plan to age most of the bottles I receive, I opened one to get an idea of where the vintage is at in terms of aging. Luckily, it’s one of the best bottles I’ve had in recent memory.

Back in June my wife and I celebrated our 10th Anniversary. To celebrate, I rented the Cave Creek House on Wander, a relatively new travel platform that I would recommend, especially to anyone who has to check in on work while they are away (they have excellent workstations and WiFi).

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

This could be a very long list, but I’ll go with Slack. I know there’s a revolt in some businesses against Slack because they find it more distracting than enabling, but it is absolutely essential for us. Some of our team is full or part-time remote, so Slack eliminates a lot of potentially cumbersome email threads. It also allows us to quickly share team updates or critical, time-dependent operational issues.

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

I would recommend “Good to Great” by Jim Collins given his extensive research into what separates outstanding businesses and leaders from merely good ones (not to mention the failures).

What is your favorite quote?

This changes frequently for me depending on where I am in life. For now, I’ll share this Naval Ravikant quote because it seems relevant to me currently:

“Don’t outsource your happiness or success to other people’s decisions.”

Key Learnings:

  • Implement crawl-walk-run processes so you can inexpensively find things that work and then double down on them.
  • Try to find balance by developing interests and hobbies outside the business’s purview.
  • Identify existential risks early and prioritize them before they become major company-threatening problems. This sounds obvious, but especially early in a business, it is often easier and more seductive to focus on what is working over what might not work down the road.