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Klymbing to the Top
By: Marie Mischel
January 23, 2012
Nate Alder’s path to the executive office began in childhood. “I’ve been starting little businesses ever since I can remember, from the typical lemonade stand and lawn-mowing service to teaching swim lessons and snowboard lessons,” says the founder and CEO of Klymit, a three-year-old company that provides argon-gas insulated clothing to the outdoor equipment market. Argon gas can insulate as well as down or synthetic fibers, but isn’t affected by wetness or compression.
Alder got his first professional experience while a student at Brigham Young University, where he invented cell phone technology for a startup company. He returned to school, but soon had an idea for his own business. The idea came while he was scuba diving off the coast of Brazil and learned that the noble gas argon is used as an insulator for deep-sea diving. He immediately thought the process could be used for outdoor sporting gear. After researching the gas and determining that it would be safe to use, Alder incorporated Klymit in 2007 and set about developing a method to use argon to create lightweight but warm clothing.
His original business plan envisioned a partnership with an established company that had technical know-how in fabrics and clothing manufacturing. Although the business plan won numerous awards, including the BYU Business Plan Competition and a Stoel Rives Innovation award in 2008, he couldn’t find a partner. “The OEMs were interested in the technology, but none were willing to commit to it until they saw a finished product,” he says.
Alder and his partner immersed themselves in the fashion and design industry, creating four different styles of vests that use argon as insulation. The vests received good reviews in Popular Science and Backpacker magazines and won the Best of What’s New award, “which got a bit of attention,” Alder says. Klymit’s first product offering sold out in two weeks, and they were backordered from November to March. The company soon received a second round of funding from a group in New York that specializes in military procurement, hired a vice president of sales with 30 years experience and started making the rounds of trade shows, where they attracted more attention. At the recent Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, “we had every single OEM that we want to license to come to our booth, demanding to license the technology immediately,” Alder says. “And we actually got six acquisition offers from some really large companies. We’re not sure where we’re going with that, but we think we can make the company a lot more valuable in a couple years than it is today.” Meanwhile, Klymit has expanded its product offerings. Alder attributes the success to “a lot of creativity and flexibility and persistent, hard, hard work.” The bumpy climb to success has taught Alder that an aspiring CEO must “learn to understand a mid-level amount of pretty much everything that comes your way,” he says. “Read everything you can on the subject. That way, you can speak intelligently when it becomes a factor.” His job, as he sees it, is to be “the guy who knows how to formulate a solid team of people that can execute on a plan that we all come up together with. I need to be able to cross the valley between the departments and help everything move forward.”