163. Meet Curt, Bootstrapping on Credit Cards feat. Curt Nichols, Founder & CEO at Glade Optics

VC Minute
Curt Nichols of Glade Optics shares his journey from bootstrapping with credit cards to scaling a high-seven-figure business in ski gear.

VC Minute – quick advice to help startup founders fundraise better

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Rich Maloy:

This is Rich Maloy with SpringTime Ventures, bringing you the VC Minute, quick advice to help startup founders fundraise better.

Given how hard fundraising is right now, I wanted to interview someone who has not raised venture capital. This week’s guest has bootstrapped, raised revenue-based funding, and selectively took an angel investment, even when he didn’t need to. He has great lessons to share. Take it away, Curt.

Curt Nichols:

Hi, my name is Curt Nichols. I’m the founder of Glade Optics. We sell ski goggles, ski helmets, sunglasses, and a smattering of other outdoor-related accessories.

We’ve been in business since about 2017. I bootstrapped the brand myself and grew the business to be big enough to eventually get on the radar of some larger institutional investors in the category. With that capital and with the traction we were seeing, we’re able to really grow the business to where it is today, which is a high-seven-figure business known as the premier product within the ski goggles category.

Let’s talk about our fundraising journey a little bit. It started in 2017. I was working 9 to 5 at a market research consultancy business, and I was doing Glade on the side, nights and weekends. The way that I financed the business in the early days was really using credit card debt.

This is something that I don’t know if you could totally get away with anymore, but it was the only funding I had access to at the time. I was an unknown commodity. I was 24 years old. There was no chance I was going to be able to put together a pitch deck, pitching a highly seasonal consumer business to someone like a traditional venture capitalist.

I used the resources I had available to me. At the time, it was credit cards. I had zero dependents. I wasn’t married. I didn’t own a home. I think my total savings account at the time was 5 or 10 grand. It was totally low-risk for me with regard to whether it all went south; I had nothing to lose.

That was certainly a part of the founding story that often gets left out: if you start something when you’re young and relatively unencumbered by other parts of your life that sort of just happen naturally, it’s a much easier way to go about things.

But I was able to do sort of the bare minimum and create a minimum viable product, both from a physical product standpoint as well as sort of a digital experience standpoint, to get it off the ground. I built a website, and I started prototyping products, all using that debt.

It was very, very lean in the early days. I was certainly not making any money. You know, call it five grand at a time on the credit card through Facebook ads, and I would get seven or eight thousand dollars back in revenue. And then I would use that to buy more inventory. So that was really the story of the first few seasons.

It had really bare bones. It was, sort of, from an emotional standpoint, very stressful. There was always this lingering doubt in my mind of, you know, hey, if this goes south, have I put myself in a really challenging financial position personally? But part of that is that, for a long time, my back was really against the wall. It forced me to be fairly scrappy, fairly lean, and fairly innovative in how I acquire customers.

About Glade Optics
Glade Optics designs premium ski goggles, helmets, and sunglasses from their headquarters in Breckenridge, Colorado. Winner of Ski Magazine’s Goggle of the Year, Freeskier’s Editor’s Choice Award, and Blister’s “Best of” Award, Glade’s equipment is designed with the best materials and construction available—at an unbeatable price point. See what all the hype is about at shopglade.com.

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