If you're over 30, you can recall a time when your phone and music player weren't the same thing. Sitting on a chairlift in Park City, Utah, in 2001, Rick Alden, a former snowboard-binding and fishing-reel developer, was frustrated at having to unplug his earphones from his tunes to use his phone. His solution was called Link--headphones and technology that paired the two devices. It was Skullcandy's first product.
While in China developing Link, Alden found himself swimming in the achromatic sea of black-and-white audio products and quickly realized Skullcandy's second big innovation had to be like Dorothy landing in Oz: The audio market needed color.
Once positioned as a lifestyle brand in the personal headphones market, Skullcandy made a colorful splash in aisles dominated by the likes of Sony and JVC. And Alden lived that lifestyle. He built a skate ramp at the office, defining its culture and bonding it to its young consumers. The company, meanwhile, sold earbuds where the kids hung out, such as skate and snowboard shops.
Then a terrible thing happened. Skullcandy grew up, and went public in 2011. Wall Street was suddenly calling the tune. Jason Hodell, who joined Skullcandy in 2013 as CFO and became CEO in 2016, says the move brought with it "aggressive growth targets" that led to over-distribution--a departure from Skullcandy's core.
Going private in 2016 freed up Skullcandy to again be a lifestyle brand that can connect with edgy new artists favored by its customers. These customers include athletes like 23-year-old Jenn Soto, who was named to the first-ever USA Skateboarding National Team in March, ahead of the sport's Olympic debut in Tokyo next year.
Soto and rapper Rico Nasty are the first faces of Skullcandy's color-coordinated, yearlong 12 Moods campaign, which launched in March with the theme of "Bold" and a line of tangerine-hued products that have sold out. The mood for April was "Elevated," and so is the company's attitude. It's taking on the big brands, as it once did, with its new Push earbuds and Venue and Riff on-ear headphones. "We have to be competitive and win against Apple Beats, Bose, Sony," says Hodell. That's what's made Skullcandy a $300 million business.
There's a halfpipe in Skullcandy's new offices, and a kitted-out music room as well. It's a renewal of Alden's "First chair, last call" philosophy, which is Park City-speak for "ski hard and party harder." Hodell, a West Point grad and former infantry captain who apparently serves as adult supervision, says the kids are all right: "We think of our culture as a combat multiplier. We're different from the rest because we want to be, and that's part of what makes us special."