James (Jim) Satloff grew up in western New York and learned to ski on the icy slopes of the Bristol hills and the shadows of Mount Tremblant in Quebec. A computer scientist by training, Jim has been involved in a number of ventures at the intersection of financial services, technology, and media. He started Liberty Skis in 2003 with a friend, and now serves as its chairman. He is also the executive chairman of InvestorForce (and MSCI company), a director of Larkspur & Hawk, a fine jewelry manufacturer based in New York, and is involved in a number of private equity and venture capital investments. He lives in Beaver Creek, Colorado and New York City. Jim has been a FoundersCard Member Since 2013.
1. Rumor has it Liberty Skis was a casual idea mentioned over drinks, how did this idea come to fruition?
Actually this is true. Dan Chalfant (my business partner in Liberty Skis) and I were talking about how nobody made the kind of skis we wanted to ski on; wide, light, lively, and super fast. It started from there, and we finalized our plans at the big ski trade show held in Las Vegas. It helped that we turned $300 into $30,000 at the Mandalay Bay Casino, which was the actual money we used for our first molds and toolings.
2. What was one of the biggest challenges you and Dan faced when beginning this endeavor?
I think that brand recognition was tough in the early days. Today there are a ton of small ski companies – we like to say that every year 15 new ones start and 16 go out of business. Ten years ago when we started, convincing a ski shop to carry a brand that wasn’t K2 or a big euro-brand was tough. Today, thanks in part to a few independent ski companies that started when we did, owning and skiing on a brand like Liberty is something that is sought after, and smart ski shops recognize this.
3. You are an official supplier to US Freeskiing, whose team is getting ready for the Olympics in Sochi. Will you have athletes on your product at the games, and how is Liberty viewed on the international stage?
We are proud sponsors of US Freeskiing, a team that we support financially and with product that they use as prizes for their Revolution and Grand Prix tours. It is an honor to work with them. That said, we are well represented around the world, with Japan, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, and Europe all boasting Liberty Skis dealers. In fact, we sell more Liberty Skis product outside that USA than we do inside. This is one of the reasons that Liberty Skis won Colorado’s Exporter of the Year award earlier this year.
4. In your experience recruiting successful teams, what are the characteristics you find most important?
Passion and talent are the two most important characteristics that I look for, basically because they can’t be faked. Skills can be taught, domain expertise can be learned, but innate talent and a desire to work in a given field are aspects of a potential hire that they either have or don’t have.
5. Apart from the success with your company, what are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of my wife Emily (also a FoundersCard member) for her incredible success with the jewelry company Larkspur & Hawk . I am also amazed at my two entrepreneurial sons, Dustin and Theo, both of whom ran multiple, successful businesses while in their teens.
6. Who is the most fascinating person you have ever met while skiing?
I would have to say that former President Gerald Ford was the most interesting; he used to live in Beaver Creek, Colorado where I spend much of the year. I mentioned to him that he was the first President who was an Eagle Scout (which I was as well), and he was surprised to learn that fact!
7. What book are your reading now, or what book would you recommend to everyone?
I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, which I read on a flight from Hong Kong last month; the book was terrific. I would also recommend Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which was a book that I used to actually give to employees when I was in the financial data business.
8. What is the most challenging run you have ever skied and where was it?
Depending on one’s stage in life, this answer changes. When I was 6 or 7 years old, it was “Prima” or “Tourist Trap” in Vail, Colorado. Now that I’m a little (!) older, I would say that the most challenging runs would be the couloirs in Courchevel France, or when my sons take lead off the chutes in Beaver Creek or Steamboat, Colorado.
9. If you could only ski one resort in the world for the rest of your life, where would it be?
I was bitten by the ski bug in Colorado, despite learning to ski on the different colors of ice in New York State and Quebec. I love Beaver Creek, whose mountains can be seen from the Liberty Skis offices, and I don’t think I could leave there for long.
10. Give us your best plug/brag a little about as to what you’re working on now/next.
Coming up next from Liberty is a new set of ski designs from our incredible designer, Dan. From Larkspur & Hawk will be some of my wife’s amazing jewelry for the discriminating buyer. From me personally? I wish I knew the answer to that! Let’s just say that I am entertaining offers to do some really interesting and fun things.
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