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Embracing the Brand Lifestyle (INTERVIEW)

Brent Wilkins, VP of GBD at Skullcandy
Michael Hemsworth
October 28th, 2013
A passionate team leader with a knack for identifying key opportunity, Vice President of Global Business Development Brent Wilkins joined the Skullcandy team in 2012 and has helped push the iconic brand in a fresh new direction with product and marketing ideas that lead the way in the consumer electronic market. Previously a member of the HTC team, Wilkins was key contributor in the strategic investment by HTC of Beats Audio in 2011, which speaks naturally to his passion for mobile technology. His recommendation to invest in Beats by Dre was recently validated by its valuation increase from $ 618 million to $1 billion in only two years. His strong leadership is helping to push Skullcandy in a number of different directions that all point towards an innovative future for the fashionable headphone brand.

6 Questions with Brent Wilkins:

1. How does your team generate new ideas?

From our perspective, we’ll look at a variety of different aspects both internal and external sources. We’ll take a look at what our competitors are delivering and what our customers are saying. It’s important to really get into the customer’s perspective and imagine how a product will be experienced at home, in their day-to-day activities or in their car. These steps can help make sure we deliver something that’s the best it can be since our headsets are attached to the most personal devices on the planet, the mobile phone, tablet or PC.

2. Do you have specific rituals for re-setting your team to be creative?

I travel quite extensively and I really encourage my team to get out there and do the same. Spending the time to learn about the culture, and how they'll use a product will help you to really develop the best item it can be. My partner is currently in mainland China and we have a team in China to market our audio portfolio. It really requires local knowledge to understand the market needs and how to recognize how the Skullcandy brand would be best received. Something that works domestically might not develop as well internationally, so it’s all about getting out there on the ground and finding out first hand what will work and what won’t.

2. How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights?

To innovate, you have to understand how our target market uses the mobile device and determine the future of the product for its eventual success. If your company is not flexible in addressing consumer adoption, success will be difficult to attain. I recall when Will.I.Am appeared on Larry King Live wearing Beats by Dre headphones and overnight they became a “must-have” fashion technology statement. No one could have predicted their success but the marketing/music genius of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre validated that sound did matter in mobile devices. That event was something that no one could’ve tracked or anticipated but rather happened without much thought behind it. The design of the headset simply fit comfortably around Will.I.Am’s neck and it was off to the races.

Social media is a platform that makes a fleeting idea permanent, which has both positives and negatives. There’s so much noise today in media that not only can messages can be overwhelming but also content can be hit or miss. When creating a new product, we’ll look particularly at audio and lifestyle trends that are relevant to what we’re looking to do. It’s all about taking advantage of innovation vacuums, recognizing the opportunity, knowing when to act, change and exploit.

3. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating?

Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize final destination of where you want to go for a successful product . However, it’s key to remember that the end result is the same; only the path has changed. Stay true to the core of the business and the end result will be just as powerful as you can imagine.

Motivation and innovation come in many forms. When someone tells you no, it can be infuriating. To know in reality the idea can become a reality really stokes me to push forward and make it happen. An important aspect of one’s successful drive is that you can't teach character and you can't teach passion. When you have character and passion when going after a task, you’ll stop at nothing to make the idea develop into all it can be.

4. Have you identified any gaps in your innovation process that you're looking to improve on?

Sometimes in a young company, it can be difficult to open up the forum for ideas. I'm something of an extrovert so I definitely like to be in the kind of environment where I can speak freely and encourage everyone else to do the same. The kind of insight that can be gained by participating in this kind of a community can be endless. If you have the way, you’ll find it easier than ever to deliver, succeed and exceed.

5. Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at your company?

During my time at Cantor Fitzgerald LP , the firm was obsessed with maintaining its innovation lead first in mobile trading and then gaming. Cantor executed the world’s first real-time mobile transactions in 2005 prior to a global launch of mobile banking. We proved by securely and timely trading of $10 million/trade on a 2.5G network was possible that surely we could deliver a $10 sports wager. Cantor knew online gaming was on the brink of breaking out as a market in the U.S. and fought hard to break down the regulatory barriers given the technology advances. While the mobile gaming opportunity was already in existence in Europe and Asia, deploying similar technology in the United States was much more challenging given adherence to state government restrictions. We knew the necessary scale wouldn’t be ready for at least five years. From an influence standpoint, Asia and Europe really came to be insightful for showing us certain aspects that we wouldn’t have previously considered.

6. Looking to the future, how is Skullcandy going to be a leader in innovation?

We are proven leaders in innovation, from the time founder Rick Alden solved a unique business problem to answering a phone call while listening to music on the slopes in Park City. Skullcandy is not only about believing in the brand but also believing in the lifestyle. To go even further, it’s about living the lifestyle to bring our innovative dreams to reality. Our new CEO Hoby Darling is an active leader that’s centered in the lifestyle of branding. Moreover, we will continue to weigh the ground level potential of markets around the world to deliver products globally that are custom tailored and that contribute to an ever evolving marketplace.