Ed. Note—we have some amazing news! Toshi Corbet, formerly of Red Bull, GoPro, Giro, and several other major companies in the active industry, joins Wattie Ink. as our Director of Global Marketing. The full release lives below, but we checked in with the long-time San Diegan about topics that ranged from Lance Armstrong to Robert Frost (yep, you read that last name correctly).
When Toshi Corbet calls me for our interview, the iconic "808" area code leads his phone number, and when I pick up he says "Aloha, Chris!" Corbet and I haven't met, and only spoken tangentially on the phone up to this point, so I follow what seems like the natural lead and ask him which island he lives on. "Oh, no!" he replies. "I've been grandfathered into the cheapest phone plan of all time, courtesy of my mother. I only pay $35 a month for unlimited data. They're trying to get me off the plan all the time. I've lived in San Diego since 2003." Not a great start, journalistically, but as I discover over the next hour, Corbet is the easiest interview of all time; even the softball questions I toss him result in wonderful, sprawling, madcap answers. Here's an example:
Tell me the story of your first experience with athletics
"I was lucky enough to have some supportive parents that threw me out of the house every day. I'd go skateboarding in a ditch with friends, picked up soccer when five or six and played all the way through my freshman year at Cal Poly. I was a swimmer, too, from living all over the Pacific (oh, my dad was, like, one of the first multi-lingual software engineers, so we moved all the time when I was a kid). I also played water polo through that first year of college, before discovering, you know, girls and beer and weed. I was working at a surf shop in San Luis Obispo, because I was basically on academic probation all that first year (I'd taken up professional surfing at a really low level), and I met two really important people for the rest of my life, two pro surfers, Matt and Sam George, who were the sometimes editors of Surfing Magazine. One of them said to me 'Toshi, you suck at surfing, but you’re one of the most well-traveled people we know. Stop surfing. We need to send people to the most dangerous places in the world and take pictures.' So I did that. I ended up in jail, I had an M-16 shoved down my throat in El Salvador, but all of that led me to my job at Giro and basically the rest of my life."
It becomes apparent that Toshi is both a journalist's dream and the tractor beam from the Death Star: I could listen to him talk story all afternoon. The reason I'm talking to him, though, is to ask him questions about how he approaches marketing, what he learned from his time at Giro (then a groundbreaking but tiny helmet company from California), Red Bull, and GoPro, among several others.
What did you take away from your time at Red Bull and GoPro?
"Red Bull created the concept of the energy drink, and GoPro created the active camera, and I learned that you can execute some crazy disruptive project, as long as you have a really solid plan with excellent people behind it. One of the things I've learned over the years is to step back and let my team do what they're good at. I hire kids who are Instagram ninjas, coders who will know more about Wordpress than I'll ever know, and I just get out of their way. The disruptive thing I see about Wattie Ink. is that we're basically a 3D printing company for triathletes who want the best gear. You need 50 pieces of something? We can do that, and we can do it quickly. We're not a company that is ordering fabric today for projects next year.
"We're also a media company that happens to print triathlon and cycling apparel, and I think that's one of the ways that we grow as a company. I'd like to embrace the event side of things, similar to what we did with the GoPro Mountain Games, where the tag line was 'the joes and the pros,' where everybody sees that they're important to the brand, from Heather Jackson to the guy buying the F*ck Cancer kit to support his mom. I want to rent a giant house at Kona—remember the Red Bull house?—and put on a week of things like a Ted Talk. I don't want to hear another talk about race nutrition—I want to hear John Joseph talk about recovering from heroin through triathlon."
How do you evaluate a potential marketing asset? What are you looking for?
"This is what makes Wattie Ink. so great already. Not only are we breaking the mold in terms of the gear we're making, and direct sales to consumers, but in realizing that everyone influences and is important to the brand as a whole. Back in the day, I had to bribe magazine editors to get a helmet on the cover, and that would only happen twelve times a year! Today we can focus on the power of every one of our customers and tell their stories, from Andy Potts to the mother of three doing her first triathlon."
What do you see in the Wattie Ink. brand that intrigues you?
"Authenticity. Punk. DIY. But are we speaking to the East Coast or only talking to the people west of the Rockies? Do people know about us in Munich? The UK? Take Vans, or Nike. You'll see them all over the world, and they got that way by staying true to their ethos these past forty or fifty years. I want us to stay true to where we started and honor that history, but expand globally."
What are you reading right now? What do you find inspiring?
"Sebastian Junger's book Tribe. It's really hitting me about how tribes of people live and work together in this age of too much communication."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Toshi Corbet Appointed as Global Marketing Director of Wattie Ink., a US-based Triathlon-and-Cycling Apparel Company
Vista, CA, 21 May 2019 – Wattie Ink. has announced the appointment of Toshi Corbet as their new Global Marketing Director, anticipating expansion and growth of their brand into new markets.
Toshi Corbet joins Wattie Ink. from his careers at GoPro, Red Bull Media House, and Hookit Network, among others, signaling that that San Diego-based triathlon-and-cycling apparel company anticipates expanding into new global arenas. Corbet has spent his career focused on athletes and on activating ambitious worldwide athleisure initiatives, making him a perfect fit for Wattie Ink.
“I look forward to taking Wattie Ink.’s successful model to new categories outside of triathlon and developing the company’s global presence. I’ve always admired how Wattie Ink. has disrupted the staid world of triathlon apparel through innovative, punk-inspired designs, all while steadily succeeding in their existing market,” says Corbet.
“I’ve known Toshi for over ten years and worked with him during his time at GoPro and Red Bull. I’ve always been impressed by his work, and we’re extremely excited to have him join the team and to see where he can take us,” says Sean Watkins, founder of Wattie Ink.
Corbet oversaw the global athlete strategy for GoPro’s endurance and outdoor sport division, leading that company’s growth from 2012 to 2017, and produced the POV footage of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Before that he helped Red Bull become an industry leader in the sporting world, changing the way that companies deploy athletes as part of their marketing strategies. He managed the merger of Giro and Bell Helmets, and worked with Lance Armstrong during seven editions of Tour de France from 1999-2005. Corbet brings that experience to Wattie Ink.’s stable of world class athletes which includes Ironman and Ironman 70.3 champions Heather Jackson, Andy Potts, Josh Amberger, Rachel McBride, Cody Beals, Sarah Piampiano, Joe Gambles, Jen Annett, and Sam Appleton.