Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – US Fish & Wildlife Service
Roofnest is an emerging player in the roof top tent niche and is based right here in Boulder, CO. As usual, the story behind how Tim was inspired to start Roofnest is one I think you’ll enjoy.
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Thanks a lot.
[03:00] How we met – Maria at Smak Strategies (what’s up!)
[06:00] What inspired Roofnest
[10:00] Refining the product
[13:30] Startup vs Outdoor communities in Boulder
[16:00] Why Roofnest is different
[21:30] The product – features and what’s new
It’s been really great to dig back into this project as I mentioned, had some great interviews already lined up and we might even have to bump up the frequency a little bit. We’ll see. But right now it’s great to get this next one out. Keep the, keep the streak alive. Anyway, in this episode I am speaking with Tim Nickles, the founder of roof top tent company Roofnest. And so they are local Boulder brand and you know, I had the pleasure of meeting him actually through another guest on the podcast. I’m through my interview with poler adventurer, Eric Larsen, so you know, that whole thing of starting this podcast and getting out there and just, you know, kind of expanded my local horizons and getting in touch with people, doing cool things in this area is really kind of paying off.
And that’s how I met Tim. So we kind of get into that a little bit. But uh, you know, for now the rooftop tents, you know, they’re pretty unbelievable if you camp at all, it’s pretty easy to see how it would be amazing to just pull into your spot and in one minute have your no camper all set up basically as opposed to, we’ve all set up tents in the dark and in the rain and the wind gets a little hairy but you, it’s really, really an interesting product in and he’s getting some great press and some great reviews on, on the Roofnest. So we get into that a little bit. And of course if you’re in Colorado right now or if you’re even thinking about getting up here, it’d be a beautiful time to test out one of these. I mean, you know, the weather just follow appear spectacular.
We talk about what he’s trying to do with this company, how he’s a little different than some of the other brands, how we got started, you know, what inspired it. And it’s just a great, it’s a great story. You seem to be doing well and it’s, you know, it’s really cool to watch. So as always, links to a him. You can find Roofnest at Roofnest.com and on instagram at roofnest and we’ll put links to anything we speak about in the show notes. I also just wanted to mention that I did start up a new page on Colorado.FM. There is a shop page and if you go on there you can find links to a lot of the brands that we’ve either spoken to or even people that we hope to speak to in the future. Just cool local companies. Um, you know, it’s a good way to find them and support them and you’ll be supporting the podcast and the process. So, uh, let’s get into it.
Go my conversation with Tim Nickles of Roofnest.
Alright, we’re recording. Nice. Tim Nichols. Doug, thanks for showing up man. It’s good to see you again. Yeah, likewise man. Great scene.
And you know, just I was thinking when back to like how we even met, I definitely wanted to give Maria over at Smack strategies like a call out up and little call out because um, we met at her Christmas party and she does some, some great things and represent some cool people. So I was actually curious how you got even dialed in with her. Well, Maria and I have known each other for Gosh, 10 or 15 years. She’s part of a crowd of friends that I’ve known in boulder for. Yeah. 15 going on 20 years. Some of them. So yeah, I’ve been knowing her for a long time and we just got to talking one day and I knew that she was in pr and I started to need that and uh, you know, met at a coffee shop and, and didn’t even really start to talk about her really working for me.
But she said, hey, I’ve got someone I could send your info to it Outside. And that ended up turning into like one of our biggest splashes in terms of pr, but you know, and it was a supernatural to hire her. Just given common friends and interests and she does a great job. So yeah. Well, she um, has, you know, she really hooked me up too because she reached out and had her husband, Eric Larsen. Yeah, I’m over on the show and that was like cool, amazing for his grade and to have started this little project and next thing I know I’ve got like, you know, this polar explorer the couch, right. So, uh, so that was awesome. But, so I did want to give her a little bit of a shout out in, uh, in uh, her Christmas party was Super Fun and there was lots of Bourbon as I remember.
Yeah, it was at a bourbon distillery. Yes. So a cool, awesome. Well, um, you know, you mentioned being around for awhile, like one of the, you know, we’ll, we’ll definitely get around to talking about roof nest and, and, and things. But I am, you know, this is a show about Colorado and one of the common threads is that we’re all here and that this place is pretty embarrassing and yeah. And not all of us have been around for 15 or 20 years. So, uh, so what brought you here in the first place? Yeah, I came to boulder in August of 1990 to start graduate school at the University of Colorado. I was studying molecular biology and biochemistry at that time I was Kinda in line to be a scientist and yeah, came here pretty, pretty, pretty bright eyed about Colorado. I was pretty stoked on it. And um, you know, Grad school didn’t go quite as planned.
I left with a masters from a doctoral program Kinda abd as they say and um, but yeah, ended up really loving boulder and have stayed here pretty much ever since with some stints in other places. Was in Jackson, Wyoming for a few years and yeah, I gotcha. Yeah. So it’s one of those come to see you and I almost never leave. Yeah, I constantly storage and yeah, exactly, exactly. And uh, you know, I could only imagine what this place was like. I mean going on 28 years ago, eight years ago, it had some of the same features, but quite a bit different. Quite a bit different feel. Yeah. Yeah. Well that’s cool. Well, um, I’m guessing, you know, it’s funny, I was thinking about, so I’m guessing you liked camping and, or maybe you hated trying to sleep on the ground, you know, it’s not always easy to get a good night’s sleep when you’re canceling.
So, so roof nest. I’m like, how did that come up? Kind of a kind of a funny story really. Um, I spend a lot of time in Chamonix France. Um, I’ve been going there for about 14 years and actually headed there and a couple of weeks. Um, but, uh, I have a buddy over there, Jim Lee who had a rooftop tent, a hard shell rooftop 10 on his vehicle and you know, had camped with him and my other buddies, they’re quite a bit and always thought that was a pretty cool setup. And a couple summers ago I was starting to think about building up an adventure rig and kind of didn’t have much of a budget at all. I was um, you know, not, uh, not, not flush. And so I bought a astro van Chevy Astro van for a 2,700 bucks. Super great condition. I got really lucky with it and um, my plan was to kind of build out the inside a little bit, but then put a rooftop tent on top, you know, as a way to like have a full on camper rig without having to like totally trick out the interior.
And um, what I found was it was pretty difficult to get a, an rtt for in my budget. I mean my budget was like, you know, one to $2,000 and you know, I was, everything I was seeing was like four or five, stuff like that. So I had done a lot of, or some sourcing of manufacturing in China for the bike industry. I kind of had a little stint where I was selling pedals that I designed and you know, had bought parts, bike parts and built bikes from stuff over there. So had some experience. And so I started looking into whether there was manufacturing in China and found some okay options and kind of got some tense shipped over. And um, you know, some of those initial ones were okay but not a definitely needed a lot of improvement. And um, what happened was I had never really thought about starting roof nest directly, uh, but once I had got the 10, I was like, oh, this might be a thing I could sell and thought maybe I could get 10 of these and, you know, make up some name and, and sell them and then kind of put that idea to the side.
But I had taken a craigslist ad out, um, for rooftop tents just to test the market and got some responses. So I was like, ah. And then coincidentally, like two months later, someone just sent me an email at random was like, Haiti, are you still selling those rooftop tents? And of course I just had one on my van. So I was like, oh yeah, well, um, yeah, I have a prototype model that’s not branded. But, uh, you know, I’ve been using it as a demo. But yeah, I could sell that to you for $2,000. And he said, done, I’ll take it. And he lived in Grand Junction and it was getting on December and I, um, met him at the copper mountain parking lot at, went up with four friends in my van and we skied copper and I quit early, came down to the parking lot, uh, we just pump the thing off my van and put it on his four runner and he gave me two.
Granted, I was like, this is a business, this is on, you know, and I promptly like started brainstorming names and looked into building a website and uh, um, yeah, it was kind of off to the races from there, you know, I maxed out a couple of credit cards to get the manufacturing up and running and then it’s just been a constant iteration of, of trying to improve the product and, you know, get the message out to more people that are for sale. And I’ve been lucky. It’s been very well received and it’s been an easy business to, uh, to grow.
Right. Wow, that’s great man. And it’s a little of that story and it’s just so kind of Colorado. I love the deal in the copper part. Totally down is just its roots, but that’s, so that model was kind of more like off the shelf of something you found and then so then you started iterating on it to improve it and bump up the quality. Because, I mean, one of the things I noticed is, I mean there was one of the videos on your website. I think there’s a lot. I loved it. There was these two people setting it up on the side of a road and the wind’s howling so bad that you clearly can’t even hear them talking or anything like that. It’s just like,
and you know, you can still pop it. So I’m, I’m assuming that, you know, those first ones that you ordered probably weren’t up to snuff. They were
okay. But yeah, just so many of the features, I mean it’s a simple thing really is just two shelves with hinges and gas struts with a mattress on the inside. But as, as everything, I mean there’s so many details that go into making it a, a nice product. And I was, uh, I, I found a factory that I was able to create an exclusive relationship with and really start working on my own designs and um, and that’s been super productive because, you know, I’ve been over there a couple times and you know, I’ve met the people at the factory and you know, have a really good open communication with them and we’re constantly talking about improvements and you know, it’s always a struggle. You want to keep a sort of set feature list on your product so that you don’t have a bunch of different models out there.
But, you know, we’re constantly making improvements. And um, now we have, I think a great product. It’s super competitive quality wise with the other kind of top brands out there. And that’s been a lot of work to get there. Right. Well, and I, you know, it’s funny, I haven’t written down to ask you about that process of finding the manufacturing and everything because you have a lot of people you talked to are dealing with like digital projects these days and things like that. And you just don’t get like these, like, or people manufacturing locally where you can control a lot of that process, but you know, finding that manufacturing overseas and things like that can be a real deal breaker for a lot of people. And so, you know, having established that relationship I’m sure is pretty clutch to for sure. Maintaining everything. Yeah. And, and like I said, I think I was very fortunate with what I was able to find and create.
But it, it’s been constant work. I mean, I, I think last year, you know, uh, my factory, uh, the context of their wake up at about five or 6:00 PM Colorado time, so pretty much all last year and most of this year, uh, and, and still to some degree, but I’m, you know, I work all day on the business and then I work all night, uh, communicating and, and uh, stuff with China. So it’s been, yeah, it was a difficult, uh, last year and the start of this year, we’re, we’re a pretty tough on the old social life and everything else, you know, just like pinning it. Just a burnout espresso machine. Totally, well, what about like, um, like locally, I mean such a great, you know, startup infrastructure in boulder and such a great community especially for such, for a gear type product and things like that. Like how has that been?
Like, what, you know, aside from knowing people like Maria, I’m like, what has it been to be part of that kind of more like a startup thing in boulder? Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. There’s two elements that you spoke of. One is the startup community in boulder and the other is the outdoor community and those two don’t really overlap a ton. I mean there’s outdoor startups here. We’re one of them, but for the most part, you know, a lot of the startups or tech companies and then the outdoor brands are, they have presences here, presence here. Like, you know, Dina fit has offices here, Selayla and lots of other companies obviously. So it’s been really great to create some local partnerships for both, like branding, getting the word out, doing events together and um, and then, you know, as far as the startup infrastructure, you know, I’ve definitely attended a lot of talks and events and stuff to learn what people do when they’re starting a business.
And, you know, it’s interesting. I think so much of what I’ve done has been. I’m just making it up as I go along because some of the challenges I’ve faced are different than the challenges other companies have faced. And I think especially in the tech world, the whole kind of startup thing, you know, uh, you know, startup, even just that phrase is somewhat new. I mean we used to call that a business when you created a business, now it’s a startup and now it’s like a, you know, there’s all venture capital and all this stuff. And you know, I basically self-funded, like I said, I’m maxed out a couple of cards. I actually borrowed some money from my mom and you know, it was a little. I actually took a loan out on my car. I didn’t even know you could do that. I owned my old Volkswagen Jetta and I called the bank and I was like, I need money. They’re like, well, what do you got? You got a car? I was like, yeah, I got a car. It’s like, well, let’s, let’s put a loan on it. So yeah, it got some. Got some capital there and so yeah. And it’s, you know, so, you know, I haven’t been in that infrastructure of the startup community as much, but uh, you know, it’s been good to be here. I definitely have friends and a context that have provided a lot of assistance and advice and that’s been helpful.
Right, right. Well, you know, it was funny, we were just starting to talk before we even hit the record button and we had to, I had to stop us, but um, you know, so you’ve created this company, we won’t call it, you know, so start up. It’s real one. It’s like, thank you. We’ve got a, you know, a, a cool product in and there’s. But there are other people doing what you’re doing. There are, you know, some of these other brands out there and uh, you know, I do see the difference between your, the hard shell ones and kind of those soft ones and, but I am starting to see you around town man. I definitely see roof nests out there. But, you know, one of the things that you, you mentioned that was, that, you know, you’re, you’re different, you know, like you’re trying to be not only like a different product and different companies. So like let’s kind of talk about what you’re trying to do with it.
Yeah. So I’m pretty frugal person and I, I always like to find the best value in things that I purchased myself, cars, bikes, whatever. And uh, what I’ve wanted to create is a company that can sell a really good value to customers. And I, again, as I said I, you know, I’m kind of making all this up as I go along, but what I understood the way to do that to be was to sell direct to consumers, kind of control as much of the distribution supply, etc. Etc. As I can intErnal to the company. So I can kind of save costs at each stage and not have to pay third parties some of my margin. And uh, you know, I, I worked on this company by myself for a long tIme and now I have several really great people working with me, but I in the beginning, that was part of it too.
And I think one of the big features of roof nest is that direct to consumer thing. I mean, we don’t have a dealer network that we need to build in a margin, uh, to sell a, at a higher price. And, you know, I, I, you know, I, I, I always tell people we’re selling wholesale to the public, which is true. I mean we, um, uh, you know, we get the proceeds of every sale, so that allows us to put that back into the business and keep our prices really competitive, which there are several companies making not only hard shell but softshell rooftop tents and, you know, as a new brand, I think we’ve had to offer pretty competitive pricing just to get out there until now. I think we have a pretty good reputation. You know, there’S a lot of revIews and discussion on the web and we have a super good customer user community that’s very supportive and I think that’s helping us.
Um, you know, people aren’t sort of saying like, who the heck is roof nest and you know, why should I buy their 10? But um, but, so that’s the main thing. And then like I said, keeping all the processes of, you know, creation, supply, distribution, warehousing, we’ve, we’ve set up all those things to be as inexpensive as possible. You know, we’re warehousing in los angeles, all of our ocean freight goes right to there and get stored and um, you know, we ship all over the country and even north America from there, uh, you know, we used to do that in Denver, but it was really expensive to bring the tense, all of them, overland storm in Denver. And so, you know, this is just all to California where they had then. Yeah. And then sell it to someone in la. Wow. It’s just, they’re kind of silly.
But yeah, it’s been. Yeah. And that’s all, like I said, been stuff I’ve had to learn on my own. I haven’t had anybody to sort of teach me how to do that, you know? Yeah. Well, and now you’re like a employing some locals too. you just got to be a good feeling. Jobs, man. Totally, totally, totally contributing to the local economy is. Yeah. My first hire was my next door neighbor. Right. All I didn’t have to go far. Just like conversation in the parking lot. You already saw them standing there. It’s like, I know you’re not working, man. Yeah, that was perfect. That’s awesome. So like you said, you’re not, it’s all direct sales. So are you doing even anything like, uh, you know, it was at the outdoor retailer show here. I mean, but for most people that’s just about landing, um, you know, you’re not really meeting direct customers there.
You’re meeting retail outlet. So I don’t know if that was a big deal for you or I’ve, I’ve, I’ve gone to a couple out to our retailers, that’s where I met you really associated with the first one last winter. And um, yeah, it’s not really our show, we don’t, we don’t buy space there or anything. I mean, I go and I, I talked to people and meet some folks and stuff, but um, yeah, not, not our gig grade now, you know, we thInk about distribution as channels, retaIl channels and online channels and this and that and the other thing and you know, it, it’s just in today with the technology and people using the web for so many things. People buy a lot of things off the web. I mean, that’s nothing, that’s not news. Not mad. I’m not, you know, making news here. But uh, it, it’s been really effective for us to set the company up to sell to people online, you know, getting information out there online, getting video content, that’s always a challenge. But, you know, just making it easy for people to make that call.
Cool. Well, let’s, um, so let’s talk about the product a little bit. We talked about, you know, a lot, you know what I mean? It looks like you’re getting some great feedback and great reviews out there. I mean, I read some of the articles that you have online on, you know, you know, some great magazine. yeah, kind of feedback and uh, so how are you loving this thing? I mean it’s just the rooftop tent thing, just the idea of getting off the ground and getting caught up in the air. It seems to me like the only challenges, making sure your is like in a level spot. Yeah. Other than that, I mean,
yeah, you got no worries. Yeah. The nice thing about our tents is they pop straight up so you don’t need any thing to the left or right of your vehicle and you’re kind of self contained, just like a, an old westfalIa camper van type thing and you know, the sprinter craze that’s going on now, you know, it’s all just, you know, right in that space where you park and, and yeah, I mean leveling your vehicle. Really nobody mentions that. I mean, you know, a lot of overlander have these uh, you know, a little plastic things that they bring with them to level their vehicle. and of course if you get way out in the back country, you know, that can be an issue, but you know, a lot of our market is people that are, you know, just using these things for weekend getaways and they’re not necessarily going up to a mountaintop to camp, you know, they’re kinda near some infrastructure and so pretty easy for them to find flat ground.
But yeah, I mean the beauty of a hard shell rooftop tent like roof nest is you can literally park your car, you undo a couple straps, they pop up on gas struts, you can be inside the thing within a minute of pulling your car over, which is unlike any other camping experience other than a camper van or a our rv or that sort of thing. You know. And these, they go on any car, we’ve got them on cooper mini’s and prius’s and that sort of stuff. So it’s really open to anyone. You don’t need to buy another vehicle, you just used the vehicle you have and you don’t need another parking space for an extra camper vehicle. It’s like, you know, and they’re pretty easy to put on and take off. I mean, I think normally if, if somebody’s got a decent rack and there’s enough clearance to kInd of access everything, you can get these on in 15 minutes. You know, I had a guy come to my house to borrow one the other day and we popped it off my jetta and popped it on his truck. Took us less than 10 minutes, you know, all said and done. So you know, you can take them off if you want to use the car for something different or, or seasonally or whatever.
Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s amazing because uh, you know, I did some road trips with my two little kids and I was like, thinking that would have been killer. It would have been perfect for that situation. You know, you’re just like boom, pop the thing up. and uh, you know, it stores like, you know, everyone talks about, you know, a lot of the bedding and things like that are kind of in there. So it’s just like literally ready to go. Which kind of begs the question of whether I could just like leAve my kids in there like, or even like, like you know, men, you go camping long enough. Even like a regular adult campIng partner, you might want to just close them in there for like a few days, but if it’s too long you can get on each other’s nerves lately. You need to stay on the roof, man.
You guys just put your headphones on. Yeah. Now it looks like pretty. I mean the benefits seem pretty obvious even compared to like um, you know, the westfalia type type things. The one thing people kind of complain about in that whole setup scenario is that, you know, if you’re kind of parked here and you want to go drive even just a couple of miles away to whatever the actual feature of, you know, that you came to see is that it takes you an hour to actually pack the whole van backup, go over there, you know, for the day and kind of come back where it seems like um, you know, with if it’s just your 10 on top and not like a whole bunch of other stuff. Like yeah, like a little less of a deal. You can just like slammed that tent down and like get out of there in a few minutes and come
certainly compared to like a ground tent or any other kind of camping setup. And you know, a lot of places, uh, I camp and other people camp. I mean you can leave stuff set up at your camp site and just take off for the day. And so yeah, pop in the tent down and driving somewhere pretty easy. Yeah. Yeah. It looks like fun, man. It looks like a good way to camp, that’s for sure. And I’m sure it’s been a fun thing to be involved with. That’s the cool thing about running a, an outdoor business, especially one involved with camping is, you know, everybody I deal with is pretty chill. I mean there’s always the exception, but like most of the people uh, are out there trying to have fun trying to get more adventure in their life and you know, it’s, we’re just sort of facilitating that and it’s a cool thing to be doing.
Well. It’s funny, I was just thinking, uh, you know, speaking of erik larson, when is he, when we were speaking, he was saying how when he was growing up, all he wanted to be was a, like a professional camper basically. Yeah. I’m like, well that’s kind of funny and I think maybe you’ve pulled it off. Yeah, like a, you. Yeah. I have a, like a 10 company that I may be a professional
camera, might be a professional camera. That’s awesome man. Anything else? Anything coming up for like new year, like I know you’re trying to, it seems like you’ve, you’ve got, you know, ford models or something like that, you know, you’ve got the basis covered as far as size and different vehicles. We’ve got some new stuff that we’re working on that hopefully will be telling people about this winter, you know, get ready for 2019 spring and stuff. We’ve, we’ve introduced some accessories, you know, just other products that go with the whole car camping thing. We’ve got a 12 volt fridge that was branded roof nest and we make this a down blanket that’s actually a super cool piece of kit. It’s like a seven foot by six foot big puffy down blanket, like a technical sleeping bag with no zippers, you know, so it’s great for the roof nest and also just great to have around the camp where you can just pull it out, wrap it around your body, go look at the stars, whatever.
So it’s a pretty cool, a cool thing. So we’re experimenting with that kind of stuff. Stuff like the accessories that fit perfectly and all that. That’s all those things make the experience totally. All right. So we’ll keep our eye out for stuff like that is, is there anything else? uh, you know, you wanted to mention man? No, no, I’m good. Doug’s super nice talking to you. Thanks for letting me on your show. Yeah. Well there’s one last thing that I like to ask people. Uh, and I didn’t give you a heads up so this is going to be a, you know, a real. It’s not like anything crazy but like I do like to ask people who they’d like to hear on, on this show and I get some great ideas from, from my guests, you know, somebody like around here and they don’t have to be in your field like anywhere in Colorado.
I mean it is a Colorado show, but people doing cool stuff, somebody doing something really, you know, whether it’s for the community or business wise, I don’t know. I meAn, I don’t know if you know Eric Henderson, you know that guy? No, he’s a, he’s an old buddy from jackson and uh, he’s lIving here with his wife and family and um, does sImilar stuff to maria, you know, works wIth brands and, and she’s just super cool guy. Tons of energy. Great to talk to. He’d be, he’d be a fun guy to have on the show. There you go. That’s all I’m looking for. Perfect. Alright, well thanks agaIn man. I appreciate you making some time and coming over. My pleasure, man. Easy trip is a trip across town for me. awesome. All right, thanks. See you doug.
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