Today In News That Shouldn’t Affect Your Daily Life Whatsoever
We just bought Stab back.
Today, we bought back Stab. The same business we sold back in May 2015 to the publicly-listed SurfStitch Group.
In February 2015, while on honeymoon with my new wife and baby boy, at The Pass in Byron, I bumped into SurfStitch’s then-CEO, Justin Cameron, at the water’s edge. I’d known him for years. JC has a glow about him; I always liked the energy of he and his offsider, Lex Pedersen, and we discussed how we should partner and work together, in the future, and change the face of modern commerce. By which he meant, loosely, that the Stitch would buy Stab and its content would drive $urf $tyle into the future. Over the years, I’ve been approached by quite a few Big Swinging Dicks, and have grown used to hearing words like “scale” and “innovation” and “disruption.” At that point, I’d learned to just tune out before my tyres were kicked and our egos were bruised. I didn’t bother calling or following up.
A week later, he called and asked: Why didn’t you get in contact? I told him I couldn’t be bothered doing the dance again, looking under the hood and hearing the difficulties of trying to scale. We talked, but avoided all of the buzzwords. And it felt right. Three months later, my biz partner Tom Bird and I were signing a 200-plus page contract on the top floor of the KPMG building in Sydney.
Liquidity events are rare; they say they only happen when you’re not looking to sell. And we weren’t. So, we jumped at the deal. I was looking forward to learning from these guys, trying to solve larger problems, throwing myself in a bigger pond. And there was some cash, too.
The highlights still blow my mind: Flying to London (via Namibia) to stay at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, sharing a boardroom with a bunch of 30-somethings who’d all built 20-million-dollar-plus surf companies on different continents, and hearing how they thought the future looked. It was fucking exciting. Almost always conflicting, their individual resolve and thinking was humbling. (If you ever get the chance to hear guys like Ben Freeston of Magic Seaweed or Justin Stone of SurfDome talk, be sure to listen. They’re clever gents.) There were some big plans and some big ideas; the world of retail and media was changing quickly. The bet for the future was something I believed could work. On paper, I liked the idea: Being able to check in every morning from your phone, check the surf, read the news, get expert instructional advice, watch some cute clips, and be given the opportunity for a commercial transaction.
And, I loved that we had a support network (read: I didn’t have to worry about paying the staff on the 15th of every month) and a potential career path for our staff. We were given budgets to back projects we were passionate about: Remember Ricardo and Stab in the Dark with Julian Wilson were approved almost immediately.
But, there were downsides. Running and gunning while being private meant it was hard to adjust to the paperwork and reporting of being public. The politicking and posturing were something that we weren’t used to. Indecision, as opposed to potentially wrong decisions, choked conversations. And, Stab lost a few of its A-Team. Turns out Stab’s glass ceiling was more attractive than the opportunity to work for an international, publicly-listed business with offices all around the world. To this day, my least favourite sentence in the world: “you got a sec to talk?” Because within the next 60 seconds, you just know you’re about to hear a resignation, and in particular, when it came from Elliot Struck my heart sank.
And we quickly learned the perils of being publicly listed. If you raise cash, you better be prepared to operate with an open playbook and be comfortable when you make mistakes and the market punishes you. And, the boys swung hard. They tried hard. They took some risks. However, the fall from grace has been very public and very well publicised. Of course, I’m an expert on what I would have done differently (and my ideas certainly would have failed too), but this model fizzed in a grandiose fashion. I don’t think in my lifetime I’ll ever see another publicly-listed surf company. Surf and stock exchange aren’t long term partners.
What detail can I give on the Stab buyback? We’ve been in talks for some time, and were trying to get the timing right. And while I can’t reveal what “nominal” sale price is, what I will say is this: There isn’t exactly a queue trying to buy print titles, let alone in surf. The fact that The Enthusiast Network chose to shutter Surfing Magazine’s doors, rather than sell, means either the market has zero desire for surf, or that there wasn’t enough for two titles and they were scared that Surfing, under new management, might threaten their prized lady, SURFER.
I guess this would be the part that outlines how it’s good to be back, that things are gonna change. But, in reality, they’re not. SurfStitch were a partner of ours before and will continue to be in the future. And, they had always loosened our leash enough for is to operate in isolation.
In other news, we’ve brought Ashton Goggans on as our Editor in Chief. Ashton is a bright, passionate US east-coaster who came to us via SURFER. Among many things, Ashton is driven to lose our Disqus comments platform. And I think we’re now old enough to move on. A story’s true meritocracy isn’t reflected in anonymous comments. Ashton’s rationale is simple: It should be a pleasure when Stab calls. We all win when our subjects are candid and transparent. They don’t deserve to be anonymously torn to shreds by faceless commenters every time they post a new web edit, or open their mouths. And, it’s hard to argue with. The subjects of our voices are far less interesting than those of our subjects so we’ll be switching to Facebook comments by the end of the year (where we will encourage the same criticism, laconic wit and unique insight).
The new Stab in the Dark is on its way shortly. We shot in Indonesia this year (after shapers complained conditions weren’t fair when they finished poorly), and commonalities appeared once again: Some boards work better than others. “Well, that board’s a waste of a grip and a block of Fu Wax,” said our secret board tester after struggling to make one of the board’s work. This time, instead of just dropping it online, we’ll be premiering it in California and inviting you, our readers, to ride all of the boards (that aren’t broken), as well as the four finalists from last year’s Stab in the Dark with Dane Reynolds.
Next year, we’re going to invite a Stab reader to come along and ride the boards alongside our blind taste tester. (Oh, and we’ll be giving an everyday shaper the opportunity to have a board in the event.)
We also want to include you in our Stab Concept Shoots, too. For the last 13 years, Stab’s rolled the dice working with guys like Miles Pitt and Richard Freeman to create different kinds of surf shoots. Some have thrived and some have dived but the highlights of which you can scroll through above. When the Dock 2.0 comes to life, we’ll be inviting a Stab reader to run down our plastic catwalk to impending doom (don’t worry, these docks are reused and nothing is left behind).
What else is on the menu? We will work to create imagery that looks photoshopped but isn’t. Cinematography to arrest a scrolling thumb. We don’t want to just exist, we want Stab to be an experimental storyteller with a vision and a traceable evolution. We’re here to suggest a better tomorrow for surf: The best surfing, biggest names, and bigger thinking. We want to remain critically optimistic. We want to create contemporary works that stand the test of time. Just as life imitates art, we want surfing to imitate Stab. (Or, as our commenters might translate for us: More of the homoerotic photoshoots, more poorly-made films and more shitty jernalizm you’ve come to love from us). Can’t stop the music.
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