Wearing Many Hats
August 20th, 2020 | Words & Photos by Bryson Smith
Over the past few weeks, we've been digging through our archives, looking at old Nomad photos from the past eight years, and thinking about the journey we've been on. One thing is for sure, things never stay the same here at Nomad, from our physical location to our product roadmap, and even what everyone who works here does on a daily basis. When we asked our team, who was hired for a role different from the one they have now, 40% of current Nomads raised their hands. One of those people is the editor of this blog, Bryson Smith. Read on for his account of how our "many hats" culture makes Nomad unique.
When I first started at Nomad in September of 2017, I was prepared to go into the office I interviewed in a month earlier. At this time, the Nomad office was in the former industrial park of Santa Barbara right by the harbor, the "funk zone." The Santa Barbara Funk Zone has been revitalized in recent years by restaurants, wineries, and artists since its Industrial heyday many years prior. The Nomad "funk zone" office shared a wall with a vintage and handmade denim shop called Loveworn. The other side of the building was home to a skate shop and bike rental place. We also shared space with a florist. The whole building was one massive warehouse that had been subdivided into smaller plots.
I had shown up to my interview a month prior, not sure what to expect. I was greeted by one of the cofounders of Nomad, Brian Hahn. He was clad in t-shirts, shorts, and sandals and seemed just as concerned with whether or not we'd have a good time hanging out together as he was with my qualifications (spoiler alert I had almost none as a recent college graduate). Our interview went well, and a few days later, I got a call from Noah Dentzel, Nomad's other cofounder. Noah grilled me on how committed I was to Nomad and whether I was willing to work hard and in unexpected ways. After a good phone chat which was part interview part motivational speech, Noah told me they'd let me know soon.
Once I got the good news that I would be joining the team, I set off on a two-week road trip between jobs and returned to Santa Barbara just in time for my start date. The morning that I was supposed to start, I got a call from Brian early in the morning. My first thought was oh man; something has changed. I wasn't wrong.
Brian let me know that the roof had blown off our office the previous day, due to a localized tornado/rain freak weather event called a microburst. I should mention that the office I interviewed had exposed plumbing, no drywall of any kind, and many other industrial charms. So it may not have been the most stormproof building ever, but hey it's Southern California— it pretty much never rains (or microbursts) here. Brian let me know that instead of starting work at the office, I would be starting my first day at his & Noah's shared home they rented from Noah's brother in Summerland. This same house had been the home of Nomad for a number of years prior, the garage being used as a warehouse.
So began my ongoing tenure here at Nomad. I spent my first two months in the Summerland garage office, right as we were launching new iPhone cases. All the samples for Youtubers and press were arranged in piles in the living room of the house. Our one-person customer support team was housed in the kitchen. When Chuck, who ran all of Nomad's marketing and social media at that point, visited the "office" from his home in San Diego, he slept on the back deck. We were running lean and things changed every day. Eventually, we landed in another office, this time one with a stormproof roof. I spent a whirlwind weekend helping Brian move everything into the new office, fueled by dinners at the new Chinese restaurant across the street and beers while unpacking boxes. At the time, I should mention that my job title was "logistics manager, " which meant forecasting inventory, arranging freight shipments between factories, warehouses and business partners, and a whole host of other logistics-related tasks. However, I quickly learned that working at Nomad meant doing a lot more than just your responsibilities. You could dig in anywhere, and take responsibility for something that no one was doing. And since Nomad is small, when things go wrong, it's up to you to fix them.
Since my first role at Nomad, I've worn many different hats, from running our internal eCommerce warehouse to starting this blog. I've been to China to work on logistics issues, unloaded semi-trucks in our parking lot at lighting speed, and only turn around and ship out a backorder a few hours later. I've been inside our local FedEx hub and helped fill the plane when things got really crazy. I even lived in our parking lot for a few months, while Brian and Noah lived upstairs. Over the past few years, every member of the Nomad crew has pitched in different ways, doing whatever needs to be done to keep going forward.
So many of my coworkers started here with very different roles from the ones they have now. One guy that we hired in May of 2019, Reese Hammerstrom, was hired as "Business 4x4". We didn't know what his role would be. Still, we were growing, and we knew we needed more solid members of the Nomad crew, so Reese came on board with that vague description and promptly got to work on whatever needed doing, from getting orders out of customs exemptions to troubleshooting products. Now he heads up our eCommerce department and website.
Erica, whose favorite gear kicked off our 8 Year Journey Sale, started as a customer support intern while still at UCSB. After she joined full time, she took on odd projects, like making Nomad shirts for the team and throwing an awesome concert in our parking lot. Now, in addition to helping out Chloe Ferrari and the rest of customer support, Erica crushes it on our affiliate marketing and custom corporate sales.
Our HR manager, Viet, also started as a customer support intern while he was still in college. He quickly showed his knack for dealing with tech support issues and building new computers as we needed them. Sofia, our wholesale director, always shows up on Black Friday to help ship out the extra buildup of orders we get throughout the week.
And the stories of people stepping up and filling in needed gaps aren't the only ways in which different members of the Nomad team have set out to do something new that wasn't part of their original job description. Nick, our creative director, started out as a freelance photographer we were working with before coming full-time as a photographer. Once Nick started working full time as a photographer at Nomad, he started throwing out product suggestions, website redesigns, and other stuff not exactly related to just taking pictures. A few years later, he is heading up all of our design at Nomad from product to website. Another member of our wholesale team, Dani is an accomplished filmmaker in her own right, so she will hop behind the camera and direct whenever we need a video made. There are many others at Nomad who have taken their own passions and turned into something new at Nomad.
What does it mean to have this company where people change roles, do different things, and don't utter the phrase, "but that's not my job"? Nomad cofounder Noah Dentzel often says, "Nomad is a big little company, and to me, this is one of the central tenets of Nomad's big little company philosophy: Nomad is a team. We work together to get things done, and people take on projects as they come up. Beyond that, we try and recognize each other's strengths and allow for new roles to develop at Nomad. No matter where someone starts at Nomad, whether it's in the shipping room or as a customer support intern, they can step up, take on more and do something that no one had ever thought of before. This also means that we are always improving, looking to do things differently and make Nomad even better. It means that when our customer support team needs help answering your questions, we all pitch in to lend a hand. It means that when we are developing new products, everybody that works at Nomad is a product tester. I think that all of this makes our products better. When the group of people behind the case that protects your phone or the cable you use to charge daily is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, you know you are in good hands.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates the importance of this company culture more than our decision to start making medical supplies as COVID-19 left us with a national shortage of PPE. No one at Nomad knew anything about making medical supplies and what that would be like, but we knew it had to be done. So we stepped up, put in weekend hours, learned all about facemasks and hand sanitizer, and quickly became experts because we needed to. While no one could have predicted COVID-19, I now feel like I can predict the Nomad team's response to any crisis we will face in the years to come: we will put on whatever hat we need and step up.
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