Ex-North Face employee wants to be known for the world's strongest tents
A glimpse of SlingFin's 20-person tent is enough to make anyone do a double take.
On the premiere episode of CNBC's "Adventure Capitalists," SlingFin founder Martin Zemitis and operations manager Richard Ying pitched investors on the Kahiltna Dome, which looks more like an igloo than a tent. The product got gasps from potential investors Jeremy Bloom and Craig Cooper.
"Wow, that thing is huge!" Bloom said.
But scale isn't the company's main focus, according to Zemitis and Ying. In fact, SlingFin makes a range of tents with one core strength.
"We are known for making the strongest tents for their weight in the world," Zemitis said, adding that "on the mountain, our goal is to always be the last tent standing in the storm."
Zemitis, as an entrepreneur, is exactly what his tents hope to be — long-lasting. The president and CEO of SlingFin has spent more than 30 years in the outdoor-gear business. He's designed and fabricated products for companies like The North Face, Sierra Designs and Mountain Hardwear.
In an interview with outdoor life and travel blog "OutInUnder," Zemitis recalls his first entrepreneurial venture from high school. "In 1975, [I] decided we could make a better backpack." That led, according to Zemitis, to the creation of his first company.
Now, with decades of experience in the field, Zemitis hopes SlingFin will be able to take a substantial share of the high-end tent market.
In 2015, U.S. recreational and backpacking tent sales were estimated at nearly $300 million, according to marketing research company NPD Group.
The marketplace is already crowded with established companies like Marmot, The North Face and Mountain Hardwear, which have a nearly endless stock of designs. But Zemitis, who worked for two of those companies designing tents and other outdoor gear, thinks SlingFin's patented design, which gives its tents immense durability, brings something special to the market.
"The real value with SlingFin is the WebTruss," Zemitis explained.
SlingFin's patented WebTruss is a continuous sleeve of material that locks the tent poles together at the vertex of the structure. When attached to the tent, SlingFin says its designs can withstand wind extreme wind conditions. And on Monday's episode of "Adventure Capitalists," SlingFin's tents easily withstood the 54 mile an hour winds they were tested against. It's that stability, Zemitis says, that has gotten the company notoriety in the high-end tent marketplace.
The company sells a range of tents and outdoor gear. The 20-person Kahiltna Dome retails at $5,750, and its two-person 2Lite tent retails at $338.
But SlingFin's sales have yet to take off. From 2013 to 2015, the company's gross revenues were $240,000. As of June, its 2016 sales were estimated at $60,000.
On Monday's episode of "Adventure Capitalists," in which entrepreneurs pitch their adventure products to investors in the great outdoors, the co-founders asked investors Dhani Jones, Jeremy Bloom and Craig Cooper for $450,000 for 15 percent of their company, which would value the company at $3 million.
They said the investment would help them build out their core team and marketing, but the investors had concerns about the company's position within the marketplace.
"I think you'll do fine in the elite market; you're already branded there," Bloom said. "I'm just not convinced that you can win the recreational tent market, which is 90 to 95 percent of the tent market."
Ultimately, none of the three investors decided to invest in SlingFin, but SlingFin's co-founders said they would continue to look for the right partner.