About Tom Kay, Founder
"Early memories of listening to the shipping forecast on dark winter nights – raging gales outside – has always stuck with me. I grew up obsessed with the sea, surfing and constantly changing weather. I would study isobar pressure maps for hours, scouring for the right wind and swell."
"You have to be a committed surfer on these shores. Cold, pre-dawn starts, fickle winds, shifting tides. But the rewards of discovering perfect uncrowded waves, line-ups framed by medieval castles - the adventure, the camaraderie, the solitude – it’s more than worth it."
Tom founded Finisterre at a time when he felt the industry was lacking.
"I was full of blind optimism when I started. The products that were being marketed to me just didn’t feel very relevant. I had a sense there was space for a legitimate brand, rooted in British surfing, and portraying the values and life associated with it. I wanted to push product innovation and have a brand committed to a more responsible way of manufacturing."Tom and Nick talk about journey so far . . .
Nick Evans: Tom had been running Finisterre for 8 years when we met. We saw a beautiful brand which we felt had potential to be really special. But, whilst they had been operating for quite a long time, the business was still relatively small. Tom had been bootstrapping the business and the need for working capital had constrained growth.
Tom Kay: I ran the business part-time for the first four years, pretty much figuring it out as I went along. Transitioning to full time was actually really hard. We were growing quickly and the amount of capital required was making it unsustainable. As a brand founder, I had absolute faith that we were building an exciting brand with real potential. I was ambitious about wanting to achieve this and realised I needed partners who could help and were similarly motivated to take a beautiful brand to more people. There was no way I could financially or emotionally take it where it needed to be by myself. At some point in time you need to get people in your boat.
Nick Evans: When we met, we had a really honest conversation about the brand. About where it could go, about improvements needed in the product, and operationally, what needed to be done to take the business to the next level.
Tom Kay: Active’s understanding of brands and the journey they can take was really important for me. Investing in a brand is a different path to investment in a FMCG product. Any good brand has an emotional nature to the business. Active gets that – and it’s really important because it’s ultimately where the value and point of difference is.
Nick Evans: The business has really moved on a lot in the last couple of years. Tom’s focussed on building sales momentum and excitement around the brand, extending the range to a full men’s women’s collection, and improving our supply chain and infrastructure so we can scale the business effectively. The team opened a flagship store in London at the end of 2014 which has been a great success – a piece of Cornwall here in the Capital. And we’re looking forward to supporting Tom expand across the UK and internationally.
Tom Kay: I’m excited about the future. It feels like the brand is emerging from its adolescence and has established a strong product foundation to grow from. Looking back, I think where we are now is very much where I hoped we would be. Active bought into the vision - and that’s a big thing for both of us. You’re not here to radically alter what somebody’s started, you’re here to challenge, support and evolve. It’s very much a partnership and a relationship I’m proud of.
Nick Evans: It takes time. You have to give the brand room to breathe and evolve. Tom lives and breathes it. He’s doing a great job of bringing it to life.
Tom Kay: As a founder entrepreneur, I underestimated the width of support available - being able to speak to this guy or that guy in your network who’s done it before. And how helpful moving to a proper Board structure would be - that relieved ‘hand to mouth’ pressure and allowed me to focus on building the brand. Previously, I was making decisions on my own, with personal guarantees attached, and then waking up at 3am, second guessing myself. As much as people alongside me were involved, no one had skin in the game like me. Signing up to a decision together at a Board meeting is much more productive. You have a month to go and get on with it - with confidence - rather than re-visiting the points again and again. That sort of partnership is really good for the psychology and confidence of the place.