Q&A with Rudder USA Founder Nicole Anderson


Can you give us some details on your background and why you founded Rudder USA?
I am currently 23 years old and received my degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business in 2019. I went to school for marketing and entrepreneurship.  I grew up surrounded by go-getters and a handful of entrepreneurs. Starting from my great-grandpa, the entrepreneurial spirit has been passed down through my family for generations. Growing up, I had a father who started a business and a mother who also started one, so I was surrounded by that sort of environment from the get-go. When thinking about my future, I always envisioned creating a brand from the ground up and continuing in my family’s legacy.
What are some of your fondest memories of boating, and how did that shape your brand?

I have two memories that I will share with you all. One is pretty embarrassing and one happens to be one of the happiest memories I have of boating.

The embarrassing memory happened when I was in middle school. I had a good friend from school living on the chain of lakes and I wanted to pick her up in an antique classic boat for lunch. Not only did I want to drive us to lunch, I wanted to go to one of the busier spots on the chain. We got there successfully, ate lunch, and were heading back to the dock. After we had gotten in the boat, the engine wouldn’t start. I tried over, and over, and over again and the boat wouldn’t start. And if you are unfamiliar with older boats, they are loud. So not only would the boat not start, but the awful noise it was making caught the attention of the people sitting outside at the restaurant, and soon enough I had a whole patio of people watching me try and unsuccessfully start the engine. It got to the point where I had to call my dad and ask him to drive to the restaurant and help me start the boat, which eventually happened. The whole process took about 30 minutes and I was so embarrassed I didn’t drive a boat for 2 summers after that. Looking back on it now, it was probably a good learning lesson for me and made me more aware of how the boats actually work.

My most special memory happened last year and it has to do with my all-time favorite antique boat that my grandfather owns. The boat is named Ethyl Ruth, otherwise known as the G5, and it has been my favorite boat since I was young. The boat is slick, fast, and almost looks like it is upside down. It’s extremely aerodynamic since it was built specifically for the Gold Cup in 1934 and sits low in the water. The boat became a staple in my family after my father took a strong liking to it, resulting in countless boat rides over the years. I was in shot gun for all of those rides in the G5, but I never in the driver’s seat. I wanted to learn how to drive the boat so badly, but it was never the right time. Then, at 22 years old, I finally got permission to take it for a drive. It was easily the best boat ride I have ever taken. That sheer feeling of euphoria has been unmatched by any other boat ride I have taken since, and being able to handle a classic Gold Cup race boat myself was a huge check off my bucket list.
I know most of your products are made in the USA. Can you tell us a little more about your line and how it is made?
Supporting domestic jobs and helping out the American economy is very important to me. I enjoy knowing I helped support the jobs of people that I can see in person and talk face-to-face with rather than half way across the world. To me, knowing I am helping keep someone else’s American dream alive by giving them my business is far more rewarding than working with people I can’t get to know on a personal level. I have met so many amazing people through this process, which makes it all the better.

I have worked with a Product Development and Manufacturing company in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area for years now. They helped me in the product development process and even have manufactured some of my styles.  They were a saving-grace in the start of my business and I am not sure where I would be without them. The company is also a woman-owned business, so I especially enjoyed working with them to make Rudder USA become a reality.
I would love to dig a little deeper about what it’s like to be a young CEO and Founder! What challenges did you face starting your business?
Being a young CEO and Founder is really fun for me. I like being able to have a schedule that I can curate myself, and I also like putting in the extra work and hours that are needed in order to get the right things done in time. Every day is different and I enjoy being faced with the difficult challenges that come with building a brand. It comes with a lot of ups and downs but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else at this point in my life. Every day is a new learning experience and I am grateful for what those experiences give me.
Being a young CEO and Founder can also be lonely at points. I don’t know a lot of other people around my age doing the same thing so at times it is difficult finding others who can relate to me and the problems I am facing on a day-to-day basis.

 

Rudder USA didn’t have the start it was supposed to. I started the journey of building Rudder USA between my Freshman and Sophomore year of college. To put it into perspective, that was 4 years ago. I was advised from my father to take it slowly and start with a solid foundation to build the rest of the brand off of and go up from there. It was a side project that I slowly built through my college career because I knew I did not want to start it while I was finishing my degree.

My plan always consisted of me launching Rudder USA in May of 2020.  Unfortunately, I, along with almost everyone, faced a major setback due to COVID-19. Here is what happened: For the last few years I had been working with a local Product Development and Manufacturing company in the Twin Cities to help jumpstart Rudder USA. They had helped me with everything from developing the fundamental basics of my clothing designs, all the way to the manufacturing point. Then, at the beginning of May, I received a phone call from the CEO of the company. During that phone call she informed me that the company was suddenly contracted out by the USA government to only make PPE until the end of 2020. She told me I had to pick up all of my fabrics and materials and find another manufacturer to make my clothes. This was within the month of me launching my business and I had to start that part of the process completely over. My plan that I had been creating for years now had turned upside down and I had to act quick and pivot in order to launch in a timely manner. Many phone calls were made, countless late nights were had, and I spent hours driving around the Midwest in order to pull Rudder USA together before Summer’s end.

Even though Rudder USA did not start when it was supposed to, and we were only able to launch 50% of our initial plan, we still persisted. Our launch finally came on August 31st, and thankfully it was a success. Now we work hard to bring our customers what they want and we love engaging and growing our support in the boating community.

Starting a business in a global pandemic was not easy, but there are other struggles as well. Being 23 years old comes with some repercussions. I have found it a struggle to have older professionals take me seriously. I know it will take time and continued professionalism to change that, but I am up for the challenge!
Do you have any recommendations for people looking to create their own brand?
We live in a society where entrepreneurship is encouraged, and there are countless resources to help get on your way. I believe in going out there and giving it your all, because if you don’t, you might regret it later down the road. I believe that the difficulties that come from starting a business are far more rewarding than living with the feeling of regret for not trying.

Make sure you do your research. It is better to be slow and thorough than to move too quick and self-destruct.   Having a great product isn’t enough, but no amount of marketing can hide a bad product.


1 comment


  • John Saunders

    I wear a lot of long sleeve tee shirts. I prefer ones with a pocket. I only wear 100% cotton. I’m 65, and have been dressing myself this way since college. I am not kidding when I tell you that the long sleeve tee that my wife gave me from your company is the best I have ever worn. Ever. Period. Thanks. I can’t wait to wear out all my other ones, so I can buy more from you.


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