Jason Salfi, coâ€founder and president of Comet Skateboards, is the first to admit he can let the wheels get away from him. Since the inception of Comet Skateboards, he estimates that he has personally â€œtanked the company four times. I started the company with a friend and we would sacrifice everything for quality,â€ Salfi admits. It’s easy to see how this could happen. Salfi loves skateboarding and he’s a fanatic about building the best skateboards on the market with the most sustainable materials available.
During the first years of productionâ€”when Comet moved from California to Ithaca, New York in order to source bioâ€composite materialsâ€”Salfi and his partner paid top dollar for all the materials they used in building the boards. â€œWe weren’t really watching how much money we were making,â€ Salfi says sheepishly. They were so wrapped up in the excitement of developing and manufacturing an entirely new class of skateboard, they forgot to watch the bank account balance.Salfi recalls that they did all the stereotypical things that small start-ups do to obtain financingâ€”maxed out their credit cards, got friends and family to co-sign for loans, found angel investors. But Comet Skateboards just seemed to roll through the money without enough return to ensure its survival.
Then the firm hired a manager to specialize in financial details. With a professional in place, Salfi began to understand the real and potential impacts certain buying decisions would have on the bottom line, and the way cash flow would affect getting products to the marketplace. Now, Comet can forecast better how a product release will affect cash flow, and how that in turn will affect the way they as a business can reach customers. â€œUltimately we’re trying to create a sustainable business platform to get our sustainable business vision out there in the marketplace,â€ explains Salfi. But they couldn’t do this without managing the company’s financial resources.
Comet Skateboards is considered a triple bottom line company, carrying the B Corporation logo. This means that Comet strives to create benefit for the company owners (profit), the community (people), and the environment (planet). Currently there are more than two hundred B Corporations in thirty industries around the nation. Each company has submitted to rigorous evaluation and has put written standards in place addressing social and environmental responsibility. Everything that Comet does, from its closedâ€loop manufacturing process to its community involvement, refers to its triple bottom line commitment.
Jason Salfi insists that managing the finances for a triple bottom line company is pretty much the same as managing the finances for a traditional company. But there are some differences, particularly in the procurement of raw materials, energy use, and waste disposal. Also, triple bottom line companies are held accountable for the way they treat employees and how they are involved in the community. â€œThe â€˜magicâ€™ is making sure we can afford all that,â€ observes Salfi. â€œIt’s just a matter of prioritization. We’re not going on $50,000 golf retreats. We’re reinvesting the capital we have in the materials we use and the way we interact with people.â€
Despite the fact that he says he didn’t pay attention to finances in the company’s early days, Salfi has a good grasp on Comet’s role in the larger economic picture. He likes the idea of projecting the impact Comet has on consumersâ€™ buying decisions, particularly young people. Teenagers who choose Comet skateboards are choosing products that are made by a triple bottom line firm. â€œIf you look at the way a 14â€yearâ€old decides to buy things for the rest of his or her life, and you look at the number of decisions that young person is going to make over the span of 50 or 60 years, you could extrapolate that we have impacted 1,000 people in a certain way that could eventually transfer billions of dollars toward socially responsible businesses,â€ explains Salfi. â€œWe’re influencing the buying decisions of youth.â€
Salfi believes that, decades ago, â€œcommerce used to be about improving the quality of life, but somewhere along the line, profits skewed motivations.â€ He likes the idea of the triple bottom line rebalancing the priorities of business. â€œWe like to think that as a B Corporation, we are part of a group that wants to bring back the original motivation for business, which was all about creating an improved quality of life for everyone, not just a select few.â€ It might actually be possible for a few wellâ€engineered skateboards to change the world.