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Michael Markesbery of OROS: “We have the wrong view of failure”

We have the wrong view of failure. We humans are so afraid of the embarrassment of failing that we are afraid to try. Success is like a science experiment. You have a hypothesis (whether it’s about your solution, customer, etc.), you test that hypothesis with an experiment, and either your hypothesis was right, or it […]

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We have the wrong view of failure. We humans are so afraid of the embarrassment of failing that we are afraid to try. Success is like a science experiment. You have a hypothesis (whether it’s about your solution, customer, etc.), you test that hypothesis with an experiment, and either your hypothesis was right, or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, we chalk that up as an “L” and get discouraged. It’s actually a win — you’ve learned something. Now you can hone in on a modified hypothesis and repeat.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Markesbery.

An advanced materials & consumer products entrepreneur, Michael Markesbery, is the CEO & Co-founder of OROS. OROS creates pioneering apparel and tech so you can push your boundaries.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was backpacking across Europe when I decided to climb one of the tallest mountains in the NE Swiss Alps. I had a blast — but I looked like the Michelin Man (tons of bulk and layers of outerwear). It hit me — I was wearing animal by-products, goose down, to stay warm — the same thing we’ve been wearing for hundreds to thousands of years. There has been all this progress in the world — we created wifi, landed a human on the moon — but outerwear had not evolved. I thought there had to be a way to cut the bulk and still stay warm.

While in college, I received a scholarship created by the Mercury 7 Astronauts — The Astronaut Scholarship. Through that scholarship, I learned about aerogel — this material NASA used to insulate things in space. It clicked — NASA is using this stuff to keep things warm in space (where its -455 F). This material should be in every jacket in the world. It would solve the problem I had on top of that mountain where I looked like the Michelin Man.

Here we are five years later.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We are making an antiquated industry new — we’re evolving outerwear.

The science of staying warm hasn’t changed for hundreds of years, and OROS knows that “outdated” has no place in outerwear. It’s why we tore our technology straight from the cosmos — the same stuff NASA uses to insulate spacecraft — and science’d it into max-warmth, zero-bulk apparel destined to take you beyond.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Rith (Rithvik Venna, OROS Co-founder & COO) & I didn’t know anything about apparel when we started. We bought our first pair of fabric scissors and were cutting fabrics in our college apartment, trying to learn what makes a great jacket.

Our friends walked in, laughed, and said, “It’s arts & crafts time in here.”

When you’ve got an idea on a napkin, you also have a lot of skeptics. Who would have thought two college kids from the midwest could take NASA tech and use it to evolve outerwear?

Don’t let the skeptics discourage you. Test, validate, and learn. See if that idea on a napkin can become a great business.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

We are lucky — we have always had great advisors and mentors. Many started advising or mentoring us while we (Rith & I) were in college. You don’t know what that means to a college student, to have someone you look up to, go out of their way to mentor & coach you.

It gives you the confidence to believe in yourself.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Do you know the Peter Parker Principle? “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Disruptive technology is powerful — it advances civilization & changes consumer behavior.

If not used responsibly, disruptive technology could be harmful.

Are we better off for having Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) in our food?

Should we just use CRISPR to attempt to cure genetic diseases? Should we use it to alter human genomes for performance or certain traits?

These are tough questions to answer — questions that great disruptions pose.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“There is no silver bullet, only lead bullets.” — Great words of advice found in The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re working on a long sleeve shirt that will keep you warm sub-freezing. Think “the end of outerwear.”

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.

There is a chapter in that book called The Struggle. For many that have been through the entrepreneurial journey, they know it well.

Early on at OROS, we had our lead investor back out from investment months after signing term sheets. We were left with little money to make payroll. And that evening, a car decided to drive off the highway and into the OROS office, destroying everything (fortunately, the driver was okay).

We ended up fighting through & getting a new lead at better terms. Later on, however, I read The Hard Thing about Hard Things and The Struggle. You read the book, especially (for me) that chapter, and it helps you classify & understand so many things you go through as a first-time entrepreneur.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

George Mallory was one of the first people to attempt to summit Everest. He died on his attempt. Right before his attempt, someone asked him, “Why go?”

He said, “If you don’t understand there is something inside humanity that responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward, you won’t understand why we go.”

I had that quote in my email signature for the first few years at OROS. OROS’ mantra is Find Your Beyond. We believe there is an inexhaustible willingness in humanity to explore — wearing OROS means you believe the same. Hopefully, you read George’s quote, and it resonates with you — everyone has their own mountain to climb.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We have the wrong view of failure. We humans are so afraid of the embarrassment of failing that we are afraid to try. Success is like a science experiment. You have a hypothesis (whether it’s about your solution, customer, etc.), you test that hypothesis with an experiment, and either your hypothesis was right, or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, we chalk that up as an “L” and get discouraged. It’s actually a win — you’ve learned something. Now you can hone in on a modified hypothesis and repeat.

How can our readers follow you online?

www.orosapparel.com

@orosapparel on Instagram

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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