The Dennis Todisco Interview

I stepped onto the Diamond Supply Booth around mid morning. A large circular branded rug lay under my feet, as I was immersed by the skate brand that, if you believe their social networks (and you should), is taking over the world. Founded in 1998 by Nick Tershay, out of his tiny one bedroom apartment in San Francisco, the California based skate brand has grown to create a full range of lifestyle products.

Outstretching my hand and giving a slightly sheepish smile, I approached Dennis. He turned towards me, fixing his cap, as a large smile filled his face. ‘Hey!’ I uttered, before continuing to explain who I was, what I was doing here, and in hand justifying me taking up his time. He continued to smile, and introduced himself also. It was clear that the 25 year old Bostonion was a pretty humble bloke, as he showed me around the season’s product – footwear, sweaters, cruisers, ashtrays- the selection was vast. His tone was one of excitement, the same kind of excitement you see on kids faces at the football. It was obvious he was a fan of the brand; it seemed deep rooted in him. A familiar sight for anybody involved in ‘streetwear’, the fanatic attitude for the brands we follow and appreciate is often the driving force behind what we do.

“You started at Karmaloop right?” I asked, pulling the heavy, white gloss chair from under a glass topped table, filled [of course] with Diamond products.”I did” Dennis replied, “I started at Karmaloop originally as a customer. I was looking for LRG.”  He paused in thought. “You know back in the day, it was early for the industry, and super hard to find. I came across the site Karmaloop, ordered from there, and I was surprised because it arrived on my doorstep literally the next day. I looked at the return address and it said Boston. I was just like ‘this is insane, there’s a cool company in Boston!”  I laughed, appreciating what it’s like not being able to get your hands on certain product, coming from a pretty prehistoric South Wales. “Not to put Boston down, but at that time (in the early-mid 2000s) there wasn’t a lot of stores stocking the product I wanted, except for really CNCPTS in Cambridge or Riccardi on Newbury. Now that the industry and demand has grown, so has the selection of boutiques in the Bean.. Nonetheless, I continued to order from Karmaloop, became a regular customer, and then one day I heard about this rep programme that they had, where you could sign up, get other people to buy from Karmaloop using your rep code, and earn free gear.

At the time, I was a broke college student so – I signed up right away and had a lot of success with the program. I was getting a couple hundred dollars worth of free gear every month which was you know-”  I cut in. “Of course, that was your interest, almost a hobby-” “Absolutely, it was like, these clothes that I love, I can get for free. Awesome! Greg the owner of the company saw that I was doing really well with the rep programme and also saw that I was from Boston, so he called me up and offered me an internship. A few months passed as an intern – I put in my dues, got hired, started at the bottom of the marketing department, took over running that very same rep programme and eventually grew it into a multi-million dollar marketing vehicle accounting for 1 in every 5 sales. Further worked my way up to Director of Grassroots Marketing, then after a couple years promoted to Director of Lifestyle Marketing as one of the senior members of the company. When I started working at Karmaloop in ‘07 there were roughly 20 employees and we were trying to top the $4 million in sales from ‘06. By the time I left, we built the company up to roughly 200 employees with offices in NY, LA, and Denmark, and on pace to do $200 million in sales in 2012.

I jotted notes in a beat up notepad with a slightly dry ballpoint, sat and enjoyed listening to a success story unfold. “How old were you at this point when you started?” I asked, eager to know more. He leaned in slightly, shuffled, and answered “19”. I raised my head from my scribbles “So you did that whilst you were pushing college right?” “Yeah, I was still in school when I was hired at Karmaloop. I did one semester while still living on campus and doing some crazy commuting, taking a bus then two subway rides to get to work from school (or vice versa), and soon came to realize it wasn’t the best use of my time. So I moved back home which was real close to downtown and switched all my day classes to evening classes. I pretty much focused on working full time.”  “And your studies, were they relevant to what your doing now?” “Yeah I studied Marketing, so it’s worked out nicely in that way, but to be honest with you, nothing compares to real world experience. I mean school is great but there’s some things you study that you’ll really never use, or prepare you for what you will face professionally – especially in this industry. Nonetheless, it was still a great experience; I definitely learned a lot of things, made some great connections, and further honed a work ethic to multitask major projects – something that I have been able to apply professionally through my work. Shouts to Bentley University.

Dennis turned to the attention of another visitor to the stand and shook his hand with the same enthusiasm he had shown me a little earlier, whilst I referred to my notes, in an effort to head the conversation in the correct direction. I waited patiently for a few moments and continued “So pushing away from Karmaloop, how long were you there?” “Just about 5 years-” he blurted without hesitation.

“And how did you hook up with Diamond?” “I actually met Nick a very long time ago on the Hypebeast forums. Before I actually started at Karmaloop, I was a fan of Diamond. You know, Nick was someone I’d talked to occasionally on the forums, I’d always see what he had to say. I was always a fan of the brand. One day he was posting about a shirt he didn’t have, an Iron Maiden inspired graphic that Diamond did -he was like ‘I’m bummed I don’t even have that shirt and it’s one of my favorites…’ so I read that, got in touch and I was like ‘yo Nick, what size do you wear?’ (somewhat wishing he wouldn’t say large! haha…) and sent him mine. As much as I loved that shirt, I sent it over to him and we’ve been friends ever since. We’d hang out in LA when I’d visit for work, tradeshows, etc.  Then when I left Karmaloop to spread my wings, I was originally going to start my own consulting agency and Nick called me up right away when he heard that I’d left, flew me out to LA and the next day I was working for Diamond.”  “All from sending a tee shirt” I said, as we both laughed. “It’s an on going friendship, Nick’s a great guy. It’s really cool to work with somebody who has been an inspiration to me but who’s also a good friend of mine, so it’s like best of both worlds. I’m still inspired daily by Nick’s creativity and drive, and his story of making something out of nothing. He’s killing it. I agreed, understanding Dennis’ appreciation for the opportunity Nick had handed him.

Knowing what I knew now, in regard to his relationship with Nick and the hard work he had put in at Karmaloop, the question that required answering was how he managed to harness social media in such a way that would bring him this success. “You must be forward thinking in regards to how social media went. Surely when you were in college it was a totally different world. Did you have the fore thought back then to see which direction it was going?

“Definitely, absolutely. I think the thing is, people always made fun of me for it. I was signing up to Twitter and everybody was like ‘Oh, why do I need to sign up to Twitter?’, ‘Oh, are you gonna tweet that!?’ Even a couple of years ago there was the stigma of ‘You gonna Instagram that?!’ I mean the thing is, people disregard the power of social media and they think because its not real, physically, that it’s not real in life. The reality is though people are on their phones 24/7, everyone does everything on their phones. When I came to work at Diamond, our Facebook page had 70 odd something thousand followers and now we’re up to almost half a million, from April to now (Jan), which is pretty explosive. It’s really understanding how to harness that audience and keeping people interacting-” Similarly, Nick’s instagram (@nickydiamonds1) has grown from 70 some-odd thousand followers to over 300k in that same time frame, fueling and fueled by the very popular #diamondlife hashtag.

“How do you go about doing that then?” I asked, feeling for a moment that I was talking to the Raymond Babbitt of Social Media. “Basically it’s staying active and being authentic. People see right through the corporate and the fake. You see so many brands out there that outsource their social media, it’s insane, and it totally negates the point. So you’re trusting a company that doesn’t even work for you, that has no clue about your brand, to be your voice, to represent who you are, to engage with your customers!? It’s insane, but for a lot of companies, social media is the afterthought you know. It should never be an afterthought; it should be a key focus, if of course you want to be successful…if you don’t care about engaging people or bettering online business or keeping people updated and excited about your brand. I think the Diamond customer, myself included, are all fans of the brand because of this genuine fan-to-fan and designer/owner-to-fan interaction. You feel a part of the #diamondlife lifestyle. When I get shown something, like Nick first showing me a new cologne he was working on in Paris, I’m like ‘What! That’s insane!’

He was right, he understood the playbook perfectly. Dennis’ confidence in understanding the power of Social Media, in relation to success and brand power, echoed the rules of modern business. His genuine excitement for the brand, when it came to Diamond, gave him an extra dimension. It allowed him to understand the brand he was pushing through these networks, but like he mentioned, if you don’t understand or aren’t interested in the brand your pushing, you shouldn’t be pushing it at all. Of course, Dennis understood Diamond Supply Co. more than me and more than you. “So Diamond as a brand, what does it represent, what is it about? It seems to me that, from the early days, as you just mentioned, the brand ethos has evolved somewhat. The brand we see now seems to be a lifestyle brand that has moved away from skating slightly?”

“Well basically, it’s not moving away from skate, it’s actually very focused on skate. We are producing more skate things now than we ever have before -hardware, cruisers- we have an amazing pro skate team. Skate is always going to be the core focus of Diamond but what’s interesting and what’s exciting is that we’re also selling a lifestyle. We produce ashtrays and rugs, we’re making cologne, it’s more than just stand-alone product. And people want to live the Diamond life. It’s a full package. If you’re passionate about a brand and you love and trust it, why wouldn’t you want them to produce more pieces that can enhance your every day life and support you back? Everything we make is tastefully designed and has been for 15 years straight. One of Nick’s mottos is ‘simplicity is the key to brilliance’ and he’s definitely lived by that.”


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