Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Steven Keegan of Nootca talks goggles and swimming

For years I settled when it came to goggles. I lived with being uncomfortable, dealt with limited vision, and threw away cash on goggles that only lasted through a handful of swims. Frustrated and seeking a better product, I reached out to Steven Keegan last year to learn more about his company, Nootca. I'd seen good things about his goggles from some excellent swimmers and even better people on Twitter so I figured a conversation couldn't hurt. I was astonished by Steven's response to my questions. He crafted an incredibly detailed message that specifically addressed each area of concern I had raised. Any person willing to spend so much time and energy responding in detail to my (many) emails, I knew, was someone who would put his heart and soul into creating a superior product. 

As a result of our conversations, Steven had me try both the 207 and Eleven models. Both are phenomenal goggles and better than anything else I have worn in terms of vision, durability, and comfort. Over time I have developed a preference for the Eleven, but I passionately recommend both to everyone I know. For a more detailed look at my take on the Eleven, see my full review of the goggle here.

Steven has been an amazing reference and support over the past year. I have faith in everything he has to say about goggles and the goggle industry. I am a full believer in his company and couldn't be more adamant in my recommendation of his goggles. I'm so passionate about the brand that we've recently expanded our partnership to cover the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival. Pumpkinman's athletes will have the opportunity to win Nootca goggles throughout the summer and at the races in September. In addition, they now have Steven as a reference and are able to give and receive feedback on the goggles. 

All that said, I recently had a chance to ask Steven a few questions about his company and the goggles he has on the market. Enjoy what he has to say about the industry and the role Nootca has and will continue to play in it!

KB: Can you tell me a bit about your background with swimming before forming Nootca?

SK: Previously I worked as a product designer for SpeedoUSA and Nike Swim. I’m usually asked “are you a swimmer?”  My answer: I swim, but not competitively. 

KB: How did you decide that there was room in the goggle industry for a company like Nootca?

SK: We wanted to introduce a fresh perspective to the market solely as a high quality, high performance swim goggle company.  As a specialty brand we can focus on perfecting and improving our goggles without worrying about swim suits or apparel. 

KB: When you started out, what gaps in the goggle market did you hope to fill?

SK: It’s hard to define a gap, but I think in any industry there is always room for a higher quality product. In general the swimming industry, in contrast to the bike industry, grows in innovation very slowly.  Right now you have a lot of “me too” goggles in the market that copy a successful product and you end up with mediocre products. Nootca is a chance to start new with higher aspirations for each goggle in terms of features and benefits. If I speak to the “gap in the market” there are goggles in the market for purchase that have good vision but are uncomfortable, fit nicely but have no clarity, durably but have no functionality. For every goggle, fit will be subjective, but with each Nootca goggle will have all of the above or it will not be released.

KB: Was there something missing in the other goggles on the market that you wanted to offer in your product?  

SK: I touched on this in the previous question, but it’s that of a completely designed goggle. With Nootca I wanted each goggle to reach its full potential no matter the size, price point or gasket style. It’s not only about adding more vision; I went over each area to improve the little things that have been over looked in the past.For example, the position of the nose bridge is aligned to match the angle of the nose. This does two things: 1) it increases water flow during a dive from the block; and 2) if the nosepiece does come in contact with the nose, the flat surface will not cut the skin.  It seems like a small thing, but the force of water against a poorly designed nosepiece can pull your goggles off quite easily when diving off the block.  

Durability was and is a big factor.  In the case of a traditional Swedish goggle they can last 3 month with regular use. Our Nootca 5 can easily double that with up to a years’ worth of use.  This is one area that will keep improving with each production and goggle we design. 

Our lens tints are uniquely formulated.  We researched the optics of high-end sunglasses that reduce eye strain and improve focus, and adapted those tints for use while swimming.

I could go on but there are little things that went into each goggle that go above and beyond the norm.  I think these details are what matters and what will make us a trusted brand.  

KB: What sets Nootca goggles apart from other options available to swimmers and triathletes?

SK: There is clarity in the lens that is difficult to reproduce. The clarity and the peripheral vision is apparent from the moment you first place them on not by just seeing shapes but actually having the ability to focus on objects. 

KB: How did you decide to initially launch three models of Nootca goggles and how did you settle on the 207, Eleven and 5?

SK: Three very different reasons:  The 5 Swede was throwing down the gauntlet.  If you have ever spoke with someone who wears a traditional Swedish goggle there is nothing you can say or do to get them to change their mind, to them it is the best goggle in the world. There are multimillion dollar companies that have given up trying to produce a competing goggle and slap their logo on a poorly produced copy or the original itself.  I say throwing down the gauntlet because if a new company could come to market and improve on the most copied, 40 year old goggle, that was something to talk about.  To date, our Nootca 5 swede is our top seller. 

Nootca 5
The Nootca eleven was an easy choice.  I consider the Nootca eleven to be that goggle that helps a swimmer move into something new from our brand. I took everything I’ve learned in the past 10 years designing goggles and put it all into the eleven.  It’s familiar in terms of shape and materials but once you put it on you can see and feel the difference, it’s hard to turn back. This is our sleeper in the lineup and its gain in popularity is humbling.

The Nootca Eleven
The 207 was the challenge. With the trend to move to a larger frame goggle to acquire more vision and comfort I wanted to show that a goggle half the size could have the same results. Lager goggles are subject to the same manufacturing principles that hinder the ability to expand vision – the size of the opening of the gasket will dictate the angle of vision. If you can overcome these limitations then you can have a standard gasket size but expand the vision immensely.  This is what the 207 is all about, expanding vision. 

Nootca 207 
KB: Nootca is still a new company, what is the most difficult part of getting your brand in front of swimmers and triathletes?

SK: I think any new company suffers from the same difficulties and that is expanding into retail.  While our online sales are increasing every month and we do have a couple retailers in Florida there are a number of customers that want to see it before they buy it. Honesty, I can’t complain as we are less than a year old and we have a good following.  

KB: Your goggles have been very popular with many pro and elite amateur triathletes. What kind of feedback have you received from this group?

SK: Excitement and a little wonderment 

I say “wonderment” because once they try them and see improvements from what they currently wear, they always want more. I receive ideas and wish lists on what they want to see next or where we can improve. It’s really more than I could ask for. These products are literally build on comments I received from athletes, so every new suggestion, criticism or observation I receive goes into building the next goggle. 

One of the most common comments comes from Swedish wearers and that is – “I didn’t think it was possible to improve this goggle, but I think you did it.”  I’m paraphrasing, but that never gets old.

KB: What is your vision for Nootca's future? 

SK: We have another 3 goggles in various stages of development and planned updates for the current line.  We also have a five year plan to expand into other swim equipment related product outside of goggles. I have had a couple designs in my head for taking swimwear in a new direction, but right now that’s going to stay there in my head!  

KB: If you could let athletes know only one thing about your goggles, what would that be?

SK: Kyle, I think you said it best via Twitter “@nootcanews it's amazing how fast you can go when you can focus on actually swimming rather than trying to see!”

KB: Is there anything else you'd like us to know about your company and goggles?

SK: If there is not a goggle in the line-up that suites your needs… there will be. 

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