28 Jun 2011
Tim Baka (MBA ’93) is a self-confessed “numbers guy” who doesn’t wear a tie. As cofounder and president of SlingFin, a Berkeley, California-based startup that provides professional-quality gear for the most demanding mountaineering expeditions, Baka instead dresses in shorts and hiking shoes in order to slip off for a quick post-work trek in the Berkeley Hills or, if he’s at home in Hong Kong, one of the many peaks on Lantau Island where he lives. “It’s the lifestyle,” says the former investment banker. “It’s a different sort of culture that took some getting used to, but it’s really a lot of fun.” (While he’s not a hardcore mountaineer, Baka expects to be at base camp on Everest next spring and possibly at Mount Rainier this summer.)
Launched in August 2010, SlingFin already manufactures three models of tent in use on some of the planet’s most dangerous peaks. Priced from $1,100 to $8,750 (for a seven-meter geodesic dome that can serve as a combination dining hall, meeting place, and satellite communication center), the company’s products are clearly targeted at “the top of the user pyramid — professional guides, outfitters, expedition users, and gear junkies,” reported the Contra Costa Times (May 20, 2011). The Times noted that climbing teams recently reached the summit of Everest with the advantage of SlingFin tent’s super-strong (patented) WebTruss technology. The company expects to expand into other offerings, such as clothing and sleeping bags, in the months ahead.
Before launching SlingFin, Baka started Mountain Hardwear with fellow SlingFin founder and 33-year industry veteran/gear guru Martin Zemitis. (Columbia bought Mountain Hardwear for $36 million in 2003.) By maintaining a base in China and traveling to Berkeley every few months, Baka expects to keep close tabs on the manufacturing quality of the company’s designs, building on his experience sourcing organic cotton apparel. “We have seen many of the companies we once respected for delivering kick-ass gear devolve into less passionate and more finance-driven corporate fur balls,” states the SlingFin Web site. Baka’s task seems to be to keep SlingFin off the path to fur ball-dom while maintaining the financial bottom line.
As he packs up some gear to be shipped to Pakistan’s Broad Peak (including a few summit flags with the SlingFin logo), Baka reflects on how his HBS experience plays into the nontraditional world of outdoor gear design. “It’s a framework of thought and analytics that is deeply ingrained as part of classroom discussion,” he says. “It’s a broad structure that changes the way one approaches problem solving, and it’s all become quite natural.”
Class of MBA 1993, Section D