Director of Operations Matt Williams was raised in rural Missouri, and had the childhood to go along with it: driving the family truck around at the age of 14, spending entire summers on the lake in his backyard, and eventually, helping out with the family business. The line between "life" and "outdoors" was never there for him.
And (lucky for him!) it still isn't. Keep reading to get to know our in-house river rat.
What's your role at Topo Designs and what does it entail?
I head up both the Operations and Finance departments. Essentially, I set and execute the overall strategy for customer experience, order fulfillment, accounting, financial reporting and systems management. My ultimate goal is to ensure that the path is clear for Topo to operate successfully.
How did you end up at Topo Designs?
When looking for my first job out of college, I was given really great advice from a mentor of mine. He told me to use these three filters when making my next job decision: 1) Go work for a great company 2) Go work for a great boss and 3) If you get with the right company or the right boss, the job will work out and you don’t have to worry about number three!
With all that in mind, I had been working in the outdoor industry for a bit and was familiar with Topo and its ownership. To me, it was clear that Topo was disrupting the outdoor space by setting trends and having a different look/feel, and I wanted to be a part of it. And so when the opportunity came up to work for Topo, a great company (filter number 1), reporting to one of the founders (filter number 2), I quickly applied and the rest, as they say, is history.
I'd love to ask you about your introduction to the outdoors, but it sounds like "the outdoors" has always been a part of your daily life, you just didn't call it that. Can you tell me more about that?
I love this question! Because you're right, growing up in rural Missouri, both of my parents worked all day so I was always outside doing some sort of activity. We lived on a large lake, so my particular passion was anything water related: water skiing, flat water kayaking, knee boarding, etc. It really wasn't until a college internship at Walt Disney World that I came across the idea of "the outdoors" as an intentional concept with a whole industry around it. They had placed me at one of their Outdoor Resorts, which included a tent camping, car camping, and some cabins. That was the first time I was exposed to the world of gear and interacted with higher quality camping products, brands, and lingo.
After college, I moved to Colorado and was then exposed to a whole new world of outdoors...I haven't left since :)
So your childhood on a lake engrained the love of water activities in you. How did that evolve once you moved to Colorado? Once you had a kid?
So when I moved to Colorado, the activities obviously changed due to the lack of large lakes, but I quickly discovered rafting. My first trip was an overnight trip on the Upper Colorado River, which was the perfect introduction. From there, I've taken several trips down various rivers in Colorado, which will soon start including my son, Jordan.
What do you guys get up to?
We get into all of the things! I'm so fortunate and grateful that we live in a beautiful state that allows me to introduce him to the outdoors. We specifically like to ski, kayak, camp and hike – the key to getting him to do all these activities, you ask? SNACKS!
For those of us who are interested in rafting or kayaking but aren't sure how to get into it, what do you recommend we do to get started?
I like this question and get asked it a lot by newcomers to Colorado. And my answer is always consistent in that you should visit a local state park. Most of our state parks containing a reservoir will have kayaks and life vests that you can rent for the day or by the hour. There's no need to invest thousands of dollars to enjoy the water. If you’d like to try rafting, then take a guided trip with professionals.
We first started talking about The New Outdoor internally in fall 2017 (before you were even on the team!), but you've been living it your whole life. What does The New Outdoor mean to you?
The New Outdoor has resonated with me a great deal. As you mentioned, a great deal of my life has been spent outside, which didn't require fancy gear or exclusive trips to remote areas. The New Outdoor to me is rope swings, day hikes, or playing frisbee in the park. Approachability is the key here and I think we've nailed it.
In your mind, what does The New Outdoor of rafting and kayaking look like?
The New Outdoor in water recreation to me looks like frequent half day trips on your local streams or reservoirs instead of just big long ones on epic rivers. It's sharing your equipment with people and showing them the ropes.
Favorite place to raft?
The Yampa River in NW Colorado. This river is usually relaxing, allowing multi day trips to be a real treat.
My most recent obsession involves learning more about my great grandfather, Roy Queen. He was this legendary country/bluegrass musician in the 1920s and 30s from St. Louis, who at the age of 14 jumped a train and rode it 40 miles to audition for a local radio station which sparked a 60+ year career.
Go-to Topo product?
My current favorite is the Global Briefcase 3-Day. This is my everyday bag that I use for everything from daily office use to airport carry on. And the entire Dirt Collection. The product team just knocked this collection out of the park. The Dirt Pants are the unofficial uniform of the warehouse team.