3 Questions for Olivier Bernhard

Olivier Bernhard, co-founder of the brand On and a six-time Ironman champion, knows how important a cushioned shoe that returns energy can be.

The former triathlete, who eventually retired due to Achilles tendon pain, started the On brand with David Allemann and Caspar Copetti in 2010 after experimenting with bottom units to create the CloudTec technology that distinguishes the line. The brand’s unique look features rounded exterior pods called clouds.

“When you hit the ground, the highly adaptive rubber elements cushion both vertical and horizontal forces for a soft landing. Once on the ground, the clouds lock firmly to provide a solid foundation for a natural and powerful takeoff,” Bernhard said.

The combination has helped sign a number of high-level triathletes to endorsement deals, including Caroline Steffen, Frederik Van Lierde, Mary Beth Ellis and Olympic gold medalist Nicola Spirig.

Next, the brand will add its fifth model, the Cloud, to the line for spring ’14. Headcount at the company also has increased to 30 from three, and distribution has risen to 700 shops in more than 20 countries. As a result, Bernhard said, managing growth has been a priority.

“It’s great to see that the brand is growing and expanding, but it’s also a challenge to make sure everything works smoothly,” he said. “The new people need some time to settle in. At the same time, the market is waiting for quick and professional responses. But it’s a challenge we are managing pretty well, and one we love to take on.”

Here, Bernhard talks about increasing brand awareness, positioning the line and what his experience brings to the table.

1. How does your background as a triathlete influence you as a businessman?
I still think and feel as an athlete. I can’t change who I was, and I also don’t want to change it. My background is very important. [The On shoes] come from an athlete — an athlete who has won, but also lost, who suffered injuries and [sought] the perfect running sensation.
2. What’s the next milestone you want the brand to achieve?
An Olympic gold medalist is running in the On shoes. What more is there to do? [laughs] Jokes aside, there is still so much more to achieve, and we have only just begun. Every year, On is introducing a new model into its range. And while we are growing, we also need to create more awareness. There are so many runners in the world at many levels, and a lot of them have not experienced the unique running sensation of the On shoes yet. If every morning, when I go for a run, all the other runners I see are wearing On shoes, then I might take it easier.

3. On has signed a number of professional athletes to the line. Is the brand aimed at elite runners?
For me, it’s the biggest compliment when I hear from any runner — no matter what age and speed — that On has put the fun back into his run. We get that kind of feedback from [both] hobby runners and pro athletes on a weekly basis. In the end, this is exactly what makes me happy.

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