Austin Founders Series: YETI

The Seiders brothers with their father.
The Seiders brothers with their father, Roger. Photo credit: YETI

The story of YETI starts with a familiar Texas dilemma: how do you keep your drinks cold during a long day of fishing? In this installment of my Austin Founders series, I’m taking a closer look at this local legend. Roy and Ryan Seiders saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it. This article delves into YETI’s journey, its impact on outdoor industry marketing, and the brand’s strong ties to the Austin community.

Founder Story

YETI’s founding tale is as Texan as it gets. Roy and Ryan Seiders were born and bred just outside of Austin in Driftwood, Texas. The brothers are actually seventh-generation Austinites who come from a long line of entrepreneurs. In 1920, the Seiders’ great-uncle opened the popular Kash-Karry grocery stores. The first store stood at East Seventh Street and Congress Avenue, the current site of the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. Throughout the years, the family went on to have several shops scattered around central Austin.

A 1935 article clipped from The Austin American featuring G.C. Seiders.

A few decades later, Roy and Ryan’s dad continued the Seiders’ entrepreneurial legacy. Roger Seiders designed a fishing rod epoxy and created a company called Flex Coat. Growing up immersed in their family’s businesses and spending ample time on the water, Roy and Ryan developed a deep appreciation for outdoorsmanship. Following in their father’s footsteps, Ryan and Roy pursued ventures in the fishing industry after completing their college education, with Ryan graduating from Texas A&M and Roy from Texas Tech. 

An avid angler and skilled hunter, Roy spent his days crafting custom boats for fishing adventures along the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, Ryan founded Waterloo Rods in 2006.  They both noticed that their fishing trips often ended in frustration—their coolers couldn’t handle the rigors of being makeshift casting platforms. Roy and Ryan’s love for the outdoors and their mutual annoyance with the subpar coolers lit the spark that gave birth to YETI.

The Seiders brothers fishing.
The Seiders brothers fishing on the open water. Photo credit: YETI

Not Your Average Cooler

With the help of their entrepreneur father, Roy and Ryan started YETI in a garage in Dripping Springs, Texas. From there, the Seiders brothers set out to craft the toughest cooler the world had ever seen. 

Unlike traditional coolers, the YETI cooler is among the most insulated, with up to five centimeters of polyurethane insulation in the walls and lids. The coolers also feature a freezer-quality sealing gasket, allowing ice retention for hours. Roy and Ryan weren’t offering your average cooler; the YETI cooler was a premium item with a premium price. The outdoor industry market responded enthusiastically despite the sticker shock, starting at $200. 

The brothers instantly set themselves apart because they did not fit in with the lower-priced coolers on the market like Coleman. Armed with nothing but a van full of their prototypes, the brothers traversed Texas. Their goal was to win over buyers with unmatched durability and ice retention. From offshore fishing to remote hunting expeditions, the YETI Cooler became an essential companion for outdoor adventurers everywhere.

The original YETI cooler model, the Tundra. Photo credit: Outdoor Gear Lab

The Rise of YETI 

YETI is not an overnight success story, but the power of word of mouth from outdoor enthusiasts cemented YETI in the outdoor niche. If you are into fishing, backcountry hiking, or extended hunting trips, you know about YETI. By 2008, YETI secured a deal with Cabela’s and Bass Pro to sell Tundra, their signature hard-shell cooler. 

Their success steadily continues and in 2012 the New York private Equity firm Cortec bought majority ownership of YETI. Soon after, YETI expanded their product line with 20 and 30 ounce Rambler Tumblers. The popularity of these products only increased, and the company now offers an assortment of products including drinkware, bags, soft-sided coolers, and stainless steel koozies. 

From its humble beginnings as a mom-and-pop operation, YETI has evolved into a powerhouse synonymous with innovation, durability, and premium quality. Eighteen years on, YETI has transformed from a local gem to a global icon trusted by outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers worldwide. 

From Grassroots to Global: YETI’s Marketing Journey

As the owner of a marketing agency, I’m always intrigued by how companies operate and what drives their success. YETI’s outdoor industry marketing strategy is a masterclass in understanding customers and what they want. 

From the get-go, the company targeted individuals who invest in top-of-the-line gear. By letting satisfied customers become brand ambassadors, YETI taps into a powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing that money can’t buy. 

A campground with YETI coolers.
Photo credit: YETI

But YETI didn’t stop there. Recognizing the potential beyond their core customer base, they expanded their reach to include tailgaters. They capitalized on their Texan heritage and the universal appeal of a cooler that keeps drinks icy cold during football games and barbecues. This expansion marked a pivotal moment for the brand, showcasing its ability to adapt and grow while staying true to its roots.

YETI also invested in branded merchandise, such as hats and T-shirts, to include with every cooler order. Customers embraced these items, and they became badges of honor for YETI enthusiasts eager to showcase their brand loyalty.

YETI also employed McGarrah Jessee’s digital marketing to boost the brand even further. This partnership propelled YETI from a niche product to a lifestyle brand. McGarrah Jessee helped design point-of-sale materials and empowered influencers to create authentic content as YETI ambassadors. 

Along with a strong DTC online presence, YETI solidified its love for Austin by opening its first store on Congress Ave. In October 2018, YETI went public, marking a significant milestone in its trajectory. A year later, it opened another flagship store in Chicago, with subsequent locations in Dallas, Denver, and Florida. Fast-forward to 2021, and the company’s market cap has soared to a whopping $8.4 billion. 

The flagship YETI store in Austin. Photo credit: YETI

Giving Back to Austin 

Headquartered in Austin, Texas, YETI is deeply committed to giving back to its local community and beyond. In times of natural disasters, YETI’s disaster relief group springs into action. They frequently equip relief groups with a stockpile of YETI coolers to distribute essential supplies to affected areas.

Beyond emergency response, YETI introduced its Day of Service program. This program grants every employee a fully paid day each year to volunteer within the Austin community. This initiative has fostered a profound sense of meaning and fulfillment for both employees and the company. As a Texan, it warms my heart to hear of these initiatives taking root in my hometown.

A volunteer from Captains for Clean Water cleaning up the waterway. Photo credit: Florida Weekly

YETI’s commitment to meaningful causes extends to partnerships with organizations that share its commitment to preserving natural spaces. Collaborations with entities such as Captains for Clean Water and the Texas Wildlife Association underscore YETI’s dedication to promoting outdoor stewardship. By aligning with like-minded businesses and nonprofits, YETI furthers its mission of nurturing a community that values and protects the great outdoors.

As I continue to follow YETI’s journey, it’s evident that they’re not just selling a product; they’re leading a movement that celebrates outdoor living. I’m eager to witness their next steps and observe how they elevate Austin’s prominence in the outdoor industry marketing landscape.

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Dan Ben-Nun

Dan Ben-Nun is a successful entrepeneur and digital marketing guru. He’s founded & grown 2 companies from zero to multi-million dollar businesses and has helped hundreds of companies grow with digital marketing.

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Austin Founders Series: YETI

A YETI cooler with two beers on top.
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