Welcome to our Employee Spotlight series — a chance to get to know the folks behind NEMO who work hard to innovate amazing gear, improve our impact on the planet, and inspire adventure for all.
Employee Name: Cam Brensinger
Title/Position: Founder & CEO
Years at NEMO: 20
What does your role entail? What duties are you responsible for?
I define NEMO’s overall compass, which involves setting the company’s values, mission, and vision. A major part of that vision is our product, because we are and want to remain a product-led business, so I am also the acting Chief Product Officer, with direct responsibility for that, too.
In addition to those responsibilities, I collaborate with the other senior leaders on the long- and short-term strategy for the business and manage the relationship with our board of directors. I help set and oversee our financial goals, manage major contracts and business obligations, engage with the outdoor industry at an executive-level, and ultimately ensure the well-being of our employees. We want NEMO to provide a safe, productive, and fun working environment.
How has your role changed over the years?
When I started NEMO, I was 26 years old and had no idea what it meant to be a CEO. (There wasn’t much CEO-like responsibility to be had at the time.) I started the company as my senior project in design school, where I focused on creating the logo, filing our first trademarks, building a business plan, and sketching out the first product ideas. I moved into our first office three days after graduation, and that’s when the real work of building prototypes and developing the products began.
Two years later, my first employees and I debuted those designs at our big industry trade show, but it was another couple years before sales began in earnest. Today, there’s a lot more to running the business, but I also have a much bigger and more capable team. The truth is, it’s every bit as much an adventure as ever.
What part of your background/experience led you here?
I couldn’t really imagine ever working for someone else. I’m so particular about what I think is the right way to do things [laughs] that it was hard to imagine being a good employee — or that I would find a company that I could really align with. And I was twenty-something and had enough testosterone and ego to think that I could pull it off!
I grew up with a dad who was an architect, and I had been designing and building things since I was a little kid. I was a physics and writing major in school and a studio art minor, so the ingredients for doing this stuff were there from the beginning. When I decided I wanted to start a gear company, I went back to school at the Rhode Island School of Design for industrial design, and the whole time I was there, I was really focused on the first products for NEMO and sorting out a business plan. RISD is a pretty entrepreneurial place — 47% of all RISD grads start a business at some point, so there was a lot of that energy around, which really helped embolden me.
More than anything, I was and continue to be a maker. I just love making things — and I had a vision about the kind of company culture and purpose and values that I’d want to instill in a company right from the beginning.
Cam built a treehouse for his children on his family property located in Maine.
What’s the best part about your role, specifically?
The most fulfilling parts have to do with people, and watching individuals succeed or seeing us succeed as a team. It gives me the same kind of feeling I had prior to NEMO when I learned to rock climb with some college friends — we’d climb a big route together and get to the top, even though we barely knew what we were doing and were unguided and figuring it out as we went.
Part of it is that sense of camaraderie, which I felt working in the studio environment in art school, surrounded by like-minded, talented people who shared the same love of the work. Feeling so intensely part of a community like that is really rewarding.
Brainstorming, working through challenges together, and helping others succeed are still the best parts today.
Cam bouldering in Zion, Utah in 2003.
How is NEMO different from other outdoor brands? How is it different as a company to work for?
I think we’re not so different from many other outdoor brands when they were in their early years, founder-led and really driven by a passion for the product and for outdoor participation. But the industry has matured a lot over the years and many of those iconic brands have become large corporations... and they just don’t have the same spirit anymore. As a majority family-owned and founder-led business, we make decisions with a long view to our future. We’re here to build a lasting and iconic brand and that informs everything we do. Our shared sense of purpose — to inspire adventure for anyone, anywhere, forever — makes it easy for all of us to put a lot of passion into our work.
But even if we have some of the same DNA as many of the historic brands of our industry, I would say we are also shaped by being a young, fast-growing, consumer-facing brand in 2022. I think the standards for excellence in business today are even more complicated than they were a couple decades ago. I'm proud that, today, we’re facing the challenges that come with looking hard at our internal culture, our climate impacts, our social responsibility, and our inclusivity as a brand — in ways businesses didn’t have to in the past. I think NEMO growing up in the first two decades of the 21st century has let us bridge the benefits and ideals of both the past and future.
What advice do you have for someone looking to join the outdoor industry or NEMO, specifically?
The outdoor industry is a uniquely wonderful place to be — it’s a truly lifestyle-driven industry. We believe human beings are meant to spend time outdoors and with each other, and we’ve dedicated our careers to inspiring and enabling those connections. It’s fun work, so this isn't meant to sound overly magnanimous, but we can sleep well at night knowing that we’re a positive force in the world. And the nature of this work seems to attract good and decent people. When I get together with others from our industry at events, I always feel really proud and lucky to be part of this community.
From a product design standpoint, it’s also a pretty special place to be because of the marriage of form and function. Outdoor products have to be aesthetically appealing but also perform, and it’s one of just a handful of industries where form and function are so deeply wedded together.
For people interested in joining NEMO: We’re always looking for talented, driven, and passionate people with diverse skills, interests, and backgrounds. At NEMO, our people share an intentionality — a desire to have their lives mean something, to have work matter. We value each other, we hold ourselves to high standards, and we make our own path. If that sounds good to you, we hope you’ll be in touch.