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: Darren Josey
Title/Position: VP of Marketing
Years at NEMO: Just over a year. (Started at NEMO as a contractor for 3 months before going full-time.)
Darren on a recent climbing trip. He got into climbing after college, as an employee at Vibram.
What does your role entail? What types of projects do you work on, or what duties are you responsible for?
I’m equally a captain of brand representation and provide support for sales. Traditionally, one of the pitfalls of my position is that it can been as marketing vs. sales, but having worked for multiple departments in my career, from customer service to sales and marketing, I believe success relies on the head of marketing to do both.
The NEMO brand is product-led, values-driven, so my job is to make sure that when any customer is thinking about NEMO, they think of that combination: amazing, world-class, award-winning products and a brand whose values show up when you hit the home page. You see the gear, but you also see that we're all about sustainability and have a very wide lens of sustainability – not just having recycled materials but having a lifetime warranty; building products that are made to improve the adventure experience, not just go into a landfill. You see resources so that anyone, from a beginner backpacker to a super experienced car camper to someone who’s looking to transition to mountaineering for the first time, finds what they need to continue or start their pathway to adventure.
What part of your background/experience led you here? To this role, and/or at NEMO?
I started by working on the retail sales floor, selling shoes and goods in malls and stand-alone stores like City Sports or Athlete’s Foot. I was interacting with customers on a one-on-one basis on the salesroom floor and learning that if you do a really good job, they’re going to come back. I took that and became one of only two customer service reps at Vibram when the Five Fingers rocket ship was taking off — and was someone who’d walk into the CEO’s office in week two and say “I have some ideas!”
Soon I was managing their Quickbooks, working with the distributor, managing the REI portal, pulling numbers, and sharing reports with our Head of Finance, Head of Sales, and CEO at Vibram. It was great on-the-job training for how a sales organization works and how everything connects together. And, at the same time, that job exposed me to all of the outdoor activities that I love today.
A team camping trip in Pawtuckaway State Park.
You weren’t always an outdoors enthusiast?
I was a team sports kid. My background: my dad is black, my mom is Puerto Rican, they didn’t do outdoor sports. My mom, as a woman of her generation, didn't even take gym class. My dad, he was into basketball, track, football... that’s what he did, and that’s ultimately what I did. Baseball was my best sport, and I kept doing that through college and after college, but it was really hard to commit to the time after work in the evenings, so I tried other things.
I tried running, but while I enjoyed a good beer-fueled 5K, I didn’t find it super fulfilling. I tried weightlifting, but that wasn’t scene, they weren’t my people. And then I had a coworker at Vibram ask me one day, “Hey, do you wanna try rock climbing?”
I didn’t know what that was, had never heard of it, but I was like “That sounds cool! Sure.” And that’s part of my privilege – I had two parents that, even though they didn’t do those things, always encouraged me to go out and try new things. Even if I was the only person out there who looked like me doing it. And that’s not everyone’s experience in life, but I had two parents who said, “Go for it.”
Immediately after that first trip, I was wondering “How come no one told me about this?!?” And it started me on this journey of realizing that you can go rock climbing outside, and that there were places to climb in areas that I’d spent my childhood! I got a guidebook, and then I met my wife, who bought us lessons with a guide to learn how to top-rope outside, and then BOOM — I bought all the gear.
At that point, I had never gone camping before. Never ever. And in 2010, I was helping out the ecommerce buyer for Eastern Mountain Sports, and as a thank you, he sent me a tent and two sleeping bags. They showed up at my office and I was like “What the heck is this? What is this ‘camping’ thing?” But obviously I was gonna go.
It was awesome. I had such a blast, and I didn’t even know I needed a sleeping pad! I just had the tent and bag, no pad, so I just slept on the hard ground and was like “Well, this is camping.” I had no idea what I was missing because I was still having so much fun. I just wished someone had told me sooner.
What’s the best part about your role, specifically?
That my personal and professional passions get to overlap. In my position as the VP of Marketing, I get to be an outdoor evangelist. I get to make the activity of camping more appealing to more people.
I really believe that the way to save our planet is to show people how to have a good time outside. If they do that, then they’re gonna care and they’re gonna pay attention. They’re going to wonder why it was snowing yesterday and now it’s 65 and sunny today. They’re gonna notice that wildfires are on the increase – why is that? They’re going to care that private land developers want to buy this climbing or camping area, or that this water that they love to fish in is becoming polluted.
So, being a professional outdoor evangelist? That’s the juice for me. The fact that I get to go camping and help inspire — for work.
He's come a long way from his original, bare-bones setup!
What’s the best part about working for NEMO? How is it different from other employers you’ve had?
A huge differentiator is that the founder is the CEO, the majority-owner, and is someone who is willing to make decisions for the long term. I’ve worked at companies that were family-owned and I’ve worked for companies that were owned by private equity firms... It’s hard to make the right long-term decisions when a company is really only looking to make money next quarter. Obviously, every company needs to make money, but a lot of the sustainability work that NEMO is doing takes a long time to bring to the market, to make a profit. A lot of other companies just wouldn’t do it, period.
But Cam started doing that work from the beginning, and the fact that he, and the company, made space to have a wider lens of what’s included in sustainability — that it covers people, product, and the planet — is very refreshing. It makes me feel like I’m not alone in trying to get that message out.
Also unique was the fact that I was asked “What do we, NEMO, and the industry, need to change?” And then also, “What do you need from us to help get us there?” That is rare. I’ve come from other organizations where I’ve had to fight just for people to pay attention for a second, and the response is usually “That sounds nice, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to help us sell more product.” Or “That’d be nice, but let’s leave that up to Patagonia and other brands.”
So, to have that work be expected of me and to be given those resources to do it? You couldn’t ask for anything more.
What advice do you have for someone looking to join the outdoor industry or NEMO, specifically?
First, I’d love to give my sales pitch that I think the outdoor industry is the best industry to work for in this country. I have a personal mission to take on all of tech and finance and Wall Street — the outdoor industry is the best industry to work in, period. No, it doesn’t pay as much as tech or Wall Street, but if you care about your own personal values and finding an employer whose values align with your own, this is the industry to be in.
There’s also amazing work-life balance. At NEMO, now, we don’t require people to go into the office. As a Marketing team, we really want to make sure that Mondays and Fridays, we’re not in the office so we can live the adventure life we’re selling and be an authentic brand.
And the people... 13 years in the outdoor industry, and 99.8% of the people I’ve worked with, I’ve really enjoyed. That makes such a huge difference, especially when you’re in stressful situations. That, to me, is the biggest appeal – the outdoor industry has really good people here, people who have signed up for the right reasons, and are looking to recreate and do the fun things that our brands promote.
For employees of NEMO, I think an enjoyment of the outdoors is definitely the through-line, but it’s not a box you have to check. You don’t have to be a super outdoor enthusiast in order to work at NEMO — quite literally the opposite. We’re trying to hire people who do not have that experience, because all we need from you, potential employee, is a curiosity to try something new. Because that experience – like what I went through at Vibram to become a rock climber and camper – I see so much value in that. It brought me into product conversations and gave me a different perspective on why our products were or were not selling. And that’s what we need at NEMO, that’s what we need in the outdoor industry.