Please select your home edition
Edition
Zhik ZKG

The Brand is Zhik

by John Curnow on 25 May 2012
James Spithill, Zhik Ambassador - The Brand is Zhik! Zhik http://www.zhik.com
A little under 10 years ago, I first started seeing some sensationally cool sailing gear that was adorned with this fantastic Z. It certainly reminded me of Zorro slashing his moniker into all and sundry and apart from looking cool, the gear seemed to be very much fit for purpose.

It was all off the beach in those days and it migrated across the classes pretty quickly, but it has been more than interesting to note that keelboat sailors can now start to have the same wonderful experiences that their small craft brethren have been waxing on lyrically about for ages.

The Zorro inference is important, for the character has been played by swaggering, dashing dudes, such as Antonio Banderas and Errol Flynn’s son, Sean. Of course Errol created his very own, real life legend, as a direct result of his swashbuckling performances both on and off screen. Now alas, a brand is nothing, if not very much a personality.

Think about it, the rise of shows ranging in style from Media Watch to Spin City, Mad Men and on to The Gruen Transfer have all opened up the dark world of branding to become available and up for consumption by the very consumers they once fed it all to.

The brand in question here is Zhik (pronounced Z i i k, by the way) and as a word itself, it means absolutely nothing at all, in any known language at this time.

French Connection United Kingdom had already taken what is arguably the most recognised word the world over, so creating something that was instantaneously recognisable, defendable in an Intellectual Property sense and usable in Information Technology applications is hard, but essential, especially when you have big plans.

The Founder and CEO is one Brian Connolly and as a company and a brand, Zhik shares far more than a wee dram of Apple or Sony-esque esprit de corps and vision. Like both of those brands, not only does Zhik have über-cool products that appear in product placement shots just about everywhere, but their items very much work the way they were intended.

Make no mistake, however, for this is not a fluke. Rather, it is the direct result of a lot of R&D and in Zhik’s case, they have sailors like Robert Scheidt, James Spithill and a gaggle of other legends ensuring that not only is this current crop of items the best around, but that the next ones are something to look out for, as well.

Don’t believe me? In the 60’s, a hitherto unknown transistor company called Sony stood up and had in their Mission Statement that they were going to be the biggest in the electronic entertainment field.

Two items like Trinitron and Walkman were just part of a barrage of great kit, which saw them do exactly what they intended, well inside 20 years. Now with the sad passing of Steve Jobs, a lot has come to light about what he and Woz have achieved, but just think about two guys in one of their parents’ garages for a second, as you use your fingers to scroll down your Smartphone or tablet to read this article.

Additionally, if you’re Australian, there is one added bonus to this story. So too is Zhik, and they’re proud of it, but in a global marketplace, branding stands away above any physical borders.

Like both of those fantastic organisations, the root of Zhik’s DNA is in ensuring they not only broke technological ground, but opened up the user to experience something that they may not have previously known.

This too is of little surprise when you review Brian’s background, which is in computer science and physics. His first business, Lake Technology started in 1991 and was in acoustics for computer signal processing of audio and acoustic signals. ‘We sold a lot of interesting acoustic gear to the Fortune 500 type acoustic laboratories around the world. We had assembled a team of over 30 engineers that did the most brilliant acoustic work and electrical design. We filed a lot of patents, designed a lot of technologies and managed to migrate a lot of this technology over the years to a level that was great for consumer electrics.’

‘One of the coolest items was 3D sound over headphones and we subsequently licensed that to Dolby Laboratories. Floating on the stock market followed and so in 1999 we rode the technology euphoria of 1999/2000, but we also rode the tech wreck that followed. Dolby Laboratories ended up buying Lake Technologies outright, turned it in to Dolby Australia and I went sailing. That's pretty much what happened’, said Brian.

So it was off to Lasers, where Brian got cold and wet like any good dinghy sailor does. ‘Yes. It wasn’t working for me’, Brian reflects, and with that, the genesis of great brand had begun.

Having a different take on things is quite evident in the way Zhik go about their business. When asked how they sit within their 20-year plan, Brian comments, ‘That is interesting. It is not so much about 20 years, as it is a plan for forever more, in some ways. I can imagine Zhik running and continuing for many years to come. We are coming up to ten years, which is quite interesting, as for the first 18 months or so we were just creating our range. We launched in 2005 as a global brand right from the outset, so now it is 2012 and this will be our second Olympic Games, already.’

With that, Brian has conveniently provided the segue into how Zhik goes about its business and the importance of design in their products. Zhik have a three-tiered system of sponsoring athletes that really began at the same time as the company itself.


At the top are the Ambassadors, those whose names have crossed over into common parlance. Naturally, there are but a handful of these. Next are Team Riders, who are Olympians and the like and there would be something in the order of 100 of these.

The third level is the Ascenders, of which there are simply hundreds and this is where Zhik gets be the good corporate citizen. ‘We want to give back to the sport that so deserves it. As we give more back, the sport gives back yet more to us and it is this lovely symbiotic circle, in which we can increase the value of the sport itself by promoting and servicing it well’, said Brian.


The feedback generated by this pool of talent is what drives Zhik onward. ‘This all dates back to when we founded. It was really important to us that we tried our best and remained as authentic as possible to and for the sailor. What we have is a more authentic relationship with our Team Riders, for instance, where we say to them if they wear our gear they only wear it because they prefer to wear and if they don’t want to, please tell us why and we will try to improve it. Actually asking what their problems are is a great way to begin. When you find out, you can build differentiating product.’ It is also one of the fundamental rules of marketing.


Little wonder the Zhik design team enjoy their job so much then. ‘When we started, the Zhik design team had less experience in sailing than you might imagine. Their experience was in pure design and my background was in high tech.’

‘Our approach was quite different, by default, because we weren’t perhaps in some ways contaminated with traditional points of view. We sort of approached the whole thing from quite a different and fresh perspective. We look at things from first principles and don’t get tricked by tradition. We tend to question how people are doing it now, seek the truth and thence try to resolve better solutions’, said Brian.

So now, just like the ad break you definitely know is coming before they announce the results on a reality TV show, this seems like a very good time to take a break from The Brand is Zhik (part One) and come back with Part Two, in just a little while…



Zhik website

Zhik Isotak Ocean 660x82Zhik ZKG 660x82Zhik Yachting 660x82

Related Articles

New Pacific 52 class makes its debut in San Francisco
The first of two new-build Pacific 52's from Auckland's Cookson Boats is now sailing in San Francisco. The first of two new-build Pacific 52's from Auckland's Cookson Boats is now sailing in San Francisco. Invisible Hand for San Francisco's Frank Slootman replaces his earlier RP63 of the same name. She will soon be joined by a second Cookson build, Bad Pack (Tom Holthus) from the same moulds. A third, RIO 52 is for RIO 100 supermaxi owner Manouch Moshayedi.
Posted on 18 Mar
Gladwell's Line - Of Carnage, Characters and Colour
About this time of an America's Cup season, the sap begins rising as new boats are launched About this time of an America's Cup season, the sap begins rising as new boats are launched, and Cup fans get their first sight of the various team designers' response to the latest America's Cup Class rule. In the monohull days, of course, we initially only got a partial glimpse thanks to the shrouding practices adopted by all teams to hide the nether regions of their America's Cupper
Posted on 13 Mar
So what’s it really like?
For ages now, these editorials have talked about multihull this, record that, outrageous boat speed and 24-hour runs For ages now, well it seems like that anyway, these editorials have talked about multihull this, record that, outrageous boat speed and incredible 24-hour runs. In their own very unique way they totally represent the technical avant-garde, and thank God for that. Where would we be without their impressive shapes, wonderful rigs, and now of course, foiling magic.
Posted on 6 Mar
JJ Giltinan 18ft - Kiwi Champion the subject of two protests in Sydney
Overall series leader Yamaha will have her position put on the line in a series of protest hearings on Friday Overall series leader Yamaha will have her position put on the line in a series of protest hearings Friday morning in Sydney. She faces two claims - both from Appliancesonline (David Witt). The first is an attempt to re-open the Hearing held on Wednesday morning after Yamaha was suffered damage in Race 3 as a result of a collision with a give way yacht, and Yamaha received redress of average
Posted on 3 Mar
America's Cup - Emirates Team NZ give first look at the pedaling AC50
Emirates Team New Zealand formally christened their new AC50 America's Cup Challenger on a rainy Auckland afternoon. Emirates Team New Zealand formally christened their new AC50 America's Cup Challenger on a rainy Auckland afternoon. The team has been sailing for the previous two days making news headlines after it was revealed in Sail-World.com that the AC50 would become only the second yacht in America's Cup history to use pedal power.
Posted on 16 Feb
America's Cup - Kiwis sign Olympic Cyclist for the Tour de Bermuda
Ttop cyclist Simon van Velthooven, a 2012 Olympic Bronze cycling medallist had been signed by the America's Cup team Emirates Team New Zealand put in a second foiling display on Auckland's Waitemata harbour ahead of the official launching of their AC50 tomorrow. With brighter skies the cycling team took their places on the pedalstals and used leg power to provide the hydraulic pressure necessary to run the AC50's control systems for the foils and wingsail.
Posted on 15 Feb
A Q&A with Anna Tunnicliffe about her return to competitive sailing
I talked with Anna Tunnicliffe before the Sailing World Cup Miami to learn about her return to Olympic-class sailing. Anna Tunnicliffe won gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in the Laser Radial before shifting her sights to the Women’s Match Racing event for the London 2012 Olympics. Here, she came up shy of expectation and left sailing for the CrossFit Games, but now she is returning to her roots. I talked with Tunnicliffe before the Sailing World Cup Miami to learn about her return to Olympic-class sailing.
Posted on 23 Jan
A Q&A with Dick Neville, Quantum Key West Race Week’s RC chairman
I caught up with Dick Neville, Race Committee chair for the Quantum Key West Race Week, to learn more about the event. For the past 30 years, international sailors have gathered in Key West, Florida, each January for Key West Race Week, a regatta that has achieved legendary status due to its calendar dates, its location, and the impressive level of competition and racecourse management that this storied event offers. I caught up with Dick Neville, Race Committee chair for this year’s Quantum KWRW, to learn more.
Posted on 16 Jan
A Q&A with Daniel Smith, the Clipper Race’s new deputy race director
I talked with Daniel Smith, the Clipper Round The World Race’s new deputy race director, to learn more about his role. I was fortunate to sail with Daniel Smith [36, SCO], skipper of “Derry~Londonderry~Doire” for the 2015/2016 edition of the Clipper Round The World Race, when the fleet reached Seattle last spring. Now, Smith has been hired as the event’s deputy race director-a job that will test many of the skills that he polished as a skipper. I caught up with Smith via email to learn more about his new job.
Posted on 9 Jan
Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race - Suck it up, sunshine!
The 72nd start of the iconic blue water classic had 300,000 spectators lining the foreshores of Sydney Harbour The 72nd start of the iconic blue water classic had 300,000 spectators lining the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, another two million watching on TV, and the constant buzz and whir of media helicopters overhead. 88 boats, from Australia, USA, UK, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Korea, China, oh and New Zealand, had lined up on three start lines.
Posted on 31 Dec 2016