Launch Story:

Kelly McGee is the ex-Apple design engineer who co-founded Yardsale, a line of magnetic ski poles.


Hi Kelly! Tell me about yourself in 2-3 sentences.

I’m a product designer and mechanical engineer. After graduating from MIT, I worked in various product design roles at Apple: everything from packaging to iPad. There, I had the privilege to learn and work alongside the best designers on Apple’s storied Industrial Design team. This experience pushed me to pursue a career in product design more intently.

I went on to start a medical device company where I lead both the physical and digital design experiences. However, my passion is in applying thoughtful, clean design principles to categories where great design has not had an opportunity to make a significant impact. When Cristina approached me about her idea to rethink the ski pole, I jumped at the chance to apply these principles to a critical piece of gear that skiers have long overlooked. Plus, I love skiing.

In November you launched Yardsale along with Cristina Ashbaugh– what led you to go after the ski industry, in particular ski poles?

We were initially really excited about the opportunity with ski poles because after doing significant market research and talking to friends and other skiers, we found that most skiers have never had any brand affinity towards their poles. There was no clear category leader, and more importantly, we felt that many of the other options on the market were ugly, made on the cheap, or lacked obvious features.

If you look at all of the big players in the ski industry more broadly, the lion’s share of marketing is geared towards who we call the “hardo” skiers, AKA those who are jumping off cliffs and who ski the first and last chair. The truth is, most of us will never ski like that, nor do we want to. We were missing a brand that spoke to the everyday recreational skier, the person who calls it a day at 1 or 2 pm and enjoys a drink at the lodge with their crew, the weekend warrior. With Yardsale, we’re making expertly designed ski gear that holds up on double blacks as much as it does on the bunny slopes so we can all enjoy a day out on the mountain.

Tell me about the name Yardsale.

In skiing, the term yard sale refers to an epic wipeout in which a skier (or snowboarder) loses their skis, gloves, hat, and poles across the piste, thus resembling a yard sale! We think the name perfectly encapsulates our brand ethos which is to not take skiing too seriously. One of the main reasons we started Yardsale was to build a brand that spoke to the everyday recreational skier. Yardsale-ing is a part of the fun of the sport and we’re excited to build our brand around the concept that skiing should be about the full ski day or ski weekend experience, not just the downhill part.

What are the design specifications to the brand that make it unique and how did your former role as a Design Engineer at Apple lend itself to building the product?

My experiences at Apple taught me a few important principles that I try to apply to every product I develop. First, is to design through as little design as possible. At Apple, products geometrically are reduced to their simplest form. An iPhone is a soft rectangle of aluminum with glass, for example. Therefore you need to be very intentional about the elements that you leave behind. With our P1 Poles, we embodied this principle by removing common decals that junk up many poles and by trying to hide the magic of the magnets inside (it’s sort of a ship in a bottle situation in there!). We also created soft, organic shapes in the handle and baskets that felt approachable and simplistic.

Second, at Apple many innovations required a complex approach to manufacturing. At Yardsale we’re fortunate to partner with a manufacturer that has been making ski poles for over 30 years. However, they have never been pushed to integrate the features and quality standards that we believed would be the first in many steps to push the industry forward. We utilized new manufacturing processes across the product, investing in new machinery and fixtures to ensure the initial design intention was met.

Lastly, in design, I always think about the product’s entire lifecycle. The biggest issue with ski poles is that you want them to be as light as possible and also want them to be indestructible. This is a fairly impossible engineering problem. Therefore, why not design them to break? In making the product entirely modular, we gave users the ability to mix and match colors and eventually they’ll be able to entirely create their own custom poles with a variety of features. And by making the shaft separate from the other components, we’re able to replace just that part. In the future we’d love to take this a step further and find ways to recycle the aluminum shaft and create new poles.

I love that the poles are modular, it feels like a special and considered touch to the brand. Aside from this being fun moment for color personalization, does this allow for other flexibility?

The modularity feature is completely unique to Yardsale and allows us to offer our “Yardsale Guarantee,” which is our special warranty program that covers any bends or breaks to the pole shaft. With all other ski poles, if you bend or break the pole you have to replace the entire pair, but thanks to our modularity, we’re able to replace just the center segment which cuts down on unnecessary waste and allows skiers the piece of mind to use the product as hard as they want.

What has the reaction been since launch? Anything surprising that you've learned about your community?

Yardsale was really born in our free time, juggling prototypes and manufacturing alongside our full time jobs. When we launched in November, we wanted to see if we could find early signs of product-market fit before diving into it full time. In the first month, almost a thousand skiers rushed to buy a pair. The reaction was overarchingly positive – finally, someone had taken the time to rethink something long forgotten in the ski world. The magnets were a hit but beyond that, the concept of completely customizing your own pair really hit home with users.

Beyond sales, we had incredible inbound from excited skiers all over the world. We were reached out to almost immediately by the top retailers in the US, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. And we had everyone from skiers with Multiple Sclerosis to career Ski Patrollers tell us this was something they couldn’t wait to try out as it solved problems for them they thought no one would address.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but can we expect an expansion in categories for Yardsale? (Any hints?)

Right now, we’re really focused on becoming a dominant brand in poles. We think the opportunity with poles is massive and our current expansion plans are to move into kids poles (the P1 Mini) as well as make a more technical pole for backcountry skiers so we can expand our reach within this category. We’re also excited about expanding our colorways to give skiers even more optionality when building their pair (check out our latest collab: Barbie Pink P1 Poles with the brand, Halfdays). Once we build a strong brand and product foundation in this category, we’re excited about opportunities where we can apply our design framework and thesis to soft goods and apparel, but you’ll have to stay tuned for that ;)