It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but our “Meet The Industry” profiles are always popular. If you dream about a role in the motocross business, take a few pointers from our friends at various companies…
For many east of the Rocky Mountains, California is a dream. Countless days of warm weather and new opportunities beckon people to the Sunshine State. That’s what happened to Dave Casella. Raised and educated in Massachusetts, Casella made the move in the early 1990s, started a small business with friends, and has steadily worked up the ranks in the MX industry. For the better part of a decade he managed the off-road portion of Tucker Rocky’s popular brands Answer Racing, MSR, and Pro Taper, and helped bring all three companies near the top of the respective markets.
A recent move has put Casella in charge of the global market department at Troy Lee Designs, a role he took on just in time for the release of the all-new SE4 helmet. During a recent sit down to discuss the new lid, we learned more about Casella’s career path, what it takes to share the TLD vision with the world, and what it takes to succeed in the business side of our sport.
I grew up outside of Boston and when I was thirteen, we moved to a suburb and lived on a dirt road. I had a XR75 that I did my paper route on, so I got to ride non-stop. I would get home from school, kick the bike over, and then do some trail riding and my paper route. I couldn’t get enough. I knew from then that I wanted to be involved in motorcycles.
I was enamored with Malcolm Smith, so flash-forward twenty years later and I worked with him. It all tied back.
I rode and raced BMX, but always knew that I was never going to be the fast guy. I just didn’t have the skills and knew I wasn’t going to make it. I was a halfway decent designer, so I went to college for design and started a t-shirt business at UMass in Amherst. As soon as I graduated I was California dreaming, so I packed up and moved to Huntington Beach in 1992. I kept the apparel business going in my garage and really got better at the business and design. We started a company called DV8, one of the first companies that pioneered the baggy mountain bike short. None of us wanted to wear spandex because we were all BMX and moto guys, so I took my spandex and surf trunks to a local seamstress and had them sewn together. That was the baggy mountain bike short that we developed from there. The business really caught fire and I was able to work with Joel Smith, Maclolm’s son, when he was at a bike magazine. That’s how I first met the Smith family.
In 2000 a venture capitalist bought DV8 and that gave me some comfort, finally to be in California with some money.
The venture capital buyout, it was scary and there was nothing simple about it. You have to do you due diligence and show what the business is truly worth, and it was a six-month process for them to go through out books and prove the worth of the company. I’d never worked for anyone, had always owned my own companies, so handing it over to someone else was very tough.
They retained me for two years and I ran the brand for them, but running it under someone else meant that it was all checks and balances. It was no longer driven by us, the fun factor was gone, and there was no pioneering. I opted out after two years and then I had a non-compete clause for a year, which was when I went riding and surfing (Laughs).
I happened to be at the track riding with Simon Cudby one day and he told me that MSR needed a Brand Manager and that they wanted to talked to me. One thing led to another and within a few months, I ended up with the spot. That was in 2003.
I ran MSR for about two years and that went really well. We restructured the brand and brought it back to life, which led to taking over the Answer Racing brand that is also owned by Tucker Rocky. I was the Director of Off-Road for Answer, MSR, and Pro Taper for about a decade.
Now I’m the Global Moto Marketing Manager for Troy Lee Designs. The design team does all of the development, then they hand it to my team and we do all of the public facing for the brand. It’s my job to lead my team by bringing things to market, creating campaigns, and all of that. We’re so image driven at Troy Lee, so I can be as creative as I want.
There are hot spots in the world for Troy Lee where we dominate, and others places where it’s a hard sell. And that’s because we’re image driven and come from Southern California. But our distribution overseas is outstanding and we do a lot there, which is awesome. That goes back to Troy and his vision, which is so global at this point.
Troy’s tagline is “We’re everything from mild to wild,” which says it all. Every time he says it with a smile, I understand what we’re trying to do here. He’s such an enthusiast at heart and his son is racing, so it’s awesome. We do helmets for all of the top NASCAR, INDY Car, and bicycle guys. We can incorporate all of the racing into one.
I went from fielding three hundred emails a day and no personal contact with corporate, to now being able to walk a few feet and be in Troy’s office. That helps us figure out what we can accomplish that day or week or month, and that personal contact makes it impossible to ask for a better situation.
I’ve been here about a year and since I got here, we’d been planning the launch of the SE4 helmet. The undertaking of launching something that means so much to Troy and the company was overwhelming. We sat a timeline months ago and it was a year worth of marketing. Every three weeks we hit our mark. I’ve been involved in marketing for twenty years now and can say that this was the biggest launch I have been a part of, as far as in the details.
I’m a big promoter of hands on learning, but you have to go to school and have business sense and understanding of how things work. As much as I’d love to say that I’m at the track three times a week and bro’ing down with riders, it doesn’t happen. I’m a glorified desk jockey most weeks in order to get the work done. It’s awesome to go to the races on the weekends when I want and to have the riders stop in, but I don’t think I would’ve gotten anywhere near where I am now had I not run my own business or taken design seriously in school. You have to want it and be willing to let go of everything in order to do what you want to do. For better or worse, you have to be in Southern California and be willing to pack up to move here.
This is no different from any other business out there and I think that the biggest misconception is that you’re going to get in this industry just to ride every day. You have to get your feet wet and start at the bottom, just like anything else, and work your way up for the paychecks to come. Finally after twenty years it’s a career now and hopefully it’s what I do for the rest of my life, but it took a lot of time. There is money to be made; you just have to put the time in.