Humans of Haas: Guy Barnea
What is your story?
I grew up in Israel in a small town in the South, and I started swimming at a very young of 6 or 7. At age 16, I was given the opportunity to train at the National Center of Excellence. I was there for 3 years. I finished school and was supposed to go into the army but I asked for a postponement, so I could train and go to the school in the U.S. first. I got into the Cal when I was 19. I was so, so excited. The first time I traveled to the US was to go to Cal. I still remember getting off the plane at SFO and taking the BART to Berkeley. I was on the swim team for Cal, and participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What is weekends at and how did you start your own swimwear line?
At the age 25, I returned to my home country because I had to serve in the army (with 18-19 year olds). I served for 2 years and swam at the same time. I would wear swimsuits and swimwear all the time, but everything I wore was very boring. I wanted to wear swimsuits that were more fun. Everytime I would find a limited edition swimsuit, it got stolen from me or worn out.
I wanted to bring to life a brand that is fun, colorful and just a super nice suit to wear. I was able to get connected with my co-founders, Ron Nadel and Dov Adar, from Tel Aviv. We made both briefs and swim trunks, so it’s really for everybody. My team worked for 2 years on this because none of us had a lot of experience with manufacturing, producers, supply chain. Along with a lot of help from my designers and co-founders, we created “Weekends At.” There was so much research going into it. For example, we designed a pair of Antarctica-themed shorts with penguins actually native to Antarctica. Each design and product line tells a story. The packaging and art give the sense that the swimsuits are a part of the Tel Aviv and Israeli summer.
You swam in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. What was that experience like?
The 2008 Beijing Olympics was a dream come true. I have dreamt of this since I was a little boy. When I was there, I was focusing on what I had to do for my competitions, so it still feels like I was living in a dream. Just seeing all the top athletes of the sports, eating in the dining hall with then and warming up in the swimming pool felt so unreal. This was also the Olympics where Michael Phelps won all 8 golds, which was a special experience. Many of the athletes, including me, stayed 1 week after just to party and relax. I was still 20 or 21 and my career had 9 more years left, but at that moment I was an Olympian and I felt like I had achieved my goals. A lot of stress and worries melted away after that.
What does the market for swimwear look like? What was the biggest challenge?
The market we are targeting is men looking to invest in their swimwear. It is an important and fun summer piece in our wardrobes. The current trend is making the shorts shorter and fitter, which a little bit different from back in the day. The biggest challenge was making a really top-notch product. It took a long time, and we had to gather a lot of professionals around us to achieve this. Dealing with manufacturing was extremely hard because so many things can go wrong, such as the timeline got messed up or the smallest details could not done the particular way we wanted. We’re all super detail-oriented. The marketing was the smoother part. Once we had a great product, it was much easier to create marketing campaigns.
How has your Haas education helped in starting your own business?
My Haas education has definitely helped me. The most important thing I got from it was the confidence to start something and the confidence to know that I can reach out to people and network. I can make things happen and create things from scratch. Haas gave me the feeling that I could do it. I didn’t know everything about starting my own business, and I had to learn a lot on the way. But Haas gave me the confidence to make the first step. My swimming career also played a huge role in helping me stay on track and get back on the course when I needed too.
Any advice for current Haas students looking to open up their own business or go into entrepreneurship, especially in international markets?
Don’t wait. When you are a student, it is a really good time to start something, even if it’s the smallest thing. Just start something if you really want too. When you are a student everybody wants to help you. You can go to almost any professional and say that you are a student at Haas, and ask for his or her advice. I always had that feeling that I could reach out to anybody and have the opportunity to meet him or her.