I get to join my amazing colleagues and industry cohorts this week up in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016 trade show. I’ve been attending these amazing shows for just about 20 years now.
It’s been a constant part of my annual travel and I’ve attended all but two shows. I’ve been there pregnant a few times; I’ve also had teeny tiny babies strapped to me via Baby Bjorn. I’ve worked with about 200 brands in the industries I call home and love – outdoor, bike, snow, endurance and travel.
And this show is a super important gathering point for our industries and I always look forward to it!
I wanted my post today to be about sharing my journey on how I started in this industry, because it’s super relevant to you my dear community. I started to go to Outdoor Retailer (OR) as an entrepreneur. And that very first show was an incredible experience for me, and every show continues to be.
Because it’s the gathering point for all of “Our People.”
I will never forget the moment when I found Our People and I wanted to share that, and bring you through a founder’s story here, in celebration of my 6,795th OR show! 🙂
Here we go:
It was the early 1990’s and in college and I was tracking to be a carbon copy of my three brothers. En route to obtaining a liberal arts degree of some kind, while playing sports at a great university, I started to feel like I was in a track of some kind that I didn’t belong on. I grew up playing ball-and-bat sports and enjoyed my identity of being an athlete but I have to be honest, running track, playing softball and basketball was fun, but not necessarily my passion.
College can have a way of changing that. It was at U.C. Davis, in the early part of my sophomore year, that I met Shelby, an outdoorsy artist who became an unknowing early mentor to me.
We met in the campus bookstore, where she and I worked in the art department. She was very different from anyone I had grown up with and I was super curious about her – she had a free spirit like no other I’d seen. I attributed some of it to the fact that she grew up in Marin County, Calif. I had already been taking my affinity for being an athlete to a new canvas – the outdoors. Shelby was another confirming piece of this new identity starting to take shape in me.
But then one fateful day Shelby came to work with a flyer and handed it to me.
“Outdoor Adventures is Hiring Raft Guides” – it announced.
Immediately I left my body and dropped into fantasyland. Suddenly, in my head, I was guiding rafts down big whitewater in the Sierra Nevada Mountains! Within less than 30 seconds, I knew I wanted to apply, despite the fact that I had absolutely NO experience.
Yes, it’s true – I’d never been rafting; not even one single time!
I confessed that to her but Shelby encouraged me to apply (she coached me to stretch my experience growing up on the beaches of Northern Los Angeles into some sort of proof that I could indeed guide).
By the grace of who knows what. … We were both accepted!
In just a few days after that, we showed up for the new guide orientation at the U.C. Davis Outdoor Adventures barn. We were led to the back of the building and through a set of double, wooden doors.
That’s where the ‘guides’ were allowed. … My new identity absolutely DELIGHTED me already!
I looked around the room and saw a bunch of guys in plaid and Patagonia and tough-looking, earthy girls with sun dresses and Teva’s. They were talking about gear, skiing, mountain biking and rock climbing and how stoked they were to be on the river that season, because it was going to be B I G water. …
As I looked around and took my seat in the introductory session of guide training that night, it hit me. I was home. ….
I’d found them!
Every single one of us in the barn that night was also a student, studying different subjects. But we were tied by our passion for being outside and taking other people outside to discover the same passion we had.
At that moment, my identity shifted from college student to outdoor athlete and to this day, it hasn’t shifted from that absolutely perfect, sweetspot.
My formative (and maybe my all-time favorite) job at Outdoor Adventures led to an awesome three-plus years experience as a raft guide. This led to more rock climbing, camping and mountain biking because My People were just as into all of these things as I was (and am). The more time I spent outside, the more confident I was in my identity, the more I got to revel in my passion for the outdoors, and the happier I became.
I continue to use that passion as a screen to guide decisions I made and continue to make in my life.
My love for the outdoors drove me to start out my career in a mountain town instead of working my entire life to retire in one. My town of choice, Durango, Colo., had a decent job base, but after working at the local paper, I had run out of options in my area of focus – being a journalist. I was committed to making it work in Durango, which is why I initially gravitated to being an entrepreneur. While I may have encountered that path out of need and fear, that dissipated once I started to make money as a freelance writer and editor. And, the adventure and freedom of working for myself? I never knew I could have that. I quickly knew it suited me.
I thought back to my first company – “K&K Dogwalking Service,” which I launched with my co-founder and childhood best friend Katie Madden. We were 10-years-old. … True story!
I was born with uber-strong entrepreneurial tendencies and I know well that I’ll always be flying my own flag as a founder.
And, it hasn’t been easy. I held some interesting jobs to get my businesses going.
Aside from my time at the local paper, I worked as a secretary at a local electrician’s office who loved mountain biking as much as I did (and I still see John Phillips crushing it on our local trails on his bike).
Then, there was the cattle ranch hand (I kid you not). I had to get up at 4:30 am, load up the cab of a flat bed old pick up with four dogs (one was mine) and head out to the barn on a 2,000-acre cattle ranch. In said barn, I had to hot wire the tractor and move hay onto the flat bed. The dogs and I would then cruise around the pastures, feeding the cows, bulls and horses. I didn’t have to pay rent and I found a beautiful place where my dog Jake and I could live. I was happy, but thoroughly out of my league at first. By the time I ended my tenure on the ranch, I had participated in two cattle drives as well! It was a great time and I had plenty of time to write and sell (the dual fixations I had in growing my first company, a freelance writing and editing business).
With grit, hustle and a scrappiness that I doubt many magazine editors had encountered before from an up-and-coming contributor, I won two editorial positions that I held concurrently: Shape Magazine and Outdoor Retailer magazine. Over an amazing, nine-year run, I had these and other staff positions and freelanced for, on average, 30-35 publications a year.
I leaned in hard to make my vision of my ideal life – writing and living a life outside in a beautiful location – a reality.
During this time, I also turned down an editor-in-chief job in New York City, and various other cherry opportunities that would have taken me from the mountains I call home.
Every time, the decision to stay near my passion was the right decision.
My passion is like a compass living inside of me and I’ve used it to power three start-ups in the active outdoor lifestyle industries. My second start up was Verde Brand Communications in 2002.
I founded that while pregnant with my son Tobin, in our basement of our first home. We’re now 15 years in, and I have four office locations, 31 amazing employees and a list of clients so amazing that I literally want to pinch myself when I look at our client roster.
Two years ago in April, I was struck by an inspiration to start a third company in these markets – the Intrepid Entrepreneur.
I feel so strongly that the entrepreneurs in our markets need support and that more support is needed to make them successful. Creating a runway for their success makes our industries grow in both participation and sales. Plus, lest we forget: the active outdoor lifestyle industries were founded and built by entrepreneurs and their innovations.
Today, I run both Verde and Intrepid from Durango and enjoy every single day doing so. I love my mountain town and the fact that my husband and I are able to raise our family here – following my bliss has NEVER steered me in the wrong direction.
I know you’re here because you’re an entrepreneur either already launched or wanting to launch in the active outdoor lifestyle industries. Welcome! This is your new community!
You don’t have to do this Han Solo anymore – join us here, and let me know what I can offer you in terms of training and support anytime. You can email me: email@example.com.
Thank you so much for stopping by and know that I would absolutely LOVE to have you join our community and take advantage of our market-fluent founder trainings and webinars. The podcast can be accessed right from the site your own – just go up to the tabs and you’ll see it there. And sign up for my weekly newsletter – it’s the “gateway” to all of the content and community activity that’s hand-built to power the success of outdoor founders!
I often wonder where my life would have gone had Shelby and I not met. Or if she didn’t decide it was a great idea to bring that Outdoor Adventures flyer to work that day to share it with me.
Thank you for letting me share my story and let me know what resonates with you. I’m always so curious about your founding stories as members of the awesome Intrepid community. Let me know if you’d be willing to share your story with me. … Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time. …