Nikki Koubourlis: When you put yourself in a situation where you’re not sure that you’re capable of achieving that outcome, and it’s hard and you’re scared, or you’re not sure you can do it, but you do it anyway, and then you come out the other end, thinking, “Holy shit, I can do that – I can do anything.” Going through an experience, like, trying something that’s scary and then coming out on the other end OK, is something that helps you in whatever else you’re dealing with in life.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: This is Kristin Carpenter Ogden and you’re listening to the Intrepid entrepreneur podcast, my opportunity to talk with entrepreneurs and leaders of entrepreneurial businesses, within the outdoor, bike, snow sports, endurance and travel markets. On the Intrepid entrepreneur, you’ll hear the stories of our industries most visionary founders. You’ll learn what inspires us. What pivotal decisions brought us to launch and beyond and how our passion for being outdoors shapes our companies and our legacies. Founders in the outdoor markets are the definition of passion driven and the Intrepid entrepreneur podcast exists to share our stories.
You’re listening to episode number 65 of the Intrepid entrepreneur podcast. Welcome everybody, I’m so grateful to have you here today. Thank you for spending some time with me and with the incredible visionary entrepreneur I’m about to introduce you to. First I wanted to just put a little plug in there, from the show sponsor, which is the A game alliance. The A game alliance is my brand new private mentorship and membership community, tailored to train and catalyze founders in the outdoor active lifestyle markets. So, if you have a startup or you’re wanting to start up or get your startup to the next level, surround yourself with market fluent peers, trainings and mentorship. Sign up for the A game alliance at the Intrepid entrepreneur’s homepage www.intrepidentrepreneur.net. And onto today’s show. So, today I have Niki Koubourlis in the house. She is the founder and CEO of Bold Betties. Bold Betties is an online community and also a meetup. I mean, it’s far more than just meetup, but that’s how the company was founded, which is fantastic. But it’s essentially a group that creates experiences for outdoor minded women, women in Colorado who want to meet other like-minded women and have great experiences outdoors with them. They have a whole gearless component and a community built at boldbetties.com, you should check it out. But first, listen to Niki’s story. It is so amazing to hear how she literally built this incredible corporate career global. I mean, she’s really an amazing person, did a lot at a young age, and listen to how she just basically chucked it and pursued her heart, which was discovering a true path, which thankfully ended up in Colorado. This state is definitely better because she and Bold Betties are here. So listen in, this is an incredibly inspirational story. I bet there’s a ton you’ll be able to relate with, and if you like it, please, please share it with someone you know, who will also get a lot out of it. Here we go with Niki Koubourlis. Niki Koubourlis, welcome to the Intrepid entrepreneur podcast. It’s awesome to have you here today.
Nikki Koubourlis: Thank you, it’s awesome to be here.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So you are the CEO and founder of Bold Betties, which, as a Colorado residence, I am proud to say, you are, I think, putting a great stake in the ground, in terms of like, creating a point of entry and a way for women to really feel like they can get out and explore the outdoors together. And I’m so excited to have you on the show here today to explain how you came up with the idea to start a company around this, cause I know in our pre-call, you had some great… I’ve actually never heard of… The way that you founded the company I think is super innovative and can really open the door to other entrepreneurs thinking they may have something they want to do. So I want to talk about that, but also just kind of a longer-term vision about getting a tribe of women interested in feeling comfortable going outdoors and trying international travel, or whatever it is. So, take it away and tell us a little bit about the founding story of Bold Betties.
Nikki Koubourlis: Yeah, it’s a bit of a long story.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s all right, we have nowhere to go.
Nikki Koubourlis: OK. I had a very different lifestyle and career path before I moved to Denver, which was about three years ago, in May of 2013. But up until that point, I’d been very career driven, very corporate and very much focused on climbing the ladder and achieving success, in terms of career growth, in terms of financial compensation. And I made a lot of my decisions…I guided my life that way, because I had this really strong underlying need for security. My childhood was, I guess enough of an uncertainty to make me crave that security.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah, well put.
Nikki Koubourlis: You know, I busted my ass through college, I’ve gotten into a top grad school, all of these things that I did that were purely, purely driven by this need to have a secure little world. And I built that world and it didn’t give me what I thought it was gonna give me. I was kind of expecting that to fill a void, or bring me happiness, or just get to that place where we’re all struggling to get to, even though we can’t describe it. But it didn’t do that for me and I knew was unhappy in that perfect little world, but I didn’t feel like it could get any better, because, if I didn’t have that kind of success, I would’ve thought I wanted that. I don’t know, I just felt like I was kind of ungrateful and it was sort of my own problem, because anybody that had a lifestyle I was having, working overseas, traveling the world, making great money, would be happy. And I wasn’t, so I thought that was a personal thing. But I also was too afraid to do anything about it, because it was a very comfortable existence. You know, not having to worry about money and just sort of having a lot of the big unknowns in life ticked off, like, who are you going to spend the rest of your life with, what’s your career gonna be, what’s your sort of status gonna be, all of those things. It was comfortable. So I kind of stayed stuck in that rut for a while, even though I knew I was unhappy. And it got pretty bad. When I was living overseas, I was working crazy hours, not taking care of myself, because I was working crazy hours, you know, not eating well, not working out, drinking to excess, which was weird, cause I was in a Muslim country.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I was gonna ask, where were you based?
Nikki Koubourlis: In Abu Dhabi and the UAE at first.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Wow.
Nikki Koubourlis: And then I also was in Santiago, Chile for a while after that.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And what were you doing, what was your career that you were in?
Nikki Koubourlis: My career was primarily in commercial real estate on the investments and development side, and I spent some time in private equity as well, in commercial real estate. So when I was in Abu Dhabi, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the country, but…
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I am not, except I watched maybe a couple of bike races on YouTube, but that’s it.
Nikki Koubourlis: You probably heard about Dubai more than you’ve heard about Abu Dhabi. They get a lot of attention on the world stage for all that sort of outlandish buildings and things like that. Abu Dhabi is the same, except it’s a bit more traditionally Muslim. It’s smaller and they’ve kind of intentionally held on to the past and not grown the way Dubai did. They also have a lot of the wealth of the country in the capital seat of the country, so it was a very different experience. But they were building the same way Dubai was, but for a different purpose and different types of projects. So I went over there after I graduated from grad school and was working for a joint venture partnership between the government of Abu Dhabi and a US real estate developer. So that’s what I did for the first few years I was there, and then I went to work directly for the government of Abu Dhabi on a real estate platform there as well.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Very interesting. I mean, even though it was the wrong path, I’m sure you look back on it now and you’re like, “Wow I did some pretty amazing stuff, in a very interesting country.” But tell us the boiling point, like, what happened?
Nikki Koubourlis: (Sigh)
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, that was a big sigh. Im gonna do one too.
Nikki Koubourlis: I was thirty. Thirty-one, sorry. And my closest friend from undergrad, from my freshman year, committed suicide.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.
Nikki Koubourlis: Yeah, and it was around the same time that this thing was going around on Facebook called the top five regrets of the dying, have you ever seen that?
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: I have actually, yeah.
Nikki Koubourlis: So both of those things happened or came into my life at the same time and so I felt like I was starting to think more about or feel the urgency more, of kind of getting on the right path and making the life I want, because I didn’t have all the time of the world to correct it. And that sense of urgency became real enough that I was kind of having nightmares of being at the end of my life, full of regret about what I’ve done with my time on Earth and how I’ve squandered it. And so it became this sort of that drove me on it’s own, it’s really weird, it’s not like I made rational decision. I just… I knew I wasn’t living the life I wanted and I felt like I gotta do something now.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So you tapped into your intuition which I think is a huge take away, you couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Nikki Koubourlis: Maybe that’s it, Ill go with that, that sounds OK. You know, what I needed to do was terrifying, because at the time I was significantly overweight. I was married. I wasn’t happy with my job and didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, so it was kind of daunting about where do I start and how do I go about doing all this. So I took charge of my health first. I did this insane 90 day clean eating and fitness challenge and lost nearly 30 pounds in 90 days.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Wow.
Nikki Koubourlis: And 11% body fat in 90 days. Yeah, it was great, it was a great program. After that, I got divorced literally about a month after I finished that, and then two months after that, I changed jobs. So, within a period of about 9 months, I did all three of those things and the…it was a good thing I started off with the weight loss journey, because that was the kind of thing where you had to be very focused and set a goal and the kind of thing where you didn’t know if you could do it and we all talk abut how hard it is do do that. And when you have success in something like that, it really gives you that confidence to go after other things that you previously thought too hard or…it gave me a lot of confidence, because I looked back after it and thought, “Holy shit!”
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah.
Nikki Koubourlis: I can do that, and I needed that. And it definitely gave me a push to go forward with the rest. But it didn’t really…even though all that happened in 9 months, when I left Abu Dhabi, I moved to Santiago Chile, for another corporate job opportunity. Making a ton of money, working insane hours and so it was more of the same. Even though I’d gotten my health back and I’ve gotten out of my marriage, I was still working myself into the grave. So I left that job after about 8 months and I moved to Denver Colorado, where I had no family, no friends, no job…
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Why Denver then, I have to ask?
Nikki Koubourlis: So, as a part of that job in Santiago, my scope included opening a US office and they selected Denver for the location. And funny enough, originally I was not on board with that. I’d never even been there, I was just being a snob, I thought, “I don’t wanna go to that cow town.” But three weeks later, I was on a plane to Denver and over about the course of seven weeks, I was traveling back and forth and working on setting up the office here and I fell in love with Colorado. [inaudible 00:11:42] the people, the landscape, the climate, all of it. So after that seven weeks, we decided to put the office in Miami instead, and that’s when I decided to quit the company, cause I went to Miami and just said, “I can’t do this.”
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yay!
Nikki Koubourlis: Yeah, right? Colorado is fantastic, we have something special here and so that’s why I just felt compelled to be here, so I told them I’d finish opening the Miami office, I did that and I quit my job and came here. And that was June 2013 officially.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So we have something in common. I actually moved to Durango, sight unseen too.
Nikki Koubourlis: That’s insane.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: So I moved… I like, I did a really long road trip, where I left… I was in Austin Texas, it’s such a long story. But I left Austin Texas and I went looking for my little town. And at the time, Northern exposure was a thing, and I loved that show, and I was like, “I wanna find a town like that,” and I visited a ton of places around Durango. I went all the way from Texas to Friday Harbor Washington like..
Nikki Koubourlis: Awesome.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: …by the way of Idaho Montana, you name it, I went there and well I didn’t go to Durango, I liked everything about it and I was like, “I think that’s where I wanna go.” I literally never left. I got here, I moved in, like, I left for one magazine job in Santa Fe, but I came back. Rubber band effect.
Nikki Koubourlis: That’s hilarious.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And I just think it’s… You know, again, that intuition, you have to listen to your intuition. I think a lot of people who are listening to this podcast right now, have a little voice in their head, encouraging them to do something and they’re… They listen to my guests talk about how they got to this point where they are. And I just absolutely love the, you know, the candor that you have and how open you’re being is that… It just helps so many of us act on our inspiration, so thank you. Cause it doesn’t sound like it was a very easy journey, but boy, I sure am glad that you ended up staying in our great state. So tell us about next steps – there you were in Denver, you decided to commit and this was your new place. How did you make it your place?
Nikki Koubourlis: The first thing I did was force myself to not take a job right away. And that was really hard for me, because of how important that security was. That was a big risk. But I knew if I did, I would get consumed with that and it would defeat the purpose of moving here, because I wouldn’t make friends, I wouldn’t build a life, I would just go back to my old ways. So I deliberately said, I’m gonna take this extended period of time off, which was through the rest of the year. And I used that time to build a life here, foundation and explore my new state, make friends and get comfortable here. But I also used that time to say yes to all the things that I wasn’t able to do when I was working all the time. All the things I said no to because I have to work late tonight, I have to work this weekend. So it involved a lot of concerts and travel…even sitting in the city park on a blanket, reading in the middle of the afternoon, like, simple things, it wasn’t necessarily a lot of big things. But because I was in Colorado and I had all this time, a lot of it was outdoor things. You know, going to the mountains to hike my first 14ner, to camp or to backpack or to ski, just, all of these things that I hadn’t done in ages or had never done before. And that was a really regular part of my routine, and lot of that stuff I did by myself, or with girlfriends, and it was another situation of… On a smaller scale of kind of how I described the weight loss journey – when you put yourself in a situation where you’re not sure that you’re capable of achieving that outcome, and it’s hard and you’re scared, or you’re not sure you can do it, but you do it anyway, and then you come out the other end, thinking, “Holy shit, I can do that – I can do anything.” And that was what the outdoors did for me because I had these weird preconceived notions that pitching a tent was hard and building a fire was hard, and chopping wood was hard and… They’re really not that hard.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: It’s just new. I have a feeling that setting up a real estate deal in Abu Dubai would be harder than that.
Nikki Koubourlis: Abu Dhabi.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Abu Dhabi, sorry.
Nikki Koubourlis: You know what’s weird, I guess it’s just what you’re familiar with and I was not familiar… In my youth, growing up, any time we did stuff like that, there were all these guys involved and they were always taking on those roles and I just sort of assumed that was because, you know, they were too hard for me to do or something, I don’t know, something silly and stupid. But that was happening to me on a very regular basis and by the time the end of the year came about, I had just felt so capable of doing anything I wanted. And I…even though I’ve been super successful in my career before, I didn’t feel that way. I don’t know, I guess I still doubted myself, or I just wasn’t on the right path, I’m not really sure. Finally I felt like, I feel like I’m on top of the world, I can do whatever I want. And what I want is to give this feeling to women everywhere.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Oh, that’s so awesome, I love it. So how did you do that? Cause you started in Colorado, tell us, cause I think this is a really unique way to start your journey to open a business?
Nikki Koubourlis: Thanks. I’d like to say I master minded but it’s a little more accidental. I started a meetup group, oddly enough, because…. I had a lot to learn and even though I had gained a ton of confidence, I wasn’t arrogant enough to think I can build a business without, you know, talking to other people and making sure that the problem I’ve experienced is actually a real problem beyond myself. So I started a meetup group and it was a meetup group for women in the Denver metro area to have a variety of outdoor experiences. And it was very open to beginners and experts alike, as long as everybody was cool with the environment being non threatening, non competitive. It wasn’t about getting to the top of the 14ner first or you know, who’s doing the hardest rating on the rock, or whatever. It was just about having a new experience, bonding with women, being outside and enjoying that. And I was really surprised by how quickly it grew. We had almost 200 members in the first week, which was pretty unusual and it showed that there was really broad appeal to that. If you look at meetups, most of the groups are very specific, like, were a rock climbing group, were a hiking group, were a backpacking group, you know, they’re very avid, it’s not really open to beginners and what I realized was that there weren’t a lot of places for the novices to go and feel comfortable. People are moving here in droves, right, so there are a lot of people who want that. But so the group really just took off and started spending a lot of time doing events and trips with the women in the group and that’s where I really learned exactly what the business was gonna look like and confirmed the problem that I was solving.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: That’s awesome. So I love the way you phrased that. You got to know your target, profile, who you’re serving and then you knew how you’re going to be serving them. And you found out about that through the meetup structure, if you will. I actually think that’s genius, cause it’s basically like, building the plane as you fly it, but with that two way conversation with the people you’re serving, so I just have never heard of anybody doing it through meetup, I think that’s so cool.
Nikki Koubourlis: Yeah, and you know what’s interesting, the accidental part that I referred to a little bit earlier. I didn’t know how things would go when I started the meetup, but I don’t think that I really thought deep down that the community, the meetup group, was gonna last forever. I probably thought that was more of an initial thing. But it became so central to the entire offering and that’s the value of what we have, is that community and those relationships and that interaction. And all of the other things we do are just, you know, ancillary compared to that. So what started out as more, research or learning became the core offering of the business. And that’s the coolest part about our experience launching the meetup.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And there’s another thing I think my audience would benefit greatly from hearing you talk about, and that is your personal interaction as you were building this community, because I think that that’s a big part of what invited your women in to Bold Betties. Maybe their first experience interfacing with you via social media or via that Meetup group. Can you talk a little bit about how you kind of, really took a care-take approach to those interactions?
Nikki Koubourlis: Yeah, it wasn’t deliberate, I guess I was just being me, which is always… People are always going to respond to that more than they will if you’re not and I think Im so much like every woman in so many ways that there was a lot to relate to, a lot to connect with. You know, we started the group really with a couple of happy hours. Cause I wanted to get together with the women, I wanted to get to know them and see who is this appealing to and what kinds of things do they wanna do, because Im not gonna bother planning activities or trips if nobody’s interested in them. So, lets get together, lets meet and great and lets talk about what we wanna do this summer, what adventures we wanna have. So we had a couple of happyhours first in town, and then… It was still early in the season, so we had to kind of do what was available in the shoulder seasons. I think ziplining was our first adventure and it just escalated from there, you know, now we’ve done everything you can imagine, which is pretty cool. When you’re out in those situations, usually I limit the participation to 20 or less, our average is around 15 and so it’s not this mass experience, you really do get more opportunities to bond and talk and often times you’re out in nature, where there is not a lot to distract you, or you’re camping… Typically there’s wine involved. it’s just sort of the event itself and being normal, mainstream women, it just becomes really easy to connect over that sort of experience and it usually means that it’s a little bit longer in duration, instead of just coming in for an hour of my services, were spending three days together, two days together, an entire day together.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: And that, again, bonding around something that maybe becomes a memory forever, because it was such an eye-opening experience, I think is incredible. So you just hit on something that I think the entire outdoor active lifestyle markets, like the industry specifically… Obviously they’re going through a huge transformation in terms of like, how people are buying and interacting with brands and buying products etc. And what you hit on, which I think is so super valuable is, what women are looking for within outdoor experience for so long. I’ve been in these markets for 20 years, and I feel like it’s just been… There’s like a way that business has been done, there’s a way that they bring people in and it’s very much like from how it worked with men and they, you know, basically stay on that track cause it’s comfortable, like I want to talk with you about the comfort zone vesting here in a minute, but like, I think that the broader industry needs that around catering to women. And that’s why I love this portal that you’ve created, that essentially invites women in, who just want to get out and have an experience and not have it be competitive and not be judged and everybody’s welcome. I mean, that’s honestly something that feels so natural to us as women, but it’s not been easy for the industry to do. It’s like the new thing that they have to learn. When I think instead of starting from the ground up, they can look at entities like Bold Betties and there are other ones popping up in different industries, you know, that are focusing on training retailers and things. And I think it’s just because like women are worked to the point where we’re ready to just be super vocal about, you know, joining in and and being an important member of the outdoor community.
Nikki Koubourlis: Yeah, I agree completely. I think that whole hard-core stereotype has probably backfired on the industry a little bit. Who ever said that if you were a skateboarder, you had to wear your hat backwards and wear saggy pants and talk like a stoner?
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Yeah.
Nikki Koubourlis: And to be outdoorsy you had to be fit, maybe male, or if you were a woman, you didn’t wear makeup and maybe you didn’t shave your armpits and your legs. These stereotypes that keep people out are just crazy. And that’s one of the things that Bold Betties is, we often say we’re changing the face of adventure, because we are advocating and promoting how…the different ways you can consume the outdoors and you don’t have to be that stereotype to get something out of it. And really highlighting the differences between men and women in our consumption of the outdoors. Which is important to distinguish to make for the industry to really reach us in the way they want to.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Lets talk a little bit about, you know, the gateway that you provide. Obviously, going to boldbetties.com and I’ll have all this information in the podcast notes page Niki and our dear audience as well. But it’s outdoor gear and adventure for women, everything you need to explore the outdoors, and I love what you said, you know, about just basically… Well I guess I’m kind of putting my own spin on it but, the portal is really, like you said, it’s changing the face of adventure. Talk about how would somebody first discover this and then integrate it into their lives?
Nikki Koubourlis: So, what’s really interesting, and this was accidental about the meetup part, what we found is that there are women of all walks of life coming into our community. There really and truly are all ages, we have 24 to 67 and all sort of socioeconomic levels, and much more diversity in our communities then you see represented in the outdoors normally. The kind of commonality the most, the biggest commonality is that a lot of them are women in transition, and… it’s actually called chapter B by psychologists, which is when you’re in that state of mind to start something new, try something new and it’s usually instigated by a new job, a new relationship, you move to a new city. And what’s kind of brilliant about that is, when women are in that place, they tend to go to meetup.com.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Interesting.
Nikki Koubourlis: They’re looking for their new friends, they’re looking for their new hobby, they’re looking to expand their horizons. That, you know, has really been interesting for us to kind of see. And I think it’s also because the going through an experience like, trying something that’s scary, and coming out on the other end OK, is something that helps you in whatever else you’re dealing with life, like taking on a job and you never done those responsibilities before and you’re not sure if you can do it or trying to get through a loss and grieve with that, you know what I mean, any of those difficult things in life, there are a lot of lessons you can learn from outdoor experiences, that translate and spill over and help you get through that. So I think that’s been one of the reasons for that. And that’s how women find us. We haven’t advertised, it’s all been word-of-mouth or finding us on meetup.com, until now. Were starting to test and figure out other ways that we can promote it outside of meetup.com. But that’s why they come, they come through their friends or through meetup. Once they’re in the community, they can engage with us in a number of ways. We do a lot of social stuff in town, that’s a couple hours here or there, for people that want to kind of get to know women in the community before they go on a longer trip. And then we have day hikes and days out rock climbing, we have multi-adventure weekends in Mohab and now we’re doing more international travel. So we had a group summit Kilimanjaro last year. And we’ve got a group going to Machu Picchu this year. And well be doing more of those longer trips as well.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Do you guys select an outfitter or do you basically guide these yourself?
Nikki Koubourlis: It’s a combination. In most cases were partnering with outfitters or tour operators. The only things I guide myself are day hikes or shorter trips, but for the technical piece, we’re partnering with guides.
Kristin Carpenter-Ogden: Very cool. I love that, I just got your recent newsletter, which everybody… You can sign up for that to boldbetties.com, but my favorite part, aside from the Will Farrell, how I feel on the first day of spring image, which I probably will have to put on the podcast notes page, cause it’s so fantastic, your brand is really fun and funny, was talking about the two main Mohab trips. Both sold out within hours, which basically means we’re as popular as Michael Jackson. I love that. So you guys obviously have a lot of fun, poking fun at yourself and everything else. But honestly, I a couple of these things are pretty serious that you talked about. Like, this chapter B women in transition, Im like, “Oh, that would be a great name of a book.” You know like, to actually chronicle how the outdoors guides people through that process I think.