REI Presents: Venturous Voices

REI Presents: Venturous Voices


Starting a business is a lot like climbing a mountain, or taking your first backpacking trip. It’s a journey that leaves her boots worn and her resources tapped. At day’s end, there’s a pride in recognizing how far she’s come. But who is she? How does she keep going when there are barriers along her path? What happens when we take our love… and make it our business? These are the stories of individual women with different entrepreneurial ventures. And together, they are shaping the future of the outdoor industry. There is a growing overlap between technology and the outdoors. Alyssa Ravasio founded Hipcamp in 2013, a sophisticated camp reservation interface that makes it easier to get outside and camp. Starting a company, no matter what it is, is so hard. And I just think anyone who says otherwise is either is like, the luckiest person on the planet, or lying. Upon having the idea for Hipcamp, the first thing that had to change was that I didn’t know how to program. And so I had this idea for this website, but I didn’t have any money and I didn’t know how to build it (laughs). And so I went to a programming school and I learned how to code. I didn’t want to either wait for someone to give me money for this idea, or you know, convince some boy that they should build this for me I wanted to do this. I wanted to have the power to do it on my own and just see how it went before involving too many other people. I think because, especially in the outdoor industry and the tech industry, a venn diagram of which Hipcamp fits in the middle, these are both industries that have been just dominated by male leadership. I think what female entrepreneurs often bring to the table that can be different is a type of leadership that leads a lot more space for things like emotions, and feedback and sensitivity. And I think that can be really powerful, especially on a small team, for everyone to kind of feel this space where it’s ok to say, I’m afraid or that hurt my feelings, or that made me really angry. Um, sharing those kinds of emotions are often viewed as weak or soft, I think they’re really strong and powerful. I think it takes a lot of courage to do that. If you know Alyssa’s background and her family, then you know that her mom is an evironmentalist and her dad is involved in small civic politics and is always helping out the local community. And so when Alyssa went off to study the internet in college, I don’t think it’s any surprise that she came back and built a company around connecting people with nature and getting people connected with the outdoors. I think there’s this furnace inside her that understands that right now is a really important time for the environmental movement and that connecting people with nature kind of turns a light on in many people’s heads. Hipcamp was born from a camping trip. I’d spent many many hours very frustrated trying to figure out which campground by the ocean I could camp at. But upon arriving I found out that somehow I had failed to learn what was probably the most important part about the campground at least to me, which was that it was an incredible surf break. I had actually taken my surfboard out of my car before driving down because I had assumed that if there had been surfing at this campground it would have been mentioned somewhere on the state park website and it hadn’t been. Driving home that day, actually, it kind of dawned on me, in a flash. I was like, wow, we really deserve a better way to figure out where we can get outside. It’s really important for people to spend time in nature and if we don’t build an easy way for them to use technology to connect with the outdoors It’s not guaranteed that people will continue to do so.Narrator: An entrepreneur starts a company because she recognizes a problem that needs to be solved.But one of the most exhilirating aspects of starting a companyis how the solutions evolve. Originally what was envisioned to be a way to aggregate public campgrounds now has turned into a platform that creates campgrounds. So we now partner with private land owners and create entirely new places for people to camp. For too long I think we’ve looked at land and humans as either, this land we can’t touch we must protect it from the people and this land we’re going to exploit and just completely destroy and I think there’s a big space in the middle where humans are actually living and working with land in a way that supports human life and is good for the rest of the environment and that’s where our private land program lives. When Alyssa first reached out to me, I was already looking for a revenue stream to help us out with the sanctuary. And when she pitched the concept of campers coming, nature lovers coming out to the land, it just made so much sense. It’s easy to look around at the political climate today and realize that that division right now between urban and rural communities is not good for anyone. And so building community across that gap is something we’re really excited to be part of. Entrepreneurs, in general, are people who aren’t afraid of risk. They kind of know that things could get really bad and they tend to know that risk and reward are generally proportional. And I think they’re people who have a power to see the world in a way that it’s not. People who found companies I think, in general, are very persistent and tend to not take no for an answer and tend to take failure in stride. I know that’s cliché to say, but it takes a unique type of person, I think, to handle all of the no’s and people telling you you’re stupid and people telling you something is not going to work just again and again and again and again until suddenly it works and everyone thinks you’re a genius. In terms of, I think, an emotional commitment, it’s just understanding that you won’t always be first. You know, we definitely have a strong relationship, but also… there are certain other demands of her time and attention that have to be met. That’s just a compromise that is. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. You know, I get to watch her grow and personally I think that’s a great thing. I’m actually wearing the word “balance” on my wrist just to remind me of how important it is to keep that time for quiet time in nature and cooking at home and working out and spending time with family and friends. All that stuff makes me as a founder a much stronger and smarter and more strategic leader who can be more impactful with my time. I’m a person, not just a company. We’re different things. And I think that space is so healthy because the outcomes of my business aren’t a direct reflection of me. I’m almost like channeling this energy to build this company and whether the company is doing great or not great, I still feel good about myself. A business can be used as a vehicle to impact the world. Jenny Amaraneni and Dana Holliday started SOLO Eyewear, an eco-conscious sunglasses company, with more than just profit in mind. I would say that Jenny is extremely compassionate and kind-hearted. All of her decisions come from a really good place. She has a genuine desire to help people. Dana is one of the most talented and hard-working individuals I’ve ever met. I was reading a book called “Out of Poverty” by Paul Polak, and in the book, Polak made a couple of references to the need for eyecare. And it really peaked my interest because I’ve had poor vision pretty much my whole life. I started doing some more research and I came across these crazy statistics like there are a billion people in the world who lack access to eyecare. And, over 80% of the world’s blindness is preventable. That really lit a fire under me. There were dozens of organizations out there trying to address these needs. So I wanted to find a way to help support them and scale their efforts. And I just had a lightbulb moment. Why not launch a line of eco friendly sunglasses where we can use a portion of our profits to fund eyecare for people in need? Very early on in launching the company, we put out product and discovered that it was breaking. I remember trying to sell a pair of glasses. I was walking with my boss at the time and I was trying to sell her a pair of glasses and they just broke in my hands. And she was like, mmm, no thank you. And I thought, oh my gosh, I never want to feel this way again. We knew that it was the entire production run and we faced the question of, what do we do? Our business is really built on integrity and honesty and transparency so we decided to pull back the entire collection and take a pause in our business until we could create product that we were proud of. That was, like, a really defining moment for our business. Entrepreneurs are made in those low moments, when there’s no choice but to bear down, learn, and move forward. Jenny and Dana listened to the heart of their business, the same heart that takes them to volunteer in San Quentin, Mexico, to distribute eyeglasses that they donated to their nonprofit partner, Restoring Vision. I notice, again and again, th team of people that come together to support these organizations. You have people from all walks of life that want to come together, volunteer their time and help out. Whether their background is in opthamalogy or business. When I work with the volunteers, I always tell them: you put the glasses on the patient and you wait for it, you wait for it, because what you’re looking for is the smile that this is the right pair of glasses for them. I think that to change the world, we need a chain of people and corporations and nonprofits. This cannot be done only from one side, it has to be done with the help of everybody. It’s a rollercoaster ride and I think that’s another thing that helps Dana and I keep going is that sense of support. I personally could not do SOLO without Dana. It’s such a tough journey and to and to be able to have that partner by your side through it has made all the difference. We have some really incredible struggles, but we really have some, like, really amazing moments. Dana and I keep going as that sense of support. Frequently if one is feeling more disappointed or moral is especially low, the other is able to compensate and together we come out of those situations. Because it’s inevitable that you’re going to experience disappointments and failures. We’ve experienced them across the board. But when you have that strong team mate you realize that there is no storm you can’t weather. There’s always an honest way of handling situations and being transparent and that’s what carries you through them.(Narrator) As a kid, Chelsea Griffie didn’t have access to the outdoors but she’s turned her life work into changing that story for others.Growing up in Chicago, we had some access to the outdoors except that there’s not a lot of camping and stuff like that in Chicago. I do remember that I talked with my mother and I was like, I knew in my mind I wanted backpacking, I wanted mountains and stuff. And my mom was like, that’s nice honey – we don’t do that. I was like *gasp* I started rock climbing when I was 27. I kind of liked it because I had a background of being a dancer. I think that plays into the balance. It made a lot of sense to me. I was a climber and I lived in Yosemite so that was just a thing that you did. You’ve got to climb El Capitan if you’re a climber, there’s almost like, uh, did you do it yet? I was surprised that I was the first African American woman to climb El Capitan because I felt like people have been climbing El Capitan for pretty long. I’ve done it three times. The first two times were with women partners, partly because, if you do it with a male partner, people just assume he did most of the work. At the moment, I can’t climb as much as I would because more of my mojo is going into LA Wilderness Training Chelsea applied to work at Bay Area Wilderness Training in 2006, 2007, and through working with her, talking with her, learned that she was super comfortable in the wilderness and that she also put others at ease. I wanted to start my own chapter of Wilderness Training, because what Bay Area Wilderness Training did, LA could use. Let’s get kids out here, too, come on! I think Chelsea and I have this fundamental understanding of how important it is for kids, especially kids of color, kids come from low income communities, to be able to have more resources to get them out so that they have access to a place like this place.(Narrator) And a big key to getting kids outside is equipping them with gear. Chelsea doesn’t just train wilderness guides to get kids outside, she has a stocked gear library.So we’re in the gear library of the Stronghold Climbing Gym behind the hobbit door [laughs]. Here we have boots, backpacks, we have clothes. Sleeping bags, we have 96. And then they can borrow stuff from our gear library to outfit themselves, and their kids! Access to this gear library has been life changing. It has always been a dream of mine to take these young people into the outdoors, but we simply didn’t have the budget. Because we have access to this library, our young people are creating bonds with one another, they’re developing new friendships, they’re building valuable skills that will last them a lifetime. It has completely changed how we do programming. She took those skills of being able to put others at ease, and she incorporated that into the way that she teaches and that’s what makes Chelsea such a great teacher. She’s just a passionate person who brings along people with her. You want to be in the outdoors with Chelsea. I think she turns her passion into action through her organization to really provide that experience for the students. Starting a nonprofit is not that easy. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing to fundraise or trying to get people to buy stuff, it’s a similar thing you’re trying to make happen. I would definitely say there are similar highs and lows between running a nonprofit and challenges you might face in the outdoors. In some respects the challenges with the nonprofit are harder than the outdoors. I know the ropes and how things work outdoors, but with the nonprofit I’m still trying to work it out.(Narrator) Jeanine Pesce has a knack for knowing what’s next. She’s a trend forecaster and a creative director, and she heads up her own consultancy called RANGE.I think a role that I see women in the outdoor industry having in the future is pretty dimensional. I think we’re just really starting to see the potential for what women are capable of achieving when they join forces across brands, across media, across grassroots alliances. We’re just starting to feel really empowered and I think find our voice within the community and to take that seat of the table that’s our’s. So much of the outdoor industry has been kind of a male dominated industry, I think within the last even two years or so, we’ve seen this amazing handful of women from CEOs to just activists spearheading this movement and empowering and giving women the confidence to follow in their footsteps. So I started RANGE in 2012 after about 10 years in the industry working in a variety of companies. almost as if she was standing in front of me screaming waiting to have her moment. No one was really speaking to creative women living in urban environments that also enjoyed going outside and being in nature. Jeanine lives by the ocean, just an hour from New York City. And even though she has a home office, she draws inspiration from the pulse of New York and the growing urban outdoors scene.Cultivating a network is vital to running your own business. Mappy Hour is a happy hour for outdoor enthusiasts and also a community of urban dwelling outdoor enthusiasts who come together every month to celebrate and share their passion for the outdoors. Everyone has a place outdoors, whether that’s a walk in Central Park or they’re summiting a huge peak. I think our lives have become so digitally dependent that people are yearning for the need to get outside and connect with nature. In order for people to really survive the pressure that modern society puts on us as functional adults, we need to have that kind of escape and release. I think nature provides that opportunity to a lot of people living in cities. I would describe Jeanine as a powerhouse. She’s a trailblazer within the outdoor industry. I think honestly the most important characteristic you can have as an entrepreneur is to just be hard working. When you’re pitching clients and you’re balancing a budget and trying to think about the growth and strategy of your company while also running daily operations. If you can’t put those hours in, then you’re not going to survive. Becoming Annie’s mother definitely changed Jeanine. I’ve noticed that she’s reprioritized her life. Annie and Cooper come first, and work is still so important but she has boundaries now that I didn’t really see her put into place before having a family, before Annie. By seeing me as a business owner and as a leader, it’s only going to set the standard for where she can go in life. The struggle is real when it comes to being a mother and a wife and a business owner and a human. It’s funny, too, because I think that people equate vulnerability with weakness and I think that that’s really a shame because when you’re vulnerable it means that you’re open to experiences. I think that the modern outdoors woman has dramatically shifted in the last few years. One because she’s definitely more confident and she’s more vocal and she recognizes that there’s strength in numbers. And I think she’s just really feeling more like she part of the bigger picture of the conversation. I think people really want to be part of something. Do whatever it takes to build your confidence. Because if you can think of an idea or have a desire, pay attention to whatever it is that excites you and just go for it. I really think we need more women starting companies. I think that it’s such an amazing way to take the amazing gifts and experiences they’ve had and turn it into something good for the world. I think a lot of times people have fears in their head that keep them from doing stuff. They’re like, oh my god, this might happen and that might happen. Just shut up, breathe, and do it, and see what happens. If I could give advice to someone who is just about to maybe strike out on their own or maybe leave their job, I would say to just, remember it’s going to get hard but there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and if you are passionate and committed to the work that you’re doing, then you will succeed. It may not be right away. It may not be for two to three years, but it will happen. If you stay focused on what you want those end goals to be, you will get to those end goals.

10 thoughts on “REI Presents: Venturous Voices

  • ::rolls eyes:: Congratulations, you found four women that can teach/provide tangentially related things to "outdoors" to suburban soccer moms almost as well as men could do. "Ok, class, now this is how you assemble a tent pole." lmao What is this need in women that they HAVE to be able to do everything a man can do? Ok, ladies, you can do EVERYTHING just as well as a man. You're the best ever. Please let us worship you. /sar Heads up, you CAN'T. In general there are things a man just does better, and there are things a woman does better. You get respect by DOING, not by yelling about it and trying to force it.

  • Thank you. As a new female entrepreneur in the outdoor industry, this video truly inspired me to keep going. Sincerely, thank you.

  • I really appreciate that REI is making a push to engage women to experience the outdoors independently, and I appreciate the effort to showcase women working in so many sectors of the outdoor industry. Yes it's marketing, and it's working on the target audience, who are appreciative. It's too bad the dudes complaining in the comment section can't seem to make way, and space for women in the infinite outdoors. Please keep it up REI, thank you.

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