Erik Boles, founder of Gearmunk, is a serial entrepreneur that has built five companies, exited three, and is now gearing up to host the biggest outdoor industry virtual trade show in the world. As a successful entrepreneur, Erik always has his finger on the pulse of how to build a brand but also realizes that while the fundamentals are the same, the game is always changing. He is taking risks, following his heart, solving problems, and looking for opportunities.
Prepare yourself to learn from one of the most successful entrepreneurs!
What we’re talking about
- From Childhood Fun to Digital Expert
- Consumers Are Forcing Changes In Marketing
- GearMunk, A Pathway for Transformation
From Childhood Fun to Digital Expert
Erik grew up in Colorado and was introduced to the tech world when his parents got him an Apple II. It was there that his love of technology began, and it continued to grow. He began his first startup in 1996 by writing HTML code and continued his trend into technology throughout his career. He has consulted in the digital space for brands such as REI, DSW Shoes, Cabela’s, American Eagle Outfitters. It is his out of the box thinking that has catapulted multiple companies into success.
Consumers Are Forcing Changes In Marketing
Marketing used to be a one-way conversation between brands and customers, with brands doing all the talking, now it has become a multi-channel dialog, with the customers deciding where they want to consume content and how. After consulting in the digital space for brands such as REI, DSW Shoes, Cabela’s, American Eagle Outfitters, Erik founded GearMunk in 2013 to give consumers a pathway to allow their voices and opinions to be heard by brands. GearMunk has designed a system to allow for cottage brands to be discovered by the public without having to go broke trying to finance their marketing for awareness.
GearMunk, A Pathway for Transformation
GearMunk is an online, video-based, gear review platform that is democratizing the outdoor gear industry, and changing the way brands interact with consumers. It is a rewards and community-based system, that allows the reviewer to earn a credibility score, which allows the reviewer to be paired up with a brand that could give you discounts, free gear, and demo gear.
Would you like to connect with brands by giving your honest opinion on their products?
- 6:54 - 7:18 (24 sec EB) There’s all these great brands out there...whether it’s climbing gear, skiing gear, whatever.
- 37:05 - 37:20 (15 sec EB) We know that statistically now...their whole job is to sell products.
- 37:21 - 37:59 (38 sec EB) What we do trust...that’s coming from a brand voice.
- 39:17 - 39:27 (10 sec EB) If you can tell your story...it’s worth it.
- 43:20 - 43:42 (22 sec EB) Brands are finally realizing...the way the consumer wants.
- 49:18 - 49:52 (34 sec EB) These big shows have always been...that made that happen.
- 54:20 - 54:35 (15 sec EB) I love the challenge of changing...whether you’re a brand or a consumer.
- All good gear deserves a chance. - EB
- People try to make the startup fit into their lifestyle, rather than making that startup their lifestyle. - EB
- The rule of good enough applies in almost everything. - EB
- Virtual trade shows aren’t the way of the future, but no trade show will be successful without a virtual component. - EB
- The market wants what the market wants, and it doesn’t care if it hurts your feelings or not. - EB
Erik Boles 0:02 You know, I know people that don't have everything they want, like, they just don't complain about it. It's the ones that complain about it. And usually, my first question is, what's your favorite TV show? And if they answer that question I'm like, then it's your fault. You don't have everything you want. Because you could not watch that TV show and have an extra hour every single day, to be busting your ass to build a startup or doing something about you not having everything you want. You're making choices, which is totally fine. If that's your jam, that's your jam. But don't complain that you've been served a bad deal when you are proactively making a choice on how you spend your time.
Marc Gutman 0:41 podcasting from Boulder, Colorado, this is the baby got backstory Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today's most inspiring storytellers, creators, and entrepreneurs. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host Marc Gutman.
Marc Gutman, and on today's episode of Baby got backstory, how a serial entrepreneur built five companies exited three, and is now gearing up to host the biggest outdoor industry trade show in the world. Now, if you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over at iTunes. iTunes uses these as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on the Apple charts. And ratings help us to build an audience, which then helps us to continue to produce this show.
And today's episode, we are talking to Erik Boles, a serial entrepreneur who has started five companies and exited three. Currently, he is the founder of Gearmunk, an online gear review platform that is democratizing the outdoor industry and changing the way brands interact with consumers. What struck me about the conversation you're about to hear is that Erik is a technologist futurist
advocate outdoor enthusiast, and has his finger on the pulse of not only what it means to build a brand, but also realizes while the fundamentals are the same, the game is always changing. Listen up to how Erik describes the changes that technology has brought to brand and marketing, and how our own consumer tastes have changed rapidly. were once used to be a one-way conversation between brands and their customers, with brands doing all the talking, and the brands would decide where and how to tell their story, pushing out anything they wanted via TV commercials, or print ads and newspapers.
Now it has become a multi-channel dialogue with the customers deciding where they want to consume content and how the consumer has a voice and is loudly using it. Erik points out that those brands that aren't aware of this are going to be in big trouble in the future, if not already the story is one of taking risks, following his heart, solving problems and looking for opportunities. And this is his story.
So Erik, what is Gearmunk?
Erik Boles 3:18 So Gearmunk is a virtual video-based platform all-around outdoor gear reviews, hiking, skiing, backpacking, paddling, camping, biking, climbing, etc. With the added flair that it is a rewards-based system. And it's community-based.
So rather than listening to a few people tell you what gear you should buy, you're getting the wisdom of the crowds, and they're incentivized through algorithms to be genuine and be honest, because then you're in a credibility score, like a wine score or something similar. And that determines what rewards you get and we start to connect you with brands that find you interesting and they give you discounts and free gear and demo gear and all that
Those kinds of deals.
Marc Gutman 4:01 So when I was working in the movie business, we had this concept that we call like a high concept comedy, you know, and it was this idea that it was a little bit more complex. But at the end of the day, it was still a comedy. And as you're talking, you know, I was like, Wow, that sounds really complex. But I'm sure that it's fairly simple. Where did the idea come from? I mean, I like to think that most businesses are born either out of inspiration, frustration or desperation was Gearmunk born out of either of those?
Erik Boles 4:28 maybe a mix of a couple of those, right? So I started my first startup back in 96. I've always been in the tech space. We've always done things that I've heard everybody Tell me Oh, that'll never work. Well, we've had three exits and then one that you know made money but we never exited. And now we're on to number five and through bad decisions and too much drinking. I took a job with the fourth-largest newspaper company in the US and went on to lead them in digital media. Till I realized that newspapers
We'll never really understand what that word digital media means. And so there was the frustration component, right is that I knew that there was a better way to do stuff. And then on the digital side, I consulted for a lot of brands, like like like Rei Cabela's DFW issues, American Eagle Outfitters, things like that. And once you understand the outdoor ecosystem, and you learn that these these these retailers, they're not telling you the whole picture because they're there to drive sales, which is great. It's exactly what they should be doing. But you're not really getting the best.
You're not getting the best reviews. You're seeing the five-star reviews and not the one-star reviews. And in fact, Amazon was the first company that we went to showed you side by side, the five star the one star, what's the best review? What's the worst review and everybody in the industry was like, Oh my gosh, I'm showing the worst review. And so they obviously only show five-star reviews versus the one that is the most valuable. So we kind of predicted some time ago that five-star reviews would start to go away. Because they're, they're immediately broken, right? If you're the kind of person that says, Well, I never get five stars, so four is as high as I go. Well, thank you. This is why we can't have nice things, you've ruined it for everyone. And now we have this broken system because you've done it on a 25 5075 to 100% scale versus 20, 40, 60, 80 100 by eliminating the fifth star.
And now we're seeing like Netflix goes to a thumbs up or a thumbs down. So ours is really based on was this review helpful? not helpful, and how genuine was it? So a bunch of different that's actually a 21 point algorithm. So really kind of sift through like what makes this a credible review and that that's what really determines your credibility score. And what we kind of saw was, okay, there's all these great brands out there that are probably you know, the north face and Patagonia and arc corrects and all these cool companies, but there's also
So thousands of brands out there, these cottage brands that nobody has ever even seen before. And they're making amazing stuff. And we're like, there's got to be a way to get these brands in front of consumers that are looking for the next latest, greatest gear, whether it's climbing gear skiing here, whatever, you know, and we ran across this company that nobody's ever heard of. And they had this backpack and this guy was showing it to me was a ski backpack. And she was like, unzip that pocket on the bottom. And there are these two little plastic t handles on webbing.
And I'm like, I don't really understand what this is. And you pull the webbing out and when you let go, it retracts in on a reel, and I'm like, okay, I still don't get it. She's like, you're skiing, you're with your kids. You're on a cat trail, where your kids can't ski because they're young, whatever. They come up to you. Unzip this pocket, grab these t handles, you ski drag them behind you. And when you get to a point where they can go down elegant, they let go and they retract into the backpack. And I was like, Oh my God, why does everybody own one of these?
And she's like because we're not big enough. We don't have the capital to get into any retailers, whether it be specialty or Rei. So nobody's ever heard of us. And I was like, okay, we're gonna make sure that people hear about you. And so that's really the inspirational side is, you know, we think all good gear deserves a chance. And we're the platform to do that.
Marc Gutman 8:20 Oh, my gosh, there's like so much to unpack right there. But first, sorry, no, no, it's great. Like first I can't even believe that that ski tote thing exists. I can't tell you how many times like I've either a well, first I tried to reteach myself to ski because I'm a snowboarder, and I was a hazard on the slopes to myself and my children.
And then my motto was screaming Hey, Ruby, put out your arm. And as I came by my snowboard, I would yank her arm out of her socket and get her going, you know? Exactly. You totally get it. Yeah, totally. And so, Wow, that's so awesome. But what I heard in there to Erik was just these this amalgamation of, of the ideals of fairness credibility, your background in tech and then this like love for the outdoors. So, you know, let's take a step back and talk a little bit about your upbringing. I mean was young Erik I mean were these things that were when you were nine years old are these ideas that were swirling around your head at the time?
Erik Boles 9:18 So my dad was a high school administrator, literally from since the literally the day I was born. And you know, one of the I amazing parents still do, but they one of the smart things they did when I was young when the apple two computer came out, so I'm aging myself a little bit.
They were like, this kid needs a computer. So they bought a computer and that's back, you know, when computers were $3.3 million, or whatever for an apple, and that kind of began my love of that environment. And I just kind of took off and it was with me all through high school and I was kind of that way
Your kid that was like, really into computers, but also was like, you know, a starter on the football team and blah, blah, blah and all that stuff. And, and so it's always just kind of stuck with me being around computers my entire life. And then I took a short stint and was a firefighter for 10 years in Washington State. And, you know, everybody had CompuServe and, and whatever. But then AOL came out, which was really the first, you know, an integrated environment where people could do cool stuff.
And we saw AOL. And all of a sudden, I was like, there's a business model here, like AOL is going to change the way people perceive being online. And you know, this was really pre-internet because they all were just a closed ecosystem, but and that's when I launched my first startup and 96. And we sold that in 97. The lessons I got that so we were just a web design shop back in 96. Right, we just did web development, and back then
Nobody knew how to write HTML, there was no drag and drop HTML editors to build web pages. There was none of that stuff. So you had to know HTML. And you didn't have to really be good at it. Because every single website looked like shit. So anybody could be a web designer. So that was great.
You know, I remember like talking to this one customer. They're like, Hey, can you do that little mailbox. We're like, the door opens and the envelope comes out in the envelope goes back in the door closes. And I was like, yeah, we can do that. They're like, we want that. And I was like, no problem. And now I look back on that. And I'm like, Oh, my God, why did I not talk them out of that. But back then that was cool.
But working with these businesses, and they were like, Hey, you know, it'd be really great if we didn't have to have a printer on every single person's desk and a dial-up internet account for every single person in our office. So when we sold the first company, which was incidentally named Cowlitz, internet advertising and internet design, because that's we were in Cowlitz County, Washington. And that's what I would love to have my first lesson in branding that you don't name your business Cowlitz
Cuz nobody knows what it means or how to spell it. And from there, when we saw that we're like, let's start doing networking for businesses where you say, okay, you bring in one DSL line, you have one printer, everybody prints to it, everybody's online all the time, whatever. And so we started that company. And we sold that. And that's really when in late 98, early 99, that's really when we started to see networking or dynamic websites take off, right?
Everything lives in one environment. There's one throat to choke when something breaks, and then partner with front end web development firms. So that's what we did. And that was one of those things that back then everybody was like, how that you can make a business off of building dynamic back end websites. And I said, You know, I think by 2010, I think 75% of the internet will be driven dynamically. Well, it was actually 2004.
And it was 99% of it. But everybody thought it was a stupid idea. And so we did that. And we became the largest hosting company in the state of Colorado and hosted stuff not only in Colorado, but nationwide. And we sold that and one of the companies that we hosted was all of the properties for freedom communications, which is the fourth-largest newspaper company or was until they broke apart and we hosted
Every single one of the 118 properties. When we sold the company, they said, We need somebody to run interactive, why don't you come do that. And I said, I'll come on for six months, but I don't really believe in anything that you do at the newspaper level, I don't think you'll ever be successful. And so I'll give you six months. And seven years later, I looked at my watch, and I was like, holy shit, I'm still working for a newspaper. I gotta go.
Marc Gutman 14:24 And so interactive. I mean, like, you took this and maybe for our listeners, you can set the stage because you went through a real big chunk of history there. And like, I mean, I remember AOL. I remember I got on it, like, like I didn't, like no one really knew what kind of like screen name you're supposed to have. And most people have like anonymous names, where now I'm like, Hey, I'm Marc Gutman on everything right or Marc at Wildstory. But like then I was cinema star. You know, that was like my name. I was like, you had to have like some like real fancy name. And then and then you moved into and just for our listeners, maybe you can even set the stage like what is a dynamic website at that time, the back end like what's
going on, what are the complexities because I remember, like building websites was like moving mountains. And I think to your point it had it was nothing like it is today with WordPress or Wix or any of these other options that people have. Yeah, if you could just like kind of remind us what that time was like when you're when you're talking about dynamic development.
Erik Boles 15:19 Yeah. So so you know, back Back then it was like you would write this static HTML, which is Hypertext Markup Language and you would, you know, you would literally go into like a text editor. And if you wanted text to be bold, you would do a, an open bracket, a B, and then a close bracket, and you would type the words you wanted, then you would put open bracket slash be closed bracket, and that was opening the bold tag and closing the bold tag. And you're right, it was like moving mountains. Well, then people were like, I wonder if there's a way that somebody could email me directly from my website. And that you know, was kind of the birth of PHP which is a coding language and uses a database Based on the back end, where, you know, somebody feels like we see him everywhere today, right?
You're like, hey, contact us, you only put in your name, and your email address and your message, well back then that'll have to be custom written as well, there was none of this, like drag a form in and drop it and all sudden, you had a contact form, like you had to go through and write all of the code on the back end to make that work. And more and more people were saying, you know, we want to be able to, you know, have a contact form or have other dynamic content. You know, I mean, today we look at it, and it's like, well, yeah, I'll just go write a blog post, and it'll load, it'll just update the front end of my website. And that's super easy. You know, back in the late 90s, as you said, that was moving mountains.
And so the only way to do that really well for customers was to write that interface where they could go in type stuff. And then we got to the point where when you type stuff, you would click on the B button for bold or the you for underline or the eye for italic, and you know, left center, right, justify all those things. So that's really what we were doing. was building that back end infrastructure for our customers, where they could have this dynamically driven website that relied on all this back end code, and more robust servers to host it.
Marc Gutman 17:11 And like, how long did it take back in the day to make a form? For example?
Erik Boles 17:15 Oh, gosh, I mean, you would spend 15, 20, 25 minutes I mean, you know, writing that code, obviously, once you have the code written, you just kind of copy and paste it into whoever's website and go through and just change the, the relevant, relevant information, but, you know, early on testing and all that, and then the security vulnerabilities are involved, you know, I mean, you know, to your point, it's like, now if I want a contact form, I drag it in, center it, maybe put a border around it, and the whole thing takes 45 seconds. And back then, I mean, it was easily 15,20 minutes to write anything useful in PHP,
Marc Gutman 17:51 and you had to be a specialist.
Erik Boles 17:52 That's right.
Marc Gutman 17:54 What brought you from Cowlitz to Colorado?
Erik Boles 17:58 So I was actually born and raised in Colorado.
Otto, I moved out to Washington to work for the fire department. And, you know, Fire Department jobs are really not that easy to come by, and you apply all over the place because that's what I really wanted to do as a firefighter. So, you know, in the late 99 that's where Yeah, 99 I was like, Alright, we'll move back to Colorado. And that's where the third company that the hosting company, which was Rocky Mountain web tech came from, and then we sold that and went to work for you know, freedom communications and newspaper company.
Marc Gutman 18:30 Yeah, and I love that and we have a lot of similarities in the fact that kind of bouncing from different disciplines and so, you know, how did you come to the conclusion that you know, firefighting wasn't for you and then how did you muster up the courage or the gumption to make a change because I know my own past and story those are always the hardest, you know, when you're like, oh, man, I've got like, the metaphorical sunk cost of like, I'm here I'm a firefighter. I've invested in this like making a change.
Gonna be difficult. I don't know if it was like that for you. But you know, I'm just kind of at a turtle editorializing with my own experience. I mean, it wasn't like that for you.
Erik Boles 19:08 Yeah, well, very much. And you know, and I think I think that's really the big thing about building a startup going out on your own doing those type of things is that, you know, in in in the mid-90s, I mean, I was 25 years old, and it's like, of course, I'm gonna do this because you're young and, and, you know, you've got the world by the tail and, and you don't have a whole lot of things at risk. Now, you know, being a startup number five, and much older, I certainly see where people are way more apprehensive to build that startup, but, you know, kind of what drove me into it was I was like, there's, there's, there's money here, you know, oddly, they don't, they don't pay you a whole lot to go into burning buildings for a living.
Oddly, you think they'd pay a lot more but they don't. So, I was like, you know, and, and the great thing about being a firefighter is it's the best part-time job you'll ever have. Because you work 20
on 48 dot 24 on 48 off. So really, it's, you've got all the time in the world to do something else. And then when the first one, when you call, it's advertising, that design really took off. And then we sold that. And then we parlayed that money into, you know, the, the networking group, which was the bowls group. And that really took off and I was like, I think I've got to make a decision here. Like, I'm either gonna, I'm either gonna start running startups full time, or I'm gonna, or I'm gonna do other stuff like, like fire department and whatever and all that.
And so that's really when I when I made the decision that you know, it's probably a lot safer and healthier have a lifestyle to kind of go this direction. So that's what I did and, you know, yeah, so that that's, that's kind of how that worked out.
Marc Gutman 20:46 Yeah. And so being such a seasoned entrepreneur and kind of going through the process, so many different times, like what's what's scary about a startup,
Erik Boles 20:56 everything, everything. I think the big I think that I think people that start a startup, whether it be a tech startup, whether it be a true startup or just an entrepreneurial venture, whether it be hanging open a coffee shop, which is arguably easier because a blueprint is there, right? It's like there are hundreds of thousands of coffee shops, all you have to do is really follow their model and make something unique.
It's still very, very scary, because you're like, we don't know if it's gonna work. We don't know if people will use it. We don't know any of those things. But, but I think probably the biggest misstep that I see people make in doing that is they're half pregnant throughout the process. So it is a I'm gonna invest as much time into this as I can, but I really can't because I've got to do X, Y, and Z as well. And I've got to have this job which I fully understand, you know, you've got to have your nine to five to pay the bills and feed the kids and, and pay the mortgage and all that. But the biggest misstep is I've got to have that, but I've got another, you know, 12 hours.
A day might asleep a little bit of sleep, where I could be working on this. But I've also got, you know, whatever my favorite three TV shows are and things like that. So they really try to make the startup fit into their lifestyle, rather than making that startup their lifestyle. And I think that's where almost all of them fail, because they just don't put in the time and the effort. And that's what, that's where you get the words, the horror stories. I've you know, it's so brutal starting a startup, as long as you're willing to commit to it, man, it's really not that tough.
Marc Gutman 22:29 Yeah, it's kind of like, it's kind of like that saying, you know, this plane has no landing gear, right? If you if you're flying the plane and no, you can't land it, you're probably gonna fly it versus if you know, you can touch down and you have a safety net or you just don't have the energy because you're working another job. It's really difficult.
Erik Boles 22:47 Yeah, that's that that's, that's a great analogy, you know, and, you know, this is this is the issue that I take with everybody that that complains about how they they don't have everything they want in life and whatever and No, I know people that don't have everything they want, like, they just don't complain about it. It's the ones that complain about it. And usually my first question is, what's your favorite TV show?
And if they answer that question I'm like, then it's your fault. You don't have everything you want. Because you could not watch that TV show and have an extra hour every single day to be busting your ass to build a startup or doing something about you not having everything you want. You're making choices which is totally fine that if that's your jam, that's your jam. But don't complain that you've been served a bad deal when you are proactively making a choice on how you spend your time.
Marc Gutman 23:34 Well said and having gone through startup land myself, I know exactly what you mean. So let's kind of go back a little bit to your career and you know, you started off in a more traditional advertising space you then got into what and correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm hearing it is less of a traditional advertising space more of a technology space. You're doing back Development you're doing hosting, then you get into interactive with freedom was that again more of a traditional advertising role?
Erik Boles 24:10 Well, so they freedom did something very, very smart early on, and that is they created an entire interactive division. And then every city, whether it be Orange County, or Lima, Ohio, or Florida or whatever, or Colorado, they had a separate building away from the newspaper that was their interactive team. And we led all of the online efforts, then somebody at a corporate level made a decision that it was really stupid to have two offices, and they could work a whole lot better together, if they were all in the same building.
So they took all the interactive people and stuck them into the newspaper building. Which, if you ever want to kill creativity in interactor person, stick them in a newsroom with a bunch of journalists and that will happen almost instantly. And that's exactly what happened. And it's not their fault. I mean, journalists are our bread through school, and whatever to say.
Our job is to be the fourth estate, get all the news, get all the facts and tell the story The next morning in print and put it on somebody's doorstep, it's just not the way that people consume information anymore. And they did not all of these blanket statements immediately invalidate themselves. But the majority of print journalists don't really have a desire to do anything online.
They're their passion, they're fueled and they're driven by writing, you know, 13 column inches of news or 20 inches of column column column inches of news and printing it the next day and spending three four days on it. You know, rather than being like hey, here's a story let's get it up on you know, New York Times calm and let's get it up there in the next hour. You know, and so it's kind of changed for them because the world the rule of good enough applies in almost everything right so when
I think it was five camera with the airline was but you know, when Captain Sullenberger landed his Airbus
In the Hudson River, The New York Times USA Today Washington Post printed a story about it the next day, and nobody cared, because I got everything I needed to know about that plane crash from people that were standing on the wing of the plane on Twitter, within 10 minutes. Right. So nobody read their stories. So, yeah, I got a little bit off topic there for ya know, and I apologize. But yeah, that's, you know, it's that that's kind of what literally drove me out of the newspaper industry was, we were setting a budget in, I think it was 2005 or 2006. And we had budgeted laptops, air cards and video cameras, and we were going to write them the portal where they could go out and shoot video and upload that video to their various news websites, whether it be the Orange County Register or whatever.
And I had a editor, take their glasses off and look at me and said video on the internet. That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life. And I was like, wow, I gotta go.
Marc Gutman 26:58 That's awesome. That's kind of like my story.
Like when I first saw a camera phone I was like that is the dumbest thing I've ever seen who is ever gonna want to take a picture with their camera now granted the technology was awful and it looked like a you were you know in some like Vaseline smeared world or something like that but for those that had the fourth right and the you know, the vision and the foresight and all that kind of stuff, they saw it coming. I did not
Erik Boles 27:23 Yeah, you know that back then, like, you know, me being again on the on the on the more technical side, it's like you couldn't walk into a data center if you had a camera phone in your pocket and the early days of camera phones they made you check it at the front desk, because you couldn't take pictures inside the data centers. Now you can you know, it just be everyone had to check their phone you know, I mean, there's no like, that's everyone's everyone's got a capture device, of course. That's right.
Marc Gutman 27:51 This episode brought to you by wildstory. Wait, isn't that your company? It is and without the generous Support of wildstory, this show would not be possible. A brand isn't a logo or a tagline, or even your product. A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product service or company. It's what people say about you when you're not in the room. Wildstory helps progressive founders and savvy marketers build purpose-driven brands that connect their business goals with the customers they want to serve. So that both the business and the customer needs are met.
This results in crazy, happy, loyal customers that purchase again and again. And this is great for business. If that sounds like something you and your team might want to learn more about, reach out @ www.wildstory.com and we'd be happy to tell you more. Now back to our show.
So you're going through your career and you got out of that that business and you founded another tech company, I believe
Is that correct?
Erik Boles 29:01 Yeah. So So number four was, we were like, okay, we know that this was literally on the tail ends of the of the video on the internet. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard story. And me and a buddy of mine, Brian went to lunch. And, you know, we literally, I said, we're going to lunch, we're going to outside Johnny's, and there's a good chance I'm going to drink a beer during lunch or I might come back with a deer rifle because I can't handle the stupidity inside this building.
And over lunch, we started talking, we were like, What if there was a, like an online video show that was all about the outdoors. And so we kind of put together what was at the time Colorado outside of TV, and there was a destination guide. So like Breckenridge or Vail or Aspen or Park City or whatever, and like everything you want to do when you go to Breckenridge on a ski vacation. There was a Activity Guide. So once a week there was a full HD video that was all about, you know, some activity whether it be skiing or whether it be mountain biking or something like that we cover a specific trail. And then there was a gear guide. And that gear guide was the latest gear, you know, the type of gear like, you know, avalanche gear for winter season, the kind of stuff you need for camping, all those different types of things. And really, we're like, Okay, how the heck do we do the gear guide, because we don't really want to go out and spend hundreds of thousand dollars a year. So I cold called somebody in marketing at Rei corporate in Seattle.
And I said, Hey, you don't know me. My name is Erik, I live in Colorado, we're going to do this really weird thing. We're going to do this gear guide. But we don't really want to buy a whole bunch of gear and we're not the experts on gear. So we'd like to do it in an Rei store in Colorado Springs with your gear and your staff because they're experts. And she said, that's a great idea. How do we get started? And I said, I don't know because I didn't expect that answer from you. She was like, Okay, fair enough. She was like, why don't you call me back when you figure it out. And I was like, okay, have a good day. And we hung up and I was like
Like, that was just a yes, tomorrow. Yeah, I don't. Like I don't I'm not even sure what that just happened. And within two weeks, we had camera gear sitting on my front step, you know, which back then was 10 grand worth of camera stuff and lighting and microphones and audio and all that. And another week later, we were in an Rei store and with lighting and all that and going over camping gear, and backpacks or sleeping bags and bikes and everything else at Rei carries. And that's really what kind of spurred that, that moving forward.
And then we expanded that programming as well. It was, um, we were at a at a mountain biking festival and flew to Colorado notice the fruit of that tire festival, and everybody was drinking beer. And I was like, you know, this was in I think, 2007 ish, I think was in 2007. And I said, you know, I've got this buddy of mine that does a stupid wine show. And he gets a ton of views, and everybody watches it. And I was like, why don't we do a craft beer show? We all love craft beer. Why don't we start a craft beer show because
There's a real tie between people drinking beer and mountain biking, skiing, hiking, backpacking, it's it seems like they kind of go together. So under that same company, we launched what was known as beer, tap TV.
And 435 episodes later, of all HD video, and that's back when putting HD video putting 1018 to 1920. By 1080 HD video on the internet was super expensive. And you paid for everybody that viewed it. And we had like, right around a million viewers a month and that's back in 2007 2000 2008 2009. And so that that's when, you know, we had beer, tap TV and all that and, you know, again, we made money out of it, but it was never really an equitable company just because there was so much overhead in it. And, you know, I talked to a buddy of mine that worked for Ford Motor Company, he's like, we love what you do. We love the show and how irreverent you are, and we would really as Ford Motor Ford Motor Company, we would love to advertise
There's a problem. We sell cars, use it on a camera and get drunk. And those two don't really go together very well. And I'm like, No, you're right, they don't. So you know that that's back when being irreverent on the internet was like, still kind of a risky brand move for advertisers, they didn't really want to tie their name to it. So it was really, it was a lot harder to monetize, that we think that would be a whole lot easier and more successful now in 2020. But But back then that was a little bit tougher to do. So we shut that down. And I kind of went on to do other things.
Marc Gutman 33:35 Yeah, I mean, what was that, like that day? Did you shut down? Was that a frustrating moment?
Erik Boles 33:39 You know, I really don't think it was it. There was certainly amongst everybody, all of us are together and, and we were like, you know, it's kind of sad. But it was at that point where we'd like we had tried so hard to monetize it, and we were just too early, and then the marketing ecosystem wasn't ready for it yet. Which kind of seems to be kind of you know, The tone of everything I've done is I'm just too early for it. But, um, so it was almost like a sigh of relief, you know, when we was like, we don't have to do this anymore and worry about, you know, how do we pay for hosting? And how do we pay for this? And how do we pay for that, you know, all those different elements that went with it and, and when you look at the at the alcohol world, whether it's wine, beer or spirits, they have at the federal level, what's called the three-party system, meaning that if I am New Belgium brewing company that makes that tighter beer, I cannot sell my beer directly to you as the liquor store.
The federal government steps in and says you have to go through a distributor, well, distributors, own territories, and nobody else can be in their territory. So essentially, it's like the beer mafia. That distributor says, I can set the price. And so for every dollar that's made on on a six-pack of beer, it's like, some crazy number like 65 cents of that dollar goes to the distributor, another 20 cents of that dollar. goes to the liquor store. And then as the brewery you get to pick up what's ever left, what's whatever's remaining? The 15 cents remaining?
Marc Gutman 35:07 Yeah, that's gotta be frustrating. I mean, just being a futurist, being someone who's about efficiency and about making the experience better and seeing all that inefficiency and all that waste,
Erik Boles 35:17 right? Yeah. And you know, and then there comes at a rubber bands again, right? Like we had this deal. Were not Anheuser Busch, but we're like their own by now. Anyways, they, um, they said, Hey, we really want to fly you guys to Germany and come look at the at the back brewery and blah, blah, blah, do a live show from there and we're like, yeah, we're in like, we won't even charge you money. We're in. And then we said something that was very much untoward about Budweiser. Between the time they had said that and the time that we were actually going to sign the deal. And they watched the episode apparently and heard that we didn't say great things about Budweiser, and they just kind of pulled out of that.
Deal entirely. So we missed that opportunity as well. But there was that, you know, there was that, you know, you get it doing a podcast, right? It's like, yeah, I can either like, toe the company line, or I can just be honest and whatever. And then we're getting to that age now, where it's like not even getting there. We've been there for five to seven years, but we're in that space now, where it's like, this is what people listen to his podcasts, you know, like this one, that that are that are genuine and real. And they don't listen to the, you know, the ones that are that are toeing the company line.
Marc Gutman 36:28 Absolutely. I mean, that, that authenticity, and just like, you know, the transparency of a brand and, you know, also, you know, realizing that we're all people whether you're a brand, a consumer, someone running the, you know, the beer, the beer show, whatever, right, like, and I think as consumers, we can super sniff out when it's inauthentic. And when it's a paid placement and when someone is just, you know, selling us and we hate that and I have to imagine that that's also, you know, a big motivation for you and Gearmunk.
Erik Boles 36:57 Yeah, absolutely. And then that's it. You're exactly right, you hit the nail on the head, right is that we know when we know statistically now that like 91% of consumers do not trust brand messaging, they just don't they know that they're being lied to. And even when we're not being lied to, we think we're being lied to, because their whole job is to sell product.
So what we do trust is our, you know, we have a know like and trust environment around people that resonate with us and a regular people just like us, whether that'd be a blogger or a YouTuber, or an Instagram or a podcaster, or whatever, whatever walk they come from, those are the people that we build that, that that that affiliation with or that affinity with. And so when they say, hey, I've got this great pair of hiking boots, or I just bought the brand new Fiat or you know, I bought, you know, this baseball bat or this dress or whatever, we intrinsically trust them way more than we trust somebody that's that's coming from a brand voice. So really, we're
The Smart Money is for brands and brands are finally starting to realize this. There's been obviously the front runners that figured this out years ago. And then there's the huge monolithic brands that think they can't be disrupted. We call those the newspaper brands. They, they feel like you know, we're too big we can't be disrupted we have too much money. And really, the way to sell is by getting you know, is by channeling all your efforts, not into print magazines, or TV magazine or TV ads, radio ads or whatever. It's by getting your, your brand in front of bloggers, podcasters YouTubers, Instagrammers tick talkers, whatever, you know, it's interesting that you know, in 2007, or he's like, I'll never be on Twitter. That's the dumbest thing ever.
And then eventually they were on Twitter and then in 2011, they were like Instagram how Bane are you? Hell no. As a brand, we're not gonna be on Instagram. And then eventually they were on Instagram so you think that they would learn their lesson and now in the marketing world, we're still hearing from brands. Tik tok tik tok is stupid.
Well, that's stupid Tik Tok just had 313 million downloads in q1 of 2020. And they're almost a billion downloads now in North America for for for Tik Tok. So, you know, there's certain brands that just simply are never going to get it. But you're right. It's like, you know, if you can tell your story through a channel that has an audience, you know, whether that audience is 10,000, or whether that audience is a million, you know, it's worth it.
Marc Gutman 39:28 Yeah. And you'd mentioned that, you know, historically, you felt like, you know, the name of the game for Erik Boles is like, hey, you're ahead of your time, you're pushing new ground, you're forging new ground. Do you feel that way with Gearmunk?
Erik Boles 39:40 Not now, I don't, but I did. When we first sat down to start talking about this. With gearmunk many, many years ago. We were like, you know, we're getting out of the, you know, we're getting out of the newspaper game. We're going to do this blah, blah, blah. And then we got into the outdoor industry and the outdoor industry just simply wasn't ready for it yet. They're just not digitally, forward. And you know, a lot of the smaller brands that that can't go into retail because they don't have the capital to distribute, you know, 150 backpacks or 1000 or 10,000, whatever. So that's why you always see the Northeast is Patagonia is whatever because does send you that product.
And if you're a small brand, you're like, Okay, there's a lot of challenges to getting into retail, right? One is, I don't have the capital to send them 1000 backpacks. So let's say somebody gives you a loan, and you can go make 1000 backpacks, or you have an investor, and you send them 1000 backpacks. If they don't sell all thousand of them, the way that environment works is they send you back, whatever they don't sell. So if they send you back 600 backpacks, they only pay for 400 of the backpacks, you get the 600 back and you have to figure out what to do with those now. And you know, you've lost money on that. And you know, in addition if if I'm if I have my backpack hanging on one peg in a specialty outdoor store, and now I have to convince that salesperson to sell my backpack
One of the bigger, you know, well known brands, and if I'm the account rep for a bigger unknown brand, I just come in and say, Hey, the person that sells the most northface this month, we're going to spiff you guys 2500 bucks. I just bought every single salesperson in the building for 30 days, nobody's going to sell your backpack because they're all selling mine, because they want that 2500 bucks. So the younger brands that have never had this opportunity, they're like, we see the opportunity and what Gearmunk is doing here and in the email and those types of things that we do, and they've been huge adopters of it. And then there are some bigger brands that get it that that have a more digitally focused or more technically aware team and they're like no, we want to be part of this.
But uh, it and you know, the other thing is that big brands are afraid of anything that has democratized You know, when you've got millions and millions and millions of marketing dollars, it's really easy to on level the playing field just by being loud noisy and you can't hear any other brands, you know, if I'm a small brand and I take out a 160 page black and white ad in the back of a magazine that everybody reads, and if I'm, you know, the north face or Patagonia or one of those, and I take out a two page full color spread, which I can afford, and I do it every single month for 24 months, you're probably never going to see that small brand in the back because you're so attracted to this big brand.
So yeah, so the small brands got it and now, oddly enough with with with the global pandemic pandemic of COVID-19, and all these brands, we've been talking to saying you better have a direct to consumer channel and they're like, No, no, no, we go through retail. And retailers have been like, we don't want to have any comp play. We want people coming directly into our store. And I'm like, you don't understand that the customer owns their journey. Now you don't you don't dictate how the customer buys stuff. And if you dictate, they have to come into your store. They'll just go get it on Amazon or Zappos or a billion other places or backcountry calm or Rei and
So they, they, you know, they, they didn't do any of those things. And now all of a sudden, the government said you will be closing your day your doors for at least 70 days, retailers are afraid as they probably should be. And I'm hoping that they recover because I got my start in high school working in especially retail shop right here in Colorado doing selling outdoor gear. And but brands are finally realizing we have to survive, we have to we have to build a way for our business to move forward. And that is that let us engage with podcasters YouTubers, bloggers, whatever, and all the users that are directly on the Gearmunk app and figure out a way to connect directly with them and drive sales back into our channel the way the consumer wants. So we're we're finally getting to that. That tipping point of everybody finally gets it and realizes what we're doing. And you know, and that that's why we launched you know, the thin air gear show, which is really the outdoor ecosystems first real virtual tradeshow.
Marc Gutman 43:57 That's a perfect segue. I was gonna I was gonna ask You just about to get into that. And it's interesting because right before this little segment you were talking about the reluctance for different brands to adopt new social channels. And it mirrors exactly the, the segment you just described about the outdoor industry's reluctance in retail reluctance to adopt new sales channels. And so it was just really interesting to me to hear you, you know, lay out kind of that general overview of brands and social channels, and then kind of how it mirrors what's going on in the way that people want to interact and purchase from brands today. And so, so thank you for that. That's really cool.
Yeah. And if you could get into talking to us a little bit about, you know, tell us what thin air is like, what the idea, you know, behind that, how that how that came about, and where we can learn more about it. Sure. So So back in. Gosh, I want to say it was 2015. We were at this huge outdoor trade show in Salt Lake City and we're sitting in these folding chairs with 3000
Erik Boles 45:00 People, 2000 people, whatever it was, and there's a panel up on the stage talking about sustainability, and the environment, and blah, blah, blah, and whatever. And my business partner at the time, Brian looked around the room and all these people and all these booths and all this infrastructure. And he was like, hell yeah, sustainability, give it up for that. And I was like, No kidding. What is the carbon footprint of a show like this? I was like, why is there no virtual tradeshow? And, you know, we're like, oh, we have the next greatest thing, virtual tradeshow. And we started circulating the idea. And, and everybody looked at us, like we had horns growing out of our heads.
So we're like, Okay, I guess you guys aren't down to the virtual tradeshow yet. And so we kind of had this idea. And as we started to head into this, this global pandemic, we're like, you know, some of these trade shows are going to be shutting down and, and things of that nature and it's really not so much about capitalizing on that opportunity. It was really more about what do all these small brands
They don't have this enormous operating budget, where they can weather the storm. What really happens with them, when they get into this environment is okay, we've got a problem where everything's going to shut down. We have no sales, no, no clear path to sales. How do we fix that? And so that really was kind of the mission behind it. And we're like, we know everybody's gonna be doing zoom conferences, you know, they're gonna be like, Oh, we have a virtual trade show, and it's gonna be a zoom conference. Well, that's not that that's not a trade show at all. That's a webinar and they created the term death by webinar for a reason. It's horrible. So we're like, it's got to be different.
It's got to be cool. It's got to be fun. So we've really started to spin the wheels up on that. And then the largest show Outdoor Retailer when it cancelled. We were on the phone with everybody with each other as a team and within five minutes saying, it's time to pull the trigger. We got we got to press on the gas. And we came up we've got a bunch of technology that we wrote on the back end and then we build through you know,
Amazon AWS and other things that already exist, but we kind of wrote all the build all the glue, essentially, that holds it together. And we built this environment using several partners and whatever that is truly like a video game like like you pick your avatar and you choose your skin color, your gender, your clothing, your hair, your height, your weight, everything like you fully customize yourself, then you're dropped into this virtual environment where you walk through and there's booths everywhere. And the booths are all fully customized by the brand, just like they would be in a regular trade show. And you walk up and you can interact with everything product displays, you can interact with video, and it's got 3d with what's called 3d spatial voice technology in it. So as you walk up your names above your head, just like it would be in a video game, whether you're playing fortnight or whatever, and they see you coming up and the guy at the booth is like, you know, hey, Erik, I'm, you know, john from you know, mountain Smith or eco-vessel or whatever. Tell me more about you and you're like, hey, I've got this blog, right?
Got a podcast, I've got this, I really want to check out what you guys are doing. He's like, great, come right over here. And it's literally real-time voice conversation. And I can hear other people around me just like I went on the show floor having a conversation. And as I get further away, they get quieter. As I get closer, they get louder, and everything's digitized. It's just like being in the real world, other than the fact that you can't physically pick up a hiking boot and feel it in your hands. But that can be done post-show very easily.
But it was really something completely different than what anybody else in the outdoor industry was doing. And that's really what spurred us to do it was Let's drive this thing within their show to where you know, these brands can actually have an opportunity to have these conversations and then build all these analytics into the back end so that you know you're not sifting through all your stuff post-show as a brand and saying, Where does the business card that one person that I wanted to talk to? Or if your immediate person saying where was that business card from that one backpack company or that one cooler company. You can't find
Because everything is right there like who visited my booth? What did they click on? What did they see? What did they touch? What did they hear? Who did I have conversations with all that's built in. So when the show's over, as a as a media person, you can connect with them and as a brand they can connect with you. And that's the other thing is that, you know, these big shows have always been, let's drive sales into retail so they could sell our product. We're like, there's a better way, the better way is get in touch with influential podcasters bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers, etc. Have them tell your story to their audiences and then immediately drive those sales back into your into your product, whether that be at your retail, which is fine, or econ retailer, yourself or direct to consumer. But that just seemed like the logical win for us and has for a long time. And then this really was the cataclysmic event that made that happen, you know,
Marc Gutman 49:52 totally and I have a background in that space. And we can talk more about that later. It's not that exciting but I just have some some knowledge there.
And, you know, I feel like it's been like pushing a boulder uphill to get people to adopt some of these technologies. And to me, it's just crazy to think about how quickly we've adapted from a brand from a marketing standpoint when forced to do so. And you know, we've been sitting here talking about virtual trade shows and how, you know, they're better for the environment and more effective and all these things, but really, until we're forced with like, Hey, you got to do it. We haven't done it. And I think much like we're seeing with people working from home and flexing schedules, and everyone's like, wait, this, this works just as good, if not better, probably for less money, less footprint, better quality of life. I mean, do you really think that we're going to be able to continue with virtual trade shows and this will be the way of the future?
Erik Boles 50:47 I don't think it's the way that I think it is, and it isn't. Let me explain what that means. I think for the foreseeable future. Physical trade shows very much do exist. Humans are humans, we want contact, we want to get opia with that.
How'd each other and say hi and pick up products and go have a beer with a friend? I don't think there's any successful trade show going forward that doesn't have a virtual component to it.
Marc Gutman 51:12 That's a great distinction. Yeah. And I think it's much like the way that we're interacting with brands today that you've highlighted several times. Like look, you have your, your core brand messaging and channels, but then look, you got to find different channels where your audience also is like a podcast or a YouTube channel or tik tok.
Erik Boles 51:28 Right?
Marc Gutman 51:29 Yeah, very good.
Erik Boles 51:30 Yeah, that's, you know, and then we like, we had a conversation with one brand. And they were like, Well, you know, it's not like they're going like, like, Where are these people gonna go to find good gear? And I'm like, What do you mean, I was like, they're gonna go into one of 3000 different Facebook groups that has 60,000 people in there, where they can ask questions. They're like, well, they're not gonna like buy a hiking boot based on somebody else's recommendation. And I'm like, they're doing it right now. Like, it's been happening for years. And they're like, are they getting the right hiking boot? And I was like, That doesn't matter.
Right wrong right or right or wrong hiking doesn't matter what matters to you in the in the outdoor industry is that they're not going into your store and buying from retail, because they're buying online. So you better figure out a way to become a content creator if you're a retailer and add value, add value, add value, so that I know that, you know, when I when I've narrowed down my decision, I'm going to, I'm going to go that direction and you're going to see retailers or brands themselves, follow the Zappos model, right? Which is, Hey, I think I need maybe this one of three different hiking boots, great, we'll send you all three of them, try them on in your home in the comfort of your home, walk around for an hour and each one, see which one feels the best and send back the other twos. Zappos pioneered this over a decade ago, you know, 15 years ago, and you send them back.
And so I've got the pair of hiking boots that I want that I know that that are comfortable and I love So, you know, I certainly don't think retail is dead if they choose not to be but if they don't fully embrace and hug and love and make out with the fact that digital is here. And this is the way people are buying shit now, they will be. So you know, it's it's, it's the newspaper model all over again, right? It's like, you know, blogs will be dead nobody's gonna listen to podcasts, whatever, and look where newspapers are now. Right? So you know, the the, the market wants what the market wants, and it doesn't care if it hurts your feelings or not. So you can be as romantic as you want about the way things used to be. But the pirate ship is going that way and you're either on it or you're stuck on the island and the choices pretty much yours.
Marc Gutman 53:35 No, I love that tough talk. I really do. You know, like you can, you can deny it all you want doesn't mean the world's gonna change to your point of view. And I think that's something that's so important to understand that really the the customer in the consumer does drive, what we're doing and if we're not focused on that, it's going to be a really tough road.
Erik Boles 53:54 Yeah, well, you know, I think it was Neil deGrasse Tyson that said, you know, the beautiful thing about science is it does
doesn't care what you think about it? Like, it's just science. Like you can believe it or not believe it, you know, you can believe that the earth is flat if you want. science doesn't care if you think that or not.
Marc Gutman 54:13 Because we come to a close here, I got one last question for you. What do you love about building brands?
Erik Boles 54:20 I love the challenge of changing things. I love moving things forward. I love doing things that haven't been done before, that that make life better for people, whether you're a brand, whether you're a consumer, doing something that's not like, I've never once been in it for the money. It's never been like, I think we can make a billion dollars at this. I mean, I've never built a billion dollar startup my life and I probably never will. I don't think I'm smart enough. But there's this opportunity where again, you know, it was like, we started to discover and we figured this out and then I take 2014 or 15. Again, this big show in Utah that you use in Utah called out retailer, they have the main Convention Center.
And then they have what they called back then the pavilions, which are these three enormous like circus tents out in the parking lot in the middle of the summer and the Utah E, which is amazing. And we're like, we wonder what's in there, we went in there. And it's these, you know, 800 startup brands that nobody's ever heard of before.
And we're like, the world would be a better place not only for these brands, but for consumers as a whole, that they had way more choice on amazing outdoor gear that are being made by these people. Right? So that's really what drives me is like, you know, how do you create things that just make the world a little bit easier, a little bit better for everybody and you know, and then truly make the outdoors more approachable. You know, there's so many people that are like, of course, I would love to go camping, but I'm not going to drop 2500 bucks on a tent, a pack, a bag, Camp stoves, whatever, you know, bags for the kids, all this other stuff. You don't have to that's the beauty of it is you know
Don't have to go out and buy the super expensive name brand stuff. There's all these cool manufacturers out there that are doing such cool stuff. And it really empowers more people to get outdoors get away from video games, you know, get away from the TV, live a better lifestyle. I mean, just everybody wins brands when consumers when you know the outdoors wins. You know, the more people we get outdoors, the less chance or is that somebody the governor level is going to turn it into an apartment complex.
Marc Gutman 56:31 And that is Erik Boles. I love his retelling of how brands have been reluctant to adopt the social media and other channels where the customers are. It's crazy to think big brands continue to repeat the same mistakes. You think they learned after they were sure the internet wasn't going to be a big deal. But then again, I'm the guy who thought cameras and phones would never take off. So what do I now? Thank you again to Erik Boles. We'll link to both Gearmunk
The Thin Air outdoor show in the show notes, please go ahead and check those out. I for 1am looking forward to attending the Outdoor Retailer show virtually. Well, that's the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS so you'll never miss an episode. A lot big stories and I cannot lie to you other storytellers can't deny