Jennifer Gurecki on the Outdoors and Entrepreneurship
Hear from Coalition Snow Co-Founder, Jennifer Gurecki as she talks about the active-outdoor industries, leadership and what she’s given up to be an entrepreneur. Jennifer also dishes on the launch of her new magazine, SISU.
Q. Jen, you are the brilliant mind behind so many things. Tell us what all you do.
A. I’m the co-founder and the CEO of Coalition Snow. Coalition is a women’s ski and snowboard company that we started about five years ago. Most recently we just launched SISU Magazine, which is a quarterly print magazine whose mission is to uncover the untold stories of the outdoors. And then, in my spare time, I actually founded a social enterprise in Kenya called Zawadisha. That business doesn’t have anything to do with the outdoors, it has everything to do with women. Those are sort of my three main hustles. And other fun things I do…we have the Juicy Bits Podcast, I love to be outside. I’m a big fan of drinking wine in the bath!
Q. How did you get started in the active-outdoor industries?
A. I started working in the outdoor industry actually when I was 17 years old, and I don’t think it was much as much of an “aha” moment as much as I just loved being outside. I grew up in Arizona in the desert, and I was fortunate enough in high school to join the ski and snowboard club at my school. And that was my first introduction to skiing and snowboarding. The few times that we were able to go to the mountain, I just knew that’s what I liked. I was in love! I was hooked even though I was a horrible snowboarder and fell all the time. I mean, it was such a disaster, but I just loved being outside. And I grew up in the eighties so we were always playing outside anyway.
Q. What got you down the path of entrepreneurship?
A. I worked a lot in outdoor ed in wilderness therapy and worked for UC Berkeley running 40-day summer immersion programs for first-generation and English language learner youth, primarily in the Central Valley of California. I worked at Berkeley for about eight years. And I’m one of those seven-year itch people. Once seven years happens, I’m ready to do something else. And I would say that the “aha” moment at that time was recognizing that you could make a significant change in the world outside of the nonprofit world. So I had spent all this time working for nonprofits and working on the education side of things.
And I had done a few business things. I owned a Whitewater rafting company. I started my business in Kenya. So I had that. But I was really sort of realizing that there’s so much change and so much impact that you can do on the for-profit side. And that was something that really excited me. Because when I was a kid growing up, I didn’t perceive corporations or companies to be positive additions to the world.
When I recognized that you could really have a triple bottom line in your business, I got really pumped about it and that’s where Coalition Snow came to play. If we really wanted to shake things up in the outdoors, we wanted to do something that would be totally unexpected of women to do. Making skis and snowboards as a for-profit is the last thing anybody would expect women to do. And so that’s one big reason why we did it in addition to loving skiing and snowboarding.
Q. As an entrepreneur, what advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
A. Stop wasting time doing the things that you don’t love. Sometimes I wonder if I feel that way because I’m comparing myself to younger generations now and I look at how much they are accomplishing before the age of 30. I look at my twenties and maybe I didn’t know what it was that I loved and I didn’t know how to do that. Perhaps a lot of 20-year-olds are searching for that. But I definitely feel like I spent that decade trying to figure it out.
Today I don’t feel that it was necessarily wasted time because it was part of the process, but man if I just could have gotten there faster. When you start to get older, you think about how you have less years on this planet and how many years you have to get the things done that you want to. I just wish that I could have started everything a little bit earlier. Or maybe I was busy trying to show up in the world in the way other people expected me to.
Q. What piece of advice would you give any entrepreneur wanting to start their own company within this industry?
A. I would say know what it is that you’re willing to suffer for. No one gets into the outdoor industry in particular to make money. Often times the work that we do is seasonal, the industry as a whole. Although it’s growing, it’s not tech, it’s not pharmaceutical, it’s not like these really big industries where people go to make money and have startups that get $5 million in funding before they’ve even launched. It’s a different kind of industry. And the slowness of it is really beautiful because it actually means that people in the industry get to connect around being in the outdoors. But it’s also really hard. It’s really, really hard. So every day you’ve got to wake up to the “sufferfest” and you just have to know that there’s a reason you’re there because it’s such a rollercoaster.
I love the outdoor industry so much. I love the outdoors, I love the people that I’ve met since I started Coalition Snow and all the partnerships we’ve been able to develop. I wouldn’t trade it in. All the good to me outweighs all the things that are hard, but that’s part of that process. I’m willing to experience those really bad days because I believe that there’s going to be something really positive on the other end.
Q. Within your endeavors, you’ve been a role model. Tell me about being a role model and then being a leader—what you’ve learned as far as leadership?
A. I would start by saying it’s not easy. I don’t actually know if I’m a good leader. I think that I know how to be a role model. It’s easy to get people together around a shared vision and something that you want to move forward. That’s something I’m able to do because I’m a passionate person. So when I exude passion, people want to be a part of that. It’s how you get all those people to do the things that need to get done to then meet that vision. So I don’t know if I would call myself a leader. I’m a leader in progress I suppose. I’m in the trenches and I’m right alongside everyone else doing the work. And so when I’m doing that, it’s actually hard for me to take a step back and think about how to lead other people. It comes very natural to me to have a vision and to think about the end game. It’s the middle part that gets a little bit murky. So in terms of being a leader for my team, I feel like I’m still working on that.
Q. Lastly, tell us a little bit more about your new magazine SISU. What led to its creation?
A. SISU, as I mentioned at the beginning, is a quarterly publication that we’re putting out. It’s print because we love print and there’s a high content of art and photography in it. So it’s a beautiful medium to display. We just launched our first issue and the mission is to really uncover the untold stories of the outdoors. How the magazine came to be is actually, I was cycling across the continent of Africa in March, April, May of last year. And I spent a lot of time in the saddle by myself just, you know, pedaling away. And you just think about a lot of things. And one of the things that I knew about Coalition was that we had built a platform and we hadn’t built a community, but a community had formed around us. And there are so many people who appreciate our message and appreciate the things that we say. So I had been thinking a lot about what would be the next iteration for us to take this message and to take our values and the things that we care about and share that in a different way.
I actually have a degree in journalism. So way back in the day, I used to write, and I was an editor at a newspaper—and I love to write and I love to create. We had done some research and just thought that launching a magazine would be a way for us to continue to make the change in the industry and in society that we wanted to, and it’s just a different way to do it. Because we already have this platform from Coalition, we weren’t starting from scratch. We already have a following, we already have people who know what they can expect from us.
I talked to a number of people who have started magazines. Everybody told me that it would be very difficult. So then, of course, I wanted to do it because why would I ever want to do something that’s easy? So I definitely recognize the inherent challenges, but there’s just so many incredible opportunities. Working on this first issue was amazing to be able to work with all of our contributors. And working with Lauren around the artwork and the graphics…the whole process just felt so, so good. SISU launched this first issue in December, and we’re working on issue two now.
Of course, we want to celebrate, so we are having a launch party in Denver on January 29th and it’s actually free and open to the public. But you do have to register because space is limited. I expanded Coalition into Colorado this year and we felt like we would be remiss to not also celebrate the launch of the magazine. We’re really excited to share it, both with the people in the industry, but also just general human beings who love the outdoors. It’s an undertaking, but it feels really good.
You can join Camber Outdoors and Jen at the launch of SISU by registering here: https://www.weddingregistryforsingles.com