I’ve always wanted to be behind the scenes. I don’t like the spotlight on me. Let me build something and you guys go sell it. My introverted self could never do an industry expo. Sales happy hours scare the shit out of me. But if you start a business, you can’t continue to hide behind your product. You can’t sit on the side lines and hope people come to you. I have a business partner who is the sales and marketing guy. He gets people psyched about the product and he knows just about everyone in the climbing industry. But I think in a way, people want to see who built it. Who’s the other half?
So, this past weekend, Lee and I went to our first industry expo. The Climbing Wall Association Summit. It’s the only conference exclusively for the growing indoor climbing industry, where most of the attendees were people looking to build a climbing gym or have already built one and are looking to expand. And they came from all over the world. It was our exact audience for Climb Connect.
The CWA had seen my work at the USA Climbing Nationals a few months back and reached out to see if I would photograph their event. YES. We’ve had our eye on this summit since we started. We knew we had to be there. Lee had already bought a ticket but I was reluctant to go because 1.) I didn’t want to be a sales person and 2.) Tickets were ~$500. But, now they were inviting me. I had no excuse not to go and I didn’t have to be a sales person if I didn’t want to because I was the photographer.
I got there long before most of the attendees so I could meet the CWA crew and get a good feel for the lay of the land. As the vendors were still setting up in the exhibit hall, I did a quick run through and saw at least two climbing gym software booths set up. Fuck. We had underestimated our competition. At first glance, the booths looked great and my heart sank. Why didn’t Climb Connect have a booth. These guys are so far ahead of us. Look at this booth! We should have done a booth.
But I was there to do photography for the CWA first and Climb Connect second. So I got to work, running around the different seminars taking photos of the speakers and the crowds. It was pretty cool to see how many young people like me were there to learn about how to open a climbing gym. The financing. The design. The construction. The management. everything. There were TONS of seminars going on all weekend and I was in and out of all of them.
I was the photo guy. People were seeing me everywhere. As they were sitting quietly in their chair listening to the speakers, I was running up and down the aisles taking photos, with the Climb Connect logo in large white print on the back of my shirt. People were noticing and I didn’t even have to say a word.
In the exhibit hall, I was the objective third party. I was there to take photos, not sell anything. I wasn’t buying climbing holds or auto-belays. And so it naturally opened up conversations to be more authentic. I got to hear people’s stories. I got to know people on a different level than just climber and sales person. I made friends. And I got to share my story, too. I got to talk about the story of Climb Connect. Not just the features it has and how much we’re selling it for, but why and how I started it. How I left my corporate job to pursue it. How it was never about the money. It was about building something I’m passionate about and pursuing my dreams. People were psyched! And people naturally wanted to know more.
People started coming up to me. What’s Climb Connect? I’ve seen you around all weekend. Tell me more about what you’re doing. It was awesome. I got to be myself and be authentic.
The weekend prior to the CWA Summit, I was at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where Adam Grant was the keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony of the 41st cohort of Executive MBA students (congrats again, Colin). Adam talked about networking and how if you do the right work and you approach things not from the standpoint of “what can I get out of this” but rather “how can I help?”, people will help YOU. When everyone approaches with the mindset of “what can I get out of this”, nobody gets anything. Be yourself. Be authentic. And take interest in what other people are doing.
And so I left the CWA Summit with a pocket full of business cards and a phone full of new contacts. I have places to stay if I’m ever in the area and I have free passes to their climbing gyms once they open. I’ve learned that being authentic and true to yourself is always the best approach. Stop trying so hard to get something out of people. If you do the work up front, if you’ve created something you believe in, and you have a good story to tell, people latch on to that. This weekend has opened up so many opportunities for me personally and professionally and people see Climb Connect as something much more than just another app, something we could have never achieved had we been sitting at a booth handing out stickers.