Climb Connect at CWA!

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.

The main conference hall

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.

These lovely ladies are opening a gym in Park City, UT.

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.

At the management roundtable where gym owners discussed climbing culture, what it means to be a climber, and how to make climbing more accessible and inclusive.
These guys were awesome. Timy (second from the right) is an expert at designing and consulting for climbing gyms and is a super nice dude.
Theresa shows off a shoe from Butora. These guys are based in Longmont, CO and also opening two climbing gyms there. Psyched to follow their progress!
Walltopia now has over 100 complete projects in the US.  The industry is growing!
Super nice guys at Solve showing off their climbing holds.
Lee hanging with new friends at the summit.  Isaac (second from the left) is a routesetter at City Rock in Colorado Springs and we are hoping to get down there soon to climb together.
The Kilter Grips booth.  Alex Puccio draws number out of a hat (held by Jackie) for climbing hold give-a-ways.  Jackie owns Kilter Grips and is also the head routesetter at The Spot in Boulder, CO, where they have been using Climb Connect for several months.
Vertical Solutions booth, one of a few climbing wall manufacturers that were there at the Summit.
Keynote speech from Erik Weihenmayer!
A panel discussion about what it means to be a climber and where is climbing culture taking us. These are important things to continue to ask because the culture is always changing. It was great to get a lot of different perspectives on the questions and I think the gyms are realizing just how diverse climbing is going to be in the coming years.
The CWA crew! Thanks again for an awesome weekend!

 

Year in Review

2016 started in Bryce Canyon, Utah.  I was on the tail end of a nine day road trip with a girlfriend, winter camping through Moab, Zion, and Bryce.  We had been dating for about four months and we left for our trip Christmas day after she met my parents for the first time.  We broke up about three quarters of the way through this trip, on New Year’s Eve, driving down a 25 mile dirt road that was bumpy enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth.  It rattled out some of our feelings, too.  It was an uncomfortable car ride in a lot of ways.

It was a cold trip and about half way through, we were learning that we didn’t work all that well together.  Cold weather camping is hard, especially on a new couple that was still getting to know each other.  That day, we were driving to Peek-a-Boo Gulch slot canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante region of Utah.  Everything just sort of exploded that morning and we spent the next few hours exploring slot canyons and hiking through high-altitude desert, ignoring each other.  We got a hotel room near Bryce Canyon National Park because lows were in the negatives and camping would have been dangerous.  We spent that night, New Years Eve, eating cheese and crackers from the gas station and drinking low-ABV craft beer (we were in Utah).  We’d have to spend the next two nights together before getting back home.  Happy New Year.

Peak-a-Boo Gulch slot canyon. Escalante, UT

I had just gotten back from Costa Rica when we met.  I was dreaming of a different life, a life that was free from Corporate America.  She fit the Boulder stereotype.  Vegan, made her own toothpaste, and drove a late 90’s Subaru Outback.  We were different, but she had just quit her job to be a little more of a free-spirit, to travel, rock climb, and get away from a job that didn’t serve her anymore.  She had some money tucked away, but not a fortune, and this was the first time I had seen someone actually take the leap without a solid plan.  I admired that and I learned from her that I should be living a little more simply.

We actually got back together about a week after returning home from the trip, but things ended for good two months later.  She ended it, again.  But in those two months, I had decided I was going to start living life a little more intentionally.  I wanted to get out of Corporate America.  I was on a path I didn’t want to be on anymore.  I took a pretty honest assessment of myself to figure out what my strengths were.  What areas of my corporate job did I really thrive in?  What didn’t I like?  Could I pay off my debt?  Would I be able to survive without an income?  For how long?

I had a career as a financial analyst at a Fortune 500 company.  About 20-30% of my time was spent building complex financial models and charts in Excel and Tableau, and I loved it.  But it wasn’t enough.  I hated the other things.  I would have to present the monthly financial results and explain why revenue was down that month.  Most of the time, it was because accounting screwed up, or our billing system wasn’t integrated properly, or sales didn’t do their job. That’s about 50% of your job if you work in Corporate America, having to explain why all these other moving parts didn’t do what they’re supposed to.  It’s hard to be passionate about that.

I’ve wanted to learn to code since middle school.  I would spend summers in Arizona coding games on my TI-83 calculator, and I LOVED IT.  But for some reason, I pursued business instead of software.  I decided 2016 was the year I was going to learn, and now newly single, I had the time and motivation to stick with it.  I worked hard, getting up at 5am to code for two hours before heading to work.  Spending weekends coding while my friends were outdoors.  Coding turned out to be a pretty good outlet for me.  Climbing was another one.  Most of my free time was either spent coding or climbing.  So I thought, “How can I combine these two things?” Oh, duh. A climbing app for climbing gyms.

I really had nothing to lose.  Before I wrote a single line of code for this app.  I reached out to climbing gyms to see if there was any interest.  I heard back from one and one was all I needed.  They told me if I built it, they’d use it, and if they liked it, they’d keep using it.  So I spent the next four months building a working prototype of the app and had my first in-person meeting with the gym after months of back-and-forth emails.  They started using it the following Monday.  I had a user!  And a user that wasn’t a friend or relative.  Now I had to make sure they kept using it.  I worked obsessively on it, making changes, updates, and adding new features based on the feedback they were giving me.  I loved it.  I loved the problem solving but I also loved that it was mine.  I was responsible for the success of it.  Not accounting.  Not sales.  Not some giant corporate machine.

One Monday, I walked into my bosses office and told him I was seriously thinking about leaving.  It wasn’t another offer.  It wasn’t for more money.  I found something I loved doing and if I was serious about it, I needed to spend more than just mornings and weekends doing it.  I told him I needed time to think about it and he gave me the rest of the week off.  I came back that next Monday and gave him two-months notice that I would be leaving the company.

I was nervous.  It’s not easy making a decision like that.  But two weeks later, the gym owners came to me and said, “We love the app, we want to partner up, and we want to sell it to every climbing gym in the country.”  What!?  My first app.  It was a sign that I made the right decision.  So we formed Climb Connect LLC.

That brings us to now.  I’ve been working like crazy for the past several months.  We soft-launched in December, with a few other local gyms using it and providing feedback.  As I write this, my business partner, Lee, is on the road, in other parts of the country, visiting gyms and building interest and getting our initial users set up.  He’s also climbing.  Probably more climbing than selling, but thats okay.  In this industry, climbing with the right people is how you sell.

2017 will be another crazy year.  I left my job four months ago. I’ve been on two road trips. One to the Tetons in Jackson Hole, WY and one to my cousin Ben’s wedding in Arizona, stopping in Telluride, The Grand Canyon, and Moab along the way.  I met Kristen.  We went on our own Moab trip together.  I’ve been to Florida to learn to scuba dive with my Dad and I just visited my sister in D.C. a few weeks ago where I had nerf gun fights with my niece and nephew.  Kristen and I spent Christmas with my family and we rung in the New Year together, in Denver.  She’s amazing, but I’ll save that for another post.  Things are solid.

Kristen and I in Arches National Park, Moab, UT

People ask me how I’m making money.  I’m not.  I gave up an $80K a year salary, benefits, and stability to do this.  But, I paid off my debt prior to leaving my job.  I own my house and I rent three of my bedrooms to roommates that pay my mortgage.  I took out a home equity line of credit as a cushion to get me through.  I spend most of my time coding in coffee shops throughout Denver and I don’t get outside nearly as much as my Instagram account would suggest.

It’s funny how people come in and out of your life.  That girlfriend changed my life in a big way.  And her leaving changed it even more.  Telling my boss I was leaving was a huge leap of faith.  I didn’t have a plan other than to learn to code full-time, but two weeks later,  I was approached by the right people I needed to help me turn my first project into a business.  Kristen came into my life with a different perspective.  She lost her dad who had worked his entire life without a vacation only to pass shortly after retiring.  Tomorrow is not promised.

Some of you might feel trapped in your job, relationship, or whatever it may be.  Some of you might be coasting through life because it’s comfortable, the pay check is good, and change is hard.  Starting over is hard.  You might be putting off that thing you’ve always wanted to do because of the time it will take to get to where you want to be.  Do it!  The time will pass anyway.  It’s hard to make a jump, especially when everybody else is playing safely within the lines.  Let 2017 be the year you start making things happen.  Cheers!

Lucy in Grand Teton National Park!  ||  September 2016
Double Arch, Moab, UT || May 2016
Visiting my sister in Washington, DC. || December 2016
One of the many trips to Moab this year. With good friends! || May 2016
Canyonlands, Moab, UT  || September 2016
Cold fence, somewhere between Zion and Bryce Canyon, UT.  ||  December 2015
Telluride, CO  ||  October 2016
Me and my Lucy girl  ||  January 2017
Nerf gun fight!  ||  December 2016
Enjoying dinner with my Dad in Florida.  ||  December 2016
Scuba certified!  ||  December 2016
Annual Breckenridge trip with my parents.  ||  August 2016
Leading a climb in Clear Creek Canyon.  ||  June 2016
Kristen and I ringing in 2017.

 

Ten Sleep, Grand Teton, & Yellowstone

Lucy and I hit the road for our first trip of “self unemployment”.  We drove to Ten Sleep, WY and met up with some friends for climbing and camping over Labor Day Weekend.  We camped at a brewery, just outside of town.  Beer, food truck, live music, and a campfire.  Not exactly roughing it, but it was fun!

Our campsite at Ten Sleep Brewery.
Our campsite at Ten Sleep Brewery.

It poured that night, forcing me into my tent early.  Some people stayed out, playing “stump” in the rain, but my introverted self wasn’t going to fight it.  Talking to climbers is funny.  Crimpers, pockets, jugs.  What do you prefer?  Stemmy?  Hand jams?  I overheard a guy trying to impress a girl.  He made it sound so technical and hard, I wanted to immediately pull up the Mountain Project dictionary to see what it meant.

I’ve been around the climbing world enough to hear the talk.  The way climbers talk about the rock.  I really like climbing, but I don’t talk about rock that way.  Maybe it’s the difference between people who remember movie quotes and those who don’t (I don’t).  In fact, I forget what the rock felt like almost as fast as I went up it.  What did you do there?  Oh um, let’s see. I uh, see the rock sticking out there… umm… I just put my foot there and then grabbed the rock there.  Talking to me about climbing is painful (I can imagine).  But I suppose I don’t do it to talk about it.  What stands out for me is what my head felt like.  Was I scared?  Did I feel strong?  Shaky?  Tired?  It’s meditative.  But not like driving a car.  You can’t just cruise on auto-pilot.  You have to be aware all of the time.  Aware of your body.  Aware of your breath.  It’s not about the grades, although progress is nice.  But the level I’m climbing at is the level that makes me think, “What the fuck am I doing?  Okay.  Keep breathing.  You got this.”

Ten Sleep Brewery
Ten Sleep Brewery

We got off to a slow start the next day, finally getting to the crag around 1pm after getting lost on the approach.  All of the easier warm-ups were crowded and we had to wait to get on anything.  Then, It started to rain, threatening to cut our already short day, shorter.  It was starting to look like we drove seven hours from Denver to hike and then turn back.  The rain forced most people off the walls and back to their camps, while we stuck around and waited.

Mike and I gearing up for "Beer Bong", which I ended up bailing on. I had the wrong beta, my fingers were numb, and it was supposed to be a warm-up.
Michael and I gearing up for “Beer Bong” right after the rain, which I ended up bailing on. I had the wrong beta, my fingers were numb, and it was supposed to be a warm-up.

Our patience paid off!  The sun came out, or at it least tried, the rock dried up, and we were climbing.  I didn’t climb anything particularly noteworthy, a 5.11a, a 5.10a, and a 5.9, but it was good to get on real rock in a new place.  We wrapped up around 7pm and headed back to camp.  The food truck was just packing up, but took our order anyway.  In fact, he said, “you can have everything, I won’t be back for a few weeks and it’ll all go bad.”  So we did.  We ate all of his brisket, mashed potatoes, french fries, and coleslaw while he told us stories about living and climbing in the canyon.  After dinner and a few beers, most of us settled in for another night of intense rain and thunderstorms.

Anarchy and an AK-47, Ten Sleep Canyon
Anarchy and an AK-47, Ten Sleep Canyon

I’ve been wanting to do a solo trip for a while and since I didn’t have work to return to, I figured this would be a good opportunity to see Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone, and spend some alone time on the road, just me and my dog.  So Lucy and I packed up camp the next morning, said goodbye to our friends, and continued on to Jackson.

Jackson, WY
Jackson, WY

I camped that night on National Forest land overlooking Grand Teton National Park, free camping just a few miles down from the park entrance.  The sky was clear and I had camp set up by 7pm.  The fire danger was high and there was a fire ban, so I headed into the park to kill some time.  There’s something special about being in a national park at night.  No crowds.  No rangers.  But you’re definitely not alone.  As the moon dipped down behind the Tetons, the Milky Way came out and lit up the sky.  I pulled over to set up my camera gear and looked up with my headlamp to see two glowing eyes stalking me from across the road.  It started to come closer and I slowly backed towards my car.  It stopped, watched me for about 60 seconds, and finally ran across the road and into the trees.  I don’t know what it was, but it was big and it moved like a cat.

Milkway at the Tetons.
Milkyway at the Tetons.

The next morning was cold.  Temps were below freezing and fog coming off the Snake River had formed a thick layer of frost on the outside of my tent.  I forgot gloves on this trip, making breaking down camp painful.  It was cold enough that morning to leave Lucy in the car while I went for a quick hike.  I hiked to Inspiration Point, 6 miles round-trip around the south side of Jenny Lake.  I was one of the first ones on the trail, thinking I’d get to the lookout and have it to myself.  Half way there, I started hearing ferries shuttling groups of tourists across the lake, literally by the boatload.  By the time I reached the lookout it was overrun with several large groups and I headed back the same way I came.

Jenny Lake, before the boats.
Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park

I ate lunch in the parking lot, out of the back of my car as other tourists circled for an open spot.  I took my time, eating chicken and sweet potatoes out of tupperware and enjoying the sun.  I got to know the cars circling and picked which one I would graciously allow in my spot.  I waited for him to circle back around and flagged him down to tell him he was the one.  He let out a sigh (I’m sure) and put on his blinker to let the others know this one’s his.  I headed to Yellowstone.

Old Faithful reminded me of a theme park, except not as fun.  Crowded, long waits, underwhelming, and a long drive back.  I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about Yellowstone, although I probably only saw about 5% of it.  It’s huge!  It took 45 minutes from the park entrance just to get to Old Faithful.  But it’s mostly flat with rolling forested hills.  I saw a coyote.  I saw some geysers.  But the rest of it was pretty bland.  There’s nothing impressive and grand, and I already missed Jackson and the Tetons.  So I headed back.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

I was dying for a shower.  The night before had been so cold and the last thing I wanted to do was break down camp in sub-freezing temperatures again.  So I went into Jackson, hoping I could find a cheap room, $50 being my max.  I was laughed out of town.  The worst looking place I could find started at $179, and I would have had to lie about Lucy or leave her in the car.  Camping it is.  It turned out to be pretty warm that night, in the low 50s when I started my car the next morning.  I made coffee, packed up, and hit the road back to Denver.

Our first night of camping in the Tetons. It was chilly! Lucy is bundled up in the car.
Our first night of camping in the Tetons. It was chilly! Lucy is bundled up in the car.

On my way home (via I-80), I passed a car that looked like they were clearly coming back from Black Rock City, aka Burning Man.  They say the “Burning Man” represents “The Man”, aka, Corporate America, or whatever “The Man” represents for you.  In a lot of ways, I spent the last several days expressing my own way of saying “fuck the man”.  And just like them, I’m returning home with a new perspective.  That’s really why we do these things.  That’s why we travel and have interesting experiences.  To find a different perspective and spend the short amount of time we have on this earth with a little more meaning and intention.

So did I have any kind of spiritual awakening or “finding myself” moment on this trip?  No.  It got lonely at times, but there’s something powerful about not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night, but knowing that you’ll figure it out.  It makes you question what you really need in life and to appreciate the small things you often take for granted.  As Yvon Chouinard said, “The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life.  It’s so easy to make it complex.”

Ten Sleep Canyon
Ten Sleep Canyon
Getting lost on the approach in Ten Sleep Canyon
Taking the long way to the crag
Darcie workin' that crux move
Darcie workin’ that crux move
Mike on a casual lead (not sure the name of the route, but it looks hard).
Mike on a casual lead (not sure the name of the route, but it looks hard).
Ten Sleep Breakfast
Camp breakfast in Ten Sleep
Lucy enjoyed the views
Potty break with views!
Buffalo graze in Grand Teton National Park
Buffalo roam in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton Nation Park
Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
Inspiration Point, Grand Teton Nation Park
Inspiration Point, Grand Teton National Park
Tetons in the morning light
Tetons in the morning light
Yellowstone geysers
Yellowstone