Hi College Outside!
My name is Lily and I’m a start-up co-founder, well at least half of the day I am. The other half I go to class, study for tests and make my way one day at a time towards graduation. I like to joke around that I am “majoring in mountains.” That’s because I see every class through the lens of my backpacking equipment start-up, PacBack.
I got the itch to create my own company in an Entrepreneurship program that took me through the steps of launching a start-up. I wanted my focus in the program to be something that I was already passionate about and interested in. Since I had re-fallen in love with backpacking my freshman year, I started off exploring ways that I could enhance my backcountry experiences. My first idea was to make dehydrated foods that incorporated more vegetables and would be sold in a biodegradable package. But I soon bagged the idea when I tasted what I made and remembered I’m a horrible cook. I then experimented backpacking organizers for inside a pack and easier to pack toiletries. But I wasn’t over the moon about any of those ideas.
After my failed attempts, I decided to hit the backcountry with my friend, John, to clear my head. We wound up sitting on metal I-beams next to an old railroad in the Tillamook state forest to play cards. Let me tell you, there is no harder substance known to humanity. Our backs hurt the next day, and it took a little bit of fun out of our trek. This discomfort lead us to the idea for the PacBack Trio, a mattress pad that turns into a chair and a pillow.
After a semester of working on a hypothetical company, participating in pitch competitions and traveling to New York and Japan to validate the venture, I couldn’t put the project down. So John and I started to run with it. There was and is a thousand and one reasons not to pursue the venture and plenty of people advised me that focusing on school would be a better choice, but at the end of the day, I love working on PacBack.
Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I’ve had manufacturers take over six months before sending me something remotely close to what I had explained, samples shipped to me that were literally pool floaties, and have been told to my face that the Trio was “stupid.” But my dream of finally making the Trio a reality and actually having a comfortable place to relax while backpacking, along with the support of my friends and advisors, is what kept me in the game.
Now that my business partner and I are launching Kickstarter for the Trio, its up to the general public to make the final verdict on whether or not our product is in demand. But regardless of the outcome, I’m thankful to have “majored in mountains.” Creating and launching the Trio has given me more real life experience than I could have ever gained in a standard classroom. It’s one thing to have to find a break-even price in class or create an idea for a social media strategy, but another to have to come up with the numbers that go into that price and actually take the photos for the campaign. Not to mention the fact that this experience has allowed me to meet some of the coolest, most innovative, and most genuine people on this planet, and has given me an awesome excuse to drop everything and head to the mountains for “product testing.”
I was asked if I have any advice to give to other students hoping to break into the outdoor industry, however, at the ripe old age of 21 I don’t exactly fit the stereotype of a wise old man with white beard. Nonetheless, I have gained a bit of knowledge after traveling across the county and world to speak with experts in the outdoor industry. The most important lesson I ever learned, is that the journey starts with the first step.
Everyone has a great idea, but almost no one starts the journey to make their idea happen. So if you gain anything from this article, remember the importance of the first step. Every adventure starts with one: in the mountains, in school, or in your career.
John and I created PacBack because there was no comfortable place to sit after a long day of packing. It took ten prototypes and over a year of work to get us where we are now and every second has been worth it. Our Kickstarter launches on November 14. We don’t want a sore back or bad night’s sleep to take any bit of fun out of your next trip, so please check it out and see if the Trio can make your adventure even better.