Summit County app pairs outdoor junkies with veteran guides
June 20, 2015
When Shawna Henderson took a recent rock-climbing trip to Spain, the longtime Summit County local was at a loss.
Henderson is familiar with the crags and cracks back home. But in a foreign country — even one teeming with world-class climbing — she wasn't sure where to begin. Should she pony up cash for a guided tour and risk getting stuck with a beginner group? Or should she blindly scour the Internet to find exactly what she wanted in a sea of user-generated content?
Henderson eventually found a few exhilarating routes, but she wasted valuable vacation time hunting them down. She's a tireless adventurer, the sort who disappears for multi-day 10th Mountain Hut trips in both seasons, and after more than 20 years searching for the next rush she's run into the Spain dilemma more than a few times: ski touring in Austria, kite surfing in Florida, even mountain biking in her own backyard.
But Henderson is also a tireless problem solver, and the Spain dilemma set her mental wheels spinning. She has a professional background in travel and adventures sports, most recently working for the travel marketing company Travel Right, and after decades working with like-minded explorers, she noticed how just about everyone who's looking for the next big rush runs into the same roadblocks.
"These are your REI people, the people who read Outside Magazine and love to explore," Henderson says. "These are people who get inspired by 'wow' trips. You can't be everything for everyone, but I think the adventure traveler is curious. They want to see what's new and different."
Enter Adrenaline Escapes, Henderson's solution to the Spain dilemma. It's a combination website and mobile app that pairs veteran guides and expedition companies with outdoor junkies who don't want a watered-down vacation. By collecting high-energy outfitters in a single place, the founder hopes to connect the right experts with the right adventurers.
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And it starts in Summit County.
"We are the target market right here," says Henderson, who's launching the website in the next few weeks with a handful of local companies and private guides. "If I was somewhere else, I might have people look at me and say, 'This just won't fly.' But I believe anyone can find a new adventure sport if they're given the steps to get there."
Right market, right time
Henderson is first to admit that writing code and developing a website is not her specialty. Still, she came to the second Summit County Startup Weekend in Frisco on April 10 with Adrenaline Escapes in mind. The annual event has fast become a gathering place for tech-minded entrepreneurs, and although she has no coding experience, her idea took top prize from a roster of high-level judges, including Ross Iverson of the Vail Leadership Institute and Jeff Schell of Quandary Group, a rapidly growing startup advisor based in Denver.
"There's a creative side in finding and meeting a need," Henderson says. "When you see something that has a need, you want to meet it creatively, and I think that's how most entrepreneurs become successful. If something needs a solution, you'll find it."
After earning a touch of validation at the startup weekend — the first hurdle for any aspiring startup with an off-kilter idea — Henderson dove headlong into fine-tuning the website and app. She toyed with expanding her audience, but it didn't make sense to grow beyond risk takers and adrenaline fiends — the sort of people she knows intimately.
"This is how I look at it: We're targeting one market, the adventure traveler," Henderson explains. "They want unique opportunities and unique trips, and they often want to do all of it in a short period of time. We just want to eliminate the time and hassle it takes to explore a new place."
The audience is finely tuned, but the range of activities found on the website is robust. Eventually Henderson wants to include everything from hiking and biking and rafting to oddities like kite surfing, or maybe even spelunking. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Again, she toyed with expanding to include something like fly-fishing, but it didn't quite fit her definition of a high-adventure sport. Through it all she was assembling a team of techies to turn her idea into a living, breathing service.
"The beauty of being an entrepreneur is you have the ability to go totally insane trying to figure out how to do everything," Henderson says. "Then you go crazy building a team to get everything done. It's so high risk, but your learning process is higher also. You learn more, you're always trying to figure things out."
The next hurdle
Next on Henderson's list is building the trickiest team of all: reliable guides and partner companies. She's starting in her hometown with local rafting and kayaking guides, but she also wants to tap longtime locals who know the area well and are willing to share their knowledge — just not secret spots.
"I found there are a lot of people here who have a specific talent, people who know the area, are locals, and I wanted to help visitors bridge that gap," Henderson says. She's still working on the business model, but the website and app will eventually serve as marketing platforms for partners. Users can register for a small fee to access the listing.
"People will pay for knowledge because it limits their time searching around," Henderson says. "This is about making the most of the short vacation time someone has here."
When fully functional in early July, Henderson says the website will feature a robust mapping system to track the wildest activities from just about anywhere.
"It's more enticing for someone to look at a map and see all the activities they can do," says Henderson, who promises more features as her team fine-tunes the website and app. "You might browse through there and come across something you didn't even know was here, in the neighborhood."
But Henderson doesn't want to rush through things. Before launching, she wants a fully functional site that users will actually be excited to try, not just a fun, one-time diversion.
"What I found is when you're starting something you might have a brilliant idea, but you need to let the market tweak it for you," Henderson says. "If done right I think it can grow organically."
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