Kirk Reynolds, CEO & Guide at Discover Outdoors

scalingupservices - kirk reynolds

Kirk Reynolds, CEO & Guide at Discover Outdoors

Kirk aims to turn New Yorkers into hikers—- one office worker at a time. Hailing from a small Missouri town, Kirk moved to New York City pursuing big dreams and even bigger ideas. Kirk blends passion with excellence to ensure Discover Outdoors is second to none. His worldwide adventures have informed many of his plans for unforgettable, inspiring trips. Under his leadership, Discover Outdoors offers the ability for urbanites to take part in exploration and adventure.


[00:00:00] Welcome everyone. This is a scaling up services podcast on recycle.

[00:00:04] I'm your host today I'm speaking with Kirk Reynolds and Kirk is founder CEO of Discover outdoors. We've known each other for a little while. Triggers come to a couple of my programs and kind of looking at how do we effectively scale businesses. We've had a chance to get to know each other. I have a personal interest in the business. I'm a big outdoors fan. I always love hearing what Turkey is doing and the various adventures and wonderful parts of the world that he is going off to work coming back from. But it's fascinating business and I think it's it's a great example a great story around developing a services business on an electric current. Talk a little bit about the nature of the business and what exactly he does.

[00:00:46] But I think the audience today engaged some really great discussion around different types of services businesses but yet the similar kind of challenges people have around scale. So Kirk welcome to the program. Thank you for being here.

[00:00:59] Thanks so much for us. It's really great to be with you and honored to be on the show. Thank you.

[00:01:04] Great job. Why don't we just start. Give us a little sense of the background of business and your background how you got into it and like what what was the bounding on a story for you.

[00:01:13] Yeah so I moved to New York City from Missouri 15 years ago and loved moving to the city which is just absolutely obsessed with everything that had to offer. But shortly after moving here there is a realization that there is this disconnect with nature and what I used to do in the Midwest and biking and running and hiking wasn't easily accessible here and just out of personal curiosity and interest start exploring the areas all around the city which are amazing some incredible state parks tens of thousands of acres of parkland or all around New York City for great hiking and biking and kayaking and some of the best rock climbing in all of North America is just right out of nowhere that's New York City. This started out as a hobby and a personal kind of obsession for me which evolved into a business that started out as taking people out in a minivan and friends and developing like a short client list so to speak and is actually hysterical the first way of communicating with our with the mailing list was through a postcard.

[00:02:20] So they're like going to a printer and like I remember this blue little postcards.

[00:02:27] Not even three by five because I was too expensive a little smaller and just saying yeah here in the next four days. And so pretty pretty funny starting of to night off the ground but yeah it's evolved thank goodness since then.

[00:02:45] And to our core is the same and that we're providing access to nature for urbanites but we're also providing many different avenues for that. So whether you're experienced outdoors person like yourself or you're really new to the outdoors. There's a place for you to get started a gentle hike or a more aggressive climbing trip and then you meet people in our community that are doing things and they're there setting goals that are a little bit higher than yours are generally much higher than yours and you get inspired by that. And so what we try to do is provide all kinds of options for you to find your path and to really challenging yourself through the outdoors.

[00:03:21] Yeah. Did you find.

[00:03:23] You know as the company has grown and shifted inhibited how have you kept on the kind of that focus on that purpose or that that's helping urbanites you know get outdoors and have that outdoor experience like how was that very clear from you from the beginning. Was that something that kind of evolved. Was it something that you had to kind of come back to again and again.

[00:03:45] Yeah it's it's the answer it's both I guess it was clear from the beginning. But any business has distractions. And in any I think most business owners are yes people like you I'll take on that challenge I'll take on that opportunity take on that new client and I definitely fit that mold where we we were asked by our partners to start a lot of singles hikes and to draw which on one hand were they were very successful in terms of getting people in the outdoors and it can be a very social environment and relaxed environment for people to get to know each other. It was just like a slight departure from who we were and why we do things and we realize we need and nothing that gets the idea. Singles and categories.

[00:04:32] No no no biased against the couple. Yeah yeah.

[00:04:36] And it is very effective for many people but it just wasn't exactly true to who we were. And so that's one example of a course correction. Get back to really what we're about and sticking to that. And then you know different kinds of trips like is you as a business owner you won't be a creative as possible and create new customers. And you know of course a few times and we start offering shooting trips go and shooting like with shotguns. This is the first couple of years and we realize it's just didn't feel right to us. We're like what we're actually trying to accomplish. Pull back on that.

[00:05:18] So yeah it was there. How you like him.

[00:05:21] Because I think this is it. It's a really interesting process or a really interesting kind of challenge or crux that I think of you know business owners get in particularly entrepreneurs the ones that are really like creative and lots of ideas like how do you know. How do you know when you know the shooting trip. Sometimes it's hard because it can be quite successful people even the great feedback. You know people really interested how do you know that it's not on that brand like what was what was it was a gut thing. Was it what was the feedback that you had or what was the.

[00:05:55] Yeah that's a really great question because it's never totally clear in the moment. It's always clear looking back. Yes. Yes. In the moment it felt like a god thing. Something isn't aligned to you. And then when you hear other people talk about your business like oh you're shooting business. Oh you're the singles company like.

[00:06:18] Oh yes that's right.

[00:06:23] I like that idea though it's almost like you want to you want to take the event or you want to take that thing and say OK how are people going to refer to it as. And is that what I want. Like what's the impression I'm going to make on on the new customer on on the prospect on the people that I'm not working at and how are they going to. How are they going to see me if this becomes a key event for us.

[00:06:45] Exactly. I remember early on maybe five years into it I went and test RBI and they going up blow up. In New York and we're going expand all over the country and then do world wide trips with you. It's going to be the best thing you ever got your hands on. Yeah. And and sitting across the table and tules new single takes.

[00:07:10] Are you a single company. You're the CEO of high company and in the raging is high company.

[00:07:19] But that's our perception and that's the message that we have to put out into the world and and that that I remember Nalley that was a defining moment. Holy Koran on that yet again promising signals can come in that we're not that's not the focus.

[00:07:35] That's not what we want to create yes it's not what we want to create the brand around. You know I think I think that's a tough one and do you feel that comes up again and again. Is that something that you struggle with that comes up today or is that something that was kind of early early it was more of a challenge and today it's pretty clear and it just naturally happens.

[00:07:55] I think it was more of a struggle early on. Absolutely.

[00:07:59] And also as a newer younger entrepreneur there is a lot of things driven by ego and ego drives you to say yes to everything. And so I think having made those decisions and mistakes and now being clear on how we make decisions it is no question. It's a lot easier to stay the course. That said you don't want to get in a rut right. You don't want to limit your creativity and I think all right I've done with all these mistakes that made them all for it. Now I know exactly where I'm going. And then now you have tunnel vision on where you are and you miss opportunities in the cell from great potential.

[00:08:41] So are there any. How do you do that too. Is there a process that you have do you have like you know part of your meeting where you're talking about appraising new ideas. Is it just a you have filters that users are a checklist that says okay we only do programs that meet these five key things and if it's if it fits these fine things then it's on brand if it's not it's a job.

[00:09:02] Like what's your worst ever meeting was like.

[00:09:08] Well let's go to her manual and see if it meets these criteria. Not even close. I think if we have a new opportunity we do. We talk it over as a team and we talk gut feeling. We talk about we do.

[00:09:22] We do reference who we are and where what our goals are what our business for the company. So there is some truth to what you're saying is that what we execute. But it's far from a five point criteria list. And you know I think because we've had those experiences now it's easier to say well this is what it felt like when we were when we made this decision and didn't work out. We don't want to make that mistake.

[00:09:47] And so I just think you have to have like. Oh it's good that's going to be one of those things. Like if like you how you get stories like examples of things that went awry or that went really well and it's like hey I'm just going to yeah I did hold to that.

[00:10:02] But that whole kind of history the story the more inside of a company where people are kind of referencing things that have happened in the past as either you know examples of good outcomes or examples of bad outcomes. I think it's fascinating and I think that it really goes to that you know developing a culture is really about the stories that we tell and the experiences that we've had and how do we how do we use them as guide you know guiding tools and making better decisions going forward.

[00:10:29] It's a really interesting one. Talk to me a little bit about the team because I think that's the other thing that I'm that I'm curious about.

[00:10:35] The impression that you gave in terms of how that kind of plays out now is that there's some kind of team discussion around or at least conversation.

[00:10:43] How does it play out as it is and I'm particularly curious about your role in those discussions. Do you read them do you kind of let the team lead them or are you kind of putting an idea in there their counter you're getting feedback on it. What does that like.

[00:10:58] Cool. So it depends on who is presenting the idea. And I would say it's equal in terms of you know everybody comes to the table with new ideas and we have come to the table with equal amounts of ideas. And if it's someone else's idea I try to be as disciplined as possible just listening as much as I can I'll ask questions and let the team talk it through. But my nature and my my objective is just sit back and let that discussion happen. One I learn more that way and as a great reason for me to just listen to. I think it's really interesting to watch a team work through something together without me. And you know the name of this podcast is about scaling and if if you're going to scale your business right you can't always be in the middle of these decisions right. So if you can empower your team to talk through things argue debate and recent discussions without then yeah you're doing a good job as a man. Oh yeah yeah. And I think creativity and new ideas is the crux of every business especially in service business. And so keeping that a very positive. It's OK if we make mistakes. Let's take a risk. Culture is really important.

[00:12:15] Just curious if you're in the kind of idea development process is there anything that you use to kind of either seed or generate or tromped ideas are you getting like customer feedback are there or is there a tool the use of any sorts.

[00:12:33] Or do you have an idea generator that Ukraine that puts things out we're lacking lacking ideas.

[00:12:40] Let's go to our tool so ideas come from. Number one place I would say come from problems. And so in time we have a challenge with partners that we work with or guides or you know we screw something up on a trip that you know we always try to take time to reflect on us like it's not an isolated incident that just happened between a guy and a kite out on a trip like what what what was our role in setting up this thing to happen.

[00:13:09] So by reflecting on those things and working through a process they inevitably there is a useful thing on the other side of that problem and it takes time we'll work through it but that's the number one place for creativity and new ideas.

[00:13:23] That's what I like. I like that I get that idea. It's really clear through our challenge there are obstacles come the epiphanies come come the innovation.

[00:13:32] Absolutely. Yeah it's a great source and it's a great idea I think just that mindset and impression. We all said so.

[00:13:40] So we have significant community of outdoor enthusiasts that comes out on trips with us. And so trying to engage them with new ideas. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't.

[00:13:53] We recently did this competition to get them involved in how we're going to decide what our newest line of international trips are going to be and so we built off the idea of March Madness. And we set up a tournament and so we did have sweet 16 of the best eight trips the best state trips going head to head. And yet every day people vote boat and Morocco Alaska OK Alaska won the Alps vs. Utah last time and then and then they go head to head. And it was a lot of fun. It is something like will this work. Who knows. But we didn't get a time engagement and now we have hundreds of people that are are very they are voting for a very specific trip. They say essentially saying that I'd be upset and going on this.

[00:14:40] Yeah exactly yeah. And then she turned to me about the courthouse. Surely your ideal customer core customer then engaged. How is that how is that played out. But I think that particularly for services companies you know it is so much about understanding who are these people that I'm serving who are these people that are providing products and services. And understand their needs. How do I communicate with them how do I get insights. What are some of the things you've learned over time.

[00:15:05] So in the beginning we were targeting the 28 year old male the guy that would go out and kick ass climbing. And it really pushes boundaries exploring the outdoors. And then we realized the people that were actually coming out on our trips and loving the trypsin embracing it the most were the 32 33 year old female. And it was very consistent. It wasn't like a few times you know this and comes out with the I was a two thirds to three quarters of our participants are women and they're coming out trips alone.

[00:15:41] They're not even bringing friends. And so we ask all my questions and dig deeper like whether what is this about. So we create some theories.

[00:15:52] And so we realized that women will invest more in a great experience you know a guy will go out and try to wing it himself.

[00:16:02] And nine times out of ten fail. They don't ask for directions.

[00:16:09] Yeah exactly. Want to ask you to give us the holiday and you're willing to just care about having a polished professional ethics. Yes and we'll make the most of their time and we'll pay for that. And they guy all the way just try to wing it. And a good analogy is a couple goes on a ski trip for the first time. She will pay for a half day or full day of lessons. You know the amazing four days of skiing. After that he will go immediately to the Black Diamond and probably get injured and make sure he's just in the past. He's got to have a week of pissed off skiing. She's in and she's going to be a much better skier by the end of the week. It's the exact same thing. It's that the women that come out on her trips it's not that they necessarily need a guide there.

[00:16:58] They're very capable or very athletic very motivated to challenge themselves more. It's just they know there's a smart way of. Yeah they foolish way. Yeah. And so we love it. And now that we've identified that we recognize that like oh my gosh that's perfect. Yeah it makes total sense. And we embrace that community. Now last year we started a thing called the women in the outdoors suite and it's a weeklong event. And our second annual Women outdoors Week is coming up at the beginning it's your little plug there.

[00:17:32] Yeah. And and so it's a lot of professional women athletes coming in and doing and speaking telling stories. It's panels talking about issues of women and the outdoors. We'll have gear's sponsors talking about how they're trying to develop clothing and gear that actually fits with the answers for women.

[00:17:54] And I just also like breaking down stereotypes my own stereotype of what the outdoors person looks like. Has now changed. No because I experience of what I see out there and so breaking that down and and giving women a safe place to talk to each other and explore and say yeah we are capable of doing more than fair and there are places we're actually much more capable than men. Know some of the best rock climbers I've seen on our trips are women. And it is just incredible to see and so identifying who our core customer if we get back business speak at raising that is absolutely been an alliance for us.

[00:18:34] Yeah yeah. And I think that's a great story because I think so many businesses struggle struggle with that and they struggle. I think I'm twofold. One is that they end up really not focusing on the whole idea of core customer a whole lot.

[00:18:47] They are basically chasing revenue and it's one of the things I run into all the time is like you know just chasing anything that has money and not really thinking about OK who who can we focus on and the factors are faster we want to grow the more we need to focus. But they also don't they don't listen to their they don't listen to their customer base. You know one of the best ways to figure out who your customer is is that you look at your current customers and figure out who you know who is mythically who is who is willing to pay for my product or service you know who is easy to serve who is you know it is a pleasure to be to handle that customer and then you know which is referring to people like how do we get how do we build a network around this. Now what can be done based on our historical we can do a lot in terms of creating focus and creating products synergies in the future and and to add to what you just said it's a lot more fun.

[00:19:40] It's a lot easier and you don't like swimming upstream you know trying to find some other customer when he you just embrace who's already loving your product and service and celebrate. Yeah and give more to them. Life gets a lot easier that way.

[00:19:56] Yeah yeah. Girls like you're actually you're in the flow. And you know putting the.

[00:20:02] So I do want to circle back on the whole team men and how to build a group around you.

[00:20:09] And I think one of the other challenges that I I see quite a bit is on the actual sort of leadership team side employee side partners things like that like how do you how do you find the right talent. How do you develop that talent. How do you retain it. How do you make sure that you've got the right people in leadership positions except that you've got partners and things like that. What what have you found as being kind of lessons learned and things that you have that are worthwhile for you.

[00:20:40] Yeah. So lessons learnt that you know when we're looking for guides and people in our administrative roles that passion for what we do believe in what we do is by far the most important thing. Everything else all the outdoor skills are trainable. And in fact if somebody comes to the table and this has happened quite a few times and in interviews. Yeah yeah. They come to say like I'm an expert kayaker I've got 10000 hours under my belt and you know I've done all these great things.

[00:21:15] Yeah. What are the big warning. Yeah.

[00:21:20] Really it's all about. Yeah. I'm thinking do the interview like it's all about you is that your greatness and now and in the service business especially it's an outward looking mindset. It's very selfless guides on our team work really hard to not have the glory and we process a lot spicier bigger trips right now Kilimanjaro. You know it's not our summit is as much as I got to talk with the mountain and look at the sun coming up with the clients. If it's not meant to be if you're meant to be back with someone that's struggling or having a bad day or need a turn around with them that's what we do. Yeah. You'll go all the way to Tanzania and work your ass off to get it like 90 percent the way there but your job is to turn around.

[00:22:06] Yeah I get I get tingles on that one.

[00:22:09] Just that idea that a core value like I can see the core value of you know it's not it's not your summit you know as a guide it's their sign and it's their summit and that's a huge a huge mental shift or a huge kind of mindset idea that I can see how it can be so decided within minutes knowing in an interview whether this person embodies that idea or not.

[00:22:31] It's so easy to for that information to come out just by asking a few questions and personal stories and it's pretty easy to see who wants to serve and who wants to just to be outside for their own benefit. And it's it's really it's great to hear from our clients who go out with competing companies and they'll tell the stories of like yeah this is an actual story by the way where their guide said all right you can't go any further that's fine. Wait here. I'm going to go to the summit. I'll be back in an hour. Yeah. And if you did that actual story that the client just went down by herself and then yeah the guy spent the rest of day trying to find her. Yeah finally connected. So it wasn't a horror story but I would just say the nerve I honestly in a service that the bar is so low.

[00:23:23] Yeah yeah.

[00:23:24] If you just have to be looking for the best interests of your client and know and be clear what that is. I mean that's really all I got to do. And you know that all of the little things that you had to be in a great business of course. But down to the core of it yes really care about their benefit. And then you know you're going to be in deep on some leaps and bounds.

[00:23:46] Exactly. Heads and shoulders above the rest. Yeah.

[00:23:50] So we're going we're coming up on time here but I wanted to just give us give us a sense of some of the things you've got going on. So you mentioned the upcoming week in June. What are some of the other programs you doing these days just to give people a flavor of the kind of stuff you're doing at this point inside of business.

[00:24:05] Cole Yeah thanks for asking it. So yeah thanks for it. Thanks for asking. So for our local trips we do day trips are multi day trips in the northeast. So everything from day hiking rock climbing kayaking all the way to backpacking trips throughout the Adirondack Mountains so many Mount Washington in New Hampshire I go to Vermont and down to Shenandoah and then we do international and domestic and international trips everything from hiking in the Canadian Rockies backpacking through the skies here as we climb Mount Kilimanjaro. So do you like trips and in addition to that we have a strong youth program where we partnered with a lot of camps and schools and we take kids out on trips both locally and across the country and then a number of companies hire us for a corporate team building trips.

[00:24:53] So something that you know they want to do something completely unique. You know the usual softball game or just go to a bar with drinks just just not cutting it. They really get out the office and talk through things and so you know we develop programs to help them with communication with different leadership styles and really work on that in a unique environment. Yeah. And so forth. Those categories are growing and I think it's really resonating with people. And there's this is a good time for it for our business. The culture is really embracing the outdoors and reconnecting with nature is kind of a theme that you hear statistics for the number of people at cantinas is going through the roof across the country which is amazing.

[00:25:37] You know simultaneously there is this trend of luxury and clamping and wait for those that don't say luxurious camping but there's also just this getting back to who we are and thinking about our childhood itself like you know going to the national parks with your family and camping out and really wanting to reconnect with that. I think we've drifted away from that. But there's there's there's absolutely a strong trend going back to those roots and thank goodness they were positioned in that good place where you know where we're riding that momentum and growth.

[00:26:12] It's about to be an honest way to contact the people wanted to know more about you about programs things like that. How do people get a hold of me.

[00:26:21] Yes. So our website is Discover outdoors Don and that's the best places the everything that's going on the trip calendar and it's my son Indra awesome and I'll make sure that the link is in the show notes so people can get all of that correct.

[00:26:37] Great. I'm excited.

[00:26:38] One of my favorite things to do is go camping with my kids. I totally get it. I'm you know I think it's I think it's amazing. As we get more and more kind of interest to sustainability and kind of understanding how we're impacting the world. I think you know really authentic good outdoor experiences are becoming more and more kind of important for folks so I think I think you're going to do great things to experts.

[00:27:05] Thanks for this opportunity. This has been fun. My pleasure. Thank you. I'll talk to you soon. All right. Take.