The Build Cycle Podcast #019 – Gear Junkie founder Stephen Regenold

GearJunkie.com has about a million monthly readers and covers outdoor gear, equipment and lifestyle in a way few other magazines do. As a parallel business to what I’m doing with Bikerumor for the cycling industry, I’ve been fascinated with GJ’s business model because it’s not so much based on ad revenue as it is story telling.

Founder and Editor Stephen Regenold has built a sizable team and business pursuing the activities he loves. He’s able to climb, ski, hike and explore the outdoors and it’s all “business”. If that’s not the definition of a dream lifestyle business, I don’t know what is. But he’s able to do that and support a staff of others doing the same, each following their own passion to provide comprehensive coverage of the outdoor industry and life, and each loving life. Here’s how he’s done it…

DISCUSSION TIMELINE

  • 01:45 – The origins of Gear Junkie in 1997 were in print, and it was called Vertical Jones.
  • 09:00 – It’s actually still in print, but that column reaches a different type of reader.
  • 12:45 – How they developed their editorial focus, and how it’s expanded over the years.
  • 15:35 – How to pay for big adventures when you’re just starting out.
  • 17:35 – This is what surprised me about his business model.
  • 21:10 – It’s not about ads anymore, but banners can be a part of it
  • 24:20 – Chase the big fish first, and some other opportunities that haven’t worked out.
  • 29:00 – Growing the employee base and ownership structure.
  • 30:10 – How the revenue model has evolved.
  • 31:50 – How the content has evolved, and why they write what they write.
  • 35:50 – Where do they get their info?
  • 39:05 – Resources and apps they use.
  • 40:05 – Stephen’s advice for others looking to build a media entity.
  • 43:20 – How they’re using video.
  • 47:05 – Challenges and how they’ve overcome them.
Stephen on left, hanging with Conrad Anker in the world famous climber’s gear cave.

POST GAME ANALYSIS

One of the things I’m most proud of with Bikerumor is that I’ve not only been able to live the free, fun life I want while enjoying opportunities to ride all over the world, but that I’m able to provide that same opportunity to others. Stephen’s done the same thing with Gear Junkie, employing writers with their own varied interests and allowing them to follow their passions and write about them while traveling the globe. I’ve met several folks on his team and, like my own team, they’re all amazingly friendly, outgoing folks that love life. While both of our sites are pretty big now, we both started as a one-man show, writing about our own interests. Which means you can, too. If your interest lies in a crowded field, find your own angle, niche or voice to stand out.

Stephen prioritizes quality over quantity, which is a method we’ve adopted over the years, too. At first, we wanted to post as much content as humanly possible, and he mentions that what GJ was doing at first, too. Now, we’re focusing more on big news, well written stories and unique content and making sure it’s really good. This provides our reps

Gear Junkie’s revenue model is, for better or worse, where the media industry is headed. With ad blockers on the rise and attention spans withering, banners are becoming a smaller part of the mix. They still matter, but more and more we’re having to offer other options – contests, reader surveys, sponsored content, branded promotions and the like are where things are headed. Stephen’s done this extremely well by offering in depth story telling that blends brand into and content in a meaningful way. The trick is to be transparent when a brand has any influence over the content, and ensuring it provides value to readers.

Stephen’s advice for would-be publishers is to start out by working with the brands. They mix that into their reviews and editorial, and others have built an entire business on it (like The Col Collective that tells stories as a marketing vehicle for Cannondale, Mavic and other sponsors). The trick with this is that you need to prove your chops, whether its in video, writing or something else, so it might make sense to just start writing or shooting and posting it anywhere you can (or on your own site), but tailor those efforts with the end goal in mind.

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