The Unofficial Millionaire | Behind the Scenes Look at Unofficial Networks by Moonshine Ink

The Unofficial Millionaire | Behind the Scenes Look at Unofficial Networks by Moonshine Ink

ALL

The Unofficial Millionaire | Behind the Scenes Look at Unofficial Networks by Moonshine Ink

By

The man behind Unofficial Squaw, High Fives, and the Push has kept a low profile, until now

By Melissa Siig/Moonshine Ink

March Print Edition
Published: March 9, 2012

 

Patrick Rivelli stands around 5 foot 7 with round spectacles and a full head of brown hair peppered with gray. He is prone to wearing khaki slacks and loafers. A quiet, unassuming man with a gentle handshake, Rivelli looks like he’d be more at home walking the halls of an Ivy League university or a Silicon Valley start-up than hanging out with a bunch of skier dudes in Squaw Valley. But don’t be fooled by Rivelli’s mild-mannered personality or his techie appearance. Not only is he an avid athlete, but in a matter of three years Rivelli has helped to create three powerhouses in the Tahoe winter sports community — Unofficial Networks, the High Fives Foundation, and the Push expedition to the South Pole. Without his money, guidance, and connections, all of these organizations would either not exist or not be what they are today.

So why would a 47-year-old biotechnology developer, entrepreneur, and millionaire from Palo Alto choose to lavish hundreds of thousands of dollars on a bunch of ski bums? The answer is two-fold: Rivelli is a born risk-taker and consummate learner who is constantly seeking out new challenges and endeavors that will stimulate him. But mostly, he just loves to ski.

The first thing to understand about Rivelli is that he is no dummy. A graduate of Harvard University and MIT Sloan School of Management, Rivelli’s first job after business school was at Bain Capital, a private equity firm in Boston, Mass., under the leadership of Mitt Romney. (Yes, that Mitt.) After growing bored with venture capitalism, Rivelli moved to the Bay Area where he started and sold a series of companies that developed medical devices, including the first intracranial stent and the first biodegradable coronary stent (he holds the patent for those and seven other inventions), for brain aneurysms and vascular disease. Today, he is the CEO of Bioabsorbable Therapeutics Inc. in Menlo Park.

The second thing to know about Rivelli is his passion for skiing. Born in New Jersey, Rivelli moved to New York with his family when he was 4. He learned to ski in his family’s driveway before they started making weekend trips to their local ski hill, Belleayre Mountain. He got into ski racing, but at age 14 his family packed up and left the East Coast for San Diego, a move Rivelli called “a mixed blessing.”

“It meant I couldn’t ski every weekend, but when I got to ski, it was at places like Tahoe and Mammoth,” he said. “I never realized there were mountains like this before.”

Unofficial Squaw

It was while skiing at Squaw Valley during the 2007–08 season that Rivelli saw an Unofficial Squaw sticker on a lift tower at Granite Chief. He checked out the website, and instantly became a fan.

“The ski industry didn’t serve skiers much,” he said. “Their websites always said ‘powder and packed powder.’ And because the magazines’ advertisers were ski resorts, there was never any truth … I found Unofficial really invaluable to having the best possible experience.”

But during the following season, Rivelli noticed that Unofficial founder Tim Konrad had stopped posting. Konrad, who had been posting daily for the last three years, was running out of energy and money, and had decided to move back to New York to help his brother with his budding website, gCaptain (think Unofficial for the maritime industry). So Rivelli did what any millionaire skier would do — he sent Konrad an email asking to meet.

“I said ‘I think you’re on to something,’” Rivelli recalled. “There is a way to turn it into a viable business.’”

Rivelli proposed that the two become equal partners in Unofficial, with Rivelli as CEO. He gave Konrad $100,000 to cover his debts and get the website back up. But it took a while for Unofficial to find its footing. At first, the pair tried to sell branded clothing online, but that failed. Then they tried to steer Unofficial in the direction of becoming a movie company, like Matchstick Productions or TGR. Unofficial sponsored athletes, and Rivelli even bought a $4 million house in Squaw Valley to serve as a boarding house for athletes and an office. It was during this time that the movie “G.N.A.R” and web movie “Skiing the Seven Continents” were made. Travel for the “Seven Continents,” which took athletes to France, Morocco, Africa, and Japan, among other places, was funded entirely by Rivelli, who spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Although the movies were popular, they were a money pit.

“That was our lost year,” said Rivelli, who later sold the house. “We got ourselves off track. No more films. Now we are back to Tim’s original, core idea.”

Tim Konrad

Tim Konrad, Founder of Unofficial Networks

Konrad’s original idea was to provide a local’s perspective on the conditions and happenings at Squaw. This can sometimes put the website at odds with Squaw Valley Ski Corp, especially CEO Andy Wirth, like when Unofficial started writing about the Squaw-Alpine merger months before it was announced and was accused of spreading rumors. But Rivelli defends Unofficial’s unorthodox reporting.

“We are not a newspaper, so we are willing to go with rumors. We never make stuff up, there’s always a kernel of truth,” he said. “We are not picking fights on purpose. We love Squaw. We live here. We could live in other towns. I think it’s a service to get the real truth out there.”

Unofficial, which has three full-time employees including Konrad, is now concentrating on two goals. Total world domination is the first. The website has already expanded to 11 ski areas, including two abroad in Japan and South America. Secondly, Rivelli and Konrad are focused on making the website financially viable through ad sales.

“We are almost to the point where ad revenue supports the budget,” said Rivelli, who has financed budget shortfalls in the past. “We finally hit on a good formula that works.”

So after more than three years and countless dollars, why is Rivelli toughing it out with Unofficial? In his 20 years of starting up new businesses, Rivelli has learned the fine art of patience.

“I’m used to it from the medical devices world,” he said. “Even if you think you have a great idea, sometimes you fail. In the event you are successful, it generally takes you five years until you wind up getting a pay-off. I’m comfortable with it. That’s the way business is.”

It’s exactly that attitude that Konrad says has been more beneficial to the company than Rivelli’s willingness to open his wallet.

“Patrick likes big ideas,” said Konrad. “He chooses to spend money on building things that other people don’t feel comfortable with. That’s why he’s so successful. He doesn’t see obstacles; he sees opportunities.”

Roy Tuscany

Roy Tuscany of High Fives

High Fives Foundation

It was through Unofficial and the then treasurer of High Fives, Jeff Pratt, that Rivelli met Roy Tuscany, who was just starting the Truckee-based foundation, which helps seriously injured winter sports athletes with recovery.

Rivelli made a “good” donation (over $20,000, according to Tuscany), and eventually Tuscany asked him to be on the board. Just as Unofficial presented the knowledge-hungry Rivelli with the opportunity to learn about a new industry — the web — High Fives was a chance for him to become skilled in the world of charity organizations.

“I loved what he [Tuscany] was doing,” Rivelli said. “I’d never been involved with a nonprofit. I was curious. Just like the web business, I thought it would be fun to learn about nonprofits and how different they are from for-profit businesses.”

Keep Reading…

More Unofficial Networks