If you’re reading this, you probably know a little bit about Heli, our marketplace, and the problems we are solving; you’ve probably seen the great photos we post on Instagram or even come to one of our parties or skied with us. However, you might not be too familiar with our origins or why I have devoted my life to adventure and growing our brand, Heli. Believe it or not, a big part of me believes this was my destiny.
Here’s the quick story and you can be the judge…
I started skiing when I was 3 and come from a big ski family. When I was 6 years old, my dad hung a CMH Heliskiing poster on my wall; I went to sleep at night with a group of skiers cruising through thigh-deep powder at the Bugaboos 3 feet above me. If you could do a fast forward montage of my life since then, you’d probably see the 2 distinct lives I lived – the first being that of a kid growing up in New England, playing hockey and going on family ski trips, attending a reputable liberal arts college, and working on Wall Street; the second being the disruptive ski bum who finds himself more at home hitch-hiking around Colorado or living in a shack on the beach in Brazil than at a cocktail party in the West Village. Ultimately, these 2 paths needed to converge. And they did.
In the Summer of 2013, the universe opened up. Out of the blue, I got a message from a Denver-based recruiting firm over LinkedIn asking if I knew anyone who would like to sell heliskiing. I responded definitively that there was only 1 person they needed to talk to: me. The next day, I spoke to the recruiter and we discussed my lifelong passion for skiing and the 2 years I spent in Vail after college hiking up bootpacks and building footbeds in the ski shop I worked at, how I got my job on a trading desk because all the senior guys liked to ski, how I had spent my bonuses on heliskiing in Alaska and Chile, how I had just left finance to focus on doing things that made me happy, and that I was located in the world’s biggest market: New York City. At the end of the conversation, I asked who their client was; she responded “CMH”. After a few more interviews, I ended up getting the job.
Now, if you’re not familiar, CMH and their founder, Hans Gmoser, invented the sport of heliskiing in the late 1950’s. By the time 2013 rolled around, CMH had grown to include 12 different lodges in British Columbia, but the industry had seen a significant crop of competitor heliski operations enter the game and carve out their own market share and brand presence. With this increase in competition, CMH decided to expand their national sales force to stay at the top: I guess I was the only guy they could find in NYC. I joined the new class of CMH sales reps at the original and first CMH lodge in the Bugaboos (the very same lodge from my childhood poster) for a company on-site; I was privileged to meet the entire CMH leadership team, seasoned sales reps Barb Follett and Brad Nichols, Hans’ right hand man and legendary ski guide Kiwi Gallagher, pilots, staff, etc. We split time between heli-hiking and sales training sessions and, by the end of those 3 days, it’s safe to say that I was fully stoked on the opportunity in front of me. I got back to New York, shared a few photos on Instagram and posts on LinkedIn, sent some emails, and, funnily enough, I immediately started selling CMH Heli adventures. Over the course of that season, for one reason or another, I ended up putting up better numbers than my peers from that new sales class.
I quickly came to 2 realizations:
1. Selling and buying heliskiing is a huge pain in the ass for all parties involved. The amount of time I spent writing long-form emails to outline basic information around logistics, itineraries, and requirements was enormous. I was shocked that customers couldn’t pay online and that I had to call them up to collect credit card information to relay back to the reservations office. In a world of Airbnb’s and Kayak’s, this didn’t make sense to me.
2. My customers weren’t buying CMH; they were buying heliskiing. With a major generational shift in heliskiing, the first time heliskier is agnostic to brand. Additionally, amid selling BC inventory, I was constantly asked by customers for options in Alaska, South America, and Europe. I had customers looking to buy things I couldn’t sell; I was handcuffed.
My experience working exclusively with CMH was priceless but I knew that I couldn’t just be another sales rep with limited ability to change how things were done. Amid some leadership changes within CMH, I found myself back in a situation that I had hoped to escape when I left Wall Street. I was born to disrupt and I had collected the evidence I needed to do so in the space I loved: heliskiing. From there, things escalated quite quickly.
The start of something big
In September of 2015, a friend of mine called me and asked if I could help him organize a heliskiing trip for a large group of guys. I was happy to and we exchanged some preliminary information to qualify budget, time of year, etc. and then we hung up. I immediately got in touch with Scott Newsome of Eagle Pass Heliskiing in Revelstoke (he and I had spoken once before to shoot the shit about the heliskiing industry). I told him it was time to make a move on my concept for Heli and that I wanted to set up a sales partnership. Within a few days, we had a contract in place and I sold the remaining 8 seats EPH had available over Presidents Day weekend that coming Winter. In lieu of commissions, I told Scott that I just wanted to come on the tour myself and he agreed.
After that sale, I started the Heli instagram account and built a simple Squarespace site to outline Heli’s services as an unbiased marketplace for heliskiing. I built the core team with the help of my Co-founder Brock Strasbourger and we moved seats. From my CMH experience, I knew that the best salespeople would be folks like myself- passionate skiers who worked in finance, real estate, and tech with luxury networks. By the end of that 2015/16 season, between simple outreach and inbound from operators in BC and Alaska, Heli was doing business as it’s own brand with 20+ heliskiing operator partners in North America on contract and a small army of commission based salespeople. Based on the immediate traction and validation, we knew there was an opportunity to take things to the next level by creating our own technology for our operators and customers not just in heliskiing, but in the entire adventure travel industry.
2 years ago, we started Heli to make it easier for our friends to go heliskiing. Today, we are backed by strategic investors, the first version of our technology is now live, our sales continue to grow, and we are poised to define the multi-billion dollar adventure travel industry by serving as its marketplace. If I’ve only done one thing right so far, it has been to build a badass and diverse team of warriors; I’m not sure there are many teams out there who can match our resilience and willingness to do whatever it takes to not only succeed in business, but to do so while in the pursuit of what we love: adventure.