BABE #62: JEN GURECKI,
Co-Founder + CEO @ Coalition Snow
Jen is a total powerhouse. As a lifelong Floridian myself, her hustle with Coalition Snow and her love of snow sports are things that don't hit too close to home for me - so learning about them in this interview was such a cool experience. I had no idea that there is a huge lack of quality snow gear for women (ugh) and I am so inspired by Jen's pursuit to change that. Thanks so much for chatting with me and adding your unique perspective and interests to the BWH community, Jen! You are definitely a babe.
Hometown: Chandler, Arizona
Current city: Tahoma, California
Alma mater: Northern Arizona University and Prescott College
Degree: BS in Journalism and Master’s in Non-Formal Education
Hustle: Co-Founder & CEO @ Coalition Snow
Babe you admire and why?
Hillary Clinton because she’s strong as shit. I have so much empathy for a woman who has dedicated her life to public service, but whose accomplishments have been overshadowed by a husband cheating on her in the White House, fake “facts," and losing to Trump. Can you even imagine how much grit it takes to get through each day?
How do you spend your free time?
What's free time?
Must-have item in your purse?
All-natural breath spray
Favorite beauty item?
Peppermint lip balm
The Mindy Project
Queso or guac?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Tell us about your hustle:
I’m the CEO of Coalition Snow, the world’s first snow sports company specializing in skis and snowboards designed by women, for women. We set out to break the “shrink it and pink it” mold that is not only a poor reflection of women’s preferences when it comes to outdoor gear (and so much more), but it also does nothing to elevate their status in the sport.
As CEO, how is the majority of your time spent?
Despite our successes, we’re a small, independent company, so as the CEO, I do everything from pack boxes to pitch investors. These days, I spend A LOT of time on the road at trade shows, events, and speaking engagements. But in the grand scheme of things, I can’t complain about traveling for Coalition. I’ve met some amazing people and shared incredible experiences, all the while nestled in beautiful places. But that Airbnb in Salt Lake City that turned out to be more like a hostel, where I shared one bathroom with 10 dudes under 25-years-old; or the white-knuckled drives through the Rockies as the remnants of my fast food breakfast, lunch and dinner bags pile up in the passenger seat next to me - definitely make me question what I'm doing sometimes. It’s exhausting, and I spend a lot of time in my head on those long road trips and flights, wondering if I said the right thing at that really important meeting, while also calculating the ROI of my plane flight and hotel room, and stressing out about an inbox that I can’t stay on top of.
What does your typical workday look like?
In my ideal world, it goes something like this: 7am at my computer working on a focused project. 9am on the mountain, 12pm lunch and e-mails. The afternoon into evening is spent in meetings, going through e-mails, and knocking out the to-do list according to priority.
How and when did you get the idea for Coalition Snow? What has the journey been like for you so far?
In June 2013, I was hiking up a ridge off of Tioga Pass while on a backcountry ski trip in the Eastern Sierra. The topic of conversation was focused on an emerging shift in the industry, largely due to outspoken female athletes such as Lyndsey Dyer and Molly Baker. At the time, they were publicly fighting for a more respectful and equal positioning of women in the industry. This, paired with consistent conversations that spanned decades about the poor quality of women’s equipment, sparked an idea for me — what if women designed the equipment that they wanted, rather than waiting for the industry to respond to their pleas? I instinctively knew then, as I do now, that women were being held back by short and soft gear created within a male-dominated industry, that has ultimately relegated women to the sidelines. Perhaps it was the altitude, or my flask of whiskey, but on that day, I decided to pursue the concept of a women’s ski and snowboard company to answer the call. After a summer of market research and a glacier expedition in Africa to pilot the concept of Coalition Snow, I moved forward with building a team and officially launched in May of 2014. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster of soul-crushing lows and adrenaline-filled highs.
How long have you been skiing + snowboarding? Did you always plan to focus your career around sports?
I’ve been skiing and snowboarding for over 20 years. I learned in the mid-90s, in Arizona of all places, long before big air and rails became a thing. When I was in college, I worked in the repair and rental shop at Arizona Snowbowl and loved it, but I never thought I’d build a career in the industry because I didn’t see anyone like me doing it. All the bosses in snow sports were men. My passion never wavered, however, and I built my life around it, sacrificing high-paying jobs for the freedom of powder days in Lake Tahoe. But as I got older and developed my business acumen, I realized that I could build a company that would allow me to merge my passion with a profit. Interestingly enough, choosing to focus my energy exclusively on the women’s market also meant that I could infuse my daily work with my feminist values.
What other jobs did you work previously? How did they prep you for the role you have now?
Prior to Coalition Snow, I spent more than a decade in outdoor education working in wilderness therapy and running a 40-day wilderness program for first-generation youth. You can only spend so much time in the outdoors with other people’s children, so I transitioned out of outdoor education and became part-owner of a white water rafting outfitter for a few years. I also launched a social enterprise in Kenya (where I conducted my graduate research) called Zawadisha, whose mission is to finance the livelihoods of poor, rural women. Zawadisha really prepared me for my role with Coalition because despite the fact that the business is located in Kenya and we provide loans for renewable energy and water products, there are a lot of similarities. First, both exclusively work with women, and understanding the diversity and needs within that demographic is critically important. I’ve learned the importance of building community, and how the word “customer” doesn’t really fit the people who purchase our products - they mean a whole hell of a lot more than a sale. The lack of infrastructure (think: no electricity, internet, or paved roads) and a customer base who doesn’t have the means or interest, barely scratches the surface of the challenges. But you learn how to be gritty and resilient.
What is your work environment/office culture like?
We’re a remote team that relies heavily on Slack, so there isn’t much "office" culture. But we do prioritize powder days (no morning meetings) and relish work/play (we have many meetings on the chair lift or over après). But there is a very strong work ethic despite all of the perceived fun and looseness. We emphasize getting things done exceptionally well, and on-time.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I wouldn’t say that being a woman has affected my career as much as other people’s perceptions of me being a woman has. Women are demonized for being strong, bold, and outspoken simply because society has set parameters of passivity for women. We aren’t always taken seriously, which adds another layer of bullshit. Is anyone else over having their company referred to as a "project" or "program?"
What are some common misconceptions about your job(s)?
That I spend more time skiing than working - which I wish was true. Unfortunately when you start a snow sports company, you spend less time on the hill and more time behind a computer and in meetings.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
One of our biggest challenges has been raising capital. We are living proof of the data when it comes to women being able to raise traditional capital and/or secure small business loans. It is painful. To overcome it, we’ve turned to crowd funding to help our growth! In female-founded businesses, the odds are stacked against us to raise traditional capital, particularly in the outdoor industry. Crowd funding has democratized investing and allows people to be part of companies they believe in. It means that we don’t have to sacrifice our values to grow sustainably. We’re in the midst of overcoming this with our Kickstarter (which wraps up April 7th - and we’ve already raised $33K of our $50K goal!) to fund our YOUth line of skis and snowboards. We want young girls to know that they are welcome in our mountain communities and that they can have a meaningful future in the outdoor industry. It’s not about going pro, hucking yourself off cliffs, or shredding the gnar every day. It’s about having fun, building community, and instilling values - and we hope to inspire young women to stake their claim in the outdoors with the same drive, passion, and confidence that we have. We’re committed to supporting the next generation of mountain bosses, and we hope that your BWH readers will be too.
Do you ever struggle in coming up with new ideas? How do you combat creative blocks?
Yes, frequently. This normally happens when I’m exhausted and when my brain is multitasking. I’ll first check off all of those things on my list that are stressing me out. Then I find that sleep helps tremendously, and I start my day of fresh focusing exclusively on creative tasks. Getting outside, whether it’s hiking, biking, or skiing, also helps to remove the clutter from my mind.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite thing is all of the badass women I get to work with. My least favorite thing would be financials, and that 20-tab Excel spreadsheet that I spend many of my days pouring over.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
I’m a visionary. I love big ideas that challenge the status quo, and I'm not afraid to execute them.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
I’m a horrible manager. Just ask anyone I manage! I’m such an independent worker that I naively expect that others are as well. If anyone has some advice on this, please get in touch.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Find mentors early on – you absolutely cannot go this alone. Having people in the industry take you under their wing is quite helpful as well, as the introductions they make and legitimacy they add to your venture are invaluable.
How do you find a work-life balance?
I don’t, nor do I know if it’s even possible when you’re running a start-up. Quite honestly, if I wanted work-life balance I would go work for someone else and clock in and out. Being a fonder and CEO and requires you to tow the line between pushing yourself to the breaking point and recognizing when you need to take a break.
What’s next for you?
After our Kickstarter, we will start digging in deep to what next season will look like, spending our summer hashing out marketing strategies, creative assets, and the like. We have a few exciting opportunities on the horizon that unfortunately cannot speak to at this moment... so stay tuned.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Become really clear on what you’re willing to suffer for, because this shit ain’t easy.
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