I came out of the Rwenzoris mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Congo completing the most successful personal expedition in over four years since a bad injury and surgery. I was flying high as a kite. I completed one of the hardest treks in the world and climbed the three high peaks ranging from 16-17k ft high. “I’m back! I was born to climb big mountains and I’m back!!!” was the refrain in my head…
Until I opened my email and saw the subject line: “PathWrangler is CLOSING – March 21, 2015 (IMPORTANT!)”
My jaw dropped, heart stopped, and blood pressure spiked. NOOOOOOOO!
The owner, Doug Heinz, is a good buddy of mine. We worked together at Moody’s KMV in the quantitative fixed income analytics field in the mid-2000s, both of us going on to a few other jobs until ultimately fleeing the corporate world.
Doug started PathWrangler in 2010 with another buddy, Eric Remza, my favorite Alpine Ascents Intl guide who taught me all my early mountaineering foundation (legend has it they bumped into each other on the North side of Everest and found they knew me in common-I’d like to take credit for the birth of PathWrangler!). I acquired Call of the Wild Adventures, Inc, adventure travel for women in 2012 to pursue my passion of empowering women through positive experiences in the outdoors.
WHY PATHWRANGLER FUCKING ROCKS
I immediately made Call of the Wild a client of Pathwrangler, and as Doug tells me, one of his model clients in terms of fully embracing PW. I didn’t become a client for Doug or Eric, I became a client because in the first few months of taking over the business I saw some MAJOR issues that were intense, costly administrative burdens that negatively impacted the client experience, including but not limited to:
- Document control issues – Some people wanted pdfs so the formatting would look good. Other clients didn’t have Adobe Acrobat and wanted Word versions. Some had Macs and didn’t have Word on their computers. Version control was an issue…Buddha forbid you ever had to make a correction and send an updated document. Staff would send the wrong ones, clients could never find the email with the right one. We needed a universal format that people could access at any time and we could update simultaneously – PathWrangler does exactly that.
- Improved gear list – Clients had long complained that the gear list didn’t have product recommendations. We were challenged to provide meaningful recommendations and facilitate the research and purchase of appropriate gear. I was so excited that PW allows for comments about each item on the gear list and we can even add direct links to the products that we could easily update.
- Streamlined questions – Many clients have the same questions, or later they become frustrated to find out someone else asked a question from which they could have benefited. The typical way to handle client questions is one on one email correspondence or phone calls, hopefully logging the answers that at some point should be distributed to the rest of the clients or incorporated into trip materials. It’s time consuming and error prone. With PW, we encourage clients to ask questions in the discussion area (and when they don’t we still post their question and the answer for all to see). Everyone gets to benefit from that information. Further, if a client asks a question that really should be in the official trip materials, we can easily and immediately add it to that trip’s overview section (without having to send out a new version of a document!).
- Facilitating client communication – Not only do we encourage questions, we post who the clients are, where they are from, and encourage them to introduce themselves. It’s totally optional to participate, and I would estimate around 75% of clients embrace this aspect. They LOVE getting to know each other before a trip – it’s a great sign of success when a group already has inside jokes before they even show up on a trip! Further, we are often asked to help facilitate carpooling, hotel sharing, etc between clients to help get their costs down and reduce the stress of traveling alone to a new place. Due to liability and high administrative burden, we can’t get involved in these discussions, but the clients can have them on PW. We have seen women indeed share rental car costs, hotels, even travel to other states to meet and train in preparation for some of our tougher trips.
- Reminders – We love to post periodic reminders without flooding clients’ email inboxes. Once the trip is staffed, we post the guide bios and invite the guides so that they can get to know each other. For trips that require training, we put reminders about where they should be with their program. For trips with deadlines, such as procuring international visas, we can post reminders. For international trips, we post travel recommendations 2 weeks before. All of these posts live in one place on the discussion forum so that the clients can see them at any time and don’t have to go back to an inbox to search for a needle in a haystack.
The discussions are off the hook for Kilimanjaro 2015. Arranging training hikes and even weekend training trips. Tons of gear questions. Age comparisons with everyone vying for the title of the oldest. It’s also the first time I’ve been donned a trip nickname PRE-trip (“Excrement Expert” or E.E. for short) 🙂
I’ve already written too much about how PW makes our lives and those of our clients easier…but it’s critical to understand what a blow this email was. I felt for Doug as I knew how hard he had worked over the last 5 years, how he was always available to service our account, how he had not paid himself and paid others from his shallow pockets because he believed in the value of PW.
But then I selfishly thought of the pain, time, and expense that myself and Call of the Wild were about to go through transitioning back to the old way of doing things, and I said, “You deserve this.” Why would that be my first thought???
PATS ON THE BACK ARE NOT ENOUGH
Well meaning folks give entrepreneurs like myself and Doug lots of “pats on the back.” You are amazing. Your passion is infectious. You are having positive impact on the world. What’s it like to be your own boss? Must be soooooo AMAZING. Blah, blah, blah.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because positive feedback is wonderful. But in the end, we are running businesses. And businesses need to be financially sustainable to survive. Words don’t pay the bills or create profits.
I gave Doug lots of pats on the back as well and had often pondered calling Doug and saying, “You know, PW adds so much value to our business, I just don’t feel right paying a piddly $25/month.” The pricing is based on number of users, and as we only have one admin, we are at the bottom of the pay scale. However, PW is now an integral part of the way we service our customers and create community. Even though our margins are as thin as the rest of the adventure travel industry, I would easily justify paying $200/mo, one of our higher monthly commitments.
But I never did it.
Now, faced with the closure of PW, I am banding together with my advisory board and other PW clients to donate bridge money to keep it open. PW simple cannot die. It has no competitors. It has revolutionized my adventure travel business. It can revolutionize others. Doug is a great visionary who can execute. I truly don’t have $$ to spare, my pockets are shallow as well, but where there is a will, there is a way. I still have some retirement savings, and I’m pulling what I can to keep PW afloat. I’m putting my money where my mouth is.
MAKE YOUR CHOICE NOW
What are you willing to do to support a person, an idea, a great business that simply must stay in existence?
Think about it. Don’t be one of those people, for example, who laments the closure of some small business in your community because you chose to shop at Big Box retailers when it was more convenient. Or one of those PW clients who is using the service for free but haven’t converted to a (crazy low monthly) paid subscription. “Oh, it was so sad to see them go. I should have done my part to support them more.”
Don’t wait, do it now! Put your money where your mouth is for the things you believe in. Oh, yeah, and sign up for a Call of the Wild trip
while you’re at it! 😉