Let’s start with the one-liner – what is your company? What do you sell?
Steve Silberberg: Fitpacking
We take people on backpacking adventure vacations to get fit and lose fat
Tell us your origin story.
Steve Silberberg: My father died shortly after he turned 54. When I turned 40, I started thinking about what would happen if I only had 14 years left to live. I had worked in corporate settings all my adult life but yearned to spend more time in the wilderness hiking. Whenever I went out backpacking for a week, I’d return refreshed, stronger and my belt was not as tight.
I thought that maybe I could introduce others to backpacking while getting out there myself and turn it into a business. So 15 years ago, I founded Fitpacking.
Did you need a lot of capital to start your business? How did you finance your business in the beginning?
Steve Silberberg: The capital was necessary, but not because I needed to purchase equipment and supplies and that sort of thing. Since businesses aren’t profitable the day you start them, it took a cushion of savings to float the company (and myself) while the business became viable. Fortunately, many years of corporate work gave me funds to fall back on to finance the business.
How did you grow? Tell us about a moment, or moments, in the early days that were “big moments” for the business. What moved the needle substantially?
Steve Silberberg: We are still waiting for that “Big Moment” when the business turns the corner. I spent 20 years of corporate life waiting for a big moment too. Maybe this interview is the one that will change everything.
Steve Silberberg: I’ve always loved the woods and the wilderness and started backpacking with the Boy Scouts in the 1970s. I saw a market that wasn’t being served and decided to go for it. Although truth to be told, the business is self-serving in a lot of ways. We offer certain destinations because I want to visit them.
I also have a not-so-secret ambition of introducing people to the wilderness in order to inspire them to protect it.
Steve Silberberg: Although originally designed as a fat loss business, it has evolved into more of a lifestyle/recreation business. The health benefits are still there, but many people just want to visit various National Parks and Forests before they are sold off to industry, destroyed by climate change or burn.
Steve Silberberg: We are still waiting for that “Big Moment” when the business turns the corner. I spent 20 years of corporate life waiting for a big moment too.
Maybe this interview is the one that will change everything.
Steve Silberberg: Next to marketing, scaling up is the biggest hurdle we face. You just can’t go from offering 30 trips per year to offering 100 without huge infrastructure changes. There is no clear path to doing so without taking on crushing debt.
Steve Silberberg: I have been fortunate to work with several capable people who not only take their responsibilities seriously but are good at things that I am not. For example, I am an awful negotiator but have an associate who is good at it and likes doing it. So it’s a no-brainer to delegate.
I find that the best way to delegate is to ask rather than tell. Talented staffs want to do what’s asked of them. Nobody likes to be told what to do.
Steve Silberberg: Most of the risks I have taken have turned out neutral or poorly. This usually involves running trips internationally without really researching what’s involved.
Steve Silberberg: I have considered taking on partners, but seem to attract people with great ambitions who want to take over, not out of malice but because of supreme confidence and the need to run things. Picture someone in a motivational seminar who’s all pumped to try out this, that, and the other thing. But a business is a marathon, not a sprint.
I am hoping to either pass on the company to my staff or be taken over by another similar outfit (I have one in mind).
Steve Silberberg: Money is the biggest sacrifice. I earn about 20% of what I used to. The business doesn’t even gross as much as I was earning just prior to starting it.
Steve Silberberg: Every day in the backcountry, I wake up to big skies, thundering rivers, towering mountains, and charismatic wildlife. Everything I need is carried with me as I wander the wilderness for up to 2 weeks at a time. Wait, what was the question?
Steve Silberberg: Nothing. For any positive quality I possess, I have seen others with a superior version of that quality.
Steve Silberberg: Writing software as I did previous to starting the company.
Steve Silberberg: In a post-apocalyptic dystopian wasteland destroyed by the avarice of the 1%.
Steve Silberberg: When you get into the working world, work full-time jobs not contracting positions. At least for the first 10-15 years. Keep saving and use the time value of money to free yourself from financial uncertainty in the future.