This week, Series W talks to Jean Luo, founder of Outdoor Pass.
Tell us about Outdoor Pass!
Our mission at Outdoor Pass is to inspire and enable people to lead more active lives. Our service helps people discover and do local outdoor and “out-of-doors” activities with friends and community on a recurring basis.Outdoor activities include 5Ks and fun runs, hiking and yoga excursions, and local ski lift tickets, while “out-of-doors” activities are more discovery-focused and include anything from local concerts and film festivals to sake brewing to seasonal activities like corn mazes.
For $30/month, members receive a personalized curated list of recommended activities each month. They can do 1 activity for free and choose to do up to 4 additional activities for a la carte pricing of $30 each. All activities retail for $30 or more. Members can bring as many friends as they like to each activity, with friends paying the same $30 rate as a courtesy.For our activity provider partners, we provide new customers and incremental revenue for their excess inventory. As we learn more about what our customers like, we plan to be thought partners for our providers to help them optimize their operations.Think of a ClassPass Core model paired with Birchbox’s monthly personalized curation and surprise and delight plus the social features and stickiness of a mobile game like Words With Friends.
How did you develop the idea for Outdoor Pass?
I’ve wanted to improve the health and lives of others for a long time, and I’ve been thinking for years about how to help as many people as possible without being an actual doctor.When I moved to rural New Hampshire for undergrad, I discovered all these different outdoor activities I’d never encountered before – mountain biking, rock climbing, ice climbing, etc. I tried them all because the activities were pre-arranged by the outing club, and all I had to do was show up. From then on, I realized that spending time outdoors and being active with friends are a huge part of maintaining mental, physical, and social health.We know that an active lifestyle is a form of preventative health and lots of people want to lead more active lives, but it’s not easy to do. The problem is that we don’t know what activities to do, or where to find them. We’re overwhelmed by the different options, or too intimidated to try new things, or we just don’t have time to plan and book activities over and over.
As a product manager prior to HBS, I worked on personalization, machine learning, and social and behavioral design for apps, and I knew I could apply these features to solve this problem. We designed Outdoor Pass to be a tech-enabled service that presents people with exactly the activities they want to do (and even activities they didn’t know they wanted to do). We believe that this personalized solution plus native social and community features will keep members engaged over the long term and help them lead more fun and adventurous (and happier, healthier) lives.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?
I came into HBS promising myself that I’d spend these two years taking risks on myself. I wanted to start my own company, and I thought that I could use these 2 years to incubate an idea and try it out. Still, I wasn’t sure if I had the guts to really launch something or to dedicate the only free summer I had to pursing my own idea. Who did I think I was that I could just start a company on my own? So instead of metaphorically “taking a plunge,” I took bite-sized risks: when I first had some sort of idea for Outdoor Pass, I signed up for a pitch competition to force myself to elucidate the idea to a room of 300+ people in under 60 seconds. I ran the idea by anyone who’d listen. I applied to programs and incubators. I took small risks towards starting a company until I worked up the courage for the next step, which was to buy into my idea and dedicate my summer to working on Outdoor Pass full time.
What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
I had been working with a former colleague of mine (a developer) on a part-time basis since the beginning of the year (around January) to create an MVP for Outdoor Pass. We agreed that we didn’t need to discuss equity allocation until company incorporation, which we anticipated to be over a year away – not until I had to raise money. However, as we rushed towards our launch date this summer, I realized that in order to launch and accept customer payments without personal liability, I had to assign all IP to the company by incorporating and therefore defining the equity allocation.
I immediately flew to SF to meet my former colleague for an accelerated conversation with the pressure of launching in a week. At first, we seemed to be on the same page, but it slowly became clear that over the course of many months, we grew to have very different understandings of our respective roles on the team. So different, in fact, that we were unable to come to an agreement and he refused to assign any of the IP (backend app work) to the company under any circumstances. We parted ways after having worked on the product together for half a year, and I was left without any of the backend that I had designed and he had implemented. It was devastating at the time. I felt personally betrayed, and I felt our launch was torpedoed by this one situation and that everything my team of 4 interns and I had worked on all summer was for naught.
However, with the help of my amazing advisors, I realized that a fully built out backend was not necessary, and the product I had created with my former colleague was overbuilt. What we needed at the time was something light, flexible, and 100% self-created: a true minimum viable product. So I mentally reset that weekend and then starting that Monday, my team re-designed and re-created a “true MVP” of the Outdoor Pass product, with 0 backend coding knowledge between the lot of us. We were able to launch an alpha version of Outdoor Pass within a week, which we used to test, iterate, and improve the product with customers over the remainder of the summer.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
The most exciting moment was (re)-creating the product from the ground up with my interns over the course of a 1-week sprint. I’m still amazed at what we were able to do, and I’m so proud of the team for believing in the vision and diving in and executing on it together. Instead of feeling defeated by the WFIO incident, I emerged feeling more unafraid and believing that I could survive pretty much anything going forward. I’m really excited for what’s to come!
How can HBS readers try Outdoor Pass?
Yes! We’re currently running a 70% off Pre-Black Friday Promotion for readers!
Join before Nov 28 to try your first month of Outdoor Pass membership for only $10, including 1 activity.
Go to http://www.outdoorpass.co/#/beta for more info and to join today!