The Auckland Outdoors team, Alex McClary and Rob Auston, is stocked with great camping gear-- from tents to sleeping bags to backpacks-- ready to rent right here in northern Michigan this summer.
Editor's Note: Featured here is Auckland Outdoors, one of the teams being "acclerated" this summer in Coolhouse Labs. The program brings in young creatives from around the world, most of whom spend the summer drinking (lots) of coffee and working all hours at the Lab's Main Street location. When they leave, it's with a sense of understanding that big things can happen in small towns, which is accompanied by a strong desire to return to this small town in particular. We checked in with Founder Rob Auston and Alex McClary, CIO, to learn more about their company-- and their experience so far in Harbor Springs.
Give us the elevator pitch for your company.
Rob: What we do at Auckland Outdoors is make it easy for you to have authentic local outdoor experiences that put a smile on your face and allow you to create memories with the people who are important in your life.
Our current focus is on outdoor gear, so right now you can rent outdoor gear from individuals as well as local rental shops via our website www.outdoors.io. However, our users have also asked for the ability to book outdoor "experiences." So instead of just renting a paddle board, you can also book a half day paddle board "experience" where a local person who is passionate about paddle boarding will meet you and take you out for a guided paddle of the harbor.
Our vision is when you think about something you want to do outdoors, you immediately think of Auckland Outdoors as the enabler of that experience. To give you a better idea what we are working on, we created a special website for Harbor Springs at: outdoors.io/hs. On the site you can book outdoor gear and experiences in Harbor Springs, as well as list outdoor gear you own and even apply to host your own experiences. Stop by Coolhouse Labs or email me at: email@example.com if you need any help.
Where did the idea come from...and what made you decide to move from idea into action?
Rob: When I moved to Colorado I went out and bought a road bike, but I had a lot of friends that mountain biked. I couldn't afford to buy a mountain bike because I spent all my money on a road bike, plus I just didn't have the space for another bike in my 500 sq. ft studio apartment in downtown Denver. This meant that I couldn't go mountain biking and I missed out on those experiences and stories. This was the inspiration for creating something that removed the barriers to having outdoor experiences.
I've been fortunate to have some great experiences in my life. Everything from hiking the Appalachian Trail for a week to running a half marathon on the Great Wall of China. I want everyone to have access to the same experiences. At the end of your life, it's the experiences and relationships that are important, not the material things you have accumulated.
What sets your business apart from what is already "out there" + what hole in the market will you be filling?
Rob: The challenge today is that it is just hard to find and book authentic local outdoor experiences.
How did you decide to apply for Coolhouse Labs? What attracted you to the program most?
Rob: I liked the idea of getting away from all the distractions you find in big cities. Also, I grew up in Michigan and have family here, so I was excited by the opportunity to spend the summer on Lake Michigan.
Were you familiar with the area at all? First impressions?
Rob: I grew up in Battle Creek, MI and went to school at the University of Michigan, but I never made it farther north than Traverse City. As soon as I got to town I unpacked my road bike and headed out for a ride down M-119. I had heard there were great places to ride, but I was surprised by how beautiful and peaceful it was to ride along Lake Michigan. I still feel that way every time I get out on the bike here.
Alex: No, I was not familiar with the area. This summer is my first time living in Harbor Springs. I thought it would be a small country town like the city my grandparents live in. My first impressions of Harbor were great. People were generous and outgoing, made me feel more comfortable in a completely new spot.
What are the benefits/challenges of working in a small town (so far)?
Rob: I don't have a car, so I like how easy it is to get around town. I also like how friendly people are here. I'd say the biggest challenge is just traveling to/from here, but at the same time that is really what makes it unique.
Alex: Harbor Springs takes you away from the multiple distractions of downtown Denver, but you do not feel isolated in the middle of nowhere. The benefit of being in Harbor is that I can do lots of work and not be distracted, but also have the ability look outside and see Lake Michigan.
What local shop or restaurant has become a staple for you in Harbor Springs? Why?
Rob: I enjoy going to the farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday morning. It's about the only time each week that I feel like I'm on vacation. I also enjoy Pond Hill Farm. I'm planning to stop there for a beer on my next bike ride...on the way back.
Alex: Turkeys. Great people and I like their hot dogs and chips.
How do you think having a program like Coolhouse helps a community like this one?
Rob: I think Coolhouse helps the community by bringing in a diverse set of people and perspectives.
Alex: Coolhouse helps the community by bringing new and interesting ideas to people that can help better shape those concepts. I love pitching our company and getting feedback when people stop by and ask about Coolhouse. Its great when locals offer to help and are excited about what we are doing.
Do you have a favorite "small town" story or experience to share from your time here?
Rob: I've got a few stories. One of the first nights here I was having dinner with one of the host families and in conversation it came up that nobody locks their bike up and some people even leave their car keys in the ignition all the time. I could believe the bike part, but I was a bit skeptical about the car thing. The next day I was coming home from dinner at Turkeys and sure enough I walked by a car with the keys in the ignition!
Also, on the 4th of July I ran the Paul Revere 10 miler and I really enjoyed how easy everything was. I literally got out of bed 30 minutes before the start, grabbed a coffee at the Stained Cup, left my bike outside the police station (unlocked) and walked to the starting line just in time start. Back home I would've had to get up at least 2 hours before, drive, park, and walk 20 minutes the start.