Things I’ve Learned: “It pays to be genuine” says Bruce Edgerly, Backcountry Access co-founder
Interview by Kim Havell
Bruce Edgerly grew up in suburban Boston, skiing at Holderness Ski Academy in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He went on to race for Brown University, where he graduated with a degree in Engineering, but not before a season ski bumming at Alta. After numerous speeding incidents, the patrol pulled his season pass. That’s when he started backcountry skiing. In 1994, he and his partner Bruce McGowan started snow safety manufacturer Backcountry Access (BCA) out of a garage. John Hereford joined the team and designed the world’s first easy-to-use digital beacon. The Tracker put BCA on the map. Though BCA develops products to meet the evolving needs of backcountry skiers, their biggest mission is to educate. Edgerly is the Vice President of Marketing and Sales.
Through our business, we get to save lives. It’s rewarding.
It pays to be genuine. People in the ski industry are generally intelligent, educated and passionate. They can detect BS from a mile away. The people who do best are the ones who are fully dedicated to the sport for the right reason: living to ski, not getting famous or making a fortune.
When the Tracker beacon finally came to fruition, we were proud and cocky. We made some grandiose claims about being able to save lives without practicing much in the application. We soon realized that education is far more important than equipment. Since then we’ve made education a huge priority for BCA, and you’ll see this in the way we’re promoting our Float airbags.
We’ve had some major ups and downs along the way, through which we’ve learned that to get buy-in from customers, you need to solicit and listen to their feedback early in the process. We left out the guides when we were working on the Tracker. It took them ten years to forgive us.
The Tracker DTS revolutionized the snow safety industry. It became the best-selling beacon in North America in about two years. The Tracker2 is now the best-selling beacon.
It used to be that the trends in the ski industry came out of Europe. Now the tide has changed and North America is driving those trends. In Europe, backcountry skiing has always been about the ascent. The freeskiing movement, with the emphasis on the descent, has added a ton of energy to the sport. Now, Europeans are looking this way to spot trends in the industry.
Everything happens in cycles. In the beacon world, we’ve seen an outburst of features but then a return to simplicity. If you hold out long enough, then you start seeing through the cycles and spotting the longer range trends.
We’ve always targeted what we see as the mass market if there is such a thing in backcountry skiing. So we’re well positioned as the sport gradually goes mainstream.
An experienced innovator knows that you don’t have to hit a home run every time; you just have to get on base, then work your way around the bases to the plate. Homers are rare. Most of the time it’s the incremental improvements that separate you from the pack.
You’d better believe in your product if you’re going to invest in a patent. Not only does it cost big bucks, but it also can be very time consuming to apply as well as to manage the intellectual property. In most cases, you’re better off investing that money in marketing, getting out front quickly and staying out front.
In the past our creative process has been to get out and ski as much as possible and look for opportunities while we’re out there. But now we get an overwhelming amount of feedback and opinions coming our way, whether we’re in the field or not.
One way we’ve been able to stay ahead of the curve is to constantly re-educate ourselves in snow safety. Most of our sales, marketing and product development team members are taking avalanche and guiding courses on a regular basis.
Our president and co-founder, Bruce “Bruno” McGowan, is a sound strategist and visionary. He keeps our eye on the big picture and cracks the whip to make sure we’re constantly improving our processes and operating like a real business instead of a bunch of idealistic ski bums. Bruno is the brain behind BCA. I’m the muscle. You should be interviewing him instead of me.