Episode 133

A Chat with Our Favorite Predictor of Powder:
Joel Gratz on Turning a Passion (for Powder) into a Business

For those of you not in the know, Joel Gratz is the CEO and founder at OpenSnow, a company well known in the mountains for their spot-on weather forecasting for both snow in the winter and hiking in the summer.

He is the Prognosticator of Powder, if you will.

Joel’s forecasting is an integral part of our weekly planning, especially in the winter, when how much and where the powder is going to fall dictates the timing of everything else around it. Which is why we are in full superfan mode for this episode, as Joel talks all about his journey in the founding of his business and the integral elements that made it the success it is today.

Are you in the Joel Gratz fan club? We’ve been members since 2007. Here’s to an amazing 2023-24 winter season!

Listen Now

Connect with Joel:

OpenSnow.com

LinkedIn

Joel’s Bio

Joel really (really) likes three things: Weather, snow, and skiing.

After a childhood spent ski racing and teaching skiing at Shawnee Mountain in Pennsylvania, Joel attended Penn State to study meteorology and to continue ski racing.

After graduating at the top of his meteorology class in 2003, Joel moved to Boulder, Colorado to enjoy the good life in Colorado and to attend graduate school. While earning a Masters in Environmental Studies and an MBA, Joel realized that forecasting snow in the big mountains of Colorado was very difficult and missed a few incredible powder days due to inaccurate forecasts made by himself and others.

Vowing to not miss another powder day, Joel studied the mountain weather patterns of Colorado and started sharing forecasts in 2007 via an email list called Colorado Powder Forecast.

In 2009, Joel moved his forecasts online to ColoradoPowderForecast.com, and this site became known as the go-to source for snow forecasts in Colorado. In 2010, Joel left his full-time employer to start a business around forecasting weather and skiing powder. And during 2011, a fortuitous thing happened and Joel met another meteorologist and programmer named Andrew Murray. The two teamed up to create OpenSnow.com and the rest is (snowy) history.

Joel still lives in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, home to an incredible number of supportive entrepreneurs. You can find Joel skiing deep powder both in bounds and in the backcountry, as well as hiking, biking, and chasing thunderstorms in the summer months.

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Transcript:

Angie 

Welcome to no more Mondays, the podcast that helps you navigate career challenges through the wisdom of professionals who have been at the same crossroads. I’m your host, Andy Callen, and I welcome you to join me each week as I chat with leaders, entrepreneurs and employees who are here to share their practical tactical advice and some inspiration on how they arrived at career and life satisfaction. From job searching and career changes to going out on your own. We are breaking down barriers and providing actionable takeaways to help you take charge of your Mondays and ditch those Sunday blues. Welcome to no more Mondays. Hey, everybody, and welcome to no more Mondays. I am your host, Angie Callen. Do you have that little thing in the back of your head an idea, an inkling a wish that if I could do anything, I would dot dot dot and then the bad start, but it would make enough money but there’s too much competition. I don’t know how it’s just too niche II. Well, today’s guest is going to get you thinking about everything you think you know about what it means to take your passion and turn it into your purpose, your business and your brand. Joel Gratz has spent the past 20 years building a successful business in a very unique, nerdy and niche II space. As a kid he dreamed of being a meteorologist and unlike most of us, he actually ran with what I want to be when I grow up and became it and he has established a name for himself at a niche intersection of the weather industry. You’d never think there was a big enough market to corner snowfall forecasting. Oh yes, my friends today I know more Mondays we are talking about skiing. Joel is the founder of a very popular app called Open snow and this guy quite literally found a way to make every day a powder day ditch Mondays at adopt the strictest six inch rule in the professional world. He’s a scientist and entrepreneur, a fellow powder hound. And as I look at him even though you can’t see him, we are going toe to toe for the best goggle 10 of the Year. I hope you will all help me. Welcome to the show. Joel Gratz. Joel, welcome to no more Mondays.

Joel 

Thank you apparently I need to use more sunscreen.

Angie 

Yeah, me too. I always forget. And sometimes, you know if I’m really honest about it, it’s it. As Jim has always said, it’s a mark of distinction. So maybe I maybe I shouldn’t use more sunscreen.

Joel 

Possibly. Although the older I get the more seemingly responsible I feel like I should be taking care of my skin. So it’s Yeah.

Angie 

And and also, I have to explain my shining white forehead to my clients in Florida who are like, Why do you have half of a tan?

Joel 

It happens to the best of us.

Angie 

And it’s already started already everybody, it’s probably going to be one of the geekiest episodes of no more Monday’s ever, because you’ve got a former engineer who loves to ski talking to the leading resort forecaster in the market. So we’re gonna get into all kinds of cool things about snow, weather and business. But I thought it would be fun to just give all of you a little frame of reference. So, Joe, let’s start with open snow. Tell everybody a little bit about it. Because some people might not even know what it is and kind of what you’re doing in that weather technology space.

Joel 

Absolutely. So open snow is like any other weather app you have on your phone from the Weather Channel, AccuWeather, a dark sky, your apple weather, whatever it might be. But we focus on just one thing, which is well, mostly one thing that’s expanding, which I’ll talk about in a second, we focus on snow forecasting for skiers, because I discovered about 15 years ago, that powder skiing or skiing in fresh snow was many magnitudes more enjoyable, at least to me than skiing on non powder snow. And the trick though, is that powder is perishable. You have to be at the right place at the exact right time. And there’s a lot of ways that this all doesn’t work and you have not quite the most fun day ever. And so I got into forecasting powder and skiing powder for myself and my friends. I’m a selfish only child I did this for me but quickly realized that there were a few other people that told their friends that told their friends to told their friends. And we created a very nice as you said niche, but but plenty big enough business to support a small team and a great lifestyle.

Angie 

Well, I think what is even just so very practically, what is so interesting about this is you had a problem and you solved it for yourself. It turns out other people had that problem. And I just have to tell all of you in the back end. So Jim, as many of you know, is my producer. And so he’s sitting here listening and he is a Joel fanboy. And so if you just if you could all see this like chat of questions. I am being told as Joel right now you would be correct. You would be so the first thing Joe, this is a compliment. When you said oh it’s like any other weather app you have on your phone. Jim goes except it’s accurate and that’s really Why I think one element of success is you found a way to be, you know, an accurate prediction, because we all know how disappointing it is to go to the mountain and think you’re gonna ski 12 inches of powder. And then it’s one, right. So that was part of the issue, right that you were trying to solve?

Joel 

Absolutely, I remember I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, we did not get a lot of snow, which made me love snow, when we got it. But I distinctly remember days, when school would be canceled the night before due to a forecast and I would wake up, excited to open my shades and look out to see six inches of snow covered ground, which by the way, six inches in eastern Pennsylvania is plenty to cancel school, but to see six inches, you know of so and it would be brown ground, right? Nothing would be there. And it’d be super disappointed. And now we take that, that kind of consequence, upper level, right for for a lot of us powder hands, because on the one hand, sure, it’s just fun to ski and we’re a little disappointed. But on the other hand, a lot of us are making kind of impactful life decisions about are we going to take off a few days, or a few hours of work or school to try to, you know, go ski powder, some people are going to fly across the country or drive many, many hours and rearrange their life to try to get a couple of hours of of good skiing one morning. And if the forecast is wrong, it’s everybody realizes that the forecast can be wrong, that the weather isn’t perfectly for castable. But you don’t want to be wrong, right. And you know that there’s real consequences there. So this is something that I felt that deep level of disappointment when the forecast was wrong, both on both sides, right, you either got more snow than expected. And I felt like I should have been somewhere where I wasn’t, or you got less snow than he expected. And you were mad that you know, you took off a day at work to go somewhere and uninstall that much. And so we are trying to get it as right as possible. Now that is impossible in meteorology to get every forecast exactly right. But we are trying to fine tune our models for mostly mountain environments, which turn out to be quite difficult to forecast. And I think for for many people listening, if you live in a reasonably flat area, while there can be some changes in the weather, you know, it gets a little bit more snow or a little bit more rain to the east or the west of you or something like that. You’re not quite used to the differences in the weather that can happen in big mountains over just a very short period or short area, you go up a couple 1000 feet in elevation, things change quite a bit, you go to a different Valley on the other side of the mountain things change quite a bit. So we’re trying to figure that out. Because that will that might seem kind of like a just a fun, odd geeky science problem to many people for us. And we’re recreating in the backcountry, this is very Annette resorts. This is very impactful. And so it’s both a fun science problem. And something that leads to quite a bit of fun in the real world outside of you know, just science and data.

Angie 

Well, that’s what I think is so cool about it is it’s that it’s that intersection of solving a problem that helps you recreate the way you want to recreate even better. And I think the you know, we’re talking about OpenStack. But there’s actually is open Summit, right is the kind of summer so that, so for all of us, you that live on the coast, and you’re like I don’t get these people who like snow, if you surf, you know, we’re talking about basically the winter version of surfing. And so you’ve also found a way to translate this to kind of like more summer in an ocean forecasting as well, right?

Joel 

Mostly, so we stay at this point away from from oceans, because it’s just not our expertise. And just an interesting kind of story about how this all started. There is a website and an app called surf line, which does what we do but for surfing, and they were around since I believe the 70s as a call in line, surf line, like you would call a one 900 Number and somebody would record, you know what they thought what they saw in the surf and what they thought the forecast would be. And that was the genesis of surf line. But surf line was a successful business for decades. And then in the 90s. They brought it online. And then of course, in the 2000s it was an app, but they were around as a successful business when I was thinking about starting open snow and our business and I got connected to them. And their CEO at the time was helpful with his time and encouragement. And you know, we weren’t competing and we still aren’t. And and he was just supportive. This is how we started. This is how we make money, you know, and just would answer my questions. And I think a lot of people believe that entrepreneurship is just this, this you know, gift or this spark and all of a sudden you just create something new out of thin air. But the reality for almost everybody almost all the time is you’re learning from so many other people and so many other businesses, and most entrepreneurs don’t just start right out of college and they have an idea and they have no idea perience and they just go, that’s the celebrated story. But that’s not the usual story. And for me, I had a real job after grad school and I was working. And so I had a couple of years of seeing what a, you know, quote unquote real company was like, and the pros and cons and how you run a bigger organization, I was able to talk to surf line and see other examples of businesses that were working in this space. And all of that experience is what eventually coalesced in my mind to understand how to begin this. It’s not like I was just some genius and came up one morning, you know, with an idea with no background and no understanding. And so it’s all about learning from others. So that was the surfing aspect. But open Summit, we realized, hey, all these people that are skiing in powder, or winter, what are we doing all summer, we’re mountain biking, or hiking, or climbing all these things, also in mountains. And so we are when I go hike, I am terrified of being struck by lightning. Now I know it’s a very low risk. But when you’re above treeline, meaning you’re at very high elevations where there’s no more trees up there, if you’re on a ridgeline, it’s not like lightning is exactly attracted to you, but you’re probably in about the worst spot that you could be, if there’s a thunderstorm, you have a you don’t want to be there. So when my family and I go hiking, you know, I look at all these tools, neurological tools to figure out when to go where to go. So I have a very, very low chance of being caught in a thunderstorm. So we’re trying to bring that level of kind of forecasting to people as well, I will give you a little sneak preview. I don’t think we’ve mentioned this publicly yet. But this is just another kind of busy thing. We have a very small team of seven people full time. And we have two brands, open stone open Summit, open sevens kind of like the summertime version of open snow. Well, it turns out that each one has a website, each one has an Android app, each one has an iOS app. Right. So now we’re kind of double efforting. Now, a lot of the techniques same technology goes into both. But we have kind of two brands, you have to download two apps, we have to market to different brands. So we’re going to slowly but surely this spring and into early summer, integrate most of the features of open summit into open snow, we’re already about halfway there. Because open snow is the far more successful, far more downloaded app. So while from a branding perspective, it’s going to feel a little bit weird to open up your phone and look at open snow. During the summer, people are so used to looking at open snow and understanding it, that it just made more sense for us to coalesce around around one brand. So that will that’s a little sneak preview of what’s coming up to through early summer that I haven’t mentioned before, but it just makes sense from a small team perspective to not have to kind of double up the technology.

Angie 

There’s so many so you brought up something I actually want to talk about which is was a present perfect segue. But I think this is really interesting for it because I what I think is really fascinating about this and you kind of alluded to it is that open snow evolved open snow didn’t just become and and that was through mentorship and and and information gathering. And also as a, as a scientist shocker looking at the data of the business and figuring out kind of what was available in what isn’t, I love the idea of basically like it’s open, it’s open adventure, which everybody out everybody who listens knows how much I’m a big fan of kind of like the whole get outside movement and an idea of like how much you can discover about yourself by being outside. And I love somebody who wants to like enable that and support all of us to get outside and adventure, you know, in an informed way. Because if you’ve ever hiked to fourteener and you see the great clouds coming in, you’re like, Oh, I gotta go. I gotta hurry. So talk to me a little bit more about the the evolution because this started is Colorado powder forecast, which was almost more of like a blog, right? And then it it’s morphed over the years as as you’ve gotten more information under your belt. And I think that that’s really interesting for people out there to hear that you don’t have to go big right out of the gate. It can it can build. So talk to me a little bit more about that evolution.

Joel 

Yep. So So surfline when I looked at them 1520 years ago, they are similar to what we have now we have forecasts and data and local people writing everyday and all that. But you’re exactly right. It didn’t start that way. I am, I could hack together a blog 15 years ago, before, you know you needed a little bit of programming knowledge. Now you basically don’t need any programming knowledge to throw up a blog. But I hacked this together just because I would email my friends a forecast weekly and say, Okay, I think we should all go ski, you know, make up a play steamboat on Friday. And for this, you know, for such and such reason, and my friends were relentlessly mean to me, because your friends are like family, and they don’t ever let you live down when you make a mistake. And so I’m terrible. And so while some of the forecasts would work out pretty well, some of them would not. And they will let me have it. But so I just started an email, I would just write this you know, at 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock at night after work and after having dinner. And I would just write to everybody and then it started with 37 people This was just me telling friends where we should speak. Because honestly, I was just I was just mad that they all kept texting me. And I was like, I don’t want to reply to all your text individually, I’m just gonna put you on an email,

Angie 

again, a solution to a pain point, this is funny, you should come and see me or everybody,

Joel 

right? And then, and then, you know, so So and then it evolved because they told their friends and then this email went from 37 people do 100 To 200 to 300. But But this didn’t happen over the span of days, you know, this has happened in the span of two or three years. And I was working real job and was just doing this. And I kind of thought that this might have more legs when two reporters called me one season, you know, there’s a couple years later, I put the email on a blog, and I had a reporter for ESPN and a reporter for The Denver Post called me and said, Hey, we want to do a story about this. This is pretty cool. I was like, oh, you know, I mean, we’re only 500 people on an email list. And then we’re a couple 1000 people on a blog. But like, Oh, that’s interesting. And then I got a couple scary say, hey, we want to give you money and advertise. I was like, I don’t even know how to take your money. I don’t know what to sell you like I you know, I don’t know what to do. But But all of this, the bell went off in my head saying, oh, wait a second. This is just following that surfline model, right? Basically one person telling a few people what’s going on. And now we could, you know, make money in advertising. Eventually, we can make money in subscriptions. Eventually, we could program a website. So it’s more than just me blogging. And we can have data that people could look at, like kind of, quote unquote, normal weather service. And then a reader told me about two other people doing the exact same thing I was but in other areas. So I was in Colorado, there was a guy named Evan Thayer, who had started completely independently of me, no idea that we each other existed. This literally the same thing in Utah. And there was a guy, Brian alligretto, who started literally the same thing. In California. His was called Tahoe weather discussion, Evans was called wasat. snow forecast, mine was called Colorado powder forecast. We each had a tiny blog, we each did it independently, none of us knew of each other. But I kind of looked at this and said, Oh my gosh, right, we should none of us were making very much money. We all just did it for the love. But wow, if we all combined forces, now we have a regional service. And we have more of an audience. And well, maybe we’re on our way. So that that, you know, the reporters called me people wanted to advertise, I saw these other people, I saw the servlet that were blogging, I saw the surfline model. And also at the same time I was in Boulder, and this is back in the mid 2000s. And TechStars was starting. So for those of you not interested or them don’t know if TechStars it’s an incubator, which basically means Hey, if you’re starting a business, they will give you a little bit of money, but a ton of mentorship, support and try to guide you on your way on to this and a bunch of people apply not many get in. But if you apply and get in, you get all these basically world renowned mentors. And so being in Boulder being in my mid 20s, I saw all my friends that were involved or thinking about it. And so there was this, this massive support for starting businesses. And, you know, it’s not one thing that allowed me to start this business. It’s not like, Oh, I got X number of people on the block. Now I’m going to start it, or I saw surfline. Now I’m going to start it or I went to an MBA, I went through an MBA, I did go through an MBA, that wasn’t it, you know, by, you know, all by itself. It wasn’t Tech Stars being in town, it was everything. And finally, you know, I was thinking, I was thinking, I was like, Oh, my job’s okay. But this is really cool. I’m in my mid to late 20s, I don’t have any family responsibilities, therefore, my financial risk is quite low, which I don’t think many people talk about. But this is, you know, if I was now in my early 40s, with a family and a house and all that it’s not you can’t take the risk. It’s just it’s framed differently in your mind, in my mid to late 20s. I was like, Oh my gosh, you know, I’m still scared out of my mind to quit my job. But you know, what’s the worst that happens? In six months, I can’t make any money. You know, my dad gives me a few bucks to stay on my feet. And then I go get another job. And you know, I’m back at it. So all of that kind of coalesced to say, I’m gonna quit my job. And I’m gonna start this and we’re gonna figure out how to make this a business.

Angie 

So you kind of reach the point that I love that you’re get you like, you come to exactly where I want to go. It’s perfect. But you reach that point that you realize there was a ton of potential here because because you’re you’re paying attention to the signs, right? Because a lot of people get super tunnel vision to that, like, oh, I can’t do it until it’s perfect. And that’s a that’s a that’s a big important message here is that like there was an opportunity that was starting to come visible. But I think the big thing is you realize you wouldn’t be able to really have the time and bandwidth to to realize it if you hadn’t kind of made that. That leap of faith.

Joel 

That’s That’s exactly right. At some point. You just can’t do it all and I have I’m kind of known for my with my within my friend group. They don’t sleep a lot. But partially it’s just because I’m excited and I want to do way more than I should although I know that’s not the healthiest way to go. But eventually you just can’t do can’t do it all, you can’t do more. And also, I just saw, this was exciting and fun. And you know, something I did in my previous job. So I worked at a hurricane and earthquake insurance company. So I’m a meteorologist. I have a degree in meteorology, a degree in environmental studies. And I always wanted to be in some sort of business. So I did an undergrad, minor in business. And I did a concurrent MBA my grad school years. And this is not like, I’m not trying to brag of, you know, how many degrees I have or anything. And my friends make fun of me like, Oh, you have an MBA. So you know how to use, you know, make PowerPoint slides, like Ha ha, ha, got it. But But what what it all did was, you know, broaden my scope, at least a little bit of thinking about what could be out there and what all these businesses could look like in the MBA program. I was in a venture capital competition, which basically meant we just read hundreds of business plans. also really helpful. Because, you know, the first business plan I read, was like, Oh, this sounds interesting, by the 100th, you start to be able to call BS on some things that maybe might not make sense. But you have to build that muscle. Right? So anyway, all of this stuff was coming together. And I took a job at hurricane earthquake insurance company, which I thought was the perfect mix of a nerdy scientist wanting to be in business. And from an expected value problem of like, how much money? Sorry, I have to apologize to my father, who always gets on me when I say the word like, so I’m sorry, dad. I did not make that was advanced for listening, Dad. Yeah. So when I was at the insurance company, I thought it was a perfect mix Kiki weather business. And from an expected value standpoint, if I am able to work my way up in the finance world, over the course of my career, I will likely make quite a bit of money. And when you you assign probabilities to how successful Could your business be, if you started one, you know how much money you’re going to make there versus Can I just keep my corporate job and keep going, you probably will make more, you know, all things considered from a probability stability standpoint, in the corporate job. But so I was just great, let’s do this. So three or four years into that job, I enjoyed it. But I really wanted to see what the next step or two or three of that job could be. So one, and this all comes back to skiing in some way. But we had a partner with a company in London. So I was based in Boulder, Colorado, we had a partner with a company in London, and I was taking a ski trip to Switzerland, which sounds, you know, kind of off the charts, right. But I had a friend over there and I really wanted to go skiing. And again, you know, unencumbered in my mid 20s, it’s reasonably easy to travel on airline miles and without a family, and you’d have to spend a ton of money. So I went over to London, I asked my boss, I said, we have business partners in London, while I’m in Europe, you know, it’s $100 flight from from Zurich, over to London, I want to go visit our business partners in London, and see what it’s like for them. Because this is kind of the upper echelon of insurance, right? Like, this is where I could be if I keep going. And I met with them, and met with him for about a half, half a day. And I walked out of that meeting. And I had a pit in my stomach. Because I decided there that that wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t that they were wonderful people. It’s a great industry. But it wasn’t for me. And then I was in a real big problem. I am always a positive. I’ve always been a positive excited individual. But for the year after that meeting, I was really bummed because I didn’t know what to do. And that was a really, because in school, what do you do? You just go to the next grade, you try to do well, and you keep moving on? Then what do you do after school, you try to get a job, you try to keep moving on, he tried to do well, well, I reached a point where that pathway no longer was going to work for me. And so that was a big crossroads for a year. And this was not some perfect success story where I just said right there. And then ah, the heck with this, I’m done with this job. And I’m gonna go start my own thing. No, no, no, no, my own thing was making zero money. And so it took me a year to kind of understand where I was to be really bummed about it, to not really know what to do until I got up the courage from looking at all these people around me and kind of writing and taking down notes. So they said, Okay, I should probably go try to do my own thing. But it was a circuitous your it hurt. It was I was unhappy, reasonably speaking. So I mean, I share that, because it’s not just some straight line, we’re like, oh, my job stinks. I’m out of here, and I’m going to do this other thing, and everything is perfect. That that was not my experience.

Angie 

The leap of faith was not a rash decision. And so, Joe, I gotta tell you a parallel story here. Because you so I would say my big life decisions for me have been triggered by my my love of of skiing and snowboarding, and which I didn’t discover until I was out of college. So I can’t remember if I’ve ever told this story to all of you out there, but I think it’ll it’ll help kind of validate and add another another kind of limited, you know, parallel perspective to what Joel just shared that this stuff isn’t just linear and it doesn’t necessarily just happen and sometimes you do have to kind of sit in that like, I know I’m not where I want to be. So what should I do? get where I want to be want to. But after college because you know, I grew up in rural pa too, and went to engineering school at Carnegie Mellon and moved to Boston. And that’s when I learned how to ski cuz I didn’t grow up in a ski family. And I, oh my gosh, I fell in love with it. And I was driving a Maine every weekend, the shear and the ski house, which is such an East Coast thing to do, and all that, all that stuff. And then I came to Colorado on vacation. And I was like, why am I driving I 95 to go ski in Maine every weekend when I could live here. And it took a year and a half for me to make it happen. And I ended up being able to transfer through the engineering company I worked in, but even knowing I didn’t want to be an engineer. So that just worked out as a means to an end. But it was that pit in my stomach that like I know, this is where I want to be. And it ended up like chain of events just becoming a decision that had I not made I would have been this this Swiss insurance guy for you. Right, you would have been that thing that and and the reason I bring this up and want to kind of revisit, the point is that I think a lot of people in America do this is they think I’m just supposed to be the Swiss insurance guy, because that’s kind of what society tells us. But if you if your body is telling you that isn’t where you want to be, then you should explore that and lean into it and figure out how to improve the situation, even if that is a little unknown, because you didn’t know what this was gonna look like.

Joel 

That’s that’s, that’s exactly right. I had no idea what was going on. I had I had an inkling, right that there was a nice model out there. And again, that’s another thing, right? I didn’t invent this whole thing. I didn’t invent making money through advertising. I didn’t invent making money through subscriptions. Although, you know, we’d started doing it about 10 years ago. So I guess before it was like, quote, unquote, cool. But I didn’t really invent a weather company. Right. But I pulled pulled all of this stuff together in a way that made sense in my mind. And I’ve always, throughout my entire life, somehow, I don’t know whether it’s just how my brain works, or I don’t understand it. But I try to pull kind of odd disparate things together and see how they can work in certain ways. And so this one, this one all came together, you know, I’ll tell you a story about when I when I quit my job. And I, you know, I gave my my company a couple of weeks notice, and everybody’s wonderful. And I’m not talking down on the insurance industry at all, it was, you know, it was a great company I worked for and it just wasn’t for me long term. But I talked to the CEO of the company who him self had started the insurance company, I worked out. And he, you know, he said to me, Hey, you know, I’m excited for you, I always kind of thought maybe you would you would go off on your own and do something. So that’s great. He said, I have a question to ask you. You know, I’m this mid 20s guy talking to his 50s guys been in business for 30 years. So I’m a little nervous here. And he said, Do you want to make a lot of money? So I mean, you know, I didn’t know how to answer that question. And he said, You have to really think about that. And the answer doesn’t matter in terms of a yes or no, like, right or wrong. Sorry. But the answer matters in terms of how you think about what business you’re starting? Because if the answer is yes, most people want to make a lot of money, but aren’t honest with themselves about wanting to make a lot of money. And so he said, It’s fine. If you don’t want to make a lot of money, if you want to survive and have you know, not need a scalable business, then that’s great. But if you do want to make a lot of money at some point, then you need to think about that now and be honest with yourself and set up the business so that one day it can work like that. And, and he wasn’t telling me to make a lot of money or not to make a lot of money. But I always will remember that. Because when I was thinking about this business, you know, the still in the, you know, mildly early days of the internet, but no mid days of the internet. But this business is scalable, right, so there is a chance if it all worked out that it could scale and we could make a lot of money. Now I was just having just had dinner and skewed with Brian alligretto, who was our Tahoe forecaster, that guy that was just like me, but out in California. And he I never figured out a way to enunciate this until he said it. And this was just two days ago, that he said we had as a company, low expectations and high ambitions. And that was the absolute best way I’ve ever heard it describe it was low expectations and high ambitions. Because if we started with high expectations, and we created you know a financial model that said we were going to do a million in sales in our first year, basically just always going to be disappointed, I’m always going to have too much pressure on me Are you know, it’s going to be a made up number that we’re trying to chase towards that we don’t know if we could hit that or not. It’s just totally made up. But we had these ambitions of a scalable business that we thought could not only make a lot of money but could reach a lot of people and we could reinvest the profits and do really good things in meteorology and the science but we kept the expectations low so we didn’t put undue pressure on ourselves because there’s enough going on, you know to start any type of business let alone if you try to make up you know, achieve some made up number out of thin air so I’m not saying have no extra Patients, but we had low expectations, but high ambitions. And that was all just kind of coming full circle to, hey, if this thing worked out, we could have a scalable business here and you know, 15 years later, that’s where we are. But it did this was not a Zuckerberg, you know, zero to a billion in a couple years. This, by the way, we’re not at a billion. I don’t know that we’ll ever get there. Somebody asked me if, you know, we want to go public. I was like, we’re not even in, you know, some scale to even consider such a thing. And probably not I would ever want to do that. I just want to lovely company where we can do, you know, have a great team, create an amazing product for our customers, keep improving that product, and not all be stressed out.

Angie 

Oh, there’s so many good things there. And it’s, you have defined what you want. And I think that’s what’s really important. Just like the guy who says, Do you want to make a lot of money? Your answered? Like, even if you say yes, what you define is a lot of money. And what I define as a lot of money might be two different things. And so I think knowing that is important, because in this in that example of, you know, high ambition, low expectations, you were always going to outperform yourself, because you had the capacity to but had realistic, even less than realistic expectations of what you could accomplish. So it’s like, it’s like this constant hit of adrenaline like, oh, man, we did it. Oh, man, we did it. And then you just kind of keep building on it. And even now saying, I don’t know if we want to go public is completely fine. Because you get to define what that success looks like, which is super cool. And you actually ended up with a scalable product, because this went from what 37 People bugging you on texts to now Joel is a tech founder, everybody, app founder who like this is like all like all the ski resorts across the country have a forecast and open snow now. Right? So so he’s hugely scalable?

Joel 

Yeah, it is. And it’s now it’s global. So we have forecasts all over the globe. And now we just released a feature earlier this this winter season, 2223 winter season, where you can tap any point on a map, across the globe, on land around the world, and get a forecast for that spot. So most people are not most people, but a lot of people also have kind of some secret powder stashes in the back country are going hiking in this kind of obscure spot. So now you can get a forecast for all all of these locations. And so, you know, the technology could scale the subscription model. Can can scale. And so all of that has worked out, you know, we were talking to jog my, my mind about defining, defining what you want. This happened, just out of happenstance, but when I was at the insurance company working there were times when I was working on a problem until very late at night. Again, I had no family United State until 10 o’clock at night, you know, just just heads down. But there were some problems I was working on where time would just fly by. And, and one day, man, why do I like this so much, I don’t know. So I just I wrote down a couple notes, you know, on a text file, it was not some, you know, gorgeous Evernote series of, you know, blog entries or something, this was just a little text document, and it was one or two bullet points. And I would write down the things that I was working on that I would just find super exciting. And I would just work on for hours and hours and hours and not have a clue that time had passed. And the opposite would happen. Sometimes I just could not get myself motivated to do anything. And I would try to figure out why I might am I in this weird spot. And I would write down a couple bullet points. And I wound up having you know, after a couple of years really just four or five bullet points on on a text file. But But oddly after those couple of years, like that was the the runway or I guess the the map, right for me of what I actually wanted, right? I didn’t do I didn’t sit down, you know, taking substances trying to you know, allow my mind to wander, although maybe that works for some people. I just I was just, you know, in the in, in everyday life, doing things that were awesome and doing things that I felt were not awesome. I just was disciplined enough randomly to, you know, write those things down in the moment. And I have I have that list because I told people about it occasionally in presentations. But that list is just five bullet points. I need to work in weather. I have no idea. But I as since age four, I was fascinated by the weather. That’s the only thing that I am super excited about. Obviously, I love skiing and family and all that stuff. But like from a from a work standpoint, weather is just the thing have to be in weather, not tangential weather. Not like I’m working in insurance. And it’s kind of related to the weather. Like I have to be working in weather period every day. I wanted to create value and delight through unique products. And that probably sounds like some poorly written mission statement. But what I was what I was struggling with at the insurance company, we were one of many insurers that did effectively the same thing. And we filled a sort of niche there and we did it very well. But I just I wanted to do something more unique. I wanted a work environment that was autonomous and challenging and flexible. You know, they, it was more of a nine to five place. And sure I could show up late or leave a little bit early and do what I needed to do. But really, I wanted to call my own shots, if the snow was good. I mean, I still remember sitting at my desk, watching a webcam of it dumping snow at Vail, and just knowing in my brain, how much fun the powder would be, you know, some random Wednesday, there’s nobody there, it would be just an amazing day and I’m sitting at my desk, I was literally shaking, I was like shaking my desk that I wanted to be there so bad, you know, I just wanted to be at Vail skiing. And then I’d come back to work at three o’clock and work till midnight, I don’t care. But like I just wanted that ability, I wanted to do something reasonable through society through either education or giving back through money, and then run a sustainable business. And so those were the things that I realized that I wanted. And then at the very end of it, at the very end of all of those things I have written down. If I achieved those five things, then I want to make a lot of money. So that was I mean, this might sound you know, this is now 15 years old, it might sound like I just prepared some, you know spiel for the podcast or something. But like this was this was something that I developed over five years of working and and that make a lot of money thing, let me frame that because you actually brought up a great point about one person’s a lot of money is another person’s maybe not a lot of money, right? And if at all, and that’s fine. But I read a blog post by this guy named Jason Cohen, who blogs at a smart bear. And he’s a multi time founder, and probably one of the smartest business executives, bloggers that I’ve ever read. But he wrote about when he sold his first company, year, probably 1015 years ago, he made enough money to never have to look at the right side of a menu ever again. Meaning that like he didn’t have a private jet, or you know, a house that was 20,000 square feet or whatever. I don’t know what he has, but I don’t think it was that amount of money. But, you know, it was just that, hey, I have enough money. Now I can not only, you know, take care of my kids education and stuff. But hey, want to go out to a fancy dinner? I don’t, you know, I don’t really care, or, you know, the stakes. $25 versus $18 entree, you know, like, it’s fine. I just thought that was an interesting way to frame it. And the broader way to think about that was just that every day actions become less stressful from a money standpoint. I mean, yes, it’s still a big deal to buy a big house or to buy any house or to buy a car or whatever. But just the everyday thing is like, Oh, hey, you want to go out to dinner? Yeah, sure, I’ll join you or whatever version of that that is for somebody. So I thought that that was useful. And I kind of kept that in the back of my mind, too.

Angie 

It almost gives you a compass point. Also, I will be setting up a time to review your MBA PowerPoint presentation on your five objectives in life later. But if for any of those of you who are listening, who are have been clients of mine who have gone through either career change or kind of like, where do I go in my next job, what Joe just said sounds a whole lot like the things I tried to get out of people. So it doesn’t have to be just what do you want to do? It’s more like how do you want to live and work and, and those things can definitely become kind of kind of a little bit of a mission. That becomes that that roadmap that even though you don’t know the specific coordinates you’re trying to get to, you generally know you’re trying to get to the mountains to ski and the land at the resort that has the best powder. But in general, those can be guiding principles that help give you kind of a back check to your decision making. Because without them you kind of fix can feel like you’re floating around untethered. Yeah. And now you can also have this little list to look back to and go, Okay, now I can just worry about making a lot of money.

Joel 

Yeah. Well, and and achieving, you know, the other things in there. I give about 20 presentations every year to community groups, I think. And we met at one of those talks. Yes,

Angie 

we did. And if you’re looking for somebody to come talk about science, Joel is super fun, because this is like a nerdy subject and you get into enough of the science but make it like your Yeah, it’s you know, it’s like the excitement comes out. So there’s my shameless plug in favor of having like, oh, come talk to talk to your group about meteorology, or about just kind of like climate things, too.

Joel 

Yeah. And but it’s fun for me because we’re talking about the science. Right? And this is an it’s an educational aspect of this as well. I’m not just trying to, you know, scale a business and just make more money. Like I want to improve the science. I want to communicate to people why we are improving the science or at least bringing improved science to more people in different ways. So this is all very exciting. I talked to my my kindergartener, I have a five year old at home, I talked to his class about snowflakes. They were reading this book about snowflakes. And when a photographer in the 1800s, that was the first person to really take pictures, detailed pictures of snowflakes, and we talked about all the snowflakes and I showed, you know, scientific graphs that probably could have been shown to college kids, but I showed it to kindergarteners. So there was just really fun. And the kids all seem to like it. And so I love that aspect of it. And as the business matures, and I stop worrying about oh my gosh, is this a thing that will keep going? Is it going to zero Next year, how do we keep going? My mind will be more free to think about how can we infuse more educational aspects to this? How can we do more community aspect, because for a long time, I mean, it’s just heads down, you know, I applaud all the people that start their, you know, nonprofit from their business from the second that they also start their business. But gosh, it was enough work just to get this business off the ground, like I could not think about, you know, also nonprofits and giving back and I was just trying to get this whole thing working. And now that things are easier and more straightforward, I can spend more time thinking about kind of this other giving back education, money and other things that we can figure out.

Angie 

When you actually brought up a point there that I had thought earlier. And I’m glad you you kind of triggered in my mind, again, is that as, as you evolve your business, you also were able to evolve the science and the technology, of what you specialize to the point that now you actually do have models where somebody can go, Hey, I’m gonna go back country here, what’s the forecast look like? Because that technology didn’t really exist and may not have I’m gonna give you credit, Joe may not have existed had you not really perpetuated that that niche and the demand for it, and the and the need to evolve the technology so that the platform could scale. It’s like such a it’s a it’s like a chicken in the egg kind of cycle.

Joel 

Yeah, and this is, you know, one of the frustrations with other weather apps is that they’re generally geared toward the masses. And the masses generally live in cities, and want forecasts for cities, small cities, big cities, anything like that. But it’s hard oftentimes to get a forecast for that random valley that you want to go hiking, or have the confidence that the forecast you’re getting is for that random Valley, you want to go hiking, and not the nearby town that’s 35 miles away, right. And so all of these things, we’re just again, we’re scratching your own itch here. And trying to and trying to solve these problems.

Angie 

And if you like, for those of you that don’t live in mountains with like big elevation changes, the the forecast and the well the forecast could be one thing. And the weather where you’re at versus the weather, 10 minutes a day could be dressed to intendment 10 miles away can be drastically different, just because of what the mountains do to different weather patterns. And so I think that a lot of like, other ski nerds would be disappointed if we didn’t at least talk about this aspect for a couple minutes. So what happened? And I’m trying to figure out like, what, which one do we talk about? But I think I’ll ask what has been a really interesting kind of discovery for you, as you’ve gotten into this very kind of nuanced area of science and snowfall and mountain forecasting. Like what like little fun facts, or really interesting things. Have you discovered from a scientific perspective?

Joel 

Yeah, it’s. So I think a lot of people have probably heard 10 inches of snow equals one inch of rain, or something like that. And so that turns out to be a really challenging part of the How much is it going to snow equation? So there’s two ways that a snow forecast can be blown. And by the way, it’s a lot easier to be wrong on a forecast and is to be right. So one way is that the forecasting models do not forecast the right correct amount of liquid precipitation. So forecasting model does not forecast snow, explicitly. Usually, it forecasts Hey, out of this cloud over these 12 hours, one inch of liquid will fall from that cloud. But then we have to say, Okay, if the temperatures are in the right zone, and the winds in the right zone and the moisture is in the right zone, that liquid will actually fall as snow. Okay, how do we convert that one inch of liquid into how much snow? Now everybody, you know, talks about it’s 10 to one, so one inch of liquid would be 10 inches of snow. But that is far, far far from a given and is generally not true. On average, it might go to 10 to one on a lot of coastal areas or in the east coast. But especially in mountains, it varies quite a bit. If it’s warmer, it can be thicker snow, it can be five to one like that snowball snow, it’s like gloppy, and you put it together and water just comes out of the snow, on the flip side fluffy snow that you could just pick up in your hand, you could blow on it, and it would just disappear into the sky could be 20 to 120 inches of snow to one inch of liquid. So trying to go back and read the literature, you know, in in meteorological journals in over the last 30 years and try to understand the physics of snowflake production and come up with how do we model that snow it’s called Snow to liquid ratio was really challenging. Now we’re far from the first people that are trying to do this. You know, this is this has been around for decades. But we’re trying to hone it in on what our experience has been on the mountains. And so that was one piece of the puzzle that you know, we’re always still trying to improve on I have a couple of notes here that I want to improve upon over the summer. That was one thing that was pretty fun. And so just for perspective of good powder day starts at about A 15 to one ratio meaning 15 inches of snow to one inch of liquid. That means when you’re skiing down, the snow slows you down just a little bit, but you can really cut through it and it doesn’t slow you down too much 20 to one is, you know, the colloquial term is blower powder, or cold smoke champions as Yeah, yeah. Because as you as you ski through it, it just kind of goes up into the sky is almost a you know, just a mist of flakes and doesn’t slow you down at all. That’s, that happens very infrequently, but it’s kind of the magic and most skiers can remember those days. Because they are so special. They kind of etched in your mind.

Angie 

I was actually going to ask you what your most memorable ski day was? How’s that? Well, rather spot Yeah,

Joel 

no, I like it. I you know, what’s funny is that I’m focused so much on meteorology, and the science. But the best ski days. The best ski days are always made by the people. And gosh, that sounds so, so

Angie 

cheesy, but it’s cheesy, you usually remember who you experienced it with.

Joel 

That’s, that’s exactly. So given. This is like a statistics problem, given good snow, right? Because there has to be good snow. But given good powder, what was your best ski day. And it’s generally the ones that I’ve shared with my wife and my close friends, because we’re lucky we try to go out on most of the best days. And so there were a few of them at Vail at steamboat, I mean, I can think of days literally at every skier in Colorado a couple of Utah days, a couple of days in Japan, because we are obsessed. And so we chase snow all the way to Japan, to go ski. But largely it’s involved those days with my wife or some of my friends on those good pattern days.

Angie 

It seems fitting that your response to that question is essentially an if then statement. Yeah, of course you’re right. And yes, everybody, there’s this thing that we all call Japan, and you should experience it in your lifetime. So I could well, and part of me wants to ask you where you’re skiing this weekend. But by the time this airs, it might not be ski season anymore. However I will. I’ll let you know if your forecast for Aspen Highlands is right this weekend because we might be having some fun on Saturday, Jim?

Joel 

Yeah, the central mountains and Aspen is in the central mountains of Colorado. And they should do quite well with this storm. And I will tell you, I will not be skiing, Aspen our skiing, I will be skiing a nearby area a little bit north of aspen are largely because my son has a lesson. And we have some friends over there too. So we’ll be hanging out and doing some family skiing. But the kiddos are old enough now to ski through at least a couple of inches of powder. So we we should have a good time.

Angie 

And that’ll just get increasingly more fun. And it’s funny because like 15 minutes before we came on, I heard Jim from the other end of the house probably because he was on open snow go hope Oh Joel increase the forecast for this weekend. So here you go. Everybody, if you have open snow on your phone, this is the guy and his team behind it. And I think it’s been really fun to kind of explore the business side of how open snow open Summit, which is going to integrate right around the time you’re all hearing this has come to be so as we kind of start wrap, I could sit here and talk about powder for like three hours, but I’m sure everybody else would be like, Okay, let’s let’s wrap it up. So tell everybody where they follow along in your journey and also how they they tune into to this super cool tech you’ve got to offer.

Joel 

Sure if we are at open snow.com Or on iOS and Android, you can just search for open snow all one word and and we’ll be right there.

Angie 

It’s really fun. Even if even if you’re not like a ski junkie, it’s really cool. Just to like even compare your own weather, right and be like, Oh man, this is really neat, because when I saw Joel talk, he talked, you talked about like how you do the models. And it’s really, really interesting of like, the science and technology behind how you’re able to do such, you know, micro forecasting is probably a good way to put it. So yeah.

Joel 

And on the app, you can get forecasts. It’s not just for squares, you can just say current location and get your forecast for your house, you can add a bunch of favorites. So your house, your favorite hiking trail, your ski area, it all kind of comes on an easy to compare list. And then we have something called Daily snows which is where I write every day and all the other forecasters right so if you’re in a region where we have a daily snow, we do that too. Before we we end I did notice on your kind of list of questions to me there was there was a question right at the end that I want to make sure that we we got to because I thought about it a lot, which is the best and maybe we’re gonna get there. The best piece of advice on the one action listeners can take that is exactly where

Angie 

we’re going.

Joel 

Okay, sorry. Sorry, I’m forecasting.

Angie 

Take us home because it’s exciting when people actually really have a good, like, I want to answer that question. Joel is gonna take us home.

Joel 

There we go. So what is the best piece of advice on the one action listeners can take to get closer to a more fulfilling career? And I will offload this because this was a mentor of mine that suggested this to me. His name is Bill Flagg, two G’s in the in his last name, and he had a short blog post. He’s a business mentor. He just short blog posts about how to make hard decisions. And I feel like this qualifies, you know where you’re gonna go or your career, it’s pretty hard to say. And he said, most people go for a list of pros and cons, and you can weight them and average them and do up. But then eventually, you just kind of wind up with a list of pros and cons. At the end, you do all this work. And he said, So what has worked for him is he solved for the variable that mattered the most, pick the singular, most important variable, solve for it. And the rest, hopefully, you can nudge along in whatever way necessary to make it all work. And so at the top of my list, the my singular variable was weather, I have to be in outdoor weather, I have to be in the weather, I have to be forecasting, I just have to work in weather period. And I noticed the other ones, you know, to create the right work environment and all that stuff. But I just needed to be in weather. And so that’s hard. But often, if you really think about it hard, there is one driving thing. It might be a short commute, right? It might be a lot of money, it might be autonomy in your hours, it felt like literally whatever it could be. But I have my wife and I are just making some hard decisions around real estate in our family and just longer term plans. And it was another one of those pros and cons, the pros and cons, we came back to this exact same thing. What is the number one thing we want to solve for? And we’ll fill in the rest. Ding, ding, ding, ding.

Angie 

You know, what I say to that is what’s the top of the decision tree, but it’s exactly the exact it’s exactly the same kind of methodology. I knew I knew this would be a fun conversation that was would come in and out of skiing and weather but but because of kind of what you’ve been able to accomplish through that through that number one variable, there would be lots of kind of like business and career advice. So I’m so I’m so glad that you kind of tied it all back together with that with that that is a great single because that is one action. What is the single most important variable or consideration you have in life? I actually think it’s life more than it is career because I’m a big fan of what’s your life? Look, what do you want your life to look like? Design your career around it? So Joel and I would both say, what’s one step you can take to, to get to a more satisfying career in life is one ski more. And then to figure out what that most important variable are, because then everything else lines up under it, and you’re not trying to kind of solve for seven things all at once. That’s a perfect piece of advice. And great way to wrap up what has been an amazing conversation that has me even more excited to ski this weekend.

Joel 

There you go. Hope the forecast works. So

Angie 

don’t worry, I’ll yell at you. If it doesn’t, please do.

Joel 

That’s how I learned Yeah,

Angie 

I was gonna say, well, somebody else will yell at you. If you if it doesn’t do. So you’re in the adults figured out how to also be in the line of fire and take it well and learn from it, which is awesome. So this has been so fun. I appreciate your willingness to come in and share some of your kind of personal and business journey on how open snow and how you have evolved over your career. So thank you so much for coming and being part of our no more Mondays movement.

Joel 

Absolutely. Thanks for having me and enjoyed the pattern. All right,

Angie 

awesome. Everybody else out there, go find your version of powder, whether it’s skiing, whether it’s a wave, whether it’s a summit, whatever it is, get outside because it is a great aspect to have a fulfilling life and it makes your career better too because you’ve got an outlet. And we appreciate people like Joel being here and being part of this movement and reiterating how important it is to find that balance. As we all navigate career crossroads chart paths to success sit in, in places that we know we know don’t want to be in order to figure out where we do and Joel stories inspire us. So if you’re out there listening, I would love for you to leave a rating for this conversation. Go download opens now because that helps both of us. Subscribe to know more Mondays wherever you get your podcasts because it’s a huge help as we continue to bring these stories to listeners across the globe. And if you want to leave us comments, feedback, guest suggestions, or grab the notes and links from today’s episode, visit us online at no more Mondays dot info and I will see you again next week for another edition of noble Mondays podcast. Thanks for joining us for another episode of no more Mondays. Tune in next week as we bring you more insights and actions to help you improve your life and career. Don’t forget visit us online at no more Mondays dot info to get all the details show notes and recommendation from this episode. No more Mondays we drop new episodes every Wednesday. No more Mondays is brought to you by career benders, Inc in partnership with executive producer Jane Durkee. For more information about career coaching, resume writing, personal branding, recruiting and entrepreneurship coaching services, visit us online at careerbenders.com