Image and text by Danielle Baker
Until recently, unless you were an entrepreneur or a retired athlete, finding a sustainable career in the mountain bike industry was like finding a unicorn; a unicorn that paid minimum wage, but let you crack a beer at noon at your desk.
Slowly opportunities have materialized and with them there is a growing need to hire experienced personnel from other industries. We are starting to see more and more outsiders with the necessary skills, but lack of passion for our culture. So, how important is it that our help-wanted ads include "must love bikes"?
It is true that we lack the professionalism and, occasionally, the productivity expected in other industries. The business side of the bike industry developed like a child without role models. It simply did the best it could while surviving on Kraft Dinner and watching cartoons. This bred low expectations and dysfunction. Lovable dysfunction, mind you. We have on-trail meetings, wear our riding clothes to work, and do more than just photocopy our asses at holiday parties.
Oftentimes companies have been in business for years, running on less knowledge than a Business 101 course, offering on-the-job-right-now-because we-need-to-get-it-done-and-no-one-knows-how-to-do-it training. PK sessions are held in rooms conspicuously filled with the smell of weed and we prefer to do business with that guy, because he is a buddy. Our culture is one you need to love or leave.
It is easy, as an outsider looking into our world, to see all the things that do not work; the missing meeting agendas, the lack of contracts, and the delayed email responses. As if Jackson Pollock had attacked a paint-by-number, the orderly, step-by-step process has been ignored. That said Pollock proves there is value in chaos.
In the rush to fix what is broken the value of the culture that we have created is often dismissed. Respect to the people whose backs our current career opportunities have been built on is not given; these are the people whose drive and dreams created what we have today.
The mountain bike industry has a lot to improve upon, especially if we are to keep growing, but there must be consideration given to the value of what is already here. These people built thriving companies and created opportunities where there didn't appear to be any. Maybe most importantly they did it without the promise of great financial success, a concept not often discussed in the mountain bike world.
Outsiders to our industry bring with them the skills and experience that we need to step up our expectation of professionalism and productivity. They know about things like filing systems, project management, and financial projections. They offer fresh ideas and new perspectives. However, while we may need more signatures over high-fives, we do not need them at a cost to our culture. Our character flaws and dysfunctions are what make our world desirable. We do not follow the formula or fit the cookie cutter mold of the business world, anyone coming into our industry without a passion for bikes and a creative approach to working within our unique parameters, will be disappointed and frustrated.
Like idealistic kids fresh out of high school and ready to change the world, they will eventually realize that change is a slow and painful process. They will grow weary of the slow response times, the bro deals, and lack of resources available. Some will flounder with the lack direction and others will continuously challenge decisions. The experience is often like a teenager's relationship with their parents when they embarrass you at the mall before you start to appreciate how much they actually do know.
The first thing that newcomers want to do is put everything into tidy little boxes while the rest of us are running around pulling things out and switching the labels. When you transplant into our world from one of post-secondary ideology and big- budget corporations, working within the confines of limited resources can be a culture shock. Creativity and passion will get you much further in the bike industry than anything else you bring to the table. Passion will also allow you to accept the size of your paycheck.
The simple fact is that if you don't ride a bike, you are going to miss out on a lot of meetings. The trails are still where things happen, whether that is the professional way or not. I should know. I used to be an outsider.