17 - Mike Ahnemann - How He Took His Love of Mountain Biking and Made A Living From It

business strategy | Nov 30, 2017

Mike Ahnemann’s story is near and dear to my heart.  It was a year ago, when he went from being my boss in the corporate world to telling us he was going to follow a dream.  Now, one year later, all he does is mountain bike all day for his company MTBProject.com.  Totally kidding, but he is living the ultimate dream by taking a passion and making a living out of it. 

I held off on this interview, waiting until I finally let my corporate job go, and was so excited to catch up with Mike on the anniversary of the day he left the Corporate America world, for a dream of bigger and better things.

Mike had a very niche skill set in the corporate world and ended up at a start-up company, where he lead a team for five years.  It was when Mike and a friend, who had success in a previous venture, saw a big need in the mountain biking community, that he saw a huge opportunity to do break out to do his own thing. Things fell into place when they landed a big partnership with a mountain biking association.  After trying to juggle both jobs for six months, Mike decided to finally let the corporate safety net go.

How are you using a membership type site to generate revenue without offering paid memberships?  They decided against the freemium model where you give people info, and then charge money as they dug deeper into the content.  So it leaves partnerships, advertising, and sponsorships to bring in their revenue. 

What has been a big obstacle to overcome?  When it comes to Mountain Project (the larger of the two sites - Mountainproject.com), they first thought they would bring on sales people who could sell ads.  However, it didn’t turn out as easy as they thought to sell straight ads.  They found companies were looking to do more interesting things, like have feature content, etc, rather than just a banner ad.  Mike has had to work to invent new things to sell. 

Personally, Mike had to overcome going from constant feedback in the corporate world, to where it’s all different.  He went from comfortable and knowing what he was doing to having to learn a whole new industry. 

What has a big win on the marketing side?  Several months ago, they were able to present to a company called Black Diamond, which is the company that climbers look up to.  They had an opportunity to present to them about the Mountain Project.  They were able to win a great deal for a partnership and sponsorship of their app.  Not only did they get money from this company, but they were also able to get free press from it too.

What’s been a big change you’ve had to make from the original business model?  They have had to make changes from the original idea of how they were going to make money.   They’ve also had to invent new ways of how they’re going to target the people who were going to add to their content (they rely on their customers to actually put the content on their site, i.e. the trails for the website).

What’s been a moment where you knew this was all worth it?  He was talking to another entrepreneur at a bar, and the bartender overheard what he was talking about, and was so excited about the company Mike had created.  This was all a 180 from a corporate job, where people hated what he did (IVR’s).

What’s one piece of advice you would give to that person on the edge?  Instead of worrying about the ‘what if’s’, ultimately go for it.  There will always be another job, another opportunity.   He also recommends task lists, and breaking large tasks down to easy steps.

What have you done with the partnership to make it work so well?  Their first discussion was talking about everything and putting it any thing and every thing on the table.  They have a simple motto of ‘don’t be a jerk’.  Mike also noted how important it is to implicitly trust each other. They also had a check in about 6 months into it, where they sat down and had another in-depth conversation. 

What’s the one thing you can’t live without when it comes to your business?  His internet, which is obvious, but Mike has never had to rely on it so much in his life!  Quickbooks has also been a huge life saver for them in paying the salaries.  

Mike Ahnemann is a user-interface designer  turned entrepreneur… He’s using his core skills and experience to create websites and mobile applications that inspire end users to get outside and participate in adventure sports they're passionate about.  Mike is president and co-founder of MTBProject.com, a next generation mountain bike trails website that provides carefully curated trail descriptions, photos, and GPS data for mountain biking trails across the country.  He also runs the business side of MountainProject.com, a similar website that provides information about over 100,000 climbing routes across the world.  The two sites serve around 3 million users annually and counting.  Mike plans to continue to grow the two websites and possibly take on additional sports in the future.

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