“Read this from end to end,” Thurston remembers his father saying. The family lived in Denver, and Thurston had early begun cycling, skiing, and hiking; thought his father, an avid backpacker and outdoorsman Outside was the perfect way to teach his son about the national park before going there on a trip well over forty years ago.
Fast forward to 2021 and Thurston, now 49, owns not just Outside magazine but an entire company called Outside. In February, the entrepreneur bought the publication from longtime owner Larry Burke, who had purchased it from Jann Wenner; that Rolling stones the founder started the monthly magazine dedicated to the outdoors in 1977.
“I remember completely tearing the magazine apart, cutting all the pictures up, putting it up on the wall,” Thurston recalls. “So my connection to Outside“One is just the story and the legacy and the authenticity of adventure and of living bravely and thinking of the amazing things we as humans can do on this planet, and it started right for me at a really young age.”
Thurston’s mother also played a role in his eventual ownership of Outside. Three years ago, Thursdon visited his mother over the Thanksgiving holiday in Santa Fe; there he met Burke, who had moved the magazine’s headquarters there in 1995. Thurston, who had become CEO of Pocket Outdoor Media, a company focusing on outdoor and active lifestyle content, told Burke after investing in the organization earlier that year. to call him if he would ever sell the magazine.
About a year later, Pocket Outdoor Media was in the middle of a rebranding exercise, considering three names that Thurston now describes as “terrible” when Burke reached the perfect time.
“Larry called me and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we have to buy Outside. That’s the best brand,'” Thurston said.
Thurston worked as fast as he could to fund the purchase, to further his goal of turning Pocket Outdoor Media into Netflix or Amazon Prime by the outdoor industry by bringing together everything anyone could want to know about the outdoors in one convenient service, that could be personalized.
Thurston was not new to integrating one company into another with a larger brand for maximum impact, even though he had been on the other side of sales last time. Thurston had invented MyMapFitness, a service that integrates fitness resources to provide a one-stop portal for users, in 2012; in 2013 he had sold it to UnderArmour. As part of the sale, Thurston became Chief Digital Officer at the company before leaving the company in 2016 to become CEO of Helix, a startup focusing on DNA innovation.
Returning to the world of health and fitness with Pocket Outdoor Media was his last stop before buying Outside. From there, he renamed the company under the Outside name and moved the Outside headquarters to Boulder, where Thurston lives and many of his company’s employees are based. However, he had an office in Santa Fe when the company owned that building, and many of his employees were already working remotely.
Over the past year, Thurston has added this employee list; today it counts almost 600, of which about half work externally. Thurston says the pandemic taught him that flexibility is key and that the company will stick to flexibility for its employees regardless of other circumstances.
Since purchase Outside, the magazine, Thurston’s Outside company has in 2020 acquired an additional thirteen properties, i.a. Peloton magazine; Gaia GPS; and the Boulder-based ROAM Media, which offers tuition taught by outdoor experts, and Inkwell Media, which will provide internal social media expertise to Outside.Thurston is always looking for more local opportunities, he says. He has already picked up Biju Thomas from Biju’s Little Curry Shop as a content provider, and the company that produces the Warren Miller films is also under his umbrella.
As more companies join the Outside fold, their services fold into Outside +, the subscription model that the company rolled out in May. For an annual fee of $ 99, Outside + provides a subscription to Outside magazine, event cards, training plans and the opportunity to interact with Outside’s expert staff – benefits worth around $ 700.
While Thurston says the people who have purchased an Outside + membership value the value it provides, the company needs to do more to show value to consumers. “The experience / event piece is another that I want people to realize is in there,” Thurston says. “There are all of these that I think are super cool, like giving you two Warren Miller theater tickets.”
Currently, the company has 1.2 million print subscribers and 600,000 digital subscribers, Thurston says; eventually, he hopes to transfer the consumer base to a digital-first model. It’s the way to preserve Outside in the long run, he explains.
“There’s a lot of conversation going on in the industry around what I call membership fatigue or subscription fatigue,” he says. “You probably have Netflix and maybe Disney and some others and Prime. The burden on Outside is to prove to this consumer specifically that we’re giving them enough value.”
Making Outside + the basic membership for the active person is how Thurston plans to ensure that the magazine is not on edge when people assess their budgets. He sees Outside + reaching a wider audience than Outside magazine, expanding the potential consumer base to “tens of millions” worldwide.
Thurston knows that these worldwide outdoor enthusiasts will not be able to continue the adventure if the planet deteriorates, so along with working towards a digital-first model, he focuses on building sustainability activities. He starts with programs in Boulder, including one that makes it easier for companies to recycle excess plastic bags, but the goal is to have a global impact.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Thurston says. “This is not something you’re going to see a big win in in a year. It’s decades of trying to send messages and create the right environment for these things to change.”
Thurston cannot imagine a world without exercise and adventure, and his ultimate goal is to help more people get outside and become active.
“I really think that’s what Outside is all about,” he says. “It’s about getting out there and taking risks and seeing parts of the world where you might not have traveled … and ultimately doing something while you are there that is active and hard and challenging.”
Thurston’s latest challenge is to build Amazon Prime for outdoor use. With the Outside brand on board, he thinks he’s up for it.