Q-and-A: Coalition Snow’s Jen Gurecki talks Reno economy, affordable housing, female entrepreneurship and more
December 20, 2018
RENO, Nev. — "It's always interesting when you see yourself in a magazine with Elon Musk on the cover," Jen Gurecki says with a laugh.
Specifically, Gurecki — the founder of Reno-based Coalition Snow — recently found herself on the same list as the Tesla CEO in Entrepreneur magazine's "50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs of 2018” issue in November.
Gurecki was recognized for her bold move of running a company while, as Entrepreneur magazine said, "working very, very remotely" in 2018. They're not kidding.
For 70 days this past spring, Gurecki bicycled with a friend across South Africa — from Nairobi to Cape Town — trekking roughly 80 miles a day. All the while, she continued to steer Coalition Snow, a women's outdoor equipment and apparel company that makes award-winning skis and snowboards.
"Just knowing that I was going to put myself through a 70-day, very physically and emotionally demanding experience, while also recognizing that every single day I needed to work, that was a huge risk," Gurecki told the NNBV.
So why did Gurecki, who spent about five months this year in South Africa, take the trip? In a nutshell: to live life.
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"I just look at my parents and look at older generations who are waiting until they’re 65 to enjoy life," Gurecki told the NNBV. "And quite honestly, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow. So why am I going to wait? Why are you going to wait to have the experiences in life that you want to have."
In 2018, Gurecki also found time to help lead the launch of a quarterly magazine called “Sisu,” which she co-created with Coalition Snow Creative Director Lauren Bello Okerman. Gurecki said the magazine features untold stories of the outdoors around women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented voices.
With her eventful year winding down, the NNBV caught up with Gurecki over Skype and covered a lot of ground. She gave her thoughts on the Reno-Sparks economy, the importance of human and social capital, the affordable housing crisis, challenges facing female entrepreneurs, and much more.
NNBV: WHY DO YOU FEEL BEING ABLE TO WORK REMOTELY IS IMPORTANT AND HEALTHY FOR A BUSINESS TO THRIVE?
Gurecki: This idea that you go into an office five days a week … that's outdated. That's not life. And that's not going to really work if you want to be able to bring in talent. So I think working remotely is part of being innovative in your own company. And to be innovative that needs to come from the top; the leadership has to establish that. Obviously, this belief serves me quite well. But there's plenty of data and plenty of anecdotal evidence that demonstrates millennials and younger generations are looking for freedom and flexibility in their work. And ultimately when you have that, you are more inclined to work harder, work longer, and really invest in the company that you're working with. I think from just a general business perspective, that's really looking at how you build moral and recruit talent.
Another side of it is everybody should be really smart with their finances. To let people work remotely, you're actually saving money as a company. You're not turning on the heat or the air. You always hear from people who say, 'There's this concern from management that people are at home and they're not working?' Well, then fire them. If you don't trust your people, if you don't trust that your employees are working, why are they working for you? You have bigger issues if you don't think that person is going to work.
NNBV: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE ECONOMY HERE IN RENO-SPARKS?
Gurecki: There seems to be such this heavy focus on recruiting tech companies in Reno, and even in Nevada. And bringing in that influx, the cost of living has gone up significantly. So a lot of what I would call 'normal people' are struggling and it's really difficult to afford a nice place to live. And the cost of living going up without the wages going up is really problematic. And if Nevada wants to recruit these companies they need to look at how they also can sort of maintain the current communities that have been a part of the region a lot longer than tech.
I think that one of the things we forget about is that it really is the artists and the creatives and the athletes and the mom-and-pop shops and the small businesses that keep things going. That's what is a community. So while it's great to be able to tout that we have Tesla and Google, what makes Reno Reno are the people who have been there a lot longer and the people who've established the culture there. When you talk about the economy, you can simply look at numbers and talk about okay we've had ‘x’ number of companies come in and this type of growth and this type of development. But I think, really, you have to look at all forms of capital — so you have social capital and human capital alongside the financial side of things. And if the community is not healthy and happy, that's going to ultimately affect the economy — the financial side of things — in a negative way.
For a company moving from the Bay Area, of course it's going to be a lot cheaper (for them). But then there are all these people who already live in Reno — where are they meant to go? Honestly. And once again, if small businesses can't afford to be in Reno, if teachers can't afford to be in Reno, then what do you have left? There are just these other things to talk about.
NNBV: WHAT POTENTIAL DO YOU SEE FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS WHO WANT TO HELP REVITALIZE RENO?
Gurecki: I'd say that there's definitely a pretty significant community of support. Whether you look at what StartUpNV is doing or EDAWN or Girlmade, there's all these different groups of people that are there to help out entrepreneurs. And that's something that I think is really special about Reno. And so if you want to start a business or looking for support and growing one, I think those resources are there. Also, there's so much that you can do in Reno because so much hasn't been done, and that's pretty exciting. Reno is still growing, so there's just a ton of opportunity.
NNBV: DESPITE THE RISE IN WOMEN-LED BUSINESSES, FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS ARE STRUGGLING FOR FUNDING. DO YOU TRY TO HELP MENTOR AND EMPOWER FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS WHEN YOU CAN?
Gurecki: I actually don't like the word 'empower.' I like the word power. I want to see women 'in power,' rather than being empowered. So, yes, I absolutely do work with other women; I also mentor men, too. If people have cool ideas, I want to help.
I can mentor a female entrepreneur till the cows come home, but unless somebody is going to write her a check, her business is going to be [expletive] dead. We've gotten to a point that Reno loves their female entrepreneurs so much and they really tout us as something that's special about the area, and that's fantastic. But we need to put our money where are mouths are and we need to actually start funding these businesses if you want them to stick around.
And it's not charity, and no one wants a pat on the back. But when you look at every single piece of data that exists in this world, female entrepreneurs are still significantly under-funded. So we need to do a lot more than talk.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.