By Rachel Odenweller
From their the love of the outdoors and a dream to create a more sustainable world, Warren Neilson and Joel Cesare created StokeShare: a marketplace that allows you to experience any outdoor activity you can think of without the expensive cost of gear.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Neilson to talk about how StokeShare came about, as well as his goals for the future. When most business-minded people are focused on how to get the most return, Neilson has a genuine desire and passion for empowering people to protect the outdoors.
He and his business partner recently hosted an event with the LAPD to teach at-risk youth to surf, an opportunity they may have never gotten otherwise. His philosophy is: “People protect what they love, love what they know, and they know what they experience.” Not only was his laid-back attitude refreshing, but it was also inspiring. He shows us all how you can use your passion to create a business to share what you love with the public.
Rachel Odenweller: First off, I want to hear from the horse's mouth how the idea of StokeShare came about.
Warren Neilson: My background is in sustainable consulting. I work for a firm where we help buildings and companies reduce their environmental impact. My business partner, Joel [Cesare], does the same thing. We both have a passion for the environment and for doing the right thing, and we’ve dedicated our careers to making that happen.
We met in San Francisco, through colleagues; I was previously living in Sydney, Australia, for several years and Joel was in Santa Barbara. We went out to surf a couple times, and one time we were in the lineup and we started talking about how we wanted to go spearfishing, in particular, but neither of us had the gear or knew someone who did. We knew that someone in the city had to have a spear gun and the gear, knew just where to go, what the best spot was and the best time of day. So, we said, "Okay, we have this problem that we need to find a solution for." So, that’s how StokeShare sort of began.
RO: I’m interested, did you choose San Francisco because it’s just a tech-centric city or were there other reasons for that?
WN: I moved to SF from Sydney because I was planning on moving back to the states. When I knew I was coming back to the U.S., I knew it had to be California, and without a doubt it had to be on the coast. I knew I wanted to be at the forefront of sustainability and the environmental movement, and that is San Francisco.
RO: So, how did you come across Near Me, and why did you choose our platform to bring your brainchild to life?
WN: Part of what you do when you’re trying to start a business is you try to focus on your skill-set and really leverage that with each person on your team. Also, understand your weaknesses early on, and neither Joel nor I are coders or developers or extremely savvy in that world; it’s not the world we come from. We spent some time online to find a partner that we could work with, and that’s when we found Near Me. Near Me was the only one that we felt was actually a partner versus a subcontractor. We knew if we really wanted to dive into the deep water and make this happen we needed a partner; we needed someone that was in it with us for the long-haul, and that was going to help us succeed.
RO: What advice would you give people on how to build a successful marketplace?
WN: We’re much less interested in the personal financial impact of the company, and we’re far more interested in the wide array of positive impacts on the world. It’s an audacious thing to say, but that is the viewpoint we’re taking. We’re really trying to leave a mark and change the world and make it a better place.
I feel like the successful business leaders moving forward will be trying to make the world a better place, not just trying to make their lives better. So, I guess what I’d tell people is to follow their passion and not worry about the rest so much because it will all come together.
RO: I think this sets you apart from the pack: You don’t come off as someone who is money-driven, which turns people off a little bit, so I think people will really pick up on that.
WN: Thanks, I really appreciate that. Joel and I are calling it our hidden agenda, which is not to say that creating this marketplace and connecting people with the outdoors is absolutely what we’re trying to do, but we really want to protect the outdoors as much as we can. It’s our playground; we want to protect the wild places that we like to play in.
We feel that people protect what they love, love what they know, and they know what they experience. So, in order to really get a larger mindset of protecting these wild places that we love, is actually getting people to experience them. We’re building a nonprofit that’s an arm of StokeShare, where we can bring in underprivileged kids out camping and surfing and kayaking to experience places that they wouldn’t have access to if it weren’t for StokeShare, and the people that list their gear on the site.
Image credits: 1) Flickr/David Cobbin 2) StokeShare
Rachel Odenweller is a marketing intern for the Near Me Blog.