Telluride, as local parents know, is a great place to raise kids. With rock-solid schools, wilderness for a backyard and a child-rearing ethos based on “give them roots and wings,” Telluride’s young people are afforded a strong platform from which to make the most of life beyond the valley.
In the case of brothers Jake and Charlie Cohn, and Kolby Ward, growing up in Telluride certainly contributed to the founding of their adventure-travel business, AdventureLocals, which was founded in 2018. The three friends skied and played hockey together their whole lives and spent countless hours exploring the outdoors together both in Telluride and around the world. That kind of upbringing led to a shared vision and the trust required to enter into business as a team.
“Adventure travel is certainly a buzzword today and most people get excited at the prospect of a new adventure, but for Kolby, Jake, and myself, it was plenty of past adventures shared together that made it easier to form a business with a common vision,” Charlie Cohn said. “The three of us have shared epic ski trips to Japan, traveled to the Alps together, and grew up wakeboarding, dirt biking, and generally exploring Telluride's backyard together. All of these experiences have built a trust between us, which is an important component to forming a company together. But perhaps more importantly, our lifestyles and shared idea of what simply constitutes a fun day is the secret ingredient for being able to all work together with the same goal in mind, even though we are living in different locations around the world.”
The three, plus the company’s tech partner, Graham Evans, are indeed, scattered across the globe.
“The company is based in Telluride, but we all work remotely from all over the world,” Jake Cohn said. “I’m currently living in Japan for the winter, Charlie is in Germany, Kolby lives in Maui, and Graham is based in Calgary.”
AdventureLocals grew out of the original business model of SnowLocals, which the Cohns founded in 2011. Jake explains how AdventureLocals came into being.
“AdventureLocals is our solution to scaling the success of SnowLocals,” he said. “This business continues to grow each year and is a building block for our startup. However, this business model (SnowLocals) is limited by a short season and the labor-intensive custom trip building process. We are now offering multiple adventures including trekking, rafting, surfing, mountain biking and skiing to generate year-round revenue.”
The Cohns — the sons of John and Fran Cohn — and Ward — the son of Michael Ward and Lori Ward (and stepmother, Lynn Ward) — were each bitten early by the travel bug, hardly a surprise in a community as curious and adventurous as Telluride. The fever only grew after they graduated from high school (Charlie, class valedictorian, and Kolby from Telluride High School, and Jake from Lowell Whiteman in Steamboat Springs) and set off on their own.
“I started traveling extensively after high school and had the full-blown travel bug when I was 19,” Charlie said. “I took a break from college and went to South America for five months and have really been traveling ever since, having now visited 55 countries. My mom worked for the airport in Telluride, so my brother and I could fly standby all over the world until we turned 25. The freedom of flying somewhere at a moment's notice and the expiration date that was set on this amazing deal, led both my brother and I to take full advantage of our flight benefits while they lasted.”
Their personal explorations serve as research for the trips AdventureLocals aims to offer.
“Recently I have begun exploring more of Eastern Europe which has a lot to offer,” Charlie said. “The Republic of Georgia is a destination that stands out as a favorite and we are in the process of adding skiing adventures in Georgia to the AdventureLocals platform. Another highlight is Central America and El Salvador in particular. The locals are so friendly, and the landscape is beautiful. I am amazed more travelers don't visit El Salvador.”
AdventureLocals is actively raising capital and is getting notice from business media such as Denver’s Business Den emagazine.
The partners are eyes-wide-open about the competitiveness of the adventure travel market, but are confident their services set them apart. Trips are custom-tailored to each client’s individual goals and the company’s on-the-ground tour operators are carefully vetted to ensure they will deliver what AdventureLocals promises.
“The adventure travel market is competitive, but there is room to differentiate our services and secure a foothold as a trusted brand with our 21st century booking agent perspective and platform,” Ward explained. “Adventure travelers today are looking for a personalized booking experience. We are leveraging our travel, guiding, and trip-building knowledge to provide the personalized booking experience by instantly matching eager travelers to adventures with preferred tour operators all over the world. Trust from the customer is the most important factor for us, and we build this trust with transparency and by only offering adventures that have been thoroughly vetted by us personally.”
Being able to perfectly customize trips comes from their own travel experiences, both positive and negative.
“We only suggest adventures that match the traveler’s style,” Ward said. “Other companies don’t highlight or explain why a trip is best suited for the traveler. We have travelled extensively — with guides, without guides, hotels, helicopters, campervans, couches, tents, boats, and every style in between. We have been the guides ourselves and therefore we are in a position to comprehensively vet adventures and offer the trips we know are the best — the adventures we enjoy the most ourselves and stake our reputation on.”
Part of what makes it possible to perfectly customize a trip falls to the booking platform itself, which Charlie said is Graham Evans’ purview. In addition to bringing in Ward for the company’s marketing needs, Evans, Charlie said, “help(ed) us build a booking platform that matches clients with the best adventures for them."
High hopes and hard work are what goes in to any entrepreneurial endeavor and AdventureLocals is not different. The challenges of raising capital alone have, as Charlie said, been a steep learning curve. But the team is happy with its success so far.
“We are excited to have raised 20 percent of our initial ask to-date, allowing us to prove our concept and generate some early traction,” Charlie said.
The idea going forward is to expand their offerings into dozens of destinations and hundreds of trips, becoming the go-to for millennial-aged travelers.
“There are countless amazing adventures offered across the world and we want to help active travelers easily experience new adventures,” Ward said.
For more information, visit adventurelocals.com.