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Athletes & Explorers

Feb 27, 2019

Extreme Skier Kina Pickett Carves First Tracks in the Tech World

Obsessed over the process, Big Mountain Skier Kina Pickett launches a new content management platform to remove the chaos from the digital media pipeline.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

In today’s landscape of powerful phone technology, everyone is a content creator. Brand marketing is shifting from media houses to individuals, as consumers are becoming the voice of the brand. Tighter budgets mean brands must hunt for new efficiencies to streamline their media workflow. However, brand messages have become fragmented across multiple channels with more and more contributors; the result is a broken flow of communication and a bloated pipeline.

Kina Pickett is all too familiar with this pain-point that brands are struggling with. Over the past 20 years, Kina progressed from electrifying Big Mountain skier, traveling the world to star in Warren Miller films, to running his own media house – producing marketing films for brands like Leica, Red Bull, Vans and Yeti – to founding ZPPR, a content operating platform to help brands create, engage and move media smarter.

“We should treat content as if it’s alive.”

After recently closing a seed round of $1.2M, Kina is once again turning heads in the mountains. Sidestepping Silicon Valley, Kina chose to launch ZPPR in his home of Bozeman, Montana. Bozeman is a city in the southwestern corner of Montana that is not only a draw for outdoor enthusiasts – with Yellowstone National Park, bigtime skiing and challenging whitewater – but it has also become a booming hub for startups.

The Outdoor Journal connected with Kina to discuss the democratization of visual media, pursuing risk in the backcountry and in the boardroom, and the lost art of content production.

Kina Pickett catches big air in Zinal, Switzerland.

WORKFLOW OF THE FUTURE

TOJ: How did you decide to pivot from production to building a tech platform?

“I became addicted to trying to understand the ecosystem.”

Kina Pickett: I’ll never forget, I was sitting at our conference table in our offices in Bozeman and it hit me like a lead weight in the head…it was the phone. Now if you take the fact that all marketing budgets are getting pinched year after year and content gets pinched the hardest – especially branded content – and then you mix that with the fact that phone technology is spiking, it’s really democratizing the process of being a content creator. And when I saw the creator ecosystem exploding and influencer marketing on the rise, I could tell that things were going to change pretty quick.

Brands started to hunt for efficiencies and there was really no platform to meet the demand. If you think about the life cycle of a piece of content from ingest to publish, brands are using 15 to 20 platforms to do that process, which is: ingest, curate, organize workflow, approval workflow all the way through distribution to people, and then publishing to channels, and then analyzing the results, and then rinsing and repeating. So that’s the entire process that we are trying to tackle with ZPPR, to give brands, publishers, agencies and content creators a simple connection tool, and then one system of record, to take a piece of media from ingest to publish and analyze on one platform, instead of buckling together 25 platforms that inherently are unconnected.

Learn more at zppr.io

TOJ: You discussed how smartphones have democratized content creation. On the flip side, there’s been increased content saturation. What advice can you share with content creators and brands on how to gain consumer attention?

Kina Pickett: What becomes the best way to reach your consumer in a completely saturated market? Creative, better storytelling. Authentic storytelling. That daily drip. Constantly being in front of your audience all the time. Everyday. Content should be alive. We should treat content as if it’s alive. We don’t have to put so much emphasis on making sure it’s perfect. It just has got to be relevant and it has to bring value to your audience and if you can do that on the daily, you will crush it. There is no barrier to entry. For brands, we’re at this crossroads right now where intentional content is something that brands are trying to create, which is entertainment. It’s really not advertising anymore. Look at Red Bull. Red Bull went from selling soft drinks to selling content.

TOJ: What’s the importance behind the name ZPPR?

Kina Pickett: ZPPR came from zipping up a jacket. When you zip something up, you’re connecting both sides in a very nice way, right? So you’re bringing two things together and connecting. We are infrastructure underneath an organization that gives you connectivity, communication, content push and pull, cloud storage, archiving and workflow around assets.

TOJ: You’ve traveled all over the world. What are the benefits of launching a startup in Bozeman, Montana compared to one of the more established startup scenes that you could have chosen like Silicon Valley?

Kina Pickett: I grew up in Vermont and I’m a mountain kid at heart. There’s a thriving startup scene here. It’s one of the best towns in America to have a startup. We’re starting to see this push away from Silicon Valley to other cities like Austin, Salt Lake and Boston. And I did not want to be in the city, I really wanted to be in the mountains.

Kina Pickett skiing in Chamonix, France.

OBSESSION WITH THE PROCESS

TOJ: How did you develop an interest in art and filmmaking?

Kina Pickett: I was an art major at Bates College. I did a lot of traditional print. I started off painting and drawing, but I fell in love with printmaking because there’s a long process to it. You don’t just throw something up on the wall and go. You have to take a plate and dip it in acid resistant wash, and then you take steel wool to it, and then you get to see the final image and it’s backward, which is really interesting. So I fell in love with the process, more so than the actual outcome because it was just so detailed and in-depth. And I think that’s why filmmaking became an interest because I think the process of watching a film come to life is remarkably similar.

TOJ: The power of our phones and digital photography is taking away from those hands-on photography experiences such as darkroom development. Does that hurt the art?

“My style was calculated risk-taking in a way that I was set up for success on my first attempt.”

Kina Pickett: That’s one of the reasons why I got out of production actually was because I would read all the time about trends and facts and I started to notice that the phone was going to change everything. And in production, we haven’t even scratched the surface. With the next generation of phones that companies like Leica and Apple are developing, you’re just going to continue to be able to do things that you can’t even comprehend right now. But I feel that there is a lost art to how things were done because there’s no process work. With filters and stabilization, it’s going to be a lot easier for everybody to be a creator, which is what’s happening.

THE ZPPR USE CASE

TOJ: As the Content Manager for The Outdoor Journal, I’m working with a remote team around the globe and we’re all trying to coordinate around visual media. I feel like I’m like I’m living in the pain-point that you are targeting with the ZPPR content management platform.

“The biggest thing that’s changed in the last five years is that visual content is the center point for messaging.”

Kina Pickett: What you’ve described is the exact use case of why we built what we built. ZPPR gives you the ability to communicate. So if you have specific people in specific locations that either need to use the assets or they’re creating assets, you are all now in one project in the cloud and there’s full communication and an approval workflow around the media that’s coming in. So as long as someone has WIFI, they can push everything and when it comes via our platform it will come directly into that project, instead of just kind of being a link that you have to download media.

TOJ: Zipper delivers “content collaboration without the chaos.” Can you describe some of the moments of chaos that you experienced first-hand with your own production company, Helio Collective?

Kina Pickett: When I started Helio, I met this guy named Chris Murphy, an incredibly talented creative director. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as talented as this guy. About six or seven years in, we were working with big brands like Red Bull and Nike, but I started to realize that there were pretty severe inefficiencies in the ability to move media through a cycle and then approve that media.

FROM BACKCOUNTRY TO BOARDROOM

Kina Pickett skiing in Chamonix, France.

TOJ: How has your inclination is an artist had an impact on your style of skiing?

“People are short-sighted when they look at future trends in technology because they’re not looking at mass adoption, they get distracted by shiny objects.”

Kina Pickett: That’s an interesting question. You don’t see a lot of artists-athletes. My mom was an artist. From a young age, I had a lot of push in that direction. But I was also an athlete, I played soccer very competitively and skied at the highest level. Skiing is a singular sport that is all about expression. Everyone has their own style. Everyone looks at lines in different ways. But art was what I wanted to pursue. When I graduated at Bates, I applied to Rhode Island School of Design to get my Masters. Not as a way to make money. I wasn’t thinking like that. I really wanted to be an artist.

Kina started skiing at one and half years old, and ski raced throughout his youth before transition to big mountain skiing.

I was definitely a thinker in the backcountry. I would really study things. Very rarely would I go ski things cold. I would really do some homework on the snow depth and the terrain of each line. My style was calculated risk-taking in a way that I was set up for success so I could clean it on my first attempt and not crash 25 times while wasting everyone’s time. I had an eye for risk management and proficiency. So what I took from my background in art was the study of the process.

TOJ: Are you able to get in the same type of flow sensation when you’re skiing as when you’re processing a screen print?

Kina Pickett: People ask me what’s it like to be in that moment where you are in the middle of something that inherently could end your life. It’s the same feeling as getting lost in a moment of creating something. You lose sense of time and everything else disappears around you because you’re so laser-focused on the task at hand. Everything goes dead quiet. You can’t remember or hear anything. The most stressful times in skiing were the 15 minutes before you skied your line because in the calm before the storm, you’re thinking about the storm. That’s the dangerous part. Once you’re in it, you’re in it and it’s actually calmer than people would even think. Even if things are going south (laughs), and you’re flipping and tumbling, it’s remarkably calm because I feel like the stress of wondering what’s going to happen is over.

TOJ: You’re not worried about outcomes anymore. You’re just experiencing.

Kina Pickett: Exactly. Whether or not you like the final outcome, the journey of creating or skiing is relatively similar. There’s joy in that middle phase, even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted.

TOJ: From a bird’s eye perspective, the journey from extreme skier to startup entrepreneur is not an obvious trajectory. But when you look back on it now, do you feel that your career in ski racing and big mountain extreme skiing has somehow prepared you for your role as a CEO of a startup?

Kina Pickett: I went to a private ski academy which we skied for the majority of the time and then it was on us to make sure that we could then get our work done in the time allotted. During ski season we were constantly on the road, so I learned a lot about time management and goal setting. That, mixed with the ability to take risks – which inherently comes from being a professional athlete – has prepared me more so for entrepreneurship than anything else. I feel like those two things combined prepared me for being able to take the risks that a lot of people wouldn’t take, while making sure that the risks were relatively calculated.

TOJ: When you were on camera, filming ski content for Warren Miller films, what did you learn about the behind-the-scenes of film production?

“Brand content gets outperformed by social at an alarming rate.”

Kina Pickett: My foray into production happened when I met Chris Patterson, who is now one of my best friends. He also lives in Bozeman, Montana and still is Director of Photography for Warren Miller. He discovered me. He called me. I started my whole career with him. I was absolutely fascinated, once again, by the process of how he was doing things. We traveled all over the world together on projects so we became really close. We were shooting everything on film. I was fascinated to watch him go through the process of doing a mag change in a black bag at 15,000 feet up on the side of a mountain in a snowstorm where it’s blowing 80 miles an hour. He introduced me to filmmaking in a traditional sense and that really was what hooked me to get into production.

Watch Kina charge some epic chutes and airs.

Kina Pickett reel from Kina Pickett on Vimeo.

NEW PATHWAYS FOR CREATION

TOJ: One of ZPPR’s main focus is establishing one system of record for assets. Why is it so important to keep a system of record for visual content?

Kina Pickett: The biggest thing that’s changed in the last five years is that visual content is the center point for messaging. Video and photography are how we communicate. Now with what we’re building, you can track your media from its creation, track your team’s performances, track their media’s performance in our platform then also track the media to see a lifecycle of that content.

Kina Pickett hitting air in Grimentz, Switzerland.

TOJ: What makes you so adept and confident in trend spotting? What percentage of your time are you spending reading and researching and thinking about what’s going to happen in the future?

Kina Pickett: A lot. Probably too much. Chris Murphy, my old business partner at Helio was the one who really started to push me to do that. I became addicted to trying to understand the ecosystem. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is potentially going to work and what’s not going to work. I feel like people are short-sighted when they look at future trends in technology because they’re not looking at mass adoption, they get distracted by shiny objects.

TOJ: It seems like the ZPPR “network effect” was designed to create more pathways so that multiple different types of contributors can add to a project and also so that you could generate engagement. How did your vision of the “network effect” came about?

“People don’t trust brands anymore. They trust people.”

Kina Pickett: It came about from the realization that everybody’s going to be a content creator and noticing the fact that brand content gets outperformed by social at an alarming rate. Those were the things that really drove me to start to think about the movement of media and the network effect in a more scalable manner. So if we take a brand like Yeti or Red Bull, they have a lot of athletes, ambassadors, and a massive community. That community’s content is more valuable than the brand’s because it’s trusted in the social environment. People don’t trust brands anymore. They trust people. That’s why reviews are so important. So in a human ecosystem where you have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of authentic content creators surrounding your brand, wouldn’t it makes sense to have pipes to all of them?

ZPPR delivers “content collaboration without the chaos.” It allows brands to create, publish, and measure visual content all from one platform. Below is a 1-minute product overview.

ZPPR Promo from ZPPR on Vimeo.

To learn more about ZPPR, visit their website.

Images by Kina Pickett.

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Athletes & Explorers

Aug 06, 2019

In Defense of the Struggle.

Mountain bike racer Alicia Leggett reflects on how the obstacles she's faced have made her a better competitor and a stronger person.

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WRITTEN BY

Alicia Leggett

Like many ambitious people, I hate being bad at things.

Here’s my problem: It’s hard to become good at anything worthwhile without sucking for a while.

I’m a pro mountain bike racer, and last summer was my first season of world-level international racing. I raced in six countries as part of the Enduro World Series and traveled to races outside of North America for the first time. And although this was the season I’d been dreaming of for years, it was the hardest and most frustrating season of my life. More importantly, it took a lot of work to get there, and it will take much more work to keep progressing.

My 2018 season kicked off in March with races in Chile and Columbia, countries I’d never visited but had researched obsessively since I first looked at the season calendar. Living in Missoula, MT, I had spent most of the winter off the bike. I also received my bike for this year the week before I left for South America, so although I was beyond excited and itching to escape the snow, I wasn’t exactly prepared to compete with the world’s best.

“I remember crying in the shower”

I had done what I could. Moving to somewhere warm and dry wasn’t an option for me last winter, so I made the most of things and embraced the mental break from riding. I skied more days than I didn’t ski, I learned to enjoy running in the snow (and started borrowing my favorite dog, who became a great running buddy) and I started lifting heavier and more consistently than I ever have. Still, when I showed up to the start line at 11,000 feet in the Chilean Andes, I struggled.

The two-day race was brutal. I remember crying in the shower after the first day, dreading the morning when I’d have to wake up and do it again. But somehow, those two days are imprinted in my mind as two of the best days of my life. The Chilean sky is beautiful. The mountains are rugged. The terrain made me feel like I was riding on another planet. A week later, I raced in the Colombian jungle, in a mess of tire-sucking mud and suffocating humidity. I reveled in the misery.

“I’m not here to write about the times things went well”

All things considered, those two South American races went all right, and I collected a couple of race results I can be proud of, but I returned to the U.S. battered, exhausted and demoralized. But things improved from there. I put one foot in front of the other, took one pedal stroke at a time, and kept moving. I spent time riding my favorite trails, taking bike park laps and racing at the regional level for the next few months. I started running women’s clinics in my area, continued coaching teenagers and generally had a great time riding my bike. I won four regional races in a row, which was exciting proof of my growth as a rider. But I’m not here to write about the times’ things went well. This is a defence of the struggle.

After racing the Enduro World Series round in Whistler, I returned home and focused on preparing for the season’s final races in Spain and Italy.

The first day of racing in Spain was one of my best race days ever. I climbed about 6,000 feet and raced four tricky stages to land myself in 19th of 41 of the world’s best racers heading into the next day. I was so excited I could hardly sleep – I loved the course, and being in the top half of the EWS field felt great. I just needed to keep my riding smooth through the next day and I’d land myself in the top 20.

On the first stage of the next day, things fell apart. My dropper lever got stuck engaged and my seat kept popping up, which was not helpful in steep, rocky terrain. I crashed. Hard. I finished the stage, much slower than I wanted to, then admitted to myself that I might not finish the race. I looked like I had an extra elbow in the center of my chest and it hurt to breathe. I watched a volunteer wheel my bike away and felt my high hopes disappear.

I’d made it through the whole season without any serious crashes or mechanical problems. Why did the problems have to show up at one of the races I cared about the most?

At least I had one race left. After a round of chest x-rays (verdict: nothing broken) and a few days of rest, I was ready to ride again. I drove to Italy, fixed my bike and studied the course. Practice day arrived, and it was the first day I could move around without chest pain, so I considered that a good sign, until I caught my front wheel in a corner and body-slammed the ground. Once practice was over, I started to feel everything.

My chest still hurt and I had a massive bruise on my quad left from the previous crash. On top of that, I’d landed on a big rock just inside my hipbone and my bloody arm had started to swell.

“I crossed an ocean for this,” I kept thinking.

I showed up to the start line battered but determined to make the best of things. I just had four race stages left in my season. I would show up and ride my best.

I hadn’t quite learned the lesson the previous week: Sometimes, things just fall apart. We can’t control all of it. And if we could control it, where would the adventure be?

I controlled the variables I could, but in that final race, my luck had run out.

I bent my derailleur on a rock on the first stage. I also broke my chain guide on the first stage. My chain broke on the second stage as I tried to sprint up a hill with my limited gear range. I rode a clean but conservative third stage before lining up at the top of the fourth stage.

My entire season had built up to that moment. I left the U.S. riding better than ever before, and I’d made sure everything on my bike was dialed. I’d take all the steps I could to set myself up for success, and things still hadn’t gone my way. Regardless, I had to keep giving my all. The last stage that day was my favorite, and I went in for redemption.

I knew I shouldn’t set my hopes too high. After a few minutes of riding fast, skipping through technical rock sections and pedaling hard whenever I had the chance, I felt my chain drop off my chainring and all I could do was try to keep my momentum. So much for having a good stage. I dropped into one of the most iconic sections in all of enduro racing, a rocky corridor lined with thousands of cheering spectators that feels like it goes directly down the ridge to the Mediterranean. It was incredible. After a brutal day, when it felt like everything went wrong, I crossed the line ecstatic.

An article I read once explained that gamblers experience a bigger rush when they almost win than when they actually win. That’s part of what keeps them coming back. I think I’m the same way. For the entire trip, I had great race stages interrupted by the most frustrating moments of my season. I went from feeling on top of the world to feeling awful over and over, in just a few seconds each time. Those races showed me that I could be on-pace with where I wanted to be, racing with the best of them, but reminded me to never take a good result for granted.

“Learn to love struggling”

If I’d finished the season the way I wanted to, I would probably be content, and maybe I wouldn’t train as hard through the off-season. I can use my unfinished business with the EWS as motivation to come back stronger. I learned much more from the Europe races than I ever learned from races that went well, and I will focus on everything I can carry forward with me into future races. I learned about on-the-go bike fixes and gained practice staying calm when things felt disastrous, which, as it turns out, is important.

I’m now in the middle of my 2019 race season, and haven’t forgotten last year’s lessons. I’ve had a few explosive, unprecedented results so far this year, so I know I’ve internalized at least some of what I learned. Each setback has poured a bit more fuel on the fire, and I’m back, mentally and physically tougher than ever.

I’ve heard so many times that we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we react. I’m choosing to learn whenever I can.

Years of riding bikes has shown me the value in doing things that are difficult. The most fun trails are usually the ones I’m good at riding, so I make myself ride the ones I don’t enjoy. I look for technical climbs, off-camber corners and tight switchbacks, which I would love to avoid. And these days, I can think of a few trails I used to hate that I now find satisfying.

Riding bikes is hard. Crashing out of a race sucks. Mechanical problems also suck. Both at once… well, you get the idea, but that’s mountain biking sometimes, and life. We are all doing the best we can with what we know.

So, my advice to anyone reading: Learn to love struggling. Do the things that are hard, especially when you don’t want to. If a ride or race falls apart, find the lesson and keep moving. You’ll prove to yourself, over and over, that you can survive.

 

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