The Great Outdoors: How Tana Hoffman is Getting Womxn into Adventure Sports

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies.

Tana Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Mountainist, is on a mission to champion womxn in the outdoors.

Raised by pilot parents to move fast, take chances, and follow changes in the wind, Tana spent over 10 years building award winning brands and their stories as a marketing professional. Born out of a personal desire to experience new sports—and the frustration that came alongside figuring out how to as a woman—Tana started Mountainist. Her D2C ecommerce and lifestyle brand helps women get off the sidelines and into the mountains by providing solutions that lower the barriers to entry, such as an online gear rental service that delivers outdoor apparel right to your door. 

We asked Tana about her journey in building her brand, how it has changed the lives of women all across the nation, and the advice she has for others building niche but industry-disrupting companies.


Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: What led you to start this business?

A: The idea for Mountainist was a product of my background in media production and my experience as an East Coast transplant who wanted to experience everything the Wild West had to offer. Getting into new sports like downhill mountain biking, dirt biking, and snowmobiling required me to do a lot of research and buy tons of gear that I ended up selling because I bought the wrong thing or I hated the way it fit. I didn’t have any female mentors who I could ask for help. Then I became that person for my friends in Wyoming— the friend who you could count on to show you the ropes, lend you the gear, and take you out for the first time. I quickly realized that lending out my gear was the key to making sure my friends had a great day on the trail. It made them feel safe, comfortable, and confident. And it didn’t cost them $2,000. 

I built Mountainist to lower the barriers to getting high-quality gear so that women who were curious about these sports could get their feet wet without having to spend a lot of money or go through the awkward process of walking into an outdoor shop not knowing what questions to ask. Today, Mountainist is that friend our customers can count on to point them in the right direction. 


Q: What problem does your company solve, or aim to? What are some of the most meaningful impacts your company has had to date? 

A: Mountainist aims to lower some of the barriers that women face when getting into adventure sports like mountain biking, fly fishing, backcountry skiing, and motorized recreation. These sports aren’t just expensive—the experience of figuring out what gear you need and knowing where to start can be intimidating, especially for women. 

We start by giving our customers affordable access to apparel and safety gear that would cost hundreds or even thousands to purchase new, so that they can participate safely and confidently. If after the first experience they choose to continue, we also provide opportunities to attend classes and events through our partners, purchase new gear tested and recommended by our team, and find mentors and support through our community forums. 

Since we launched in 2018, our social impact strategy has helped moms find the courage to try snowmobiling for the first time so that they can make memories with their kids, enabled women recovering from health complications fulfill their lifelong dreams of riding a dirt bike, and given first-timers the confidence to show up to classes and events with the right gear. 


Q: In what ways do you think differently about your industry than others do? 

A: Our business operates at the intersection of the rental industry and the women’s outdoor industry. Mountainist aims to disrupt both. While other rental companies serve the camping or resort market, we’re the only online gear rental service catering to women and the only one renting the highly specialized gear required for action sports. When you visit our site, you may see a woman modeling men’s gear—gear that our own employees wear because it either serves its purpose better than the women-specific options out there, or because a women’s version doesn’t exist. You won’t see those photos on any other outdoor retailer sites. Our purpose is to help women have the best experiences possible. To achieve that, we expect to break some rules along the way. 


Q: What has worked for you in terms of customer acquisition? What hasn’t worked?

A: Nearly all of Mountainist’s customers have been acquired through strategic partnerships. We found a segment within our industry that needed to solve the same problem for their customers that we solved, but didn’t have the bandwidth to provide the same level of service that we did. These partnerships allowed us to expand our reach tenfold and connect to our ideal customer with an endorsement from a brand they trusted. Social media marketing doesn’t work well for us since our market is fairly niche and difficult to target with demographics. But by partnering with events and NPOs who have similar goals of getting more women outdoors, we’re able to cut through the noise and get in front of the women who are asking for our services. 


Q: How have you been able to differentiate yourself in terms of product offerings, marketing, positioning or leadership? 

A: Mountainist’s purpose is to inspire and equip women to get into mountain sports. To achieve this, I knew we were going to have to have to market gear differently than everyone else. From a design standpoint, women’s gear has come a long way from the “shrink it and pink it” strategy. But many female shoppers still struggle to find detailed size and fit information, customer stories that they can relate to, and female-focused gear guides to help them choose. To differentiate ourselves from other resellers and rental businesses we positioned Mountainist as the female-focused option with a hyper-curated collection of gear and a team of customer service professionals who love encouraging and connecting with other women.  


Q: How important have you found branding to be for the success of your company? What are the most important branding lessons you’ve learned along the way?

A: For Mountainist, branding has been the key to our success. We set up shop in an industry that is traditionally associated with words like extreme, rugged, and hardcore and then we made a full 180. I know a lot of women who fit that description, but I also know a lot of women like myself who got into these sports to spend more time with their kids, partners, friends and to do something that is fun, social, and active. I wanted to tell a story for those women—one that made the outdoors feel more playful than competitive. I had no idea we would catch so much attention outside of our target demographic. If I’ve learned anything about branding through this experience, it’s that a good story will open more doors for your startup than financial forecasts ever will. 


Q: What advice would you give someone starting out on the journey you’re on?

A: The one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out on this journey is to make time for the people who show interest in your idea. I’m not just talking about potential investors. I mean everyone. I blocked out 1-2 afternoons on my calendar for this purpose and I owe a few significant wins to strangers and friends-of-friends who found me on LinkedIn or read about Mountainist in the local paper. These connections may not solve an immediate problem or be experts in your field, but they will become your best mentors, door-openers, and ambassadors when your business starts to grow. You never know who will be the one to lead you to funding, strategic partners, or your next great hire.

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  • Originally published November 4, 2020, updated November 5, 2020