Another way to minimize your start-up risks is to take over an existing operation that isn't exploiting its potential. Brian Mullis, 30, started as director of operations for what is now called The World Outside in Boulder, Colorado, in 1993, after he earned his master's degree in recreation from Springfield College in Massachusetts. Five years later, his parents co-signed a $100,000 loan so he could take over the firm, and he has added 20 percent more programs to the menu, resulting in 13 percent annual growth and 30 percent profit.
Taking over a company is the best way to get into back-country tours because the U.S. Forest Service, which controls the most desirable lands, rarely issues licenses to new operators. But that can still mean starting from scratch.
Toby Hemmerling, 29, worked as a ski tour operations manager in Aspen, Colorado, for several years. He and a former partner, Burke Blackman, researched local licenses and found a family firm in nearby Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that was barely using the 15 square miles it had been allotted for wilderness skiing. The asking price of nearly half a million dollars was steep, considering that the owners' equipment was worth almost nothing, but the partners saw enormous possibilities.
"We worked out a detailed business plan and met with 200 potential investors, asking everyone we could think of for names of people who might be interested," recalls Hemmerling. "A week before deadline, we only had 17 of the 20 commitments we needed and were about out of prospects, when someone we had presented to but who hadn't shown much interest decided to provide all the money himself."
In August 1999, Steamboat Powder Cats Montjoux LLC became an entirely new company on the same property and expected 1,800 people to pay an average of $240 each for a package, totaling $432,000 for its first December-to-April season.