Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and every business plays a critical role in keeping Montana’s towns vibrant. The Treasure State consistently ranks in top five in reports from the Kauffman Foundation in rates of business ownership and business sustainability.
In our Q and A series, we’ll introduce you to some of Montana’s brightest and best entrepreneurs from all corners of the state. These businesses are involved in a variety of industries including hospitality, retail, and food.
Join us as we travel to Missoula to check out Mountain Mamas Outfitter with owners Erin Howell and Sierra Lake!
1. What is the name of your business?
Mountain Mamas Outfitter
2. Are you natives of Montana? If you are, where is your hometown and why do you love it? If not, why did you decide to make Montana home?
Erin — I am not a Native Montanan. I was born in Georgia to military parents. GA is my home away from home where a good deal of my dad’s side of the family lives. My mom moved my siblings and myself to Montana my freshman year in high school. I attended Flathead High in Kalispell. It felt like home the moment we drove into Kalispell. I will remember for the rest of my life the feeling, I had never had that feeling anywhere else we had lived. My family was not a very outdoors kind of family, but the mountains called me. I joined a club called the Alpine club in school and it only furthered the draw to be in the woods. No matter where I go now, Montana is home and although I do love to travel and visit other places, I am always glad to get home to Montana after the trip is over.
Sierra — I was born in Missoula on 2nd St at the base of the North hills. My dad had me camping since I was a baby; once I could walk and was somewhat stable, he had me skiing, hiking, and climbing. He instilled in me a life-long love of the outdoors. I am home in the back country. This deep love of the outdoors have has been a driving force in finding a path that allows me to make my living outdoors.
3. How long has your business been in operation? What does your business do?
We began this Journey in the winter of 2016/2017 in discussion. Business application went in June of 2017 and official business title was July 2017.
Our business revolves around the outdoors. Even the fitness aspect of our business is focused on getting people into the shape they want to be in to go on their adventures. We call ourselves Adventure Buddies. Our desire is to help clients who may be apprehensive go find their adventure. We help our client leave their comfort zone with our support and see what else this world has to offer.
We want to share our love for the wilderness, the need for solitude, going off line for even just a moment, and being in a peaceful state with everyone who wants to find that, all while showing our clients beautiful Montana.
We also have a community-building hike. This occurs every Monday morning rain, snow or shine and it is free to the public. We do this to connect hikers to someone who could join them on other hikes if they need a friend and don’t have anyone else to join them. We want to add layers onto circles already made.
4. What has surprised you about owning your own business?
Of the many surprises, the most beneficial is the level of patience we both have found in ourselves during this process. We are still in the initiation process of our business. The planning had its place and then going forward was more stunted than we had expected. We have had to sit still so much more than we had expected. However, that has taught us so much. We were able to really narrow our focus on what it is we truly wanted for this business, rather than putting little shoots out everywhere. When we narrowed our focus to what we truly wanted we were able to visualize what we want to share with our clients, and that is our unending love for this beautiful world.
“We want to share our love for the wilderness, the need for solitude, going off line for even just a moment, and being in a peaceful state with everyone who wants to find that, all while showing our clients beautiful Montana.”
The greatest surprise was the people we have met along this road. We have been involved with the SBFC [the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation] and have learned so much and broadened the knowledge of how much goes on to keep our land beautiful and full of wonder. Along the way we have met Wilderness Rangers, event coordinators, firefighters, EMTs, hairstylists, retired individuals, and youngsters just getting going in life. Sierra met our very first client in Barnes and Noble and he has been our most ardent supporter. Erin got her wilderness EMT through Aerie Back Country Medicine and through them have made some amazing connections that have furthered our business in different ways. It has in all ways been an amazing experience.
5. Why should an entrepreneur start a business in Montana?
Montanans are passionate people. They really have to be to live and work here. The people we know and the new people we meet regularly display that outwardly. They want to be here and they want to be a part of the things that are going on. They want to make those relationships and they want to support each other.
6. Why did you decide to start your business?
We had been dreaming about it for years. Making little comments while on 3 day raft trips in the North Fork of the Flathead, or while hiking and camping, about how it would be great if we could just do this every day and get paid for it. We would have women comment on how they wished they could do things like we did, after we would post pictures of our adventures on social media outlets.
We started asking the question; well, why don’t you? The 2 main answers we would get were: I am not physically fit enough to do that and I don’t know who to go with. Neither Sierra or I were strangers to going by ourselves if we had no one to join but understood not wanting to go alone.
“Montanans are passionate people.”
Fast forward a few years and some major changes happened in both of our lives. Sierra graduated school with her exercise science degree, and Erin and her kids suffered a significant loss. With both of those changes and looking to move forward, we decided to make our dreams a reality. We wanted to bring people to the adventure we love so much. We want to be the people that they go with because we have the energy and passion that just permeates a room, and we can help others see the magic we see in the wilderness and the solitude through that passion.
7. What are three pieces of advice you would give someone about starting a company in Montana?
- Dive in head first and don’t worry about failing. If you are anything like the two of us you learn a huge lesson just making the plunge–lessons on yourself and lessons on what you want to see for your business and certainly lessons on how to run a business. Be persistent. If you have a goal and you know where you are going, keep going no matter the amount of times you have fallen or feel like you aren’t moving. Also, take a step back and look how far you have come. Sometimes it doesn’t look like you’re not doing anything but in reality you probably have. Sit down and write down your progress. It really does help keep you focused and moving forward.
- Take advice and don’t be afraid to ask. Talk to others who have been in business in this area and listen. Take the parts that are applicable to your business and apply them. Don’t be afraid to ask. One thing in our business is we needed partners, such as when we didn’t have a gym for a fitness space. We did have things we could offer. We were nervous, but we made the leap. Before the leap, we were ok with the answer “no”. All it took was asking.
- Get involved in your community. We have learned so many things by just getting involved in the areas that pertain to our goals for our business. Such as the trail clean ups. The people we have met along the way who have encouraged us and have become a part of our business are amazing, and these are people we otherwise wouldn’t have had the privilege to meet had we not stepped out and gotten involved.
8. Anything else you would like to add?
The worse thing to do to yourself is be afraid of failure. Failure is incredibly beneficial in every part of your life. Be more afraid of an inability to problem solve.
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