Tech startup: OpenSnow

Initial Lightbulb: OpenSnow CEO Joel Gratz started skiing when he was 4 years old and avidly watched The Weather Channel throughout childhood. So, it’s no wonder he became a meteorologist.

He started the Colorado Powder Forecast blog and newsletter in 2007 after a ski trip to Breckenridge in 2005, during which 6 inches at Breck was dwarfed by a storm up north.

“As I was driving home, I heard there was 2 feet at Steamboat and 4 feet from the storm,” says Gratz. “I understand forecasts on big mountains are incredibly difficult, but they shouldn’t be off by 2 feet.”

Gratz started forecasting for Colorado’s ski areas and joined forces with forecasters in Tahoe, Utah, New England and the Mid-Atlantic to launch OpenSnow in 2011 with co-founder and CTO Andrew Murray.

In a Nutshell: OpenSnow outdoes traditional snow forecasts with a narrow focus. “I’m only predicting snow in the mountains and ski areas,” says Gratz. He calls most traditional snow reports “old news,” covering snowfall over 24 hours. The value-add stems from skiing insights, he says, calling it “more than a forecast … We’re providing commentary on how to have the best time in the mountains.” The business model is a hybrid of advertising and newsletters (subscriptions range from free to $45 a year). Gratz says revenue is currently ad-heavy and he’s aiming for “an equal mix.” OpenSnow also offers free mobile apps and widgets – the website garnered about 1.25 million visitors in 2013 – and email newsletters, with an open rate of 45 percent.

The Market: There are about 12 million skiers and snowboarders in the U.S., meaning about 10 percent of the market browsed last season.Colorado accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s skier-days annually. He called New England “more challenging,” because fewer skiers play hooky for powder days.

Financing: OpenSnow is 100 percent bootstrapped. Gratz says they “use some savings and build the business based on revenues from the previous year.”

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Categories: Tech