Stephen Regenold Q&A

December 23, 2019
GearJunkie founder Stephen Regenold has made a career out of writing and outdoor adventures. Yes, he has the best job in the world.

“People need to trust you to be a voice that translates the trends, changes, happenings, and the cutting-edge. For GearJunkie, this means being the first to unveil a product or technology. It’s the primary-source reporting that make you stand out.”

GearJunkie has impressive numbers on social. What’s your approach to cultivating a following?

No secret sauce, just building a good product — articles, videos — and being consistent. You find an audience if you do that. Actually we more and more are deflecting from social metrics toward owned and operated metrics, as those are more true to what we do. Across it all, we reach millions of people per month.

You graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree and wrote a column for the Star Tribune. Was your original plan to be a reporter?

A writer or reporter, yes, that was the plan. I worked at a business magazine for a couple years out of college as an editor and staff writer, and then I went freelance. I had to hustle as a freelancer, but it worked. I was quickly making more money and doing what I wanted, which was reporting and writing about my passion in the world of the outdoors, adventure, and gear. I traveled the world for more than five years and wrote for the New York Times and many of the big publications in which I’d dreamed of seeing a byline. My roots in newspapers and reporting, with a focus on speed and urgency, has helped me at every career stage.

You’ve mentioned that your commitment to reporting has been essential to the growth of your site in terms of traffic and viability. Are you surprised more sites in your category don’t invest in reporting?

You need to be relevant. People need to trust you to be a voice that translates the trends, changes, happenings, and the cutting-edge. That is what news is. For GearJunkie, this means being the first to unveil a product or technology, or a publication that gets the first interview when a significant new route on a mountain is climbed. It’s become almost default for people to think journalism is based on Google search results as a main source; that is the thrust of many so-called content sites around the web. But it’s the primary-source reporting that make you stand out. That is how you can be more relevant, offer exclusives, break through the noise, and add new information to the broader conversation online.

How important is it to your digital revenue strategy that consumers not only click on your page but stay on it?

Great question, because about a year ago we changed from looking at page views and visitors as the king metric to looking at “dwell time.” This reveals how long someone spends on average on a page. For GearJunkie, it’s more than two minutes collectively across our 10,000 articles, which is high. Many articles see dwell or time-on-page as five to eight minutes per reader. That means people are truly engaging and reading in full, not just clicking on a headline and skimming, before going on their way.

What is your mix between sponsored content and unsponsored content?

About 98 percent of what we do is editorial, and the remaining 2 percent is sponsored. However, some of our best work is sponsored content, so we’re not avoiding this area. One example is a 10-part video series, sponsored by Yeti Coolers, called “Great Urban Outdoors.” It’s a series that explores the nexus of outdoor adventure and urban spaces. Yeti sponsored it, and has its name on the content. But it allowed us to build an amazing series of videos and articles that otherwise would not have found the budget to produce within our normal editorial structure. So, often sponsored content can be a big win-win. But you need to do it right and put anything sponsored through the same editorial matrix you do with all published content on a site.

You’ve said that you originally turned to Wired magazine as a template. What about Wired appealed to you?

It was an early template and I remain to be inspired by Wired. In addition to great writing and design, my epiphany was that Wired brought the world of tech into the mainstream. It’s more a culture magazine now than anything else. I think that template could be better applied to the world of the outdoors, where often everything is viewed as niche where in fact the arena has mass interest and should be more mainstream.

What advice do you give other entrepreneurs in terms of managing workload and scaling up and not burning out?

For me, an underlying love for the subject matter has kept me interested and passionate. I love the outdoors, and I have always lived and breathed it. So, working in the industry has been a blessing and a key to my success. I would not be able to put as much into my career without this obsession. Beyond that, a couple things come to mind. Don’t ever compromise on quality. Work hard, but also fast. Hire the right people. Scale what you personally do and your business can grow.

How do you manage your time between all the demands of GearJunkie and having five children?

A great support system to start with my wife and extended family. This means they support on the tactical as well as emotional and motivational levels. But also I just make time for my family. I don’t let work rule all. I work hard and then I give them my full attention. I try and integrate them where I can, too, be it some of my travels, gear tests, events, photo shoots, etc. They are all a part of GearJunkie in many ways.

Do you still have time to get out on the trails yourself?

Every day I am out for at least a little bit in nature to stay fit and connected. Most days this means a run along the Minnehaha Creek or an area lake. But about once a month at least I climb a big peak, bike 100 miles, paddle a river, or camp under the stars. I just got back from Banff, where we climbed 1,000+ feet of vertical stone in a couple of days. That kind of thing keeps me fit, focused, and in the game.