Interview With Mike Rosenberg of Garuka Bars & Ski Wizard at RMU
From skiing over 100 days a year, to cooking up Garuka Bars (they taste better than a Payday) and helping run Rocky Mountain Underground Skis, Mike Rosenberg seems to have figured out what it takes to get the most out of “ski bumming”. (Though this guy is hardly a “bum”-he is one of the busiest, most entrepreneurial minded people I know.)
After getting a graduate degree in business and then doing a brief stint at Homeland Security, Mike moved on to become the head I.T. person at Magic Hat Brewery in Vermont. There he got an inside look at what it took to run every aspect of a business and it opened his eyes to many things that would later help him start his own company. Then, after a knee injury while wakeboarding, Mike set out to find a new hobby to occupy his time. Thus began Garuka Bars. What started as a project for his own entertainment became a bona fide business as friends encouraged him to pursue his energy bar company idea. I sat down with him to discuss how he got to where he is today, how he tailored his dream job, and how his philosophy on “stoke” and happiness has evolved over these past few years. Here is what Mike had to say (edited for length and clarity):
GT: How did you get to where you are today? What prompted you to start Garuka Bars?
MR: So when I was working at Magic Hat Brewery, the brewery manager gave me some honey because he had bees. I had recently hurt my knee wakeboarding and I was really struggling to find stuff to do with my time so I thought that I would try to get creative in the kitchen and kind of become more efficient with my cooking skills. I used his honey to make some energy bars and I was just thinking for myself. But then Magic Hat got bought out and I was transitioned out of the company and moved out here (SLC) to ski bum. My friends were eating them all winter long and kind of pushed me into doing something with it. So I made a website and gave out free samples and it seemed like there was actually some merit to it. I decided to move back to Vermont because Vermont is super supportive of small business and local business especially. At the first farmers market that I did, two separate businesses approached me about carrying the bars in their stores. I didn’t even try and it was great to see how nice and supportive everybody was.
And so at that point, I was making the bars in anybody’s kitchen that would let me. I would just keep all my materials in my truck and drive around (laughs) and make them everywhere…It sounds cool, but it was a lot of work.
I left out the part that when I was working at homeland security it was the first time that I’d had a full time job after skiing over 100 days a year for however many years. I was just sitting in my cubicle thinking how am I going to get even 50 days of skiing this year. And so that’s when I knew that it wasn’t for me. I just started saving 90% of my paycheck and stockpiling money so that I could quit and do something different.
GT: How did you get involved at RMU? From our previous conversations it sounded like you were able to tailor your job there to suit your strengths. Can you explain that process?
MR: I was skiing on their (Rocky Mountain Underground’s) skis forever and it wasn’t so much like “this is what’s wrong with the skis” but it was ideas for how to tweak and improve things and also their website, just the way it worked. The more I became involved with them, the more input and feedback I had on different areas of the business. Eventually they said they could actually use some help, so I helped them a little bit with their website and then I realized there was a lot more I could be doing for them. I pitched them a proposal of “here’s what I think could be done to help take you to the next level, and in these areas”- how I would do it and how it would work. And the rest was history I guess…
GT: Any thoughts on your roles at Garuka Bars and RMU?
MR: Even though Garuka Bars is my company and it didn’t happen the same way as it did with RMU, it is essentially the same thing. I looked at what there was going on with energy bars and I realized that I didn’t like it so much anymore. I thought that there could be improvements. I didn’t intend to do it for other people; I just intended to do it for myself. And it just turned out that other people really liked it too. Every once in a while I’ll get somebody that will say something to me like “oh 260 calories is a lot for me to eat in a bar”. I’ll tell them, well, to be honest I designed it for myself, to eat in the backcountry when I’m skiing. I don’t have access to a full meal so I need calories. I realize it may not fit everyone’s needs, but I was somewhat selfish when I designed it because I wasn’t planning on selling it to anybody, it was just for me (laughs).
GT: Any thoughts on success?
MR: If [you are working on] something you truly like and you are passionate about it then that passion comes across and makes people excited about it as well – it spreads. If I were to make something that I wasn’t excited about how would I sell it as well? People would see that as a reflection of me if it weren’t that great of a product. But when I talk to people about my bars, they know that I think it’s the best bar in the world and they’re excited to try it.
GT: It seems like you haven’t necessarily taken the most well traveled path to get where you are today. Have you ever questioned what you’re doing?
MR: Yeah, it’s definitely a different path. I feel like the most common path out there is that people try to get the perfect job and the perfect car and the perfect house. What I realized when I was working at Homeland Security (as much as I actually enjoyed that job and the large salary that went with it) was that the money didn’t matter if I didn’t have the time to do what I wanted. I would rather be able to ski every day and live on peanut butter and jellies than to be able to ski two days a week and have that extra money. I’m not a millionaire right now, but I can pay my rent and buy a ski pass and I’m my own boss at work and I do what I like!
GT: Though your roots lie in the competitive skiing world, you’ve transitioned into a different side of the ski industry. How has your past as a competitive skier influenced your approach to business?
MR: In some ways it has and in some ways it hasn’t, you know. I think when you’re in the midst of a competitive sports program you tend to have a little bit of tunnel vision. You’re focused solely on your training and your goals for the season and you live within a very small, tight-knit community. I think you tend to be somewhat blind to what’s happening in the rest of the world and to other opportunities that you’re missing out on. I don’t regret that I spent all that time and energy doing that, but I certainly appreciate the time that I have now to do things that I didn’t then. At the same time, I still approach everything that I do in my personal life and my business life with the same attitude that I learned from being a competitive athlete. I am very detail oriented and analytical. I approach things with a problem-solving mind set- if I want to get here what are the steps I have to take to ensure that success- just like trying reach some sort of athletic goal. It sounds very cliché, but you do learn the value of hard work and dedication and the pay off that it can bring if you just stick to it. I mean, obviously there are some things that are literally physically impossible to accomplish but there are a lot of things that are not impossible to accomplish if you just try hard and stick to it every day.
GT: Any final thoughts? Seems safe to say that you have your dream job…
MR: (laughs) I do have my dream job; I just don’t have my dream salary yet. I’m ok with the compromise.
- : Standard