We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do, but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their stories in our new series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life profile. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details—from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves—we’re not holding back.
Whether she was hitting her local trails or road tripping through a national park, Evelynn Escobar couldn’t help but notice how homogeneous the outdoors were—and she decided to do something about it. In 2017, she started Hike Clerb, an intersectional women’s hiking group, to reclaim space for women of color in the outdoors. By sharing photos of the group’s excursions on Instagram, it didn’t take long for Escobar to cultivate a diverse and inclusive community of women who also wanted to see themselves represented on the trails—and in other outdoor spaces like beaches, parks, and pools.
Once Hike Clerb reached over 20,000 followers on Instagram, it was clear Escobar had a movement on her hands. And, although the club has always been dedicated to serving the community, last year, she officially registered Hike Clerb as a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. “Everything we strive to do is for our community,” she tells Create & Cultivate about the decision. “Not to turn big profits. Not to make an organization that must run the capitalistic rat race. Something for us, by us.” And her mission has attracted the attention of publications by the likes of Teen Vogue and Condé Nast Traveler, as well as major brands such as Nike and Free People Movement.
Ahead, Escobar shares how she’s paying it forward to her community, partnering with brands to do good, and leveraging social media to start a movement.
Can you tell us a bit about your career background and what you were doing professionally before launching Hike Clerb?
Before I launched Hike Clerb, I worked in the fashion and beauty industries as a social media marketer.
What was your “lightbulb moment” for Hike Clerb and what inspired you to pursue this path?
My experience as an outdoorsy Black Latina inspired me to create Hike Clerb. Whether it was hiking alone or realizing just how homogenous the outdoors were on road trips, I wanted to create a solution to the issues I noticed out there.
How did you come up with the name Hike Clerb? What are some of the things you considered during the naming process?
To be honest, it was something that came very intuitively without much mental exertion. Clerb is just a funny word that I and many friends use when talking about clubs of all types, so it was just a natural fit to go with something that felt familiar and lighthearted.
Last year, Hike Clerb registered as a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. Can you tell us about that process and why you decided to take this route?
It was actually a decision that I sat with a bit. For us, it was between creating a social enterprise or a nonprofit. Ultimately, the nonprofit won because everything we strive to do is for our community. Not to turn big profits. Not to make an organization that must run the capitalistic rat race. Something for us, by us.
What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the organization?
When I started the organization, a little over three years ago now, the only place we existed was Instagram. I’d post all of our events, recaps, etc. there. Later I created our site and secured our handle on other channels. We are currently in the legal process of securing our trademarks etc.
What research did you do for the organization beforehand? Why would you recommend that due diligence to other nonprofit founders?
Before embarking on our 501c(3) journey, I took a look at the way other nonprofits in the industry were set up from a financial perspective just to give us a sense of direction. Things like, what type of donation platforms are commonly used? What types of programs and grants exist that we could apply for? Etc.
Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful? If not, what did you use to guide your organization instead and why did you take that approach?
Yes and no. Yes because I do have a business plan in a very nontraditional sense, and no because the bulk of this has been learning as I go. I have a sense of direction and bigger goals, dreams, collaborations, etc. that we are actively pursuing, but at the end of the day, where our strength lies is that we are very much intuitively led and it has allowed us to transcend and innovate in the space like no other.
How did you fund Hike Clerb? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend that route to other founders?
It has been a mix of self-funding and donations from our community. Now we are receiving bigger corporate donations from time to time for collaborations etc. I think it can be hard at first for people to want to invest and buy-in when you’re just getting the funds to get off the ground. Nonprofits don’t magically churn out content, events, etc. out of thin air. There is always a team behind the scenes that needs to be compensated for their labor and creativity that brings the vision to life and a lot of people forget that. The operational costs have to be covered before you can move on to plan b and c, but most people want to invest in the shiny event or program, etc., not the non-sexy organization costs of what’s needed to even be able to run.
Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you know what to pay yourself?
I do not pay myself from any of the funds we have raised for the organization and it is a very intentional effort to not do so. I value my team and the initiatives and programs that we are trying to get off the ground. As long as I’m able to sustain them, I’m happy to finance myself through my own platform, etc. It was really a no-brainer for me to proceed this way.
How big is your team now, and what has the hiring process been like?
We are a team of three! Me, as the founder and executive director, Jennifer Martinez as our director of operations who also assists with collaborations and partnerships, and Stephanie Sleiman who is our art director and designer at large. At first, accepting help was difficult for me because I didn’t really know where to start. I had been running things by myself for the first two and a half years before they came on. Both Jen and Stephanie were Hike Clerb members who volunteered their skills and time in any way that I needed and that’s how it all started. There was no formal call to hire. Now that we have a small but mighty team, we are looking to bring on a few more members to really help make our bigger plans come to life.
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup?
We do have an accountant who was already someone I had a relationship with because of my personal finances. They didn’t come along until after the 501c(3) status was solidified.
What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing Hike Clerb and running a 501c(3) nonprofit organization?
The biggest learning curve has been finding the resources needed to really legitimize everything. When it comes to legal and financial recommendations, they can be hard to come by. These things aren’t widely spoken about, but they should be! Just getting everything needed to run smoothly has been a process!
Our main source of news, promotion, etc. was our Instagram! We created content from all of our hikes to promote what we were doing, who our members were, etc., and it organically grew from there.
We are very intentional about the brands that we choose to partner with. They not only must align with our mission and vision but play a role in helping our community in a tangible way. Whether that’s making a donation, donating items to help BIWOC get outdoors, or all of the above! They’ve helped us introduce our work to new sets of eyes which has only strengthened our platform.
Do you have a business coach or mentor? If so, how has this person helped, and would you recommend one to a fellow founder?
I do have many mentors, but not a dedicated business coach per se. I am thankful to all the women of color who have invested their time and efforts in helping me along my business journey. I would absolutely recommend that everyone have at least a mentor or someone in their corner they can turn to about these things.
What is your number one piece of advice for any new founder in the nonprofit (and/or for-profit) space and why?
Be married to your mission. If your mission is not a natural extension of you—something that comes so naturally to you that you can talk about it in your sleep—then sit on your idea until it becomes that. You should be so clear on why you’re doing what you’re doing that there is no question in anyone’s mind of why what you’ve created exists. When you create out of an authentic place, you’re setting yourself up for ultimate success.
What’s next for you and for Hike Clerb? What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
World domination! But really, bigger in-person events, more programs, a new way to consume our editorial content, ways to participate across the country, and, for me, a new little addition to my growing team and family.
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