Lizzy VanPatten began She Moves Mountains in order to confront the lack of female presence in the world of climbing and professional guiding. Today, we’re speaking with Lizzy to discuss entrepreneurship and the impact her business has on female empowerment.
This interview has been gently edited for length and clarity.
GoDaddy: Can you tell us a bit more about your business?
Lizzy VanPatten: She Moves Mountains is a rock climbing guide service that exists to encourage women to push through boundaries — real or imagined — on the rock and in day to day life. We do this by teaching technical climbing skills to help women become self-sufficient rock climbers, hosting rock climbing and yoga retreats with the intention of encouraging women to take up space and connect with themselves and others, as well as private guiding for groups of friends wanting to get outside and try something new.
GoDaddy: What inspired you to start your business?
Lizzy VanPatten: After years of being told who I should be, what I should look like, how to define success, and never quite fitting into that box, climbing created a space for me to realize my power and challenge the traditional idea of what it means to be a successful and confident woman.
After recovering from depression, I didn’t know how I wanted to exist in the world.
And then I tried rock climbing.
Through climbing I learned how capable I truly am, that failure is a part of the process, and that there is much more to life than traditional ideas of success.
Through climbing, I built a community where, for the very first place in my whole life, I felt that my whole self was embraced exactly as I am. I wanted to share what rock climbing taught me with anyone who wanted to try, so I decided to become a guide.
But, in all of my guiding courses, I have never had the opportunity to learn from women, and am often the only woman in the courses.
On my very first climbing course, I was the only woman for 10 days with 10 men. It was intimidating. As a 25-year-old girl, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing a tent with a 30-year-old man I had just met.
In addition to my own insecurities and fear of trying something new, I also worried that my performance would represent all women. That if I struggled on a climb I was proving that women can’t keep up. That if I cried I was demonstrating that women are weak, or too emotional. But that’s all bullshit.
I created She Moves Mountains to provide opportunities for women to learn from women. To show women that being strong and brave is not mutually exclusive from crying and expressing vulnerability. To prove to women, through my very existence, that we are capable of taking on leadership roles in adventure sports.
GoDaddy: How does your business reflect who you are as an individual?
Lizzy VanPatten: Sometimes I feel that my business and I are one and the same. Or rather, that my business is the best version of myself. It is welcoming. It embraces fear. It challenges the way our society has been and strives to be an example of how approaching one another with compassion and as equals can lead to incredible changes.
GoDaddy: How are you making a different future?
Lizzy VanPatten: On a small scale, my business has directly resulted in an increase of female leaders in the outdoor space. On a larger scale, my business serves to empower women to fight for themselves and take on leadership roles.
In other ways, we volunteer with incredible groups doing amazing work to diversify the outdoors like Portland Climbers of Color. Through free clinics for this group, we hope to support them in their work to make climbing a welcoming sport for all people, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, or religion.
GoDaddy: What’s it like to be an entrepreneur?
Lizzy VanPatten: At times lonely. Other times stressful. I have had to learn so incredibly much in the past 3 and a half years. I have made poor decisions. Decisions that have negatively affected people I care about. And at the end of the day, there is no one to blame but myself.
However, when things are going well I feel like the luckiest person to have the privilege to make a living doing something I believe in.
GoDaddy: What are you most proud of in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Lizzy VanPatten: I am most proud of not giving up when it got really hard and for continually challenging myself to use my privilege and resources to do more for my community.
GoDaddy: Where do you hope to be in five years? 10?
Lizzy VanPatten: I’m a weird entrepreneur. I don’t have big goals of getting rich and tend to prioritize play over work. In five years, I would be content if I could afford to pay my guide Katie a yearly salary and get to rock climb or play outside four days a week. In 10 years, I would be psyched to buy a property in central Oregon for me to be able to host our retreats.
GoDaddy: What do you wish people knew about being an entrepreneur?
Lizzy VanPatten: It’s lonely. Requires incredible amounts of resiliency. And failure is part of the process. Forming a good team cannot be underestimated. And even when it feels impossible make sure to never stray from your values.
GoDaddy: How important is community to you and your business?
Lizzy VanPatten: Community is EVERYTHING to my business. This year I thought we were done. I was out of work for an entire year and my community rallied around us to keep us alive.
GoDaddy: What’s your guiding business philosophy?
Lizzy VanPatten: Our mission is to create an educational space for women (cis, trans and femme) to realize their strength through rock climbing.
I’d say our philosophy is to treat everyone as a human with a story to tell. To engage with each individual as if they are the most important person in the world, because when they are on the rock they are, and to try and get them to see themselves the way that I see them.
GoDaddy: How did 2020 impact your business?
Lizzy VanPatten: We were closed for an entire year. It was devastating. But, we decided to create apparel to help us generate revenue and we developed a covid response plan to make our programs more resilient.
GoDaddy: What do you hope to accomplish in 2021?
Lizzy VanPatten: I want our clinics and retreats to sell out. And I would like to expand the volunteer work we do. I also hope to have the funds to hire other people to contribute their stories to our social media so that I can share from a diversity of experiences which I have not lived.
GoDaddy: Do you have any advice for women entrepreneurs?
Lizzy VanPatten: Ask questions. Choose a judgment-free support team who will challenge you to be better but will hold you up when you break. Build a solid network. If you’re going into a male-dominated field, be ready to work twice as hard for equal respect.
Take up space and refuse to be silent.
People will talk but if you put your head down, do good work, their talk will fade and what you built will be left shining. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.