Robin Thurston developed his interest in active outdoor sports by racing bikes competitively. Courtesy Robin Thurston

Thurston builds future for active lifestyle publishing

BOULDER — In an environment where many publishers are seeing declines, Robin Thurston expects significant growth, enough to take his company public within a few years.

Thurston, of Boulder, is the architect of a series of acquisitions in the magazine and digital publishing business over the past nine months involving active lifestyle titles. His company: Outside Inc., formerly Pocket Outdoor Media.


See related story: Pocket Outdoor buys Outside magazine, changes corporate name to Outside


His strategy is to think beyond ink on paper without abandoning it and creating an organization that provides content but also experiences and services that meet needs of outdoor and active enthusiasts. He is creating a one-stop-for-all media company for people interested in outdoor and active interests.

His audience includes bikers, skiers, runners, hikers, backpackers, gym rats — all manner of people who revel in outdoor activity, athletic or otherwise.

Thurston purchased the active living group of publications from Active Interest Media in August 2020, Big Stone Publishing in October 2020, FinisherPix LLC photo service in November and then topped it all off with Outside magazine and related titles in February from Outside Integrated Media LLC.

“Content is the core of it, the big beachhead,” Thurston told BizWest in an interview. “We knew we wanted to go into channels like experiences, servicing events, utility space like mapping, insurance, connected devices, e-commerce,” he said as he laid out his vision.

FinisherPix, for example, provides photography of athletic events such as triathlons and markets the photos to participants in those events. 

The genesis

The genesis for the company Thurston envisioned goes back to his early days in Colorado. He grew up in Denver and spent his younger years racing bikes and hanging around a bike shop in Wheat Ridge. He trained at the Olympic training center and raced bikes around the world, retiring in 1994. 

He went to work for Lipper Analytical Services, where he learned the ins and outs of investing, acquisitions, how things work financially. He had a masters in finance from the University of Colorado Denver.

Lipper was acquired by Thomson Reuters in 1998. Thomson Reuters provides market information in various formats. Thurston became vice president and global head of research and product management where he, among other things, brought the company into the digital age with online subscription services and digital delivery of information to customers. He learned advertising, subscription and data business at Reuters.

In 2005, he went on a cycling trip to Switzerland, where he had cycled competitively earlier in his career. “Somebody at dinner said ‘it would be cool if I knew these routes as well as you when you’re not here.’” From that comment came the idea for MapMyRide, a mobile mapping service for bikers, hikers, runners and more with trail information available worldwide.

He also co-founded MapMyFitness, an open fitness tracking platform, which was acquired by Under Armour Inc., the sports apparel company. Thurston joined Under Armour in 2009 to oversee the further development of his creations and lead the company’s connected fitness and e-commerce business. He ended his tenure with Under Armour in 2016 as executive vice president and chief digital officer.

He needed to serve out a non compete period after leaving Under Armour, “but I was itching to get back into the space. Inside Communication [Inc.] called and said they were going to shut down some publications.” Inside Communications had VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, Ski Racing, VeloPress, VeloGear, VeloBusiness and other titles. Felix [Magowan, co-founder of Inside] called and wanted help on the digital side. I said I was willing to look at it if given the opportunity to buy the majority share,” Thurston recalled.

Pocket Outdoor Media developed from there, a publishing company that included not just consumer titles but also business-to-business magazines such as Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

A year later in August 2020, “we put together a deal to buy AIM assets and take it out of the venture capital world. We started to pick up other titles such as food titles,” he said.

“Even prior to these, our vision was transforming these from print companies to digital platforms.” Then came Big Stone and FinisherPix.

“We thought we had enough assets in November [2020] to build this base,” and Pocket Outdoor had no intention then of buying more.

Thurston’s mother lives in Santa Fe, the home of Outside Integrated Media. On a visit there, he had lunch with Larry Burke, the founder of Outside magazine. He casually mentioned that if Burke ever wanted to sell to let him know.

At the end of November, Burke called and said he was ready to sell. Ninety days later, Thurston had added Burke’s company and changed the name of his own to Outside Inc.

“We were able to find existing and new investors to pull this all together.“

The plan

Thurston said the newly organized Outside Inc. company has about 1.5 million subscribers with whom it has “credit card relationships.” Publications often sell subscriptions or memberships that auto renew on a customer’s credit card. “We intend to convert all of them to digital first subscribers,” he said.

Advertising revenue accounts for about 50% of total revenue when all platforms — print, digital, television — are considered. “Over the next three years, it will look more like 75% from subscriptions and 25% from advertising,” he said, later qualifying that by saying that he doesn’t expect advertising revenue to decline, but he expects subscription or membership revenue to increase at a faster rate.

“We want to bundle everything so we give you all you can eat of active interest media and activity.

“My goal is to take the company public but we need to get some predictability in the revenue,” he said.

Outside Inc.’s pricing strategy will remain the same as that used by Pocket Outdoor, which had two pricing levels — consumers could buy one publication for $50 or could buy an active pass for $100 and get access to everything.

He expects the advertising side of the business to benefit from the scale of the new company and the ability of sales representatives to sell across titles to the same advertisers. Thurston expects to grow advertising revenue by expanding sales to non endemic sectors. Instead of selling just to outdoor sports-related advertisers, sales will be expanded to companies — banks for example — that might want to reach active interest readers.

“The opportunity is much, much bigger than where we sit today,” he said.

Headquarters for the company will stay in Boulder. “I’m a Buff. I got married at the St. Julien,” he said. The 450 current employees of the company are spread out in offices in multiple locations. Outside magazine operations will likely stay in Santa Fe, where the company owns the real estate. The Outside magazine workers who worked from a Boulder office will likely consolidate into what was the Pocket Outdoor office.

Media business as a whole 

Thurston has been watching the Google and Facebook battle in Australia where traditional publishers are attempting to recapture advertising revenue that has left print and gone to digital. While a lot has changed to drive ad dollars elsewhere, Thurston said, he anticipates a return to publishers and niche publishers. “I’m bullish on the next 10 years,” he said.

Andrew Clurman, CEO of Active Interest Media, the Boulder company that sold some of its assets to Thurston, agrees with that sentiment.

In fact, AIM is on a similar path with the divisions that it retained as Clurman works to turn subscribers into members. “Robin and company had a much more aggressive and better funded plan to accomplish this,” Clurman said.

He said the decision to sell some titles to Thurston came about after getting to know him and seeing that his plan aligned. “It was important to us geographically to have the operations remain in Boulder,” he said. Former AIM staff members retained their jobs and did not have to move. 

Thurston sees a shift back to focused audiences. “Whether it’s active lifestyle or home and cooking — these verticials will attract audiences back. All publishers have to get into the first-party data business and better understand their users to get people to sign in, to use all the services.” 

He likes the combination of consumer publications and business-to-business publications. Referencing publications for bike retailers, for example, he said such B2B titles provide a connection to the industry. 

He also expects the event business to thrive in the years to come. Podcasts, as well, will grow. “People can engage in the activity while consuming content.”

“We want to keep the amazing storytelling alive. We have not cut a single headcount in the whole company. We’ve hired additional people to write and create content. Outside is the star of the portfolio, and that’s why we’re changing our name.”

BOULDER — In an environment where many publishers are seeing declines, Robin Thurston expects significant growth, enough to take his company public within a few years.

Thurston, of Boulder, is the architect of a series of acquisitions in the magazine and digital publishing business over the past nine months involving active lifestyle titles. His company: Outside Inc., formerly Pocket Outdoor Media.


See related story: Pocket Outdoor buys Outside magazine, changes corporate name to Outside


His strategy is to think beyond ink on paper without abandoning it and creating an organization that provides content but also experiences and services that meet needs of outdoor and active enthusiasts. He is creating a one-stop-for-all media company for people interested in outdoor and active interests.

His audience includes bikers, skiers, runners, hikers, backpackers, gym rats — all manner of people who revel in outdoor activity, athletic or otherwise.

Thurston purchased the active living group of publications from Active Interest Media in August 2020, Big Stone Publishing in October 2020, FinisherPix LLC photo service in November and then topped it all off with Outside magazine and related titles in February from Outside Integrated Media LLC.

“Content is the core of it, the big beachhead,” Thurston told BizWest in an interview. “We knew we wanted to go into channels like experiences, servicing events, utility space like mapping, insurance, connected devices, e-commerce,” he said as he laid out his vision.

FinisherPix, for example, provides photography of athletic events such as triathlons and markets the photos to participants in those…