We had the good fortune of connecting with Kevin Conn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kevin, how do you think about risk?
Risk taking has always had a special place in my heart. My mom would love that I chose this question, as I grew up with her constantly reminding me that I had a tendency to “throw caution to the wind”. I’ve since learned how to better evaluate risk, and subsequently make more calculated decisions regarding those potential risks, but the excitement of the unknown is still probably my largest driving factor and motivator in both my personal and professional lives. Having always been an adrenaline junky, risk taking has been a constant for me. From rafting, to skiing/snowboarding, snowmobiling, climbing and whatever other outdoor sport I could find my way into, to buying, owning, operating, and caring for a business and its constituents in the outdoor industry, it has always felt like the line between safety and sanity is a little blurry. I bought my business in January of 2020, roughly a month and a half before the entire world got shut down. I had just taken a massive financial risk, that I had spent almost 7 months evaluating with the help of friends, mentors and my parents, and in an instant, it all got put on hold with no true return to function in sight. My business is an ancillary service provider in an industry that depends on travel and tourism, which at the beginning of 2020, didn’t seem like it was coming back around anytime soon. As much data as I could put on a spreadsheet, conversations had with banks, and nights with mentors spent thinking about how owning a business would change my life, nothing could have prepared me, or anyone, for what the pandemic would do forever alter the way the outdoor industry would survive and thrive. That being said, despite the pandemic, 2020 and 2021 ended up being some of the biggest years the outdoor industry in Colorado has ever seen for demand and per capita spend, and 2022 is tracking to look like another amazing year. Folks were trying to get outside, recreate, and travel more than they ever had. Once I bought the company, I was committed to the risk that I had undertaken, despite the circumstances, so the only way to survive was to roll with the punches, and I have that same support team of friends and family, as well as my absolutely stellar management team, and everyone who’s ever gotten behind a camera for my company to thank for my growing success in this industry.
What should our readers know about your business?
Rapid Image Photography LLC, DBA Rapid Image & Colorado River Photos, is an action sports and adventure photography service provider in Colorado. We specialize in creating memories for guests to take home after their rafting, ziplining, and snowmobiling trips on 9 different stretches of river and across the entire state. Our top-tier standards for quality, efficiency, and technology differentiate us from any other providers in the industry. I had never used a DSLR, much less any sort of professional-grade camera prior to my first day on the job, and the running joke in my company is that I’m still not a photographer. I’m just a business person who occasionally has to get behind the lens. I went to the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and when I graduated with a degree in operations management, continued to be a raft guide, working at Whitewater Rafting LLC, while exploring different business prospectuses and beginning a job in corporate sales based in the Vail area. Nothing in the process of going to school, navigating a new job, new home, and new business was easy. I was still working on figuring out what being an adult meant, eating ramen and canned beans while trying to make rent and show up to work on time.
In the time that I’ve owned Rapid Image, I have learned more than any academic or corporate environment could show me. I’ve learned what true loyalty means, and how to appreciate and reciprocate it. I’ve learned what true stress, something I mistakenly thought I had learned in college, meant and felt like. The soul crushing, impending sense of doom that constantly floats in the back of my mind, that one day this could all go away just as quickly as it showed up if I don’t make the right decisions with my finances, relationships professional and personal, and employees, is like nothing I’ve ever felt, but it makes one hell of a motivator. I want the world to know that I want to make a difference in my industry. I want to combat the toxic sides of the outdoor industry that I’ve seen since I’ve began working in it by providing an inclusive, safe, fun, and welcoming workplace that does everything it can to provide above-market compensation and work flexibility, while having more fun than anyone else in the game. No one can do this on their own, so make sure you show the people that help and support you the appreciation they deserve, and do it in a way that has substance. We are going to continue to grow our company and brand, with future goals being expansion outside of the Colorado market into various other adventure hotspots in the US, showing folks an amazing time and giving them the memories to hang on the wall when they get home.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say that. There’s an abundance of outdoor activities to do regardless of season, in any direction from my house for hours. If I had friends coming up during the winter, I’d say let’s get the snowmobiles out on Rabbit Ears Pass, and escape in the abyss of the back country, miles from anyone else for a day. We could go hit the slopes at Steamboat and grab food in town at any of the amazing restaurants after, or we could just walk out my front door to the myriad hiking trails right there on and around the old Stagecoach Ski Resort and Stagecoach Reservoir. During the summer, I’d say let’s go down to Idaho Springs and get on Clear Creek, or go hit the Shoshone section of the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs (bonus points that we’d get some sweet photos of us doing cool river things) and then grab sandwiches at Big B’s in Idaho Springs or tacos at Slope and Hatch in Glenwood Springs.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I was hoping more than anything I’d have the opportunity to shoutout to the folks who have made all of this possible for me. I’d like to thank my fiancée, Shay, parents, Brian and Keri, and grandparents, who were, and continue to be, my biggest support system throughout the entire process leading up to and after my acquisition of my first ,and now second, companies. I would also like to give a HUGE shoutout to my management team and some of my best friends, Jared Estrada and Stephen Ross, without whom absolutely none of Rapid Image’s growth would have happened at the rate or efficacy that it did. I feel unbelievably fortunate to have them by my side helping facilitate an amazing workplace culture and incredibly high standard for the work that we do. I’d like to give a shoutout to Taylor Nichols and Elise Eppinger, two Rapid Image OGs that were there the day I bought the company to show me how to use a camera, ride a snowmobile, and get the ball rolling on the amazing professional adventure I was undertaking. Shoutout to Collin Remmers and Devon Starnes, my two roommates and best friends before, when, and after I bought the company, for always shooting straight with me with advice, and listening to me vent the stresses of my work over a beer anytime I needed. I would also like to thank each and every outfitter that employs my services for trusting us to help build an amazing guest experience for everyone who walks through their doors. Lastly, I owe more gratitude than I could ever express to Jessica Marsan and Brad Riggle, the previous owners of the company, for how well they have and continue to set me up for success with this company, and trusting me with the legacy that they have been building for longer than I’ve known what I wanted to do with my life, and Phoebe and Erik Larsson, two of my closest mentors and friends, for introducing me to Jess and Brad, endless hours and late nights of consulting and advice, a bed to sleep in, an office to cry in, and the confidence that I could truly make something of myself in this industry. Thank you, and I love you all for helping me make this dream come true.
Instagram: rapidimagephotography & coriverphotos
Stephen Ross, Rapid Image Photography Kevin Conn, Rapid Image Photography