BendBroadband Concept Stage Award Finalist Q & A Series: Cairn

Rob Little of Cairn Plans to Disrupt How Consumers of the Outdoor Industry Find and Purchase Products


The outdoor recreation industry in the US generates $646 billion in consumer spending each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Whether it’s an established brand with a new product or a fledgling business just getting its start, the competition is fierce as companies work to get their gear into the hands of consumers.

Bend start-up Cairn plans to change the way outdoor companies get their products into consumers’ hands and speed up how people discover and experience new products. Cairn is one of five finalists competing for the Bend Venture Conference Concept Stage $10,000 prize from BendBroadband.

Here, Rob Little, founder and CEO, shares his vision for Cairn.

Q: What was the big idea or experience that led you to found your company?

A: Growing up here in Oregon, I’ve always been an outdoor enthusiast. While earning my MBA I studied the disruption taking place in the retail world (e.g., BirchBox, Trunk Club, Plated, Gustin Jeans, BarkBox, etc.) and wanted to see some of those new ideas and retail models in the outdoor industry.  In the fall of 2013 I built a plan for a business that would do just that – disrupt how consumers in the outdoor industry could find and purchase products.  I vetted the plan with industry experts and was encouraged to make a run at it.  We went live in March of 2014 and haven’t looked back since!

Q: What is the problem that you will solve?

A: The primary problem we solve is actually with the brands we work with.  We give them the opportunity to put their product immediately in the hands of end users, and get feedback on who those people are and what they think of the product.  Think of it as marketing that they get paid for (in the form of us buying the product from them).

On the subscriber side of our service, we are offering a convenience and an experience.  The convenience is having curated new products in a category of interest for them – the outdoors – sent to their doorstep monthly while simultaneously presenting that product in the form of a gift.  The most frequent analogy our customers give us is that it’s like Christmas, once a month.

Q: How does Cairn work?

A: Our subscribers pay $25/month for a box of outdoor related products (e.g., gear, apparel, food/energy, skincare, and medical/survival) delivered to their doorstep.  There is no long-term commitment, you can cancel anytime.  You don’t know what comes in the box, just that it caters to an outdoor lifestyle and that it will far exceed the $25 in value.  Over time we will actual cater the content of the boxes to fit the specific interest of our subscribers.

Alternatively, you can come to our site and gift our service for a set number of months to a friend or family member.  Those gift subscriptions come with a personalized card explaining the service and a note from the person making the gift.

For the brands we work with, we offer an opportunity to direct their product into the hands of their target market: immediately.  No waiting.  Also, we collect data in the form of demographics and product reviews which we can give back to the brands, giving them an analysis of their market and how their product is doing.  We do pay for product, although at a deeply discounted price because of the benefits just mentioned.  Think of us as an extension of a marketing department.  Instead of putting an advertisement up somewhere, they can put product in the hands of users and get feedback on that product.

Q: What success have you had to date?

A: We are the first – and still the only – subscription service catering to the entire outdoor industry, not a single segment of it.  In just 6 months we have shipped over 1300 boxes, all with no paid advertising.  All of our growth has been completely organic.  In August we were admitted to the inaugural class of the Bend Outdoor Worx Incubator here in Bend.  In September we hired our first employee.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face?

A: Keeping all the various components of the business afloat, while simultaneously keeping up with demand is our largest challenge.  At any given moment we’re involved with boxes and content from 4-5 different months.  We’re constantly curating product for future boxes, packing and shipping boxes for the current month, collecting data for past boxes, and analyzing and providing that data back to the brands we’ve worked with.  All while growing a team and a business that is changing in size every week.  It’s a fun challenge to work through – but also a time consuming one!

Q: If you win at BVC how will you use the $10,000 Concept Stage prize from BendBroadband?

A: If we are awarded the $10,000 prize, we plan to invest it into additional subscriber acquisition.  All of our subscriptions to date have been through word of mouth advertising.  There are a number of opportunities for us to attend events and put up booths, do giveaways and promotional events, and to run some targeted advertising as we continue to educate the marketplace about the service we offer.  Once we hit a few thousand active subscribers we can start to do a lot more with the business model (think customized boxes, travel giveaways, higher end boxes, etc.), we want to get there as soon as possible!

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