Zach Weisberg - The Inertia Founder
We've had the priviledge of talking to Zach Weisberg, founder of The Inertia, the world's largest digital community in the surf, mountain, and outdoor space. Zach is a clear example of what 'entrepreneur' means. Passionate about surfing, he has made true the dream of bringing the surf community from around the world together in one huge online platform.
When did you start surfing and what was your first board?
I grew up near Virginia Beach, Virginia, and would spend every summer living in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I absolutely love it there, and that’s where I first learned to surf – with my older brother’s help. That started on a BZ foamie, and then I got my brother’s hand-me-down New Sun. It had hot pink and red rails with a blue stripe down the middle and little red flecks on it. I wish I still had that board.
What are your studies?
I was an English Major at Duke for undergrad where I wrestled. Totally different world than surfing. That’s for sure. Then after working at Surfer Magazine for a bit I went back to school to USC where I got my MBA. Both places were exceptionally supportive and amazing in very different ways.
You are the founder of The Inertia, the world’s largest digital community in surf, and outdoor sports. What inspired the idea behind The Inertia?
The idea really crystallized during a trip to New York City where I heard Arianna Huffington speak to a group of Columbia Journalism school students. Her idea for new media and citizen/celebrity journalism resonated with me. Considering the direction of where media was moving, I felt like it could work really well in our space. Nothing like it existed, and after running Surfer’s digital properties for 3 years I felt pretty well positioned to make it happen, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
How did you get The Inertia started?
After thinking hard and reaching out to the voices I wanted to get involved, I worked with a friend on what the platform might look like and another friend who had the technical expertise to set up an infrastructure to sustain it. Then, I wrote out a business plan, which forced me to think pretty hard about issues or challenges that might arise, and after tweaking and refining and worrying about the launch, we finally just went live with it. A quote that stuck with me during that moment went something like this:
“An imperfect plan executed violently is infinitely better than a perfect plan.”
There is no such thing as a perfect plan.
How does your daily schedule look like?
Every day is totally different. Some days are luckier than other where I get to shoot with an athlete and go for a surf, do an interview, and build relationships with super interesting people. Other days I’m doing financial forecasting or meeting with partners or prospective partners. Some days I’m writing editorial or working with our video team on projects. Typically, each day has a little of every aspect of The Inertia in it, and I really enjoy that.
Lily Meola, Zach Weisberg and Rob Machado
You also worked as former editor at Surfer Magazine, what made you quit your job there and focus on creating a business?
I had an amazing opportunity to manage Surfer’s digital properties before anyone cared much about digital. I learned a lot about its value and how to operate a digital publishing platform at that time, and I think that I recognized that media would quickly move in that direction, which didn’t seem to be as obvious, or at least as easy to implement, at such a large, print-first organization. To me, it was a clear opportunity, and the prospect of launching a new digital-first platform was really exciting. Even if it failed, I didn’t see much harm in trying.
Beyond that, I felt like I observed a kind of repulsive exclusivity in the world of publishing in the surf and action space where the only opinions and ideas that held currency came from a tiny subset of the surfing population – mostly white dudes in Orange County and the hubs of industry. I wanted to create a platform that provided an opportunity for all types of people to participate in crafting the narrative of what surf and outdoor culture is. With about 2,000 contributors from all over the world – ranging from icons to talented, everyday folks around the planet, I’m really proud that I think we’ve effectively accomplished that. It’s a very inclusive place that never existed before.
What have you learned from starting your own business?
Mostly that relationships are the most important thing in the world.
What are the biggest challenges The Inertia has come across?
It’s always evolving. The challenges change as we grow and as the media landscape evolves.
Our greatest challenge is to be great at what’s coming rather than what has already happened.
What is that you love the most about your job?
I think the thing I enjoy most is when we bring people together. The events we’ve thrown have always been such a good time. It’s personally fulfilling to see so many great people come together on account of The Inertia. Everyone leaves with a good feeling. I also love when we publish editorials and videos that are challenging in some way. One of the things I enjoy most is reconsidering my position or opinion. I think that’s a gift.
What are the biggest achievements of your career?
One project where I kind of had to pinch myself took place on the North Shore last winter where we released a short documentary called HI-5, which explored the high five between Kelly Slater and Rob Machado at Pipe Masters in 1995 when they were competing for a world title now 20+ years ago. We took a deeper look at that iconic moment and unpacked some of its more relatable themes: friendship, cutthroat competition, and greatness. And we were able to bring Rob and Kelly together to discuss that moment twenty years later, which they had never done before. I’m really proud that we played a role in making that happen. I have so much respect for them that it meant a lot to have their trust in and participation in telling that story. And to physically bring them together to create a pretty monumental gathering makes me really proud. I’ll keep the good vibes from that night with me forever.
Any advice for people who wants to pursue their dream career in the surf industry?
I think the sooner you start, the better. An internship is an amazing foot in the door to learn and build relationships and build a portfolio of relevant work that actually makes an impact at an organization.
After taking a little time to participate in and observe how the landscape operates, I think there’s always opportunity to seek out voids and consider what personal skills might best fill them.
Exciting plans for the future?
All sorts of cool stuff. Stay tuned.
Where can we find you online?
Posted by: Marta Gallardo, on August 17, 2016
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