Elayna Caldwell has been working in the bike industry for over two decades, getting her start at Bell Sports back in the mid-nineties.
In the Fall of 2018, after what the brand called "an exhaustive and perhaps quixotic search," she started a new role as the General Manager of Juliana Bicycles. We caught up with her in late December at her home in central Colorado where she works remotely for the Santa Cruz Bicycles sister brand, and her husband, former Bike Magazine editor Joe Parkin, co-owns a bike shop.
A native Californian, Elayna started riding on the trails behind her house in the hills of Thousand Oaks when she was in high school. "I saw a mountain bike in a window of a bike shop and I was like wow, I really want that. I need that tool for freedom," and she bought the $450 bike – A Ross MT. Hood. Soon after, she started racing mountain bikes when she was studying Natural Resource Interpretation at Humboldt State University. Racing wasn't about being the fastest - in fact, she never moved out of Sport class, but she absolutely loved racing and credits the expensive habit with the reason she got into the bike industry instead of becoming a park ranger.
"I moved to Santa Cruz after I graduated and I was looking for a job," she said. "I got a job at Bell Sports for a few months, in Customer Service. I was super into racing bikes, and I needed a job."
From there, a woman that she says was her fairy godmother got her an interview at RockShox in 1996. They were opening up a Marketing and R&D department in Santa Cruz and she got a job as the Marketing Admin. "RockShox was the coolest place in the world to work at that point in time. It was RockShox in its hay day and also that was one of the peaks of mountain biking. It was pretty freaking awesome." When the brand moved to Colorado Springs in 2000, she wasn't able to move with it, so she looked for another job and found it at NHS (Santa Cruz Skateboards, Santa Cruz Snowboards, Santa Cruz Surfboards, etc.) as the Creative Department Manager.
"I worked there for four years and then I was at Interbike and saw Steve Simons who was one of the founders of RockShox and was working at Fox Racing Shox at the time. He said, 'Hey, Elayna, we need a Marketing Manager.' I interviewed, and then I was the Marketing Manager at Fox Racing Shox for eight years."
After nearly a decade at the brand, she did a brief two-year stint at Interbike before becoming SRAM's Mountain Bike Brand Director. "My team was responsible for all the mountain bike marketing; Brand Communications, PR, the SRAM Women's Program and Sports Marketing."
A job with SRAM meant a move from sunny San Clemente, California to Chicago. "We lived in Chicago for two and a half years. Then I asked my boss, 'Hey, so we don't want to live in Chicago anymore. Can we move to Colorado?' And he said, 'How about Germany?' So then my family and I moved to Schweinfurt, Germany for two and a half years."
She worked out of SRAM's German facility, while her son Nico went to a German kindergarten. Apparently, seven-year-old Nico has already developed a love of VIP tents and hanging out with pro racers.
"It was a great experience. I learned a ton about the German and European market. Due to the proximity of where we lived, we were able to drive to a lot of events that were close. You can drive to Italy or Switzerland - pretty much anywhere within a couple of hours." But it was also difficult to be so far away from family and friends. "It was hard. I didn't have any friends for example. I had work friends, but that was it. It was hard to be away from family. My mother passed away during that time and that was hard."
How did you make the decision to move to Juliana from SRAM?Elayna Caldwell:
It was... first of all, I love SRAM and they're great people and it's a great company and I had an awesome time working there. I would say the reason that helped me make a transition was that I was able to work remotely.
So there were a lot of things that happened all at once. I've always been a fan of Juliana. Juli Furtado actually is a really good friend of mine and so it was just one of those things where it was an opportunity to be able to run all of a company, not only marketing. That's what was really interesting to me.
So how closely were you involved when the initial, Juliana-SRAM team was getting off the ground?Elayna Caldwell:
Funny story. I was in a meeting. It was John Dawson, Sports Marketing Director at SRAM, myself and my former boss in a meeting with Rob Roskopp about the Syndicate. We were talking about the Syndicate team and blah blah blah. I said, 'Hey, Rob. How about if we start the first ever all women’s pro enduro focused team and call it the Juliana-SRAM team?'
So it was kind of your brainchild?Elayna Caldwell:
What were the goals with that team initially?Elayna Caldwell:
Well, have the first ever women's enduro focused team, one. And to get more women out riding enduro bikes and racing and hopefully winning.
That team is still on the website. Is it still around? What are the goals with it going forward?Elayna Caldwell:
Kelli Emmett has become our Sports Marketing Coordinator, which she's awesome at. Anka Martin still races a bit and Sarah Leishman has leaned into her career at Arc'teryx. So none of them were really racing the EWS at all last year. It was kind of on hiatus. In the last few years, Juliana started the Free Agent crew. So we've got this really great group of women that have a lot of potential for the future.
We've got Alex Pavon from Flagstaff and she's doing the social media for Juliana now as well. We have Brittany Phelan who won a silver medal in the 2018 Olympics in ski cross and she had some pretty decent results in the EWS as well. Porsha Murdock who is out of Bend... We have some really great girls in Europe, too. Kelli is doing a great job growing the team and helping them be successful racers.
We've been growing our grassroots racing effort and supporting them the last couple of years. Then this year, we will be reinvigorating our team and sending the top racers to a few of the EWS's. The EWS in North Star and the EWS at Crankworx, Whistler and possibly more.
Is that more the focus - moving towards grassroots racing and ambassadors, or do you see kind of that pro EWS team coming back in coming years?Elayna Caldwell:
Well, it's interesting. Recently we had a company lunch and one of my co-workers said, ‘Wouldn't it be great if we had somebody that could win at EWS?' I said, 'Yeah. Double my budget. I know what it takes to have winning racers and it costs money.' So either you're buying them, or you're forming them. Either way, it's not cheap. But yeah, definitely trying to grow grassroots, and then working with what we can with the EWS.
So you talk about budgets. How are the budgets allocated between Juliana and Santa Cruz? How is it that Santa Cruz has this very elite World Cup team and Juliana can't quite get an EWS women's team?Elayna Caldwell:
The Syndicate is a very mature program that has been around for a long time with very professional support with the ability to attract high level sponsorship. Juliana is still new and we are working on growing our race support.
What were Santa Cruz's initial goals when they started Juliana?Elayna Caldwell:
That's a great question. Juli Furtado was working with the company. There were Juliana products in the early 2000s. Santa Cruz did a Juliana model of a Superlight in 2000 and it was the first mountain bike aimed specifically at women. Juliana was making products under the Wylder brand with smaller grips and smaller handlebars. They did that Superlight, then time went by and in 2013, they revamped the Juliana brand. They came out with several models. The models were all named after queens. The queen of rock and roll which is still in our line called the Joplin, The Queen of Mountain Biking – The Furtado, etc.
Katie Zaffke started in 2013 as the Brand Manager, and she was pretty much the only person that was dedicated to Juliana. She was a one-woman band for quite a few years. The brand was going along. Then two years ago, they hired Kelli as the Sports Marketing Coordinator. Then they decided, "If we're really going to keep this brand and do something with it, we need to have this dedicated position, a Juliana General Manager." So that's where I came in.
So what is your role exactly? What are you hired to do?Elayna Caldwell:
I'm the General Manager. I'm responsible for activating sales, marketing, and working with the product management team as far as what our spec is. It is all the touchpoints of the business.
How closely do you work with everyone at Santa Cruz? How do the two brands work together - Juliana and Santa Cruz?Elayna Caldwell:
We have certain shared services like Graphic Design for example, where it's one department. And the Bike Product Managers - they're doing the spec for Santa Cruz and Juliana. There are plenty of shared departments, assembly, receiving, wheel assembly, HR. I hope I am not forgetting anyone.
As far as marketing goes, our Juliana team is small, but since we are the sister brand to Santa Cruz we are able to plug into the marketing services of the larger team.
There are seven major events that Santa Cruz sponsors... yes, they sponsor a lot of events, but there are seven that are highlights - Downieville, Trans Provence, Trans Cascadia, NZ Enduro, etc. We work on getting some of our racers to those events because we believe in them and they are great for the sport. Those are the kinds of things that we work together on. Then where we can, if there's an EWS that our Juliana racers are attending we will pit with the Santa Cruz team.
What has surprised you the most in your time at Juliana so far?Elayna Caldwell:
How much potential Juliana has.
How are you planning on growing the Juliana brand?Elayna Caldwell:
Well, we had our best year yet in 2018. So that's exciting. I'd say now that I'm here, we have 1/3 more resources. I plan to work with our Sales team and focus on our programs that have been successful. We have the Juliana Ride Outs, which is a series of events that we're growing this year. At a Ride Out event we work with a key retailer. We invite 20-40 enthusiasts/key customers of the shop who are interested in trying out a Juliana. We are focusing and growing the Ride Out program for 2019, and we're also working with our internal demo program to support more demos because typically when you have bikes that cost over a certain amount, which is probably about four to five grand, then demos are definitely something that helps a customer make that purchase.
So focusing on those things, and then also giving a bit of renewed... not renewed because we've never had it, but some more focus in Europe to the Juliana brand. There's been the smallest amount of, whatever a grain of sand is, is how much focus has gone there.
So the shift is towards ambassadors and racers in Europe to help grow the brand there?Elayna Caldwell:
Yep, mostly ambassadors.
Is one of the goals of the brand to help grow women's cycling?Elayna Caldwell:
Yes. I mean, yeah. It's like... I think that's one of those interesting questions: 'Do we want to get women that ride bikes on our bike? Yes.' Then is it new people? Yes, but I would say typically we, from talking with our staff and salespeople, we do the best in markets that are already mature. So your California, your Pacific Northwest, your mountainous states. So typically a Juliana customer is someone that's already a mountain biker.
Would you say the brand is focused on somebody who is already a mountain biker, not somebody who is just getting into mountain biking?Elayna Caldwell:
It doesn't mean we don't want them. I'm just saying that those are typically the people that buy one our bikes because also our bikes are not your lowest price point. Our bikes are, you know, they're premium priced bikes. Perhaps that person might be a brand new cyclist, but typically they tend to be someone who is already a cyclist.
Something I've noticed that Juliana does really well is having strong female cyclists in their advertising and imagery and photo and video shoots. How important is that to you? How was that developed? How is it determined what riders should be shown in different Juliana promotions?Elayna Caldwell:
We've done no new projects since I've been here because I've only been here two months. So I can't really take any credit for any of that that's been done in the past. I would say it's not so different from what we did at SRAM, because at SRAM we did use a lot of the Juliana riders. We had Sarah Leishman in a lot of our content. We sent her to New Zealand for a shoot and she was in a Reverb video and a few things. I would say it's just about showing a strong and powerful mountain bikers that are also people that you can relate to.
Do you have criteria for the ambassadors that Juliana works with?Elayna Caldwell:
I would say people that are good ambassadors for the sport, meaning they reach out to other riders, they help out at our retail engagements, they want to help grow the sport. Many of our ambassadors are also doing interesting things like they want to go to medical school or they're educated or they have other interests besides just mountain biking.
There's this one woman, she works for NASA as some super crazy smart woman. Then there's Rachael Walker. She works for Hope in the UK and she used to be a corporate attorney in London. Another one of our ambassadors has this whole women's series for ride education.
So there are all these various people. Aneela McKenna in Scotland who is a parliamentary speaker. She's a Juliana ambassador. She works on women's rights. So there are all these really amazing women that are Juliana ambassadors. Do we want fast racers? Yeah, but we also want people that are doing interesting and good things in the world.
How important do you think it is for all of those women to be under the umbrella of Juliana as opposed to being ambassadors and racers under the Santa Cruz brand?Elayna Caldwell:
If you look at Santa Cruz, there are not really many women under that brand. We've definitely been using Juliana as our tool to promote women's cycling.
Why is it important that Juliana have different bikes for women?Elayna Caldwell:
They are the same frame, so let's not make any mistakes about that. We do have different shock tunes on our rear shocks for lighter riders. So that is one thing that definitely differentiates the Juliana bikes from Santa Cruz bikes. We do have a few other different things like grips and bars and on smaller frames size of the crank arms.
I would say that it gives women a chance to have their own brand, their own look, their own feel. I want women to be able to have something that they can grab onto that is their own thing, that's not just the guy thing.
What do you respond when people come to you and, I get it all the time, they say, 'Women's bikes are stupid. I don't like women's bikes'?Elayna Caldwell:
Well, first of all, I said that for a long time. I'll admit to that. I would say when Juliana came around, I had a great affinity for the way the bike looked, the way it felt, the brand. It was something that I wanted to be a part of.
We're not making women's bikes that have shorter top tubes that don't fit. There was that whole experiment that many of the bike companies did with women's bikes that they stopped doing. So that's not something that we're doing. Basically, it's like, 'Yeah, we're giving you a brand that you can grab onto and be a part of. If you don't like it, that's okay, too.'
Something that I've heard too often is that women don't buy Juliana bikes and they buy Santa Cruz bikes because of the resale value. That is total bullshit.
How do you know this? I've actually been very curious about this.Elayna Caldwell:
Juliana riders such as Sarah Leishman say, 'Yeah, when I go to sell my bike, I have no problem reselling them for the same amount I would sell a Santa Cruz.'
It is something that I would like to look into because I do think it's complete bullshit that someone would think, 'Oh, I'm not buying a Juliana bike because I can't resell it for the same amount of money.'
Since you started mountain biking, what have you noticed for women cycling? How has it changed?Elayna Caldwell:
Since the early '90s? Jeez. Well, there's really cute clothes now. There were no cute clothes then.
I want to write a book that's called 'The Only Woman In the Room' because I was the only woman in meeting rooms for a really long time. It's interesting because right when I was leaving SRAM, our last weekend, we planned a trip to Moab. We had 20 women from SRAM and we invited all our friends. We had over 40 women on this trip in Moab and it was pretty kick ass. Just like all the women in the bike industry.
I just told them, 'You guys are so lucky. The world you live in now has changed so much. There are plenty of women in mountain biking and plenty of women in the bike industry and it's pretty awesome.' So that's changed a lot.
Do you ever see it being 50/50 one day where as many women mountain bike as men?Elayna Caldwell:
Well, that would be super cool, but right now that's probably not the reality. It's interesting because Orvis, they make fishing gear, they have a program that's called 50/50 and they're working to get 50% of their customers to be women instead of 80% men. Super interesting.
Would it be great if it was 50/50? Yeah.
What do you think is the most exciting thing that's happening in mountain biking right now?
Roam Fest. I think they're doing some cool stuff and I think... the amount of women going to festivals or teaching environments, they're all selling out their events. Do I want to go to another f*cking clinic in my life? No. I never want to see a parking lot with a cone in it ever again. But that is me being bitchy and my coaching friends will smile at this.
I have lots of friends that are coaches, and I've sponsored them, and I've done all that, but do I want to do it? Not anymore.
I think that right now is super exciting... when you go ride, there are so many women riding now. I think it's just the tip of the iceberg. I've been riding with my group of friends for a really long f*cking time and now we're old. But we still have fun, our riding clothes are much better now and we might have Botox.
You just mentioned being the only woman in the room. Has that changed?Elayna Caldwell:
It is slowly changing and improving. I mean, sometimes there might be two, but there's not a lot, especially once you get to a higher level. It's getting better, believe me. There are definitely more women, but still, sometimes you're the only woman in a group of twenty.
How have you been able to rise to the places that you have and have your voices heard as the only woman in the room? What has that been like in your career?Elayna Caldwell:
I never thought about it... How is your voice heard? I would say, when you're working with a lot of other great people, then they will let you... everybody shares and everybody speaks. I don't think that that's a problem when you're working with a lot of other really great managers.
Do you have advice that you would give to any women who are thinking of working in the cycling industry or would like to work in the cycling industry one day?Elayna Caldwell:
I don't personally like saying I want to give advice to women. I want to give advice to people. I would just say work hard. It's such bullshit advice. You get in there, and then you do your job. If you do a good job, people notice and you're able to get a chance.
One thing that we didn't talk about was mentoring. That's something that I had the opportunity to do at SRAM. We had a women's mentoring group and I was one of the champions of that. There were six women in the initial trial group that were involved, and it was super great because there were some key people involved, our CEO, our VP of HR and me who were a part of it. The women were able to get a lot of contact with people that they wouldn't necessarily be able to have a relationship with. I saw these women grow professionally. I saw all of these women totally flourish. It was so great.
That would be something, if I could give advice to people or women, if you can get involved in mentorship programs or anything where you can be involved with people and learn from them, that's a super useful tool.