For Kurt Hohberger, what started as a school project now has half a million followers
I once heard that happiness is making your hobby into a career. For Kurt Hohberger, his hobby turned into the job that millennials dream of. He works from home, travels the world, and runs a social media platform with over half a million followers.
And it all started as a simple school project.
The challenge was to demonstrate how blogging can reach people all over the world. Through BMX Union, Kurt proved that one single website can have a huge span of influence.
Although he is very humble, Kurt loves his city and is working to make it a better place. In addition to keeping up with BMX Union, working as an IT assistant, and doing social media management for a company in Spain, Kurt works with The Commission and with Keep Pushing Forward, an organization seeking to improve the condition of the Silver Lake Skatepark.
I recently sat down with Kurt to hear his story. The responses are slightly edited for flow and clarity.
How did you start this business?
When I was younger I used to bike a lot more. All my friends rode bikes, and I got into photography and making videos that way. Then, I ended up learning how to do website stuff, like, really basic HTML coding when I was in seventh grade. That’s when I made my first website, around 13, and then I stuck with it.
As my friends started getting out of it [biking], I started moving moving into the Midwest area. It fell into place that a more established website asked me to help them out and come work for them. I worked at the website for a while, until I went to RCTC for my first semester of college, and took a communications course.
One of my assignments was about how blogging could reach people from all over the world. I started my own online magazine, the same way the other guys were doing their thing: doing a lot of interviews with professional riders and industry people. I did that for the semester while working at the other website, and it was always a side project.
Eventually, I ended up leaving that website to work for another magazine that I had always read and was really excited about. In the two years I was there, I became the online editor, but I got sick of being told 'no' all the time because they were owned by a publisher. They had rules, but I wanted to do all these different things, so I was like, 'I still have this side project, maybe I’ll just focus on that.'
What was the inspiration for continuing BMX Union?
It was one of those things where it was never meant to be a big thing. It was a school project when I started, and then something I liked to do, and then it was like, 'whoa, this is kinda catching on.' I had met a lot of people in the industry, so I was able to reach out to brands and ask them to advertise. I was able to make money and continue making these fun video projects, taking photos and trips. At one point, I had about six people working for me. It built up to a really cool thing.
Where do you hope to take the website?
As long as I can keep doing it, and help people get discovered. It’s never been about me. I’ve always taken a behind the scenes approach. I would always prefer to be a person who helps make things happen, but I don’t expect the recognition. It’s always been about this brand or this rider, which is putting the focus on other people. That's always been the goal. It’s cool; some of the people I interviewed when they were kids are now professional riders.
How have things changed since you started?
It’s hard right now. There's a lot of transition with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. They're all doing a lot to get people on their pages, so I don't think websites are going to last much longer. They're like newspapers. They exist, but they're not as necessary as they used to be. I have a friend who has a YouTube channel, and in the last two years, he has built it to a million subscribers. He doesn't need me anymore, but when he started, I would help by getting people to take notice of it. It's grown into it’s own thing.
Can you tell me about how you're involved with the Silver Lake Skatepark?
I’ve always gone to the Rochester skatepark. It opened when I was 14 or 15. For myself, it’s always been somewhere I spent a lot of time at, met a lot of really good friends. It was really good exercise; it was all these really good things. I feel like sometimes skateparks have this bad rap where outsiders see it and say, 'oh, they’re just a bunch of troublemakers, causing problems.'
It’s not like that at all, it’s just a different way of doing things. It’s not football, it’s not soccer, it’s just different. I think it has had a huge impact on my life, and I know it can add value to someone else’s. That was the place I learned to take photos, make videos, and just interact with people. I would like to see future generations have that opportunity.
For example, this past weekend, I was at the X games, and a kid that grew up in the Cities, and spent some time in Rochester to skate, just won the X games. I’ve watched him from 12 years old. In skateboarding, Alec Majerus, who is from Rochester, got a silver medal, competing against the best skaters in the world, as well. I think Rochester had a little bit of say in that.
For Salute to the 4th, which we do through The Commission, Sunny [Prabhakar] had asked, 'we’re doing this event, do you want to do a skate contest?' So I said, 'yes of course, let’s do this.' We did it the first year, and we realized that there is a real need because the city doesn't have a budget for the skatepark. They’ll keep up with the basic cleanup and repairs, but they never expanded.
So after the Salute to the Fourth, we got together to start this nonprofit called Keep Pushing Forward, and essentially the goal of the project is to not only maintain, but expand the skatepark. Fifteen years ago when the skatepark was opened, the city had a master plan, which was this huge park. They did one expansion, and then cut the budget for it because the city didn't want to spend the money on it. So now we’re working on raising the money to do that, but it's $800,000 to $1 million to finish the project.
How are you working to raise this money for the organization?
We've been doing a lot of local events. We’re in the process of writing grants. That’s a whole different ball game. Prior to this, I had never done anything like that. Pages on pages on pages, and you need all this information. Right now we’re working with an organization called Stantec, and they have an in house grant writer, who is helping us. That's what we have to rely on. We can’t ask the city to give us the funding. We don’t want to do that.
Written by contributor Micalyn Maier. A senior at Mayo High School, Micalyn enjoys reading, writing and traveling. She wants to pursue a career in journalism covering social justice issues.
Cover photo by Corrie Strommen