On Living Authentically With Jess Hana (aka Jess The Maker)

You might know Jess Hana from her wildly popular and hilarious Instagram account @jessthemaker. Her funny and relatable mountain bike videos poke fun at herself and at mountain biking culture as a whole.

In this podcast interview, I chat with Jess about how she got started making videos, her creative process, and her life in Bentonville.

But my favorite takeaway from our conversation, is the sense that Jess is living (and making a living) as her authentic self. The person you see in her videos is who she really is: a funny, slightly goofy gal who loves mountain biking. We could all benefit from Jess’ example–to show up as ourselves and to lean into our unique talents.

jess hana interview

Listen To The Interview

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Or Watch On YouTube

Photo credit: @hilarylextreks

Stuff We Discuss In This Episode

  • The creative process behind Jess’s videos.
  • How she balances content creation with being fully engaged on a mountain bike ride.
  • What women motivate and inspire her.
  • Mountain biking in Bentonville, Arkansas.
  • The importance of being okay with feeling uncomfortable.
  • And more!

Connect With Jess

👉 Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/jessthemaker/
👉YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@jessthemaker
👉 Website: https://www.jessthemaker.com/

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About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist

Full Interview Transcript

Transcript has been edited for clarity.


Kristen
Jess Hana, thanks for joining us. You’re known for your Instagram @JessTheMaker, which is quite entertaining.

Jess
Thank you, it’s great to be here.

Kristen
How did your Instagram journey start?

Jess
Originally, @JessTheMaker was my graphic design handle. I studied graphic design and worked in tech, doing web design and marketing. It was also my personal account where I posted about my life. During the pandemic, feeling burnt out from design work, I moved to Bentonville for mountain biking and took a break. Here, I started coaching with the Women of Oz, a local organization. After relocating, my mountain biking passion reignited, leading to increased riding and eventually making humorous videos in early 2022, which unexpectedly turned into a career.

Kristen
Did you have any prior video making experience?

Jess
Yes, somewhat. My design background involved a similar editing process. I learned a lot about video editing at an advertising agency where I worked after college. In 2016, I created a video for a contest with a friend, which won us a trip to Grand Targhee, Wyoming. That experience inspired me to get into mountain bike coaching. While I’ve learned a lot on my own, I use CapCut on my phone and DaVinci on my computer for editing.

Kristen
Do you shoot your videos on your phone?

Jess
Mostly, yes. iPhones are great for this. For bigger client projects, like one I did with REI, I sometimes use another camera or hire someone for help.

Kristen
What’s your creative process?

Jess
I start with a concept, using Trello to organize my ideas. I add to each idea over time, like matching a song or audio. For client projects, I pitch the concept and often script it out for approval. The process includes filming, editing, posting, and engaging with the audience. Batch creation is ideal, but it can be challenging to manage time efficiently due to various factors like weather and personal commitments..


Kristen
The Trello board idea sounds very useful.

Jess
Before Trello, I used the Notes app, but Trello is more efficient. You can use it on your phone, prioritize tasks, and move them between columns like ‘Filming’ and ‘Editing’. It’s satisfying to move tasks to the ‘Done’ column.

Kristen
You’re really funny. Is that just your personality?

Jess
It is. My friends say my online persona is just like me in real life, which I’m proud of. I’ve always used humor to connect with people. Growing up as an Asian American in Pennsylvania, humor helped me fit in and be seen beyond my ethnicity. It’s always been a part of who I am.

Kristen
It’s great that you’ve made a career being authentically yourself.

Jess
It’s been a journey. I feel lucky to tap into my humor for my career, though it’s just one aspect of my personality. I’m also introspective and need time alone to recharge. Being the brand and personality behind my content has its ups and downs. If I’m not feeling up to it, it’s challenging to create content.

Kristen
How do you balance biking as a personal passion and as a job?

Jess
It depends on the day. Creating content can enhance the experience, but sometimes it intrudes on enjoying the ride. I make sure to be present, especially when riding with friends or my partner. I don’t create content like reels on those rides. It’s about reminding myself to enjoy the moment.

Kristen
What’s your experience as a woman and a person of color in the male-dominated, predominantly white mountain biking industry?

Jess
I’ve always been around white males in different aspects of my life, so it wasn’t new in mountain biking. I felt welcomed in the sport and chose to surround myself with welcoming people. While I’ve had some negative experiences, they’re in the minority. Being welcoming can significantly impact someone’s experience, especially for people of color and women who might find the sport intimidating.


Kristen
Have you met any inspirational women in the bike industry?

Jess
One of my closest friends, Amy, was among the first women I rode with in Ithaca, New York. I mostly rode with men in my early riding years, so meeting her and other women riders was significant. Amy is visiting Bentonville soon, and I’m excited to reconnect with her. The group of women I met in Ithaca were heroes to me, especially during group rides which were more social and inclusive. I also admire Lindsey Richter and Meredith of Ladies AllRide, who inspired me to get into coaching. Katie Holden, founder of Formation, is another inspirational figure.

Kristen
Lindsey Richter’s episode on this podcast was the most downloaded.

Jess
I’m not surprised; Lindsay is a phenomenal human. I met her at Rome Fest in Fruita and had a great time.

Kristen
Where are you originally from and how did you end up in Bentonville?

Jess
I grew up in Pennsylvania and lived in Ithaca, New York. My ex-partner and I traveled around the US in an RV, exploring mountain bike towns, which brought me to Bentonville for the first time. Later, while living in Idaho with my current partner, Tony, we decided to move to Arkansas. We bought a house online in Bentonville, sight unseen. It’s a fixer-upper, and we’ve been working on it for two and a half years. The community and riding here are fantastic.

Kristen
What’s your favorite ride in Bentonville?

Jess
It’s hard to choose. Slaughter Pen and Kohler Mountain Bike Preserve are go-to places for jumping and technical riding. I still have many trails to explore in and around Bentonville. My friend Brittany Ducharme says her favorite trail is the one she’s on, and I agree with that. I love finding fun wherever the trail leads, even though I’m not a fan of long climbs.

Kristen
When is the best time to visit Bentonville for mountain biking?

Jess
Avoid mid-June to mid-September due to heat. Fall and spring are great, offering mild weather. Winter is also a good time; it’s less busy, and the weather is relatively mild with few bugs. Snow doesn’t stick around for long, so you can still ride.

Kristen
Why mountain biking? Do you do any other cycling disciplines?

Jess
I’m mediocre at many sports but have devoted the most time to mountain biking. I grew up skiing on the East Coast and have considered trying other sports. I’ve heard Pickleball is popular, though I’m not confident in my hand-eye coordination. I also enjoy kayaking. Interestingly, I’m surprisingly good at foosball, a skill I honed while working at a company with a foosball table. My partner Tony and I often play, and I usually win, much to his frustration.

Kristen
Are there any foosball leagues?

Jess
That’s something I should look into.

Kristen
Do you enjoy any other cycling disciplines?

Jess
I like mountain biking, but I’m also curious about gravel riding, which is popular in Bentonville. The area recently hosted the Big Sugar gravel race. I’m also interested in the Women of Oz Sunset Summit, a coaching event and expo. Other Bentonville events include the Bentonville Bike Fest and the Rule of Three race, which combines road, gravel, and mountain biking.

Kristen
Have you been to other events outside Bentonville?

Jess
I love the Sedona Mountain Bike Fest, despite a snowy year recently. ROAM Fest in Sedona and Fruita are also great. Dirt Fest used to be a favorite, a grassroots event that felt like a party in the woods.


Kristen
Where can people connect with you? Do you have any sponsors or shoutouts to give?

Jess
You can find me on Instagram at just the maker, as well as on TikTok and Twitter. I also launched a YouTube channel, Dirt Scouts, under the same handle. It’s for longer-form content, combining humor and depth in mountain biking experiences. One upcoming series is “Get Over It,” about overcoming mountain bike obstacles. My sponsors include Mir, based out of Boise, and Stan’s NoTubes, from Big Flats, New York. I also have product sponsors like hapax, Versus tires, and hand up gloves.

Kristen
What bike or bikes do you ride?

Jess
I ride a Rebel Rascal, which is one of the first bikes they made, and a Specialized Stumpjumper EVO, which fits me well at 5’3″. I’ve also got an e-bike, which is fun for getting more miles in and enjoying jumps without getting too tired.

Kristen
Where’s your favorite place you’ve ever ridden?

Jess
The southwest U.S., like Sedona and Tucson, was awe-inspiring with its desert landscapes and exposure. Also, Squamish and Whistler offer some of the most beautiful trails and scenery.

Kristen
What is your favorite thing about riding your bike?

Jess
It’s the people and places I get to meet and see through biking. It’s more than a sport; it’s a tool for unique exploration and connecting with others.

Kristen
After our recording, Jess shared some additional valuable advice.

Jess
My advice, especially for those new to a sport or anything, is to embrace progression and show up. It’s about being okay with looking, feeling, and sounding weird. That’s how you improve. Accepting discomfort is key to learning new things, whether it’s on your bike or being on camera. It might feel awkward at first, but with practice, you get better. If you’re not trying and pushing through discomfort, you won’t progress.

Kristen
That’s a great perspective.

Jess
Having awkward experiences as a kid prepared me for adult life. Being okay with not being okay, and being uncomfortable, is important. We all have embarrassing moments, but it’s about how you handle them and move forward.

Are You Listening To The Femme Cyclist Podcast?!?

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A podcast for women who love bicycles! We we celebrate all forms of riding and all forms of women, so whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker, or bike commuter, you’ll find your community here. Each week we’ll week bring you interviews from inspiring women, and offer tips and tricks to help you thrive on the bike.

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