Darrell Wade, Co-founder of Intrepid Travel
Building One of the Largest Adventure Travel Companies in the World with Darrell Wade of Intrepid Travel
Anyone can have a great idea, any entrepreneur can get lucky and make it big, but it takes something really special to turn your startup into something that lasts.
For the past 27 years that’s exactly what Darrell Wade has done with IntrepidTravel. It all started in 1988 when two friends went on a trip to Africa and came back with an idea, something that would revolutionize the travel industry forever.
Despite the lack of confidence from the banks and everyone telling them otherwise, Wade and his cofounder knew that there was a market being underserviced out there. So channeling his own passion for traveling, he created a startup where, for more than four years, his salary was only a third of his previous job.
Since then, IntrepidTravel has turned into a $300 million business and has successfully transported 350,000 travelers around the globe in the previous year alone!
Despite hardships, Wade vigorously reinvested back into his business, focusing on building the best product he could possibly offer, and creating a company with staying power to support it all.
Today IntrepidTravel is one of the premiere travel agencies in the world and it all started with a passion and desire to change.
- How to start a business in the travel industry
- How to make your business grow on a tight budget and learn about the risks that you have to take for your startup travelling business
- The advantages of re-investing to make your business grow
- Unique ideas and Actions items to get a lot of travelers book with your agency
- The importance of mutual respect when it comes to leadership and your organization
- How to identify the leverage points where you can scale up in your business
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Darrell Wade
Nathan: Hey, guys, hello and welcome to another episode of the Foundr Podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I’m your host coming to you live from Melbourne, Australia. So, I hope you’re all having a great start to your 2016. Things have been pretty hectic for me so far but we’re off to a cracking start and really, really pumped. So, anyways, about today’s guest, now this one’s a really interesting one because for those of you that I guess have been following along the Foundr journey and the story of Foundr and my journey as an entrepreneur, some of you will know, some of you might not know, that I actually started Foundr, oh, we’re getting close to three years now.
We started March 2013 and when we hit March we’re gonna be operating for three years now. And I actually started Foundr on the side while I was working my day job and, you know, this episode is, I guess, not only just like an amazing interview where we interview Darrell Wade who’s the founder, co-founder of Intrepid Travel, which is the company I used to work for. And, you know, this year they’re gonna do, they do like over 300 million revenue, they are a pioneer in the adventure travel space, and they’re doing really really cool stuff. And, yeah, like I said, if you haven’t been following the journey, you know, here I am, three years later. I obviously left my job and I’ve gone full circle now, interviewing pretty much my old boss.
And it’s really, really cool to be able to speak with Darrell and delve a little bit deeper on the Intrepid story and we talked about a lot of things that not even I knew. And I think what’s most awesome about Darrell is he’s just such an extremely humble guy, a super, super, savvy, smart entrepreneur. He’s a mentor and a great friend of mine and he’s taught me a lot. You probably wouldn’t know this, but in the early days when I started Foundr while I was working at Intrepid, I was actually sued for trademark infringement by one of the biggest business magazines in the States.
Now, I can’t say who that was, but I can tell you that it was a very traumatic time especially starting your first ever business and not knowing anything about entrepreneurship to actually get sued and not knowing anything about being sued for trademark infringement. And Darrell actually helped me through that ordeal and I’ve always been very thankful that he was able to do that and support me. And, yeah, he’s been amazing supporter of my journey as an entrepreneur and the Foundr brand every since. So, yeah, look, that’s it from me, guys, as I said this is an interesting story because I’m, like I said, pretty much interviewing my old boss and he is a absolute weapon entrepreneur.
So if you wanna learn about investing, entrepreneurship, scale, growth, team-building, leadership, we talk about this and so much more on this episodes. So it’s a ton of fun, okay, I’m sure you’ll get a lot of gold from this. Now let’s jump into the show.
Darrel, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Darrell: Thanks, Nate, it’s a pleasure.
Nathan: It’s really funny because, you know, you were essentially my boss and now I’m interviewing you.
Darrell: You’ll love the subject, Darrell. It’s very threatening.
Nathan: So it’s a ton of fun, like, it’s funny that I’ve gone full circle with Foundr and I can interview you because, you know, you’ve done some amazing things with Intrepid, Intrepid Travel, you know, you’ve disrupted a market, you’ve built an amazing company. So, yeah, look, thank you so much for taking the time.
Darrell: Pleasure. I well remember being on the train one day and you’re coming up to me and saying, “Hey, Darrell, can I interview you?” for your magazine. And I’m thinking, you’ve got a magazine? Look at you now, well-done, Nate. Go for it.
Nathan: Well, thank you. So I guess the first question I ask every single person that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Darrell: Well, immediately after university I had a couple of jobs, but I have to say, I was pretty bloody lousy at jobs. I was never a very good employee, so I guess I kind of…you think, well, what am I gonna do in life? What am I really good at? I’m quite a good traveler, can I make a living out of travel? Can I make a business out of travel? Maybe. So you toss around ideas, eventually, you come up with an idea. Might work, might not work. I was lucky, it worked.
Nathan: So take us back to the beginning, like that moment you…you guys have been going for 22 years, 23?
Nathan: Oh, jeez, 27 years.
Nathan: And this was your first startup?
Darrell: Pretty much, yeah. We obviously had lots of different things and whatnot but it’s kind of an interesting story in that my girlfriend at the time, then became my wife and is still my wife, I used to often come home with her, to her with ideas for businesses. And, you know, I’d be a crappy employee somewhere and I’d come home and I’d say, “Hey, I’ve got this fantastic idea, you know, I reckon there’s a huge opportunity in yabbies.” And she looks at me and goes, “Yabbies.” For non-Australia listeners, they’re kind of like a prawn thing and I’ve never done any farming. And she just said, “You’ll be a terrible…you know, you can’t farm, you’ve got no idea what it’s all about. Disaster shucking, don’t do it.” You know, three months later you come home, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea. I think we should import ultralights.” You know, they’re these new trendy things, they’re gonna be fantastic. Takeover the world, blah, blah, blah.” Never quite did, but anyway, she goes, “You can’t fly. It’ll be a disaster, you’ll kill yourself, you’re not doing it.” So I didn’t do it.
This kind of rolls on and then eventually I have the idea for a travel company and she goes, “You know what, that could be a good idea.” And I thought, “Okay, if she’s saying it’s a good idea, we’re going.” And it was a good idea, so there you go.
Nathan: Awesome, and so you met your co-founder, Manch, at uni together?
Darrell: Yeah, day one of university in fact.
Nathan: Day one of university, you went to Melbourne Uni and you were still coming up with business ideas, like how long were you guys friends until you did your first trip and tell us about that?
Darrell: Yeah, so we did the same, we were in the same residential college together, doing the same course together. So we got to know each other pretty well, and then at the end of that three years we went off traveling together just for fun, as you do. Got back, he got a job, so I got jobs, blah, blah, blah, partners, all that kind of thing. So we knew each other for, must have been 10 years, I think, before we started the business. So that was really good because we’d traveled a lot together, had never actually shared a house but, you know, did a lot of stuff together so we knew each other really well, and the good, the bad and the ugly, if you like. And so I think, you know, starting a business particularly with a co-founder, one of the biggest issues is that trust and knowledge about the other person. And we were kind of lucky that we were able to stress test that partnership outside of the business environment. So, you know, we’ve been super lucky, we’ve never had a crossword, the two of us in 27 years of business. It’s not bad.
Nathan: Wow, yeah, that’s really good. So you did some travel and then how did the idea get conceived like so you’ve taken your partner, Anna, and you thought it was an idea, like, after you went on the trip?
Darrell: Travel’s been a part of my life since I’ve been little, so my dad used to travel for his work, and we’d quite often tag on it, you know, the family would tag on at the end of the holidays. So, I guess, it’s all in…this is in kind of the 60s when traveling as a kid was relatively unusual. And so, you know, I guess travel’s always meant something, it’s a part of my life and it’s just something I loved and, you know, through various trips before Intrepid, you know, I’d go for a year of traveling through Asia and then work for a couple of years, a year of traveling through Africa, etc., etc.
So, again, that’s kind of unusual and I suppose, just…I traveled in a certain style, a certain way, largely as an independent traveler. And Manch and I just had this conversation one day about all the advantages of traveling on your own just with a lonely Planet Book and away you go for a few months and it’s terrific. But also the disadvantages, if you like, from a normal person’s perspective. You know, like most people can’t take two months or three months or a year or whatever to go traveling or don’t. And so we just kind of thought well, is there a way to combine all the advantages of independent traveling in terms of being close to the culture or meeting people and using 100 different forms of transport, staying in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, really getting to know a culture, but doing it in a semi-organized way so that you can be efficient and do it as part of your annual leave.
And so that was the idea and we just kind of thought well, we can do this, do this, do this, put together kind of a one-page business plan if you like. And thought, yeah, that should work and at that point, Anna goes, yeah that probably will work.
Nathan: Oh, okay, got you, so…
Darrell: So she was the first market testing, the first validation.
Nathan: I’ve got you, got you, got you. So I’ve always seen this photo of you, Manch…
Darrell: Do we have to talk about that?
Nathan: It’s really…I’m just curious like I really wanna go back to the moment. So I think that’s really important, like, so, yeah, tell us about that.
Darrell: So that’s that photo in Africa and I’ve got a beard and shorts on and that’s all kind of, you know, someone says, “You were the original hipster, we’re you?” “No.” Anyway, yeah, so I guess you, you know, like anyone starting a business you have an idea and you think what it could be and you condense it into this, you know, business plan or model or whatever and you start to think about distribution, you start to think about where you’re gonna get money from. But ultimately you haven’t got a clue, have you? You don’t know whether it’s gonna work, you don’t know really even how to do it, you’ve possibly never even worked in the space before. Like I never knew anything about the travel industry, didn’t know anything, didn’t know anyone. But got back from Africa and Manch went on and traveled a bit through the States.
So I got back and just trying to start to work up the ideas in a bit more formal sense. I had to talk to a banker who didn’t wanna know about us, but surprisingly, you know, they’re not gonna lend us money, why should they? So I managed to scrape up some money for myself in terms of the first period of time. Went and had a, got a, had a couple of contacts who kind of created a couple of contacts and just talked to them about the idea, people who should know, if you like. And it didn’t go particularly well to the degree, you know, they said, “Oh, that’s not gonna work, why would people do that?” So basically we’re talking about almost a glorified backpacking, if you like. And people just said, “No, people won’t wanna do that, they wanna go on a coach tour or they wanna stay in a four-star, five-star hotel or whatever. Why would they wanna do that, that’s sounds weird.”
We go, “Great”. And three or four people said this to us and so at that point you kind of have that dichotomy almost and you think well, on the one hand maybe it’s a good idea and it’ll work, just no one’s thought of it or maybe it’s a really dumb idea, we’ll fall flat on our face and we’ll be all over in three months of whatever. And again, I kind of went home and my all-knowing wife said, “Well, what’s the worst could happen? You know, if it doesn’t work, you go out and get a real job and that’s fine and at least you’ve got it out of your system. Or conversely, maybe it will work.”
Nathan: That’s what you said to me when I was thinking of leaving Intrepid.
Darrell: That’s right, and I didn’t wanna lose you, Nate, don’t get me wrong but you’ve gotta get this thing, you gotta give it a crack, don’t you? What’s the worse that can go wrong? I think I said come back to us.
Nathan: That’s right, that’s right.
Darrell: I don’t think you’re gonna be back.
Nathan: So, you know, I still think, like, it’s very hard, like how did you get customers, tell us about your first couple of trips, like how, and cause you kind of like invent, like, I don’t know if you could say you invented that sector but adventure travel didn’t exist, like you said.
Darrell: Well, not like it is now, that’s true and look, certainly make no claims about inventing it, I don’t think so. But I suppose in terms of carving out a new space in the travel industry, yeah, we probably did do that. And so, you know, I’d like to say we’re geniuses and it all went really well but the reality is it didn’t, you know. We put half of our startup capital into a physical travel brochure. There was no internet then, pre-internet, pre-email, you know, long time ago, distributed that travel brochure around travel agencies, knocked on doors. But the reality is most travel agents weren’t interested in the space at that time, so you put a couple of ads in newspapers, remember those?
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Darrell: And you got a few phone calls but, you know, we were just having a talk before about, you know, the virtues of Facebook and Google and what not in terms of advertising. Well, let me tell you, newspapers were worse even then, a little than what they are now. And so, you know, the very first year we chewed up all of our startup capital which admittedly was only $20,000 but even so it had all gone, and…
Nathan: Yeah, that’s decent, back in those days.
Darrell: Yeah, thanks, and the first year we took 47 travelers so that’s hardly a great, you know, a roaring success. The next year we went and put a new trip together in addition to the first one, got up to 150 travelers, the next 500 travelers etc., etc. And so just, you know, gradually grew but the first three, even, in fact, I remember a lunch with Manch in year four and his kind of opening line was just, “Isn’t it going well, it’s going really well.” He’d been leading trips most of the time in Thailand and he’d just kind of come back. And I said, “Well, yeah, it’s kind of going well and we’ve really got some growth going. But my wallet’s still empty and well, I’ve got a kid now and things have changed and not got enough money, buddy, and we’ve gotta really work out whether this is gonna work.” And I think he was a little shocked because even year four, you know, kind of, you know,I was earning a third of what I was in my previous job, it wasn’t enough. So it was slow, it was really slow and fortunately, that growth momentum maintained and, you know, I guess the rest is history to a certain extent.
Nathan: Okay, so just to give our audience a perspective, where is Intrepid at now? You used to be peak.
Darrell: So Intrepid is now a group if you like, so there’s Intrepid Travel which is a tour operating brand, which for all the world that’s exactly what we’ve always done. Small group, adventure holidays, off the beaten path, very immersive etc. Over the years we’ve either started or acquired a whole heap of other businesses as well. Some of which are highly complementary, some of which are more kind of competitive space but because you own them, it doesn’t matter they’re cutting for new in different markets. But all of what we do is largely in the experiential adventure kind of let’s get out there, have some fun, do some stuff.
Nathan: Got you, and are you able to give some numbers around that or?
Darrell: Oh, yes, well, the first year, what was 47 travelers or whatever, this year I think it’s 350,000 travelers or something like that so our turnover is about 300 million or so. So it’s still just the two of us running it. We had a listed company as a shareholder for about four years as you will remember, only about four months ago we bought them out, that just wasn’t quite working. I think they were good people and it wasn’t…they weren’t…it was just a different culture clash. And so whereas my partner and I have always been on the same page, this shareholder was listed on the Futsi in the U.K. so it was very short-term, financially focused, high short-term return, very low-risk tolerance.
None of those things are bad, it’s just not where we’re coming from. We tend to take a longer-term view, we tend to see financial returns as an output, not as an input, if you like and we don’t mind taking a bit of a risk. You know, if we wanna go and say let’s go and have a look at China or let’s go and have a look at this new destination or a new product category, play with it, just like probably 98% of your listeners and readers do. You just gotta have a bit of a crack at things, don’t you?
Nathan: That’s right, like what are your thoughts on risk? I tend to say that I’m quite risk adverse, I like calculated risk, how about you?
Darrell: Yeah, look, I think it’s not so much whether you are risk averse or not, it’s really understanding your appetite for risk. So it’s slightly different. So when you look at an opportunity, you try to say okay let’s look at this, is the likelihood of return good or bad? And so, therefore, you can look at that and say okay, I can do that, I can absorb that, I can take that on board or whatever. So, you know, and so I think, I guess my appetite for risk is moderately high. Having said that, we had never bet the farm, you know, so you have a bit of a crack at something new but you don’t put all your money into it or whatever because it’s just crazy, that’s just stupid. But to a certain extent if you don’t try new things you’re never gonna grow, you.
Nathan: You can’t rest on your laurels.
Darrell: And to a certain extent, you know, you’re gonna get bored as well, it’s kind of fun when you start, isn’t it?
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right, it’s exciting.
Darrell: You don’t…I don’t have to anymore and maybe I should just go and live on a beach or something but no, I’d be bored in 10 seconds.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, so I find it fascinating that, you know, four years in, you know, you had that conversation with Manch. I find that really interesting. When did you guys start to get like that hockey stick-type growth and what kept you going?
Darrell: So I guess the, part of the problem was we, we’re just reinvesting every single cent in the business. And so that’s one of the reasons, you know, it was growing nicely and that’s one of the reasons, I guess, Manch was thinking it’s going so well because we just kept investing, you know. And so we did that, but I suppose it was after that period of time where we just said okay, well let’s at least pay ourselves a semi-decent salary and, you know, a couple of years later you got a dividend, I think, for the first time, you know. And so then it’s fine, but in essence, we’re still reinvesting and so it wasn’t a hockey stick in terms of growth but, you know, every year you’re growing between 30 and 60%. And so, you know, on a compound basis that starts to add up pretty quickly.
Nathan: And what do you think fueled that besides just like sheer grit, momentum, fueling, reinvesting?
Darrell: A bit of momentum, yes. I think at the end of the day you’ve gotta look at what your client proposition is. And I think, you know, we did touch the market to the degree that clients had a bloody great holiday. And at the end of the day if whatever you’re doing isn’t as good as it can be, you don’t really deserve to exist and you’re certainly not gonna grow. So we just kept saying, okay, look, if our financials vaguely stacked up and we keep giving people the best holiday they’ve ever had, we’ll probably do okay as a company and sure enough that’s what we did do. So you just keep concentrating on, you know, improving your itineraries, tweaking things here and there, training your staff, doing whatever it is to make sure that, you know, that particular trip is good fun. You know.
Nathan: Got you.
Darrell: That’s it, so largely it’s word of mouth driving the business model ultimately and, you know, I’m probably a marketing guy but I used to really annoy a lot of our marketing staff because I’d say, “Guys, you know, no matter how clever we think we are in terms of the ads that we design or the strategies we bring to market or whatever, we know most of the people who are traveling on our trips are doing so because they’ve had a friend or they’ve had a travel agent who said, “Hey, these guys at Intrepid, they’re pretty good. They do good trips.” You know? So it’s not our genius. Bugger.
Nathan: Do you have a good focus on product then? Obsessive focus on product?
Darrell: Arguably still do. You know, we often had this conversation at a leadership team level, still work 27 years later. And some would argue that we’re too obsessive about product. Now I…and we should be more obsessive about the customer. However, if you’re obsessive about product, why? Because you wanna make it as great as you can for the customers. So I’m not sure that it’s that much different really.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s all about the experience because…yeah, okay.
Darrell: It’s everything, you know, we’re tour operators, we’re not creating equipment, you know, we’re not creating phones or, you know, there’s no hardware to it, there’s no real IP to it, it’s really just that emotional piece that we’ve gotta consistently deliver. You know, it’s not even the quality of hotels or transport or anything like that, that’s just logistics. For an operator like us, it’s all around delivering those joyous, special moments of travel so everyone goes, “Oh, fuck, I can’t believe I’ve just done this,” or, “This has got a”, you know, “I’m so glad I’m here. This is the best thing.”
Nathan: Those wow moments.
Darrell: Those wow moments and it’s all about that and so, you know, everything we do is to do that. Now, you can’t manufacture that. All you can do is kind of almost like a chaos theory, put a whole lot of stuff together and those wow moments start to happen. But that’s our IP almost as a business but, you know, you do that through product development and staff development and so forth,
Nathan: Got you. So you said you’re a marketing guy and I know marketing has been always a passion piece of yours. Do you have like three action items that you can give?
Darrell: You could have given me this question in advance.
Nathan: Well, just hit us with some really like solid things have always, how would you in good stead…like I know, you taught me, this is a really interesting story. I remember you told me one day that you went on this big holiday and you reckon that’s where you come up with your best ideas and you come back, and you came up with this idea for the blog. And this is when blogging was big and absolutely crushed it. You told me you got like so many, I can’t remember how big your email list was but lots of emails, yeah, like…
Darrell: You know, when I went off we just started this email newsletter as it was, and, you know, I think we had, you know, we got up to a couple of thousand or something like that. And then I took three and half months off to go traveling with the family and, you know, just kind of thinking about a little bit more when I was away and then I got back and I thought oh, bugger, I’m gonna do this thing myself and really have a bit of a play with it. And, yeah, we got up to 180,000 people in kind of…I think it was only a couple of months or something. And it’s just one of those step changes, so every now and then you have step changes as a business.
One of our first really significant ones was, it actually goes back to newspapers. It was about year three and we just started looking at Vietnam. So Vietnam in, this is in 1992, Vietnam was closed, you know, there’d been a war there only 15 years earlier or whatever it was. And not a destination at all but it was just starting to open up, cracks were emerging and we knew we could do something there, put a couple of staff up there, got some vague itineraries together to run a trip. And then a well-known author released a four or five-page article in a good weekend, color supplement in a paper. And saw the article on Vietnam and great article, just about how things are changing and the emerging and all that. And I said okay, this is a go moment and so the very next weekend, in the same magazine, we took a double-page spread in there to advertise one trip to Vietnam.
And so, you know, a couple of people in the business were going, “What the hell are we doing?” And I said, “I’m not quite sure, but I think it could work.” Not a great premise but it did work and because people had seen that article a week before, you know, that kind of magazine people read it every week at that time, and so then they saw the ad there. Fortunately, I got a distressed rate on the ad because it was last minute. And we got hundreds of calls, we filled, we booked 72 passengers off the back of that particular ad which way more than paid for itself. And it was just, again, it was just that step change and sometimes…I’m not sure if I’ve got three things or not but to give you…
Nathan: Yeah, just give some best practices.
Darrell: But I think one of the things you can do is go where others aren’t. So, you know, sometimes you gotta put your kind of balls on the line a little bit and say okay there’s an opportunity here, don’t know whether it’s gonna work, you’d like to test it and validate it or whatever. Sometimes you just can’t, you know, in those days that ad was 20,000 bucks, that was a shitload of money, that was my annual marketing money, ad budget. I put the whole marketing budget for the year on one ad in one paper on one day. Could have been stupid, turned out okay, a bit lucky perhaps but I think sometimes you’ve just gotta do that, you’re gonna make a bit of a splash.
And, you know, one of the things that I often find about our business but a lot of businesses I look at, they try to be too many things to too many people. And particularly in a marketing context, you do a bit of Google and a bit of Facebook, and then you do a blog and then you try and do this, and then you try and do that and you’re probably not doing any of them particularly well. You know, see if you can find something that you actually are pretty good at, it’s an uncluttered space ideally and then you can own it and stick it, stand out, you know, and it’s the billboard theory almost. That, you know, do something, do it so people go, “Huh, wow, that’s big.” You know? Or whatever.
Nathan: Yeah, that actually sits really well with me because that’s kind of like, you know, how we found Instagram and that’s been amazing customer acquisition transfer.
Darrell: Yeah, so you just taken off over there, those
Nathan: Half a million, almost half a million followers in just over a year and have tens of thousands, almost hundreds of thousands email subscribers, it’s been crazy, you know, just hundreds of thousands dollars. So, yeah, that makes sense.
Darrell: Yeah, so it’s, yeah, just find something different. Do it well, you gotta do it well though, you know that’s the…
Nathan: Yeah, the focus.
Darrell: Let’s never forget that if you do something half-assed, it’s just not gonna work for you. And, you know, whether it’s your core product, like us as a tour operator or whether it’s a piece of marketing or whatever, you know, it’s easy to just throw stuff out there but it’s just not gonna work unless it sings, you know, so it’s really gotta talk to people.
Nathan: Okay, so I have a question for you, Darrell, that I don’t know…I know you’re gonna be super humble about it and this is something that…
Darrell: No, I’m a genius.
Nathan: This is something that I’ve found amongst you as an entrepreneur and it’s something I aspire to be like as well, is you’re always extremely humble and I think you don’t…like you’ve had some massive wins, you’re a super successful guy, but how do you stay so humble? Like how do you stay so level-headed?
Darrell: Well, partly it’s because people only notice what you are successful at but, of course, I notice the things that I’m not successful at. So you’re only telling half the story here, you are concentrating on what’s worked for us as a business, right? I happen to know there’s a whole shitload of stuff that we’d really rather not talk about.
Nathan: Could you just come on, come on tell us some good ones.
Darrell: So like I can’t add up, for instance, I’m useless on finances and when we had this listed company on our books, we’d have quarterly board meetings with them and that’s just page after page, after pages, spreadsheets and PowerPoint financial presentations and all that. I’m just useless at it, you know, and so, but, you know, we tend not to talk about that kind of stuff. We tend not to talk about the business that you started and you put half a million bucks into or something and disappeared in three months or whatever and you think, “Okay, so much for that one.” You know, so it’s…you know, from my perspective of it’s, it’s it’s, you know, I know I get heaps wrong so it’s hard to if you like.
Nathan: But still, Darrell, I think, you know, not anybody can achieve the kind of things that you’ve done, that you and Manch have created with Intrepid. Like what makes you.
Darrell: Well, see, I’m not entirely sure about that. Well, you know why, because, you know, I don’t, I know I’m not especially clever. We had a reasonable idea and no offense, Nate, but you’re not a genius or anything but you’ve done super well.
Nathan: Well, thank you.
Darrell: And so I think…I actually think to a certain extent anyone can do it, but not anyone does. Now that’s different, so some people don’t for whatever reason have the courage, they don’t have the desire, whatever it is, but I’m not sure that a lot of people can’t do stuff, it’s just that they tend not to or they’re too scared.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s a big one, yeah, people are way too scared.
Darrell: But, you know, like I was saying to you a couple of years ago, you know, what’s the worst that can go wrong? Not that much. You know, you have a crack at something, it doesn’t work, big whoop. Get over it, get over yourself. It’s only getting yourself, isn’t it? No one else could really give a damn.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right. That’s so true, okay. Yeah, you really shot that one out. I didn’t expect that answer. Okay, let’s talk about leadership because that’s something I think you’re really good at, too. What advice…
Darrell: It’s the same story.
Nathan: Okay, well like leading a team, you know. Like what can we learn from your experience there?
Darrell: I’m unsure as to whether I am good or not, but even still take that as a premise, if you like, that I’ve done okay, obviously. I think for me the biggest part about a team is…oh, I guess the first thing is it’s a bit like a product or marketing or whatever. Make sure you have something to work with, you know, it’s gotta, you’ve gotta have good people there in the first place. And if you haven’t got good people there, it’s really difficult to lead a team. Because, at the end of the day, a group of people needs respect above everything else. You’ve gotta have mutual respect in that group of people in the room. So if you’ve got a degree of respect in the room, then it’s really easy to lead because you can gather thoughts and gather thinking and work it through as a team and that team will be reasonably happy deferring to you in a leadership role to say if there’s, you know, we could go one or two ways and you only can go one way at that point I might say okay, let’s go this way or I might say you know what I don’t know which way is the best way, let’s work it out collectively.
And I think you do that a few times, people get more and more respect for your style, you work well together, generally speaking, because you’re getting the best ideas possible, the results will be pretty good because five brains is better than one. And so you’re harnessing those brains in a constructive, positive, forward-looking way and it starts to work. And so once it starts to work, it becomes a reinforcing, self-fulfilling prophesy. Because you’re working with a group of people who have confidence and have faith in themselves, and have faith in you as a leader, I suppose, but really it’s an internally-built faith that starts to just propagate the future and it works.
But again, you know, it’s built off luck and success. Let’s say for a second that evaporated then I can equally imagine there’d be a negative feedback loop that goes the other way. And you see that in some businesses, too, where they’re floundering for whatever reason and leadership doesn’t help. You know, we acquired a business about five years ago and it was a shocking bloody business, it was a terrible business, and no amount of love or if at all leadership could turn that around. And they weren’t bad people but it was just all sorts of things wrong with that. And we couldn’t get the bloody thing to work, shocking.
Nathan: Got you. So what about culture? Because, you know, when I worked in travel I had a really good time, it was so much fun and one thing that I can always take away from that experience was that everyone…you’re always on this like…there was no hierarchy and everyone was really friendly and if you, you know, you could always have a chat with someone, if anyone needed a hand there would always somebody be there to help you and a very supportive environment.
Darrell: I mean if you…everyone spends a lot of time working, so if you’re gonna go to a place and spend a lot of hours there, you wanna be with people you like or vaguely respect and enjoy their company and all that. So, it doesn’t mean that you have to go to your desk and sit behind your cubical and do nothing but work. Well, one, that’s probably not very productive work anyway, but two, it’s not what you wanna do in life, you wanna have a bit of a chat, you wanna have a cup of coffee, you wanna, you know, throw around ideas and stuff like that.
So it seems to me just common sense to say, well, yeah, enjoy work. If you’re not enjoying work and not thinking, yes, it’s good, don’t come to work or find somewhere you do like, more to the point, you know. So our workplace is our workplace, another one is another one and we all have a certain style or whatever which will suit certain people, but it won’t suit others. You know, if there’s a, I don’t know, a super high-performing, aggressive finance type who just wants…incredibly aspirational and all the rest of it, they’re probably never gonna fit in at our organization. That’s cool because there’s lots of other organizations where they will, you know.
Nathan: So have you, have you spent a lot of time developing the culture ever since the beginning or is that something that kind of manifested?
Darrell: In the early days, definitely did, and I can’t say I have really in the last few years. And, indeed, you know, I kind of think if anything it’s probably not as good as it used to be. But when you’ve got a few hundred or a few thousand people working in your organization it’s, it is much harder to keep your finger on the pulse with culture. You know, culture is a funny thing and arguably we perhaps haven’t invested enough in culture in the last few years, although interestingly enough, for the last six to nine months has been very positive in the sense because you can, you can take your pulse of your culture. But sorry, where was the question going?
Nathan: I guess, what, I guess, you know, where in terms of, you know, when you first started on your, working on your culture like…
Darrell: Yeah, yeah, so the early days it were super critical but…
Nathan: What did you do? What did you do? That’s what I’m curious, what did you do?
Darrell: Well, I think we..
Nathan: It’s a long time ago now, isn’t it?
Darrell: It’s a long time ago but, and I say we worked hard on it, but I don’t know that it was hard by design. I think it was more hard because it’s just the kind of workplace I wanted to work in. And so I’d had a couple of jobs where I didn’t actually enjoy going to work. And so I thought, okay, well, I wanna have my own company, that’s fine for me as a shareholder but I also wanna work with people I wanna work with and all that, so, and I wanted them to enjoy working. Now, being in the travel space it kind of helps because people are coming and going and you’re always talking about stuff that you love anyway, so it’s quite a good like that. But you just kind of think, well, hell, you know it’s…you and I might have a beer later on and I quite like a beer in the afternoon.
So, you know, some days you just get the beers out at…you know, in the early days you get out the beers at 12:30 or something and you’re having a few peers in the office and that’s kind of good and it’s slow, the phones aren’t ringing, “Let’s have a beer.” You know? And that just builds fun, you know, and so, I mean, some days you really hit it hard or other days, but flip side is other days there’s work on and you’re bloody there to like 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, whatever it takes and those same guys who you’re scarfing off having a beer with two weeks ago, you’re all putting in. And that’s culture, you know, it’s not just about good times, it’s about when you’ve just got a job to get done and everyone knuckles down and really does it.
Nathan: Got you, because I think that’s a really fine line to have this kind of relaxed culture but then when the chips are down or when you expect people to work, you push them to work, yeah.
Darrell: I don’t think it’s a fine line, no, I don’t quite agree because I think it’s a personal pride issue. Most people in the world actually wanna feel good about what they do and so if they’re doing a job, they actually wanna feel like, you know, and it’s not leadership job, it might be in your case fixing computers and stuff, you know, but you think, hey, this guy’s have got a problem with their work, or their computer or whatever, I wanna try and help them. And you wanna walk away from there thinking you’ve made a difference, you know, and that’s…most people when they come to work they wanna do that. And so in that sense, it’s just how am I seeing that, isn’t it? And it’s just saying to people, you know, “You be yourself. You be comfortable in the kind of person you wanna be.” And hopefully, that fits our collective culture, but we still want you to be a great person and we still want you to do great work. And, you know, if you just walk up because you wanna have a yack of people or beer in the afternoon or something like that, no, that’s not how it works.
There’s a collective responsibility, but we want you to be great and you might want to do this job this time but down the track, you know what, you might wanna go and do something completely different. As you would know, we have people, a fair degree of mobility, you know, so someone in finance might be in IT or they might be in marketing, or they might go over and work in one of our, a company in Kenya or Peru or whatever. And that mobility is really nice and, you know, it suits a lot of people these days that they want to have a broader experience, either geographically or culturally, or skills set or whatever it is. Or some others just like to say, okay, well, I’m an accountant, I’ll get a job as a bookkeeper and then I’ll go up, up, up and if a company is growing then you can satisfy that kind of person as well. It’s one of the reasons why I love growth, I’m a growth chunky because apart from the fact that it keeps me engaged in terms of mentally, it also keeps…people see opportunities.
So whilst the company is growing, there’s always places you can go. Soon as a company stops growing, the leads there, managers aren’t moving on so, therefore, people below managers aren’t moving on. Yeah, you can move laterally over there but it’s harder. If the whole pool is growing it’s much easier to move around in an organization and so, therefore, satisfy your, you know, people’s natural curiosity about growth.
Nathan: Got you. Look, we have to work towards wrapping up, a couple more questions. When it comes to growth, how do you identify like, like how do you identify these leverage points or areas that, you know, you could scale up?
Darrell: Sometimes it’s accidental, sometimes it’s purpose. I read a lot, an awful lot. So I’ve never been a particularly hard worker, still aren’t. So, you know, I always used to get home at 5:00, 5:30 at night and work at night but I’d read, you know. And then I travel a lot so I usually take about three months a year holiday and I read quite a lot in there. And you just think about stuff when you’re traveling, too, or I’m famous for having baths, so I’ll sit in a bath for two hours with a glass of wine and I just kind of, you know, contemplate the universe type stuff.
Other times you do it a little bit more scientifically and you actually kind of say, okay, where are the opportunities and, in terms of source markets maybe, you know, where do I see the next big load of travelers coming from, be it, you know, geography or a demographic or a culture wise or growing source markets. Is it a new product category that we can get into that we aren’t in at the moment that would still suit our core competence. Is there lateral fields that are related to what we do but we’re not in at the moment? You know, so you start to look at it and then you start to quantify it and try to build up a business case around it.
So, yes, it’s that half accidental kind of just reading, thinking exposure to stuff, and then half more disciplined approach, taking a, you know, a disciplined strategic approach to growth opportunities. So it’s a little bit of both and I think both is good.
Nathan: Got you. Any game-changing books you’d recommend? You recommended ‘The Link Stopped Me.’ That’s been gaining…yeah, you recommended…
Darrell: That wasn’t bad, was it?
Nathan: It was good. Any game-changers that people you think, you know, our audience, aspiring, novice age, or say start up founders…
Darrell: It’s not a new book now, but the Peter Thiel book Zero to One.
Nathan: Okay, I haven’t read that one.
Darrell: Just got…it’s just a stunning book, yeah, yeah, no he’s such a great thinker. I’m not sure I’d wanna work for him or with him but he’s an outstanding thinker. So that’s probably the book over the last 12 months I think in your space, if you like.
Nathan: Okay, awesome. All right, well, look, where is the best place where we can find you, Darrell?
Darrell: Well, I’m in New York next week and I’m looking next year in April, I’m heading off to the Caucasus. Do you even know where that is? Come on, Nate.
Nathan: This is…when I ask that question, this is the time when you plug your stuff.
Darrell: Oh, do you want to be slow, I know. So the Caucacus is that’s Abidjan and Armenia and Georgia, right. I’m not sure we’re gonna sell hundreds of thousands of travelers to that destination, but I tell you what I’m bloody excited about going there. So I’ve got a few weeks there and then I’m walking in Portugal for three weeks in late May and then…what are we doing? Oh, lots of us are going skiing in Japan in February so…
Nathan: Yeah, wow, you live a good life.
Darrell: Yeah, it’s not bad, I can’t complain, I have to say, I’ve been very lucky. Very fortunate.
Nathan: Okay, one last question, you’re telling me…you say, I found something interesting, you said you’re not a very hard worker, so you’re saying that when you started the business or during this whole period you’ve never done like 80-hour weeks, 60-hour weeks, 50-hour weeks?
Darrell: No, look, sure. I’m sure I have done an 80-hour week, yes, but it’s not something I admire and it’s certainly not something I do usually, no, yeah, look, periodically you gotta put it in, but it’s very rare and I hate it with a passion.
Nathan: Oh, really?
Darrell: Yeah, yeah.
Nathan: You like chilling out by the sounds of it.
Nathan: That’s a good travel theme.
Darrell: Yeah, no, that’s right. Absolutely and look I also find…I think I’m not very capable because after a few hours I just, my brain goes to mush. And I’m just, my quality of thinking isn’t as good as it used to be and I don’t mean used to be, as in you do eight hours, that’s enough, you know, your brain is tired. If you’re literally thinking for eight hours, that’s a fair bit. You can’t think for bloody 18 hours or you think you can but you’re not. And sometimes you reflect on some of the work you’re doing and it’s not as good as it should be. And, you know, you can do two or three days that’s really super hard and particularly if you’re on sales road shows and things like that and you’re skipping around all over the place and, you know, you’re really putting in. But, you know, it’s just the quality of thinking isn’t always as good as it should be.
Nathan: Okay, got you. So if anybody wants to do an adventure travel trip, intrepidtravel.com.
Darrell: Thank you very much, that’s a plug. You’re much better at this than me.
Nathan: All right, so I will wrap there.
Darrell: Thanks, Nate.
Nathan: Thank you.
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