Entrepreneurship and Love of the Outdoors: Building a Successful Adventure Company
In 2012 I moved from Sweden to Norway full time, before that I had been working in a ski patrol in a local ski resort in Norway and as a guide back home in Sweden during the summer. The winter of 2011 I met the mother of my two kids here in Norway and I decided to stay over the summer instead of going back to Sweden. To move to a small village on the Norwegian west coast and then try to find a job wasn't easy.
After applying to many jobs and trying out working for other companies without finding something feasible, I decided to start my own company instead. The name Uteguiden (Ute is outdoor and guiden is guide) had already been established as a project during my outdoor guide studies in Sweden 2006-2007.
Building a Business with the Planet in Mind
In the first few years, our main business was winter adventures like ski touring and avalanche courses, and it was mainly me myself working in the business. But in the last 10 years we have grown from a one-person business to a business with 5 year-round employees and 35 full-time guides during the summer season.
For sure running a business this size is completely different from what it was at the start 10 years ago, but our main focus has not changed: delivering world class adventures by doing things that are good for us and for the planet, not just good for the wallet. From the very beginning our business has been focusing on sustainability. We have been a member of 1% for the Planet since 2016 which feels great. They are doing great work and it's important to support other members out there.
Strength in Long-Term Thinking
One of the key things I have learnt from this journey is the importance of having a good long-term plan and a consistent vision to stick to. Especially during the pandemic there were a lot of ups and downs for us, and during some parts of this period I had a hard time seeing our company surviving it.
However, we came out of the pandemic and were still in line on our 5-year plan we had set a year before the pandemic started. The whole reason for this was because we had set a goal for us where we should be in 5 years. That gave us the flexibility to test out new things and still keep the focus on reaching our goal, and remain aligned with our long-term plans.
During the pandemic we took the decision to focus even more on our sustainable business model containing a couple of key things. We have:
- Started the process with swapping out our fossil fuel-based vehicles to electric (so far 3 out of 8 are electric).
- Incorporated as many local brands as possible in our collaborations. We buy our road biking fleet from the Norwegian brand Fara; wool base layers for our guides from Northern Playground, Goggles and sunglasses from Spektrum, which is a fellow member of 1% for the Planet, and the first company to make biobased goggles.
- Updated the menu options in our coffee bar in Stranda with products from within the 100 km radius around us. The local food and the stories around it are also an important part in our guided adventures.
Know What It Takes to Build a Business
We have been able to build our own success story during these 10 years and I think it has been a great inspiration for many others in our industry to start their own businesses. The part that is often not shown is the work we put down for this in the background – it takes a lot of work to build a business like this. You have to find the right business model, the right location and the right customers for your products just to name a few things.
I see way too many people starting their outdoor business because they like being outdoors themselves, but running an adventure travel business is way more than that. This is the main reason why one of my best tips is to have a good business plan when you start your business.
Another important tip I have is to find a good mentor that can help you out in the start and along the way while building your business. I have had great help from a lot of people to discuss different parts of our business in different phases. With a good mentor you're able to avoid some of the mistakes that have been made before, and instead keep the focus on the right things.
So there are a lot of things, other than just being outdoors and loving it, that are required to successfully build and run an adventure travel company. Having said that, I also believe you should never lose the love of being outdoors. A good day of skiing still gives me as much stoke and happiness as it did 10 years ago when I started the business – the day you lose that love you are in the wrong industry.
Lessons on Growing a Business
Having been able to start a business with my own two hands and build it up over 10 years to become one of Norway's biggest outdoor adventure companies is one of my proudest achievements, and there's so much to learn from this journey.
Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned.
- Always strive to be better: I’ve always made a point to look at others doing things better than us, and finding a way of learning from them to become better. Some business leaders may not like the idea of feeling smaller than others, but for me, focusing on those ahead of the game has been a great way to improve my own practices. And one day, I realized our company has grown to be 3 times as big as the companies I’d always looked up to. That was an amazing feeling.
- Get the right people: To always be able to work towards becoming better you have to have the right people on your team. And that has been one of the most important factors for the success of our business. We both have a strong team in the office that complement each other, and importantly, we have great guides. They are Uteguiden’s face to our clients and if they don't deliver great experiences, it doesn't matter what the rest of the team in the office do.
- Learn from other industries: I've always tried to get many ideas and inspirations from other industries, and find things we can apply to our business. Especially in technology we are pretty far behind in the travel industry and can learn a lot from other industries.
Oscar is an experienced mountaineer from Stockholm, Sweden, and has been living in Stranda, Norway for a decade. Oscar came to Stranda in 2009 and immediately saw the area’s potential, and started Uteguiden as a one-person business.