This is a follow up story for Envi Adventures. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 5 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Back in 2016, I had this incredible idea about how to increase my stress levels and work harder than ever before, and that is when I started Envi Adventures.
Hey there, my name is Corey Rust, and in 2017 after many opposing opinions and attitudes toward my idea of starting a flight tour business, the first people showed up, hopped on the plane, and took off for a flight on Columbia River Gorge near Portland. That was April 1st nearly 5 years ago. How’s that for proving people wrong?
If you haven’t seen or read previous articles on Starter Story about Envi, let me quickly recount the lead-up to how this whole thing started and how it all came about.
I had the idea, which is always a good first step, to start an airplane flight tour business in the Portland, Oregon area. No one was doing it, there were a lot of amazing things to see nearby, so I thought, ‘why not?’
Everyone I talked to for advice or tips or help essentially told me it would never work. And that’s not hyperbole, the exact responses were:
“Wish you the best, but nobody is going to come out to the Troutdale Airport to fly in a plane if they aren’t pilots.” (They do).
“If it were a good idea, then somebody would be doing it already.” (It is.)
“We tried it 20 years ago. It didn’t work then, it won’t work now.” (It does.)
Anyway, they were all wrong.
After an investment of a few hundred dollars to get started, in the first year of business the total revenue was about $68,000 with a profit of about $8,000. Not a liveable wage, but it didn’t lose money.
2018, 2019, 2020, all got better and better, and all were profitable. In 2021, revenues were just under $450,000 with a profit of close to $100,000.
I’ll chalk that up as an arguable success.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
2021 was an unbelievable year in so many ways. As the years since we started have gone on, we have learned how to operate more efficiently, how to operate smoother, and we’ve become a much more conscientious and meticulous operator creating an even safer and more enjoyable experience for the thousands of guests we fly every year.
With enough work, planning, and drive, you can make almost anything successful and you will find your group of fans.
All of that is something we were always striving to do, but with a 115.66% increase in completed flights and a 90.28% increase in passengers in 2021 versus 2020, we were forced to be better and get better. And I’m glad for that because we had to act a little more mature as a business. Before we were still in the buffering phase trying to figure some stuff out.
The sharp increase in sales, revenues, flights and passengers was surprising and very welcoming. January and February of 2021 were great months, but I didn’t think anything of it. Then March 2021 hit and things started to go crazy and I knew I needed to figure a few things out, and fast, to keep up with the demand that I was expecting.
At that time we had two airplanes, and I figured that would be good enough. But then as schedules started filling up, we grounded one of the airplanes permanently due to a maintenance issue. Scrambling, I started looking all over for another airplane and found one in New York. I called up two of my pilots, told them they were booked on a Delta flight from PDX to JFK in two days, and they needed to fly the plane back by the first weekend of May. After low visibility in New York, thunderstorms from Scranton to Chicago, dodgy weather in the upper midwest, and high winds in western Montana and eastern Idaho, the new plane landed just in time.
In July we introduced new routes up to Mt. St. Helens, the Oregon Coast, and this year we’re offering a non-stop flight from our home airport to Sunriver in Central Oregon.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Last year was a year filled with a lot of growth and excitement, but it was almost “too much, too fast.” I wouldn’t have changed it or wished that it was less, but it was a great opportunity for me to learn and grow up with the business.
With all of that, I quickly learned how to adapt, be a little more resourceful, and figure out a way to make sound decisions that we're fiscally responsible and sensible.
And I got it wrong a lot of the time. With four pilots on the roster, I needed to find a way to make the schedule fairer. What I thought was fair and equal wasn’t considered fair and equal to some of the pilots. So we adapted and made it better.
What I thought would be a good investment by hiring a “marketing” agency ended up being a colossal waste of time and money.
On the new routes we started offering, I figured I had the pricing dialed in to make a reasonable profit. Nope. I lost money for the first couple of weeks on every single one of those new flights.
But I learned what not to do quickly because I had to. Without that flexibility, I think the year would have been a lot more of a headache.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I’m very much looking forward to 2022. After a great year last year, I’m optimistic that the trend will continue and we’ll see similar or better results! I’ve got a full list of goals for 2022, and I’ve tried to make them all attainable, and I think they’ll happen with a little determination:
- Moving toward a more uniform look with our fleet to make the branding consistent and recognizable
- We’re moving into an additional building at the airport with more hangar space for our airplanes and office space that will allow us to grow our operation a little easier. Before this move, all of the airplanes were parked outside on a ramp with little to no protection from the outside elements, and there wasn’t any office space to conduct interviews, safety meetings, flight planning, etc. This move will help improve all of that.
- Expanding our routes and into new cities! Right now, we are actively working on opening up a new city, which we hope to be able to announce by March!
The next 5 years are hard to predict, but I’m very pleased with the growth that we’ve had in the last 5, and if that’s any indication of things to come, I’m ecstatic.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I wish I had something insightful to say that someone hasn’t said before. The only thing that I can think of right now is that sometimes we think a market is saturated so we might be afraid to give an idea a try. I think the term “saturated” is a bit saturated.
If you have an idea you believe in, and you believe in yourself equally as much, who’s to say to you that it’s a bad idea or that it won’t work?
I often think about musical artists and bands and think about how they all struggle to get big. But one thing I notice about every musical group is that they all have a fan base. Some are tiny, some are massive. But they all have fans.
Not everyone can be Led Zeppelin, but there are a lot of bands out there that are, really, really good (ever heard of the Scottish band Travis?) and the people that love their music are fans for life.
The point is, I believe that any idea has merit. With enough work, planning, and drive, you can make almost anything successful and you will find your group of fans.
Take 5 minutes and look around social media or on the internet and look for unconventional businesses. You’ll find them, shake your head, and say “how?!”
Then after that, jot down your ideas and get to work. Make stuff happen.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not at the moment. We do plan to hire someone to help with content creation i.e. Instagram Reels, TikTok videos, photos, blog posts, etc. This position would require someone to have experience creating those things and also to be local in the Portland area.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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