This is a follow up story for Envi Adventures. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
A little over 6 years ago I had this idea to start a business that included airplanes, nature, and a lot of stress. My name is Corey Rust, and I started Envi Adventures.
Back in 2016 I had just been laid off from my job and had started doing contract work for an air charter company. For several months prior, I had been putting together the idea that would develop into what Envi is today, and on April 1st, 2017, the first flight with paying customers took off, and so did the business.
Since then, there’s been a lot of challenges, a lot of lessons learned, excitement, disappointment, and everything in between.
For the last several years since taking off with our first paying customers, one thing that I pride myself on is hiring the right people as pilots who have shaped the culture and experience of Envi. I can confidently say that the success of this business has very little to do with what I’ve done, but with the experience that is provided by the pilots that do an incredible job every flight.
So, if any of them, past or present, are reading this, thank you.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
Overall, 2022 was a great year. While we completed fewer flights than we did in 2021, our revenues were up 10.21%, and despite inflation, increased fuel prices, increased prices on aircraft parts, and many recommendations to increase the average price per flight, we didn’t.
When I started this, I wanted to make this sort of flying experience as accessible as possible, and I also wanted to make sure that Envi pilots were getting as much flight time as possible in the year. I think that if we had increased the prices on all of our flights, we would have seen a major decrease in business which would of course mean less flight time. Not really what I’m trying to accomplish.
All that being said, revenue growth was not really where I wanted it to be. I was shooting for 25% year over year but missed that by 15%.
As we’ve entered 2023, the first couple of months have been spent evaluating how to reach that goal this year, and what we can do differently to get people flying; especially in the slower winter months.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
Even though last year was a good year in a lot of ways, it certainly wasn’t flawless. At the beginning of the year, we were hit with a huge maintenance bill and an airplane out of service for several weeks. This would be the first of several situations where a normally week-long or less maintenance inspection would turn into a couple of weeks or longer. The reason was simply waiting on parts.
Many of the parts we needed were back ordered by several months. That has caused one of our airplanes to be out of service since October 2021. At the time of writing this, it’s still out of service, 16 months later.
The one thing that you should always remember is that no matter what business you’re in, you should be proud of yourself for creating something that nobody else thought of.
This left us with only 2 airplanes during a time when we need 3 to keep up with demand. We’re typically flying only two airplanes at a time, but having the third airplane available is important because if one of those two operating airplanes faces a maintenance issue, we can swap airplanes and prevent a cancellation.
Luckily, we weren’t faced with that sort of thing too often last year, but in the situation or two that it did, we had no choice but to cancel the flight(s).
Last year at the beginning of what we consider the busy time of year, we had a very rainy and dreary few weeks. That led to a lot of flight cancellations and probably deterred people from wanting to book a flight, even in advance.
In April and May, our bookings were down 26.92% and 20.59% respectively. Since the weather is obviously out of our control, there wasn’t anything we could do about that, but it was still frustrating.
Then in July, the airport was shut down for 10 days for a runway repair. With only a few weeks' notice of the closure, we scrambled and moved everything to a neighboring airport.
The point was, there were a few uncontrollable circumstances that were mostly annoying more than anything, but it was a good lesson on being prepared operationally, mentally, and financially prepared for the unexpected.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
At the beginning of every year, I put together a budget based on the previous year and I make plans based on that. Without fail, at the end of that year, those plans never completely materialize. And that’s completely ok! One thing I’ve learned and gotten good at is adapting to the conditions and being as prepared as possible for the unexpected.
Over the last several years, we’ve weathered a fair number of challenges, and we’re still here to talk about it.
In the first year, I was repeatedly reminded by many at the airport how difficult this business is, that it’s been tried before and has never worked, etc. In subsequent years we’ve dealt with winter storms, forest fire smoke, COVID, maintenance issues, closed airports, and a bunch of other little things that you can’t necessarily plan for. And while all of that is frustrating at the moment, you look back and have a little bit of pride for overcoming it and moving on.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Air tours were never my end goal. I always envisioned it as a stepping stone to something a little bigger, like Part 135 air charter, and from there bigger airplanes, and a more extensive operation.
But, that’s easier said than done. However, 5 years ago had I been asked what the plan was for the next year and the next 5 years, my answer would have simply been ‘survival.’
To an extent, that’s still my answer, although it’s a little bit easier now. For 2023, I would like to meet and/or exceed last year's performance. Overall, I would like to just continue providing good service under the Envi brand.
What’s the best thing you read in the last year?
I read The Storyteller by Dave Grohl and it’s interesting to me how similar entrepreneurship is to being in a young band.
It also reminded me that no matter how big or “successful” a business, a brand, or a person might seem to be, they all usually started with little to nothing, and get from the small clubs playing a concert to a couple of dozen people to selling out stadiums took a lot of work and didn’t happen instantly.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their businesses?
Starting a business is hard. One thing I remember always hearing before (and still occasionally hearing or seeing) starting Envi was that as an entrepreneur, income potential was unlimited. What they don’t say is that the potential for expenses is unlimited also.
As revenue/income increases, oftentimes the expenses do as well.
Starting and maintaining momentum is a daily challenge. Staying motivated is sometimes tough, especially when sales are down. But the one thing that you should always remember is that no matter what business you’re in, you should be proud of yourself for creating something that nobody else thought of. That’s a remarkable accomplishment and that in and of itself is a success.
Success is easily measured by money or fame, but really when you break it down, success is the little things.
Success is officially setting up your business. It’s getting that first product set up. Then it’s making that first sale. Success is fluid. And in my opinion, being tenacious and never giving up despite how hard it might get is the ultimate success.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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