Our Adventure Business Is Still Flying High And Growing 7 Years Later [Update]

Published: February 21st, 2024
Corey Rust
Founder, Envi Adventures
Envi Adventures
from Portland, Oregon, USA
started April 2017
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hello there, my name is Corey Rust, and I own a company in Troutdale, Oregon (just outside of Portland) called Envi Adventures.


Several years ago, I had the opportunity to share how I started Envi with the Starter Story world, and it’s great to still be operating to share how things have been going!

When I first had the idea to start this business in 2016, I had no idea if it would work or not. I thought it would, I convinced myself that it would, but deep down, there was nothing screaming out at me giving me the absolute confidence that it actually would. But whatever, I went ahead with it anyway and gave it a shot, and 7 years later, still here.

Now, it should be mentioned that my belief in the ability for this to succeed came from some understanding of how I could not only get it started but to make it last more than 20 minutes. It wasn’t as if I just had an idea, wrote down a few numbers, and said, “ok, good enough.”

It was a little more than a year from the initial idea to the first flight, and that idea came from a combined interest, passion, love, whatever you want to call it, for airplanes, and where I live. If you’re not familiar with the Portland area, or your only reference to it is from news stories from the past few years, the city is surrounded by volcanic mountains, valleys, forests, waterfalls, and rivers with the high desert of Central Oregon and the Pacific Ocean a short drive away. So, with that knowledge, and a conveniently located airport 15 minutes from where I live, I figured, why not give this a try.

So while I did write numbers down, it was more than just some quick math. I wanted to hypothetically see if it could make money, and after doing some research on the operational costs of an airplane, and making estimated projections on how many flights I could do in a year with that one airplane, surprisingly, it could be profitable; if I did it right.


Convincing myself of all of that, I took a few hundred dollars (literally), threw a website together, made a website, made the business legal, and pretended I was a brand that didn’t have anything to sell because I didn’t have an airplane. Yet.

In between all of this, I talked to a lot of people at the banks, at the local airports, flight schools, airplane owners, etc. to try and find a way to get an airplane to help me get started. The summarized response from everyone was “No, this won’t work.”

Eventually, after exhausting nearly every option I could think of, I did find an airplane, a Cessna 182, that was graciously rented to me to start Envi, and after getting everything set up with the FAA, insurance, etc., I set a start date of first flights on April 1st, and made it happen.

Fast forward to now, and we still fly that first airplane, we’re still operating, and even better than that, we’re growing, and have been profitable every single year.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

2023 was an interesting year. It wasn’t the worst year by any stretch, but it wasn’t exactly the best either.

My desire to have exponential growth in sales and revenue might have been slightly unrealistic last year. While sales did grow, it was smaller than I hoped, and while the year ended on a positive and profitable note, the margin was smaller than anticipated.

The good thing is that I know exactly why that happened and how to avoid that for this coming year, which I’ll talk about in the following paragraphs.

But overall, the business has been growing, and I’m grateful for that. It’s been challenging, often time very frustrating, or even disappointing, but when I zoom out and look at it all, I am thankful for what it has become, and as someone who is not a very emotional person, there are times when I watch the planes take off and I get a little misty eyed and have a little pat on my back moment.


Not to be immodest or braggy, but I am proud of what I set out to do, and I should be. And I should maybe be proud of it a little more often than I am.

Anyway, at the end of 2022 going into 2023, I told myself I wanted to start taking some more risks and making some changes that will help increase the value and help the business grow in the right direction.

Even when it sucks, try and embrace that for as long as you can, because when it doesn’t suck, it makes the good times even better.

One of those changes was to become more independent and not rely on a partner operator to operate some of our flights. From May 2021 to July 2023, Envi had a partnership with another air carrier that was capable of operating some of our longer flights, like the ones we offer up to Mt. St. Helens, to the Oregon Coast, or on-demand charter. The reason we partnered with them was because they had the operating authority to do so under what’s called Part 135. We couldn’t do those flights because Envi didn’t have the Part 135 operating authority.

In early 2021, I began the application process of obtaining our own Part 135 operating certificate. During 2020, the wait list was virtually zero. I could have submitted the application, and the process would have started pretty quick. Unfortunately, none of the airplanes I had at that time met the requirements, so I wouldn’t have been able to. But in 2021, that changed, but so did the wait time. It went from a process that was managed through the local FAA office to being managed nationally, which meant the list was now massive.

Once I submitted the application, I was number 48 on the list. Which was better than I thought. 6 months later, I was in the 20’s. Not too bad, right? Wrong.

6 months after that, still in the 20’s, and six months after that, still there. Two years after first submitting the application, I was still on the waiting list.

While waiting, I started looking for businesses that were for sale that had the Part 135 operating authority, which I finally found in August 2023. I spoke with the seller, and we reached an agreement on a price, I bought that company, which meant I now had the Part 135 certificate!

As luck would have it, once I signed the sales agreement, literally the next day the FAA contacted me telling me it was my turn to start the certification process. Of course. At this point, it was too late, but I probably still would have gone through with the purchase anyway because the certification process can take a couple/few years as it is.

For 2023, I think that’s the biggest news of the year. Having a Part 135 certificate is a game changer for us and points Envi in a new direction, and in a direction that we want to go.

So, that’s pretty exciting, and excited for what’s to come because of it!


What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

It’s fair to say that 2023 was the best “learning” year I’ve had since starting the business. In 2022, I took on some new risks with people, purchases, and facilities. At first, it all seemed like a lot of the big decisions I made were the right ones, but slowly it all started to unravel and eventually fall apart. Which in the long run is a good thing, but in the heat of the moment, it wasn’t so fun.

For starters, I began leasing a big hangar complex with office space and airplane storage. When the opportunity first presented itself, it all penciled and all made financial sense. I was able to find people to sublease some of the space to, which helped offset the cost and still have room to store my airplanes in. At one point, I considered moving the entire operation from a smaller building that we lease to this new one. But over time, it became clear that this wasn’t financially feasible long term. Unfortunately, I was locked into a lease agreement once I realized that this building wasn’t going to work out. Luckily it was only for 11 more months (which seemed like forever at the time). More on this a little later.

The second decision I made was to buy another airplane. Historically, I owned one airplane, and I leased the others. This worked out pretty well. But one of the leased airplanes, was coming due for a new engine, and the leasing company, who was responsible for supplying a replacement engine, hadn’t sent one, and getting a new engine was kind of crucial. So after crunching some numbers, I figured I should go buy another plane and save some money each month instead of forking over several thousand to a leasing company. So I found an airplane, it looked like a good airplane, and it seemed like a good deal, so I decided to make the purchase.

The airplane wasn’t perfect, and I knew that there were some upgrades I needed to make to it, but by all accounts, it was mechanically sound and would be a good addition to the fleet.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We picked the airplane up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and because of snow that evening, we delayed leaving Salt Lake City until the next morning. We got in the airplane, and it fired right up. We took off and headed for Boise, Idaho where we’d stop to get fuel. So we stopped, got out, fueled up, tried to start it, and nothing happened. The plane was dead. We tried jumping the battery, but still nothing. So we stayed the night in Boise.

Next morning, we tried it again, and it started. Good news! So we took off toward Troutdale, and about half-way there, unforecasted weather started to close in, with extremely low visibility, which is not good. So we turned around, back to Boise. Once we landed, we tried to turn it on again just to see, and it was dead. So we stayed the night again. The next morning, it was snowing, so we decided to get a commercial flight back to Portland, and try again a few days later.

This is a really long story, so to make it short, we tried several things, eventually got a new battery, we were able to fly the airplane to Redmond, Oregon, and eventually got it to Troutdale only three weeks after picking it up in Salt Lake City.

In summation, the airplane was completely misrepresented in the sales listing, pre-sale maintenance was not completed as it should be, and some of the maintenance items that were claimed to have been done, weren’t done at all. After nearly a year of having the airplane, all of the concerning items were finally addressed, and the plane is as it should have been when it was purchased. But lesson learned I guess.

And the third major challenge this year was with people. This may come as a surprise, but sometimes people aren’t as honest as they seem. Shocking, I know. The frustrating part of the issue I faced was the fact that the dishonesty came from the mechanic who was subleasing some of that hangar space, but he was also my primary mechanic for my airplanes. The decisions of this individual created a lot of financial headaches, but what was more alarming was that he caused some serious safety concerns related to aircraft maintenance. Maintenance is something that can’t be neglected, and unfortunately, shortcuts were taken on some of the work, and that’s incredibly disappointing and frustrating.

But, aside from those three things, and snow storms last February, the year taught me a lot of valuable lessons. Some of them were very expensive lessons, but hopefully coming out of them will be for the best long term.

Starting an idea is one step further than most people go and that’s a proud accomplishment. Even if it doesn’t go much further than that, at least you did it. You branched out, maybe out of your comfort level, and you did something you wanted to do.


What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

I kind of mentioned them in the previous section, but the biggest single lesson that I learned through the various challenges I had last year was that you can plan as much as you want and do everything right, but sometimes it just goes wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it.

With buying the other airplane, I felt I did everything right and tried to be as responsible with the whole thing as possible. Apparently, that doesn’t always matter. I don’t know if buying that plane was the right move or not and I probably won’t ever know. But I made the choice and I have to own it. It’s the way it goes.

With the mechanic, you’d like to think someone with 20 years of experience, who seems trustworthy and thorough will do the required work to ensure it’s done correctly and safely. And I think 9.9 times out of 10 that is absolutely the case, but in this case, it wasn’t, and that’s unfortunate.

I wish everything worked out differently with those situations, but they didn’t and life goes on.

At the end of 2023, I put together a completely new budget and operational plan for 2024. I guarantee that at the end of this year, it won’t end up exactly as I planned it, but it’s a good blueprint to follow which I think will strengthen the business for 2025, and right now, that’s my biggest goal for the year.

Operating safely, providing exceptional service to our guests, and preparing for a stronger growth year in 2025.


What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

As always, my plan every year is to see more growth. In years past I set a goal of 25% year over year growth in revenue, but that’s unrealistic.

2023 saw a 7% increase in revenue with a 1.67% decrease in sales, which just means we made more money while selling less, and I’m ok with that. So I think being in the 5-10% range for revenue increase each year is a reasonable target, and that’s what I’m shooting for in 2024.

Beyond financial goals, the newly acquired Part 135 operating certificate, will allow us to increase the range of our flights, but will also position us for a type of growth that I’m still working out. That will take a couple of years to plan and produce, but it’s really the trajectory I have always wanted Envi to be on, so I’m particularly excited to start working on it and hopefully making it happen.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

I struggle a lot with this business, and a lot of that struggle comes from my self-inflicted self-doubt and lack of confidence. It’s especially difficult in the winter when sales are slow and the weather is crap. But as I mentioned earlier, sometimes I need to look at the satellite view of what has been done with this business look back at the idea, and remember what the cynics had to say in the beginning.

Starting an idea is one step further than most people go and that’s a proud accomplishment. Even if it doesn’t go much further than that, at least you did it. You branched out, maybe out of your comfort level, and you did something you wanted to do. That’s valuable.

I don’t have a lot of advice to give, other than to say that even when it sucks, try and embrace that for as long as you can, because when it doesn’t suck, it makes the good times even better.


Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!