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.
Almost five years ago I began the process of starting an aerial tour business based in the Portland, Oregon suburb of Troutdale. Just shy of four years in operation, we’re still here, still flying, and thankful. My business is Envi Adventures and my name is Corey Rust.
If you’ve ever been to the Portland area or you’ve ever been on Instagram, you’ve probably heard of or seen pictures of Multnomah Falls. It’s said that this waterfall is the most visited spot in Oregon with millions of visitors per year (pre-COVID of course). When I started Envi, I wanted to capitalize on that popularity by offering people the chance to visit the Columbia River Gorge and see this waterfall (and many others) by air. Not knowing if people would even want that, it was a bit of a gamble, but it turns out I wasn’t wrong and people do in fact like flying past waterfalls instead of dealing with headache-inducing highway traffic.
Since launching in 2017, we have seen year-over-year growth in revenue, passenger counts, and the number of flights being completed.
In 2020, we saw an increase of 121% in the number of flights we completed over 2019, and a 32% increase in daily revenue.
In a year where nobody knew what was going to happen next, I was very pleasantly surprised at how we did overall.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
I think it’s safe to say that most people found 2020 to be pretty crappy. When the shutdowns started, we stopped operating completely in April and I was fearful for what the future held for the business; as most people were. So I took that month to cut expenses as much as I could, continued to focus on marketing with social media, and figuring out a way to make our operation safe to reopen and welcome people on to our flights again.
You have to look at all of the variables and realize that you’ve built something from nothing and that in and of itself is a measure of success.
During April, we start to really get into our busy time of year and revenues steadily increase. In April 2020 we made a dismal $865.
Total. It was a dreary affair really.
I had moments where I was convinced it was the beginning of the end for the business. There was so much uncertainty with everything and those negative thoughts started to circle in my head like sharks. But one day I decided to set up a huge sale and just see what the response would be like and I figured that would be a good way to measure interest levels.
I also decided to make it so that all flights were private flights instead of shared as they had been in the past, and we made it clear that masks were required and we would be sanitizing surfaces after each flight.
On May 1st, I sent out an email blast advertising a sale for $149 flights. It didn’t matter what flight it was or how many people would go, it was $149. For reference, that’s a savings of $270 per flight on our flight up to Mt. Hood.
The response was huge. After a month of virtually no sales, our sales skyrocketed and the calendar filled out for the summer very quickly.
So, I guess that answered my question.
From that point forward, we were blessed with good weather, we were flying a lot, and things, albeit still uncertain, were much better than I had anticipated.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I would imagine we all learned quite a few lessons last year, but one for me was to be more prepared for the unexpected.
In the past, the unexpected was always bad weather preventing us from flying. Last year we had COVID, we had unforeseen maintenance issues on the airplanes that grounded us for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer, and at the end of September, we had wildfire smoke that lingered for what seemed like an eternity that grounded us for about a week and a half.
In each of those situations, I didn’t see how we would recover from the loss of business we experienced. But once again, I was proven wrong, we carried on, and we grew. We grew financially, but these struggles made us a better operation and a better business.
Overall, I personally learned a lot about my ability to handle unforeseen and sometimes stressful scenarios. They were challenging, unwelcome, and frustrating if not maddening. These were situations that forced me to overcome pride, self-doubt, and self-pity and required me to find a solution to overcome the struggle.
It was never easy and it certainly was never fun, but I look back and see how beneficial it was for me. I also witnessed firsthand the generosity of others, known and unknown, to help when help was needed. I wouldn’t want to do any of that over, but I’m grateful that I was able to overcome the challenges.
So, overall it was a challenging year filled with a lot of surprises, and a lot of personal growth.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
At the beginning of last year, Envi was in the process of expanding the brand in different locations. That changed abruptly and those plans are shelved; at least for now.
Instead, I’ve been consulting with several others who are in the process of starting their own aerial tour business in various spots around the United States. Some of that work is more involved than others, but it’s been interesting to help develop new brands in different places.
For Envi itself, this year we plan on being more efficient financially, operating with more consistency and availability, and hope to continue to grow.
We have plans this year to do “pop-up” events around Oregon, but we’re still working on those details.
I used to think that if you weren’t expanding, you weren’t successful. Now I’m not so sure that’s a smart mindset to have. I honestly believe that had any of the expansion plans I had been working on actually happened, Envi would have folded. My thinking now is to grow and cultivate the garden I’ve got and make it work. Growing just for the sake of growing is a great way to kill a business.
I’m a lot more cautious now, some might say ‘cheap’, but I’m looking out for my brand and my team. By now I’ve learned what works and learned what doesn’t, and those things that didn’t work were costing me money unnecessarily, so they went away.
I made a goal to really stick to a budget as best as I can this year, and I think that will be a huge help for Envi in the long run.
As for 5-year plans, I’d love to see Envi grow sustainably and responsibly into a bigger operation which to me means more airplanes, more locations, and more services. So we’ll see. A lot of puzzle pieces have to fall into place for that to work.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I read “The Money Tree” by Chris Guillebeau. He’s the host of the “Side Hustle School” podcast. I’m not much of a reader, but I really liked it. It was insightful in helping me realize that so many ideas and individual talents are wasted due to inaction and that inaction very well may be costly due to lost opportunity.
I didn’t come away from reading it thinking that you just act on every single idea you have. It still requires research and effort and real hard work. But if you believe in the idea, go for it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Have Patience. Make Sacrifices.
Everybody (including myself) wants instant results. For some, it happens. For most, it doesn’t. I’ve had Envi operating for nearly four years, and it’s not until this year where I’ve been comfortable in paying myself a consistent salary.
I’m not a naturally patient person, so I fall into that “I want results now” group. But a lot of wise people in my life told me to be patient and things will work. If they don’t, that’s ok too.
Last year, I didn’t pay myself anything from April through November. I decided that I wanted the business that I work hard at building to last, and I made that sacrifice. I’m glad I did because entering 2021, we are in a much better financial position than we were entering 2020, and that will allow us to be more sustainable when the struggles come.
Also, I would add that you may not think your business is a success; the majority of the time I feel that way. But success isn’t always financially based. You have to look at all of the variables and realize that you’ve built something from nothing and that in and of itself is a measure of success.
It’s easy to get down on yourself. It’s really easy (and can be really dangerous) to compare yourself to others. Just remember that you’re doing something a lot of people probably thought you couldn’t do and they certainly didn’t have the plums themselves to do it, so you’ve proven them wrong and that’s a huge success as far as I’m concerned.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Outside of consulting opportunities, not at the moment. In the next couple of months, that may change.
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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