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The Shot-Callers Who Work For Adventure!

By Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie

Almost everyone has a bucket list.  Whether your dream is to learn how to pilot an airplane, spend six months hiking in South America, teach English in India or ride elephants in Cambodia, a bucket list is personal and often includes a dose of adventure and travel.  I recently met with two entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on planning, packaging and helping women check off some of their once-in-a-lifetime dreams through their new company, WHOA Travel (that’s: Women High On Adventure).

Meet the Founders of WHOA

Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton met only last March when they were part of a group that hiked Mount Kilimanjaro.  From that life-changing trip, WHOA Travel was born and the two women found their new friendship blossoming into a partnership.  Coming from the international education industry, Allison had always enjoyed travel but thrived in more adventurous trips, experiences where she could push herself but also give back a little.  Danielle, who is an associate creative director at an advertizing company,  confesses that she’s always felt a never-ending hunger for travel and change, and that “I always knew I was going to leave Texas since I was a little girl!” (No offense, Texas!)

Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton, WHOA founders

Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton, WHOA founders

WHOA’s (www.WHOAtravel.com) mission is to organize trips for women that are fun, challenging and inspiring, and that allows the group to also give back.    As Allison puts it, the purpose of WHOA is “to provide a transformative experience for women through travel; at the heart of every adventure is an advocacy project that gives back to women and local communities.”

For example, although last March’s Mt. Kili trip wasn’t an official WHOA adventure, Allison arranged for the group to volunteer at Give A Heart To Africa, a nonprofit based in Tanzania that helps provide women with skills and training they need to learn English and make a living.

WHOA’s Adventure Trips

Although WHOA is only a few months old, things are already full-steam ahead!  For the 2013/2014 season, WHOA is organizing three adventure trips and is currently taking reservations.  The first is a trip to the Alps and Bavaria in September where the group will bike, hike and paraglide through the Alps, with a pit stop at Oktoberfest, and ending with yoga in the park in Munich.  All proceeds from yoga will go towards Give A Heart To Africa.

In March, the group will head back to Mt. Kilimanjaro for a seven-day trek with plans to summit on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014, followed by another volunteer day and safari or resort options.  Finally next summer 2014, the group plans to hike the Inca Trail.  In addition to the three flagship trips, WHOA can also custom organize a special trip for individuals or groups who want to do something different.

Danielle and Allison on Mt. Kilimanjaro--you can be there too!

Danielle and Allison on Mt. Kilimanjaro–you can be there too!

This August, both women plan to leave their jobs and embark on a 7 week trip to Africa, Europe and South America in preparation for next year’s trips.  They will be meeting with contacts for each adventure, make new connections and spend time with the community organizations.  The passion and enthusiasm that Allison and Danielle have for their business is inspiring and contagious–I have a feeling they can persuade the most fearful traveler to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro!

The Early Days of WHOA

Although the energy and optimism at the new company is high, the ladies had to put some work into their partnership. Early on, they realized that they both approach work differently and also have different–but complementary–skill sets.  Allison is the talker of the two, engaging and persuasive, while Danielle is in charge of branding and the creative aspects of the company.  While their start was bumpy at times, since holding a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they were both painfully honest with each other about their goals and expectations, the business has run much more smoothly.  They collaborate on everything and both agree that even their website reflects both personalities.

Is Entrepreneurship Right For You?

The ladies offer simple advice when it comes to starting a business.  If you’re ready for a change and have an idea in mind, “put it out in the universe,” says Danielle.  “I knew I wanted to do something different and I was open about it.”  Allison agrees, adding, “You’ll never regret the risks you take, only those you don’t.”

Both Allison and Danielle agree that when it comes to picking a business partner, it’s important to respect one another and be brutally honest (but kind) with each other.  Working with a business partner is like a balancing act, and as Danielle points out, “It’s harder to find the right business partner than a husband!”

The business partners unfolding the WHOA flag on Mt. Kili

The business partners unfolding the WHOA flag on Mt. Kili

And since they are both leaving their corporate jobs, both women have cut back on spending.  Both are much more aware of their expenses, have stopped buying frivolous things and know that soon those regular paychecks will vanish so they have set and following their own strict budgets.  Allison admits that since she’s eating in more, she’s actually eating healthier!

Go Tell It On The Mountain!

While Allison and Danielle are very aware of the risks of starting their own business, they are certain that there is a need and a demand for a company like WHOA.  After all, many of us desire unique experiences and challenges, we dream of coming home from a foreign land with bragging rights, and we want to show our gratitude by giving back in some way.  WHOA combines all three by offering unique once-in-a-lifetime trips for women around the world.  As Danielle puts it, by taking on challenging trips like those that WHOA organizes, “you can change yourself, you can change the way you look at yourself and you can even change the world a little bit at the same time.”

WHOA

The Shot-Caller with Plans

A recent New York Times  article revealed that to be considered “middle class” in New York City, one has to make about $160,000 per year.  In other areas of the country, that salary can get you farther–maybe a nice home with a pool, a car or two and a comfortable lifestyle–but in NYC, you’re lucky to be living in a doorman building in a decent part of town and possibly have a parking space.  If people making six-figures are still struggling to afford certain essentials, what if you make a five-figure salary?  How can you possibly maintain a decent lifestyle, have your needs met and maybe even afford a splurge or two?  And more important, how can you save money while living in NYC on a not-so-hefty salary?

Jennifer Cole, a freelance graphic designer (www.jenncoledesign.com), learned the hard way that to save money as a small business owner, it takes organization, prioritization and thriftiness. Yet over the past 4-5 years, she managed to save $35,000 on a $50,000 a year salary–and can still afford to pursue her hobbies, travel and shop!

jenncole

The Tough Early Days

Up until recently, Jennifer’s experience with money had seemed like a crazy a rollercoaster ride. Growing up, she witnessed her family wrestling with money problems and debt, and she had always had a tenuous relationship with money. In college, she trained herself to be thrifty, living on $50 a week, and became adept at using coupons at the grocery store, prioritizing splurges and being creative with her existing wardrobe.   That frugality extended even down to her shampoo!  Later, as a business owner, Jen struggled to abide by this philosophy, but eventually she found herself in a hole.

She started her graphic design business in San Francisco, then moved to New York City several years ago and struggled to balance the responsibility of her business with the financial demands of living in a big city.  As an entrepreneur she knew that the key to success was managing her finances so that her business could sustain her lifestyle.

Her “aha” moment came one day when she was balancing her checkbook and realized she had spent $2000 in the past 2 weeks.  She was mortified and disappointed with herself–because the bulk of that money was spent on frivolous things and not on necessary expenses.  Soon after, she received a tax bill in the mail and didn’t have the money to pay it.  She quickly realized that if she was to continue her freelance business, she would have to be more organized, and allocate portions of her paychecks to taxes and other expenses.

Making Changes

After some soul-searching and thanks to a loan from a family member to help her pay the tax bill, Jen got herself in gear.  She dove into what she calls “spreadsheet land,” and set up a system that tracks her paychecks.  So now when she gets a $6000 check, she knows it doesn’t all go directly into her checking account; rather, she allows herself to keep half for monthly living expenses, then portions the rest into tax payments, retirement account, savings and business equipment/expenses.

Once she set up her spreadsheet and started using it, saving was a cinch!  By allocating her paychecks to savings and taxes, she didn’t have any lingering worries about missing payments or outstanding debt.  She knew how much she had to spend each month on necessary and variable expenses, and was automatically putting money into savings because of the way the spreadsheet was set up.  The more she saved the more peace of mind she had–and the easier it was for her to set priorities.  With her spending money, she learned how to live on a budget and make the right decisions, and the most important concern for Jen was to be unencumbered with money problems.

Rules To Live By

Five years later, Jen has a thriving business and a healthy savings account, yet continues to live below her means. She says, “Whenever I make money, I don’t up my lifestyle.  I have a hefty savings account but still live in a 300 square foot studio apartment.”  What rules does she live by?  “Set financial goals, live by your rules but don’t change your lifestyle if you get a raise or come into money.”  She says the most important lesson she’s learned is to “align your values with your money; that helps you prioritize how you save  and on what splurges.”

So even as she continues to grow and take her business to the next level, Jen also allows herself the occasional splurge, especially on her favorite hobby–traveling.  She is a fan of airbnb.com and arifarewatchdog.com, sites that offer low-cost travel options for budget-minded consumers.  Jen also does much of her wardrobe shopping online, and snags deals on sweaters, coats and boots all year-round by using coupons and specials advertised on the sites.  In that way, she is always shopping and never “needs” anything.

And this year, she has been pursuing another goal.  With her business and finances in order, Jen has been hitting open-houses and meeting with real estate brokers with the hopes of taking advantage of the low-moderate income housing opportunities available in New York City.  These governent subsidies may help Jen buy her first home–a benefit for people at her income level–but, alas, not available to the six-figure ‘middle class.’