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!)
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.
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!”
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.”
By: Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie
It seems that the recession and high unemployment rate, as well as general worker dissatisfaction, has created a unique atmosphere for entrepreneurship and creativity. People have been laid-off, sometimes more than once, and many have realized that they’d rather work for themselves than work for “the man.” But starting and funding a new business or venture takes money, and as a result, people are turning to crowd-funding sources like Indiegogo and Kickstarter that allow individuals, businesses, non-profits and organizations to raise money from family, friends and friends-of-friends. This new trend, which also got a boost from President Obama’s Jobs Act last year, is really taking off and helping people raise money so their businesses and projects can take off too!
Nancy Vitale and Nilou Safinya recently launched a fundraising campaign for their new film/TV production company to raise money for their first short film, RUNNING WITH SHARKS. The women met through the Middle Eastern theater community and have been friends ever since. Nancy studied dramaturgy/new script development at Columbia School of the Arts and worked as a dramaturg for various regional theatres all over the US. She is also one of the founders and the Producing Artistic Director of Noor Theatre (www.NoorTheatre.org), a Company-in-Residence at New York Theatre Workshop, which co-produced the critically acclaimed play ‘Food and Fadwa’ in 2012. Nilou’s background is also in theatre – in directing, stage managing and producing. She studied Theatre and Psychology at Columbia University and then worked for several years in the NY theatre scene, and more recently for an independent film and TV production company before turning freelance.
Their joint venture, Eyes Up Here Productions, is a film and theater production company through which they hope to provide a venue for women ( and men!) to tell their stories. They first short film, RUNNING WITH SHARKS is their own story of being bullied at an aerobics exercise class and the chaos that ensues.
Currently, they are raising money to fund and produce their film and are in their second week of their funding campaign on Indiegogo. You can learn more about their venture and make a donation here http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/running-with-sharks-a-comedic-short-film-series-pilot.
Recently, Money Moxie sat down with Nancy and Nilou to chat about their plans for their production company as well as their first film.
MONEY MOXIE: What is the concept behind your new production company?
Nancy: The concept is simple – to develop great stories in collaboration with artists we believe in. The name and branding focus the attention of all audiences – up here – at the big screen, small screen, mobile device, theatre stage, you name it.
Nilou: As far as the more tongue-in-cheek implications of the name, we are two real women with real stories to tell, and we want to direct your gaze to those stories. The rest is in the Eyes of the beholder.
MM: How long did it take to get the company started-from idea to where it is now– and what did it take to get you where you are now?
Nilou: When the script for RUNNING WITH SHARKS was complete, we decided that producing it ourselves would be a great way to launch our new company.
Nancy: This way we are also challenging ourselves to continue generating and developing work once this production is complete.
MM: What are your goals for your company?
Nilou: Our immediate goal is to produce and finish this short by the summertime. Once it is completed, we plan to send it out to both film and TV festivals. We are also going to use the short as a pilot presentation to put forth to networks and broadcasters as a concept for a comedy series.
Nancy: Following that, we hope to develop more properties for TV, film and theatre. We are looking to develop our own content as well as the content of other artists we admire.
MM: Tell us about the project and your goals for the project. How did you come to the $ goal that you set in your fundraising campaign?
Nancy: The project is a short comedic film called RUNNING WITH SHARKS, which we describe as a story for anyone who has ever felt judged in a swimsuit. It was loosely inspired by our own experience at a swanky Upper East side gym, where we were yelled at by territorial gym rats, who happened to be older than our mothers. Rather than letting it bother us, I wrote about it in an effort to point out how we ladies can be oddly competitive with one another. I would say that the competition doesn’t help anyone, but it made me write a short film script rather than cry in a corner, so it was somewhat helpful.
Nilou: Even though we almost did cry in a corner! Especially when I was yelled at for putting a support belt in the way of the alpha rat and Nancy was snickered at behind her back! The $8,500 goal we set for the Indiegogo campaign is the honestly the bare-bones minimum we need to rent the necessary equipment, get insurance, hire cast and crew (at extremely minimal fees) and take care of anything else that we cannot get our friends to donate out of the goodness of their big, beautiful hearts.
Nancy: Setting up the campaign, we turned to friends who have funded films and plays using Kickstarter and Indiegogo and asked them about strategies that worked for them. Everyone recommended a brief, upbeat and fun campaign that engaged people as often as possible without being annoying.
MM: Why indiegogo as opposed to other avenues for investing? Did you get help from family/friends, bootstrapping or finding investors?
Nancy: As a new, unknown company, finding investors to give us thousands of dollars of start up money is not easy. We could also beg friends and family to help, but that is not a sustainable model. By launching this campaign, we have to put ourselves out there to the rest of the world, tell them why we want to tell these kinds of stories, that they’re important and that we want to tell more of them with their support. It’s about building a base of supporters that will eventually also be our audience.
Nilou: We are simultaneously talking to any brands we have access to as well as possible investors we know just to get the ball rolling and who knows – maybe someone will bite! However, once we complete this first project and have a tangible example of the work we want to do, we will certainly seek investors more actively for company proper as we explore raising funds for our next projects.
MM: What has been the response so far regarding the company and your campaign? Where are you in terms of your fundraising goal?
Nancy: We are half- way through the campaign and half- way to our goal. Let’s keep it up!
Nilou: The response has been lovely, very positive, and people really seem to enjoy the pitch video as well as the company name. Our friends and family have been very supportive and complementary. We just need to get more people to see it.
MM: Knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything about raising money? What advice would you offer people who are thinking of bootstrapping, fundraising, asking money from family/friends?
Nancy: Don’t do it too often. Eventually you’ll exhaust your base.
Nilou: We both often raise money for projects that are non-profit in nature, so there’s no financial return on investment and this sort of fundraising can be very difficult, especially past a certain level. To be very clear, Eyes Up Here is not intended to be a non-profit venture.
Nancy: We’re excited about moving into the next phase of profit-bearing entertainment, but we need a little help with this test run first. Please.
Nilou: And thank you.