New Horizons

The Business of Adventure – Opportunities and Pitfalls

Cathy O'Dowd - The Business of Adventure

Record breaking climber and born adventurer Cathy O’Dowd introduces a new series of podcasts about the business of adventure by explaining the various funding sources

Podcast length: 34′ 23″

Welcome to New Horizons, the podcast that explore how people make their adventures happen. Cathy O’Dowd is an inspirational speaker, an author and the first woman to climb both sides of Everest. She answers the call of the mountains, whether tackling a new route on an 8000 metre peak or seeking out fresh powder at home in the Pyrenees, on foot or on skis or clinging by her fingertips to a rock face. A passionate storyteller, Cathy shares her adventures through her photographs, speeches and writing, including Just for the Love of It. She established the website The Business of Adventure as a resource for adventurers to learn how to fund their expeditions. On this podcast Cathy will share stories of women who have achieved great adventures and how they funded their projects and she begins by explaining the various funding sources; the opportunities and pitfalls.

Follow Cathy on social media @CathyODowd and @bizofadventure and visit her websites and


8 Way to Fund Your Adventure 

The 4 Funding Phases in an Adventure Life


[00:00:31] Welcome to New Horizons, the podcast where we explore how people make our adventures happen. I’m your host Cathy O’Dowd.

[00:00:55] The impetus for this podcast started with a Web site that I launched about six months ago called The Business of Adventure I’ve been in the adventure space for 30 years and I’ve watched it move towards increasing professionalism and also a far wider audience of people getting involved. I’ve watched the growth of the adventure festivals and the blogs and the Facebook groups. And right now there’s an enormous surge of interest and inspiration a certain sense that adventure is this wonderful healthy spiritually enriching physically rewarding activity. And all you need to do is throw your fears to the wind and be brave enough to do it. Just do it. The thing is I’ve always been fairly pragmatic as a person.

[00:01:47] And there’s that question when you declare announce you’re mad scheme and your parents get that look in their eyes or your partner or your friends and eventually somebody says awkwardly yes but how are you going to pay for it. That’s what this is about. Because I don’t think there’s anything wrong in asking that question.

[00:02:15] These things cost money and they take up time. If you’re giving your time to adventure you’re not giving your time to it. And at some point you have to reckon with that how will you pay for it. And then how will you earn your living. What you’re trying to do it and not enough people talk about this I’m a climber. I’m best known as the first woman in the world to climb Everest from both sides. It’s a slightly odd record. It’s a record that’s been very good to me in building a career. But I don’t think of myself as an Everest climber. I’m a climber I’ve climbed since I was 18 to university. I started with rock climbing progressed into mountaineering. These days I’ve moved from South Africa. I live in a tiny country called Andorra and the ponies mountains in Europe and I just love all the so-called extreme sports that let me move mountains. Multipage rock climbing alpine climbing ski touring Canyon airing mountain running everything that happens deep in the wilderness and requires an element of skill and risk management. And let me fulfill my curiosity both about myself. Can I do it and about what are fine by just getting out into that environment. But I have to pay for this and I have to make a living and I’m the sort of person who values having a reasonable house and a paid off mortgage and pension for medical insurance 30 years of doing this. I’ve never held on a full time job.

[00:03:59] I pay for this by working as what gets called a motivational speaker on the international corporate speaking market. How do you make that happen. I’ve been getting more and more young people coming to me on social media asking how do I make this happen. How do I get started I want to be a professional adventurer. How do I do that. And I started talking to them because I wasn’t sure what they meant by professional adventure trying to understand what they had in their head. And I’ve come to realize that there’s no guidance there’s no insight at least if you’re a professional or you’re top and amateur sports person.

[00:04:46] There’s probably some kind of guidance there was probably something happening at college. There’s probably some kind of adult competitive structure that comes with coaches and competitions and national rankings and world rankings and may even be organizations specifically designed to help an athlete transition out of the competitive athlete space into the rest of their adult career.

[00:05:16] As an adventurer you can do what you want. You can go way you’d like.

[00:05:22] There is an extraordinary freedom but on the other hand there’s no guidance there’s no structure and there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone else interested in what you call an adventure. You have to find your own path and then persuade other people to join you. Following your story following your Paul and in the middle of all that you’ve got to work out how to pay for the adventure and how to keep the bills being paid back home how to pay the mortgage and the pension and the health insurance so the business of adventure started as a Web site designed to help people answer these sort of questions.

[00:06:05] And this podcast is the child of that project because I came across Chris Stafford who runs with the Women in Sport podcasting empire. When she interviewed me for one of the other podcast streams under WiSP.

[00:06:23] And we started talking about the recorded interviews that I had with adventurous where I asked them to tell me not about the adventure they did but about the funding how they paid for it how they monetized it and we decided to work together to create a podcast from this interview material. This is the first season of that podcast. New Horizons.

[00:06:52] What that does mean is some of our material is a little rough. These are interviews that I recorded when I was thinking them of them as blog post. So I’m still finding my way in interviewing style and audio quality but I have talked to some fascinating people so we felt it was worth sharing this material with you in the first season. But before we get to the season of interviews in looking at funding I decided that there are essentially eight ways that adventurer’s managed to find money.

[00:07:28] And these eight ways.

[00:07:31] Structure the way I do my interviews I tend to talk to people about what they’ve done in one or more of these various funding strategies. So in the first episode I just want to share with you an overview of what the funding strategies for adventure are.

[00:07:51] And hopefully this is interesting. Whether you are simply curious about how on earth do other people pay for it or whether you’re wondering you have something in mind and you’re trying to work out how you could possibly pay for it. The thing about venture funding it’s not as simple as a big corporate company gives you a nice fat check and of you go.

[00:08:15] That happens. It is one of the funding streams but it’s hard to organize. Adventure venture funding generally happens in one of two stages there is the money you raise beforehand which pays for you to do the adventure. But this can be tricky. You’ve got to persuade somebody to pay towards your adventure or pay for something that hasn’t happened yet. It’s simply a dream that you’ve come up with and you can’t absolutely guarantee it’s going to succeed or that anyone else will be interested.

[00:08:50] Money beforehand can also come with a lot of obligations that you may or may not be able to fulfill. So the other way a funding adventure is afterwards to take an adventure where you funded yourself and there are many ways in which the budgets for adventure can be reduced to make it more feasible that you can save up enough money to pay for it and then you get your money back afterwards by creating something from the adventure that you essentially sell and that can be a book or a film or a speech. And most adventurers are going to be using a combination of these two to try to get money upfront was the adventure. They’re going to try to recoup money afterwards and they’re going to try to use that first small venture which maybe they paid for themselves as a stepping stone to prove their track record when they then start to try and raise money upfront for the next big adventure.

[00:09:50] So what are the 8 possible ways that you can find money for a venture. Social influence which is basically a fancy way of saying having an audience. If you are going to pay your own way and it really doesn’t matter with anyone else interested you can do what you like. Come home share the story with your friends and family. No obligations no responsibilities. If you’re going to engage with other people and other people’s money then you are saying that you have a story worth sharing that other people are going to be interested in. But that audience is something that you have to consciously build over time.

[00:10:34] Now we think of social influences being how many followers people have on social media and social media is one of the big ways of building an audience. Instagram is by far the most important social media stream in adventure because adventure is inherently visually striking activity. Twitter is also important LinkedIn is badly underrated because LinkedIn is where all the money people live. And that’s another social media stream that you should be working on. Blogging blog readers are podcasting. Podcast listeners all different ways of building audiences. You can monetize an audience. But to do that whether we’re talking sponsored blog posts.

[00:11:22] Sponsored social media posts you’re probably going to need an audience of 100000 followers or more. What you have to be able to prove the existence of those followers. Box your audience isn’t just about money straight of the audience. It gives you two other things or allow other almost all other funding categories need an audience if you’re trying to get a brand ambassadorship if you’re trying to get project sponsorship. The brand is probably giving you product money in exchange for access to your followers. You need followers.

[00:12:06] If you are trying to do a business deal to help you sell a product. Which can be you’re looking for a publisher to get your book published. These days you are expected to bring an audience who is likely to buy the product. The days of you being an unknown and the publisher doing all the marketing it’s all over. So as soon as you approach a publisher or speaker bureau or a sponsor. They are looking for proof that you have an audience and they’re looking for proof that your adventure is as compelling as you say it is. Remember you’re not an athlete who comes with a national ranking or titles they’re looking for some way to judge that you can do what you say you can do. One of the things they will look at is how many other people pay attention to what you do or not interested in that story. So social influence more important because you needed to build an audience and because you can probably get directly get money as a social influencer number to something adventurous do the brand ambassador. This can be called essentially personal sponsorship. So it’s not about a particular project it’s about you as a on going adventure. Couple of categories here. No influencer. You have a very small following and you may get an opportunity in campaign launches. Basically you get a free rucksack free pair of shoes and in exchange you help them build a buzz around the launch of the product. This can be fun but it can also be a lot of work for what is essentially a free pair of shoes.

[00:13:52] Next level up brand ambassador an ongoing relationship probably with an outdoor adventure orientated brand. They give you a certain amount of kit for free. They may give you a discount on further purchases you in turn talk up their equipment and essentially give them access to your social media following. This can be fun. It can be useful social proof of your reach. It can be a sign of professionalism when you pitch publishers or sponsors to say that you are a brand ambassador. It can also be a lot of work for not a great deal of return.

[00:14:31] Again you’re getting some free kit. You may well have earned equivalent kit already and you’re doing a lot of work for no money. The top of this pyramid sponsored athlete free kit discounted kit as well as money you are promoted to the followers of the brand you are promoting the brand to your followers. These tend to be exclusive contracts are unlikely to be able to work with another brand. This may very sponsored athletes often get less money than you would have thought and this mostly exists in the extreme sports where there are still some kind of national and world ranking the raw races you can win. There are titles you can hold. Not an easy space to break into. You’re probably going to have to be national level or world level in your sport. So social influence brand ambassador project sponsorship. This is the one people think of the big corporate sponsorship the one huge check that will free you from all further financial worries. It’s more complicated. Smaller outdoors and adventure brands largely don’t have the money to do this. They get out bands probably already have a stable of sponsored athletes and those sponsored athletes will get the expedition money so project sponsorship for adventure often comes from.

[00:16:04] Various corporate companies who are basically ready to gamble on something a little bit different with their marketing they are hoping either to get their name out to general media through an association with an exciting adventurous and hopefully successful endeavor. Or they are hoping to inspire and motivate their own Stoss by getting them to rally round supporting and interesting adventurous individual journey. Companies prepared to do this kind of marketing exist.

[00:16:39] You’ve got your project but it can be so hard to find the company that’s ready to support your project. You can spend weeks and months and years of your life hunting down a corporate sponsorship only to find that it doesn’t come down. It doesn’t come together. They can also have unrealistic expectations about how much success they can expect how much media coverage they can expect. What level of risk they’re prepared to accept so it can be done. But you might want to spend your time doing something with no more guaranteed financial returns. Even if the numbers are little lower so other ways of getting money up from Adventure grounds.

[00:17:35] These are one of financial grounds or sometimes costs paid opportunities for a specific adventure. They tend to fall into one of three categories traditional adventure grants often sport specific particularly common for climbing or for polar trips.

[00:17:54] This is the one funding category where social influence doesn’t matter. All that matters is your adventure proposal. But that being said they’re not there to fund your dream trip.

[00:18:05] They will have a strict set of criteria and you need to match it.

[00:18:11] They tend to want projects that are self organized that are not commercial definitely not guided and mostly to never been done before objectives. Those can make it sound like it’s pros only but that’s not true. A lot of them are specifically for the younger under 18 under 25 under 35 and for people doing their first self organized truly adventurous expedition. So too many people don’t apply because they feel they don’t have the confidence or they don’t have the experience. But actually these grants exist to help you get experience.

[00:18:51] They often also offer subsidised training opportunities so you need to be looking for adventure grants and applying for everything where you know where you meet the criteria.

[00:19:03] There are also more modern adventure grants. These tend to be less about polar mountaineering more about human powered endurance adventure the kind of quirky personal challenge where you don’t need to be a skilled extreme sport person again. Your social influence probably doesn’t matter but the company is looking to grow their own social following and media profile through your adventure so you won’t be expected to be proficient in sharing your adventure in telling a story. There are also various kinds of all expenses paid travel offers competitions which you can turn into an adventure opportunity a lot of this is country specific.

[00:19:53] Most of them tend to come out of Australia New Zealand England America Canada but there are some from other countries. I do run a weekly e-mail newsletter in which I list upcoming adventure grants a useful way of keeping an eye on what’s available.

[00:20:15] You can find all links from this podcast episode in the Schoenaerts. So what else can you do for money. Well there’s crowdfunding. This is one of new ways of funding now crowdfunding probably doesn’t help you pay for the adventure itself that feels too close to just asking your friends to pay for you to go on holiday crowdfunding beforehand is more likely to be fundraising for a charity that you are supporting.

[00:20:51] And you may be doing that because your super stoked about the charity. Honestly quite a lot of adventurers are doing it because they hope the association with a charity will make it easier for them to find other funding to pay for the adventure.

[00:21:10] Either way certain adventures will do much better fundraising for charity than others and you need to think about what you’re truly trying to achieve. Then crowdfunding may be used off to the adventure. To help you produce the product. Maybe the film may maybe the book people are more likely to pay into a crowdfund if they think they’re actually going to get something tangible in return. Some people will crowdfund the book or the film before the adventure happens because again it can be easier to get media coverage or corporate sponsorship. If you have a promise of a product afterwards now crowdfunding relies entirely on you already having an audience. The crowdfunding platforms are not there to get strangers to pay for your project. They are there to help you get money off the people who really support you. Success in crowdfunding is all about how big an audience you have already and how well you have prime them for the crowdfunding project. The other problem with crowd funders is you’ve made a whole lot of promises that you’ve now got to fulfill. They’ll be an ambitious timeline to produce this or produce this film. There are probably a whole lot of extras that you’ve promised and a lot of people find it very hard to follow through. Crowdfunding is a very transparent way to work with money your failure will be very transparent and your audience may end up being cynical and bitter. So approach with care.

[00:22:54] The third thing you can do with crowdfunding is basically subsistence micro payments. We’re asking for micro payments generally on an ongoing basis to support something generally ongoing content blog posts podcast episodes something where people get a regular return for their regular payment. I have seen a few people beginning to use these for training for adventure races or expeditions but you do need to think through what you provide on a regular basis to keep people motivated to give you that regular payment and crowdfunding which essentially supports projects after that happen. Brings us to our last three categories of funding which are all about monetizing the adventure afterwards.

[00:23:43] Writing one of the great classic ways of exploiting adventure these days it may be the blog your blog can make you actual money through advertising. Ffolliott links sponsored posts. But you’re going to need a big readership and an up to the minute understanding of a CEO to make this work. But even if you can’t monetize your blog it can be a good way to produce social influence. And it’s also a good way to train yourself as a writer and prove your ability to write. And that will help with our next two categories. The second one is articles. Now I think we all know that media is in crisis. There is not a lot of money. A great many publications now simply don’t pay a toll. They will let you write for them for free in exchange for exposure. And those that do pay don’t pay much you are going to have to write fast and well and frequently too much money. That being said writing for exposure may work for you. It may help to build your audience. It may help to provide proof of your reach your professionalism when it comes to looking for other kinds of funding and then ebooks.

[00:25:05] The days when you could fund an adventure by getting a huge advance from a publisher long since gone but books remain important they give you an vastly extended social reach. They offer a stamp of professionalism. Having a book launch generally by a traditional publisher that gets you national press coverage can be your best way of getting started with speakable is. Now the publishing industry. Fast changing very complicated too many options. Briefly traditional publishing the big name publishing house. The advantages. Their reach. They deal with a whole other practical side of publication and marketing distribution. The downside it’s slow it will take 18 months. You’ll only get the standard 12 and a half percent royalty. They may do a lot less marketing than you’d hoped to get about six weeks before they move onto the next book on the list.

[00:26:09] You’re still going to have to do a lot of the marketing yourself. Second category self publishing. You do everything yourself. Total control and you get all the money downside. Everything. Writing editing design proofreading printing storage distribution and of course the marketing. Yes there are online platforms that will help but you’ve got to understand how to use them and you’ve got to pay for this so steep learning curve very time consuming your money upfront.

[00:26:44] But increasing number of Aventuras are doing this with great success. And finally the hybrid models smaller publishers generally a 50/50 split on the royalties they do production and distribution. You have to do your own editing and your share of the marketing.

[00:27:03] What else can you do. Imagery photography film television huge area at one end.

[00:27:12] We’re all happy snapping with phones in our pockets at the other end we have professionals who are artists with years of experience and training and with real athletic and adventure ability to get themselves into position to get the footage. You’re never going to compete with those guys and even they are battling to make enough money. What you do need to do is be documenting your adventures. You’ll need that for your books and for your speeches and for your blog posts. If you have any hope of getting television coverage you need to have video footage of your adventures adventure film festivals are a thing that becoming much more common. However it is expensive to edit a documentary you probably have to pay to enter film competitions and you probably won’t win. So good way to lose money – venture films. Getting on to television -the Holy Grail even now for extended audience reach.

[00:28:16] Whether you’re the subject of a documentary or the presenter of a series extraordinary powerful way to reach a bigger audience and finally looking for money speaking paid speaking and this is how I pay models poking for schools plenty of interest in having people to promote healthy living outdoor exercise. Motivation goal achievement probably pay you in the hundreds outdoor events lots of festivals symposiums lecture nights someone pay some Mapei travel some will pay you in the hundreds if you’re already famous you’ve done something. Of course they might pay you in the low thousands and finally corporate talks where the real money is but not easy to break into this most adventurous speakers are earning somewhere between say.

[00:29:17] Three and ten thousand pounds or dollars for a speech.

[00:29:21] The really famous ones can be earning a good deal more than that but that level of money demands a much higher level of professionalism. This is not just telling your story about yourself. Photo by photo you need to curb content professional presentation and it’s difficult to break in. Most adventurous speakers are in what gets called the motivational inspirational speaker category you generally need to get these kind of jobs through speakers bureaus.

[00:29:53] They act as an intermediary between speakers and companies and they will take between 20 and 35 percent of the speaking fee for their work and they are not there to make the non famous adventurer famous. You have to have Bulcha reputation first you need to have had publicity at a national level already and you need to really be able to speak and have proof of that through videos and testimonials of previous clients. So a whole range of possibilities for funding but deeply confusing as to how you are supposed to pull all of this together. Wow. You know continuing to pay your bills. Day by day. Plus coming up with the avenger and doing all the planning and then getting out there and executing so confusing. Fascinating. And what can be really helpful is to listen to people who are already doing this talk through how it’s working for them.

[00:30:58] And that’s what we’re going to start with. Without mixed episode next time I bring you my interview with Sarah. And Sarah Outen is a British adventurer best known for her London to London project which she completed in late 2015. She basically went round the Northern Hemisphere on foot and by bike and on a kayak and the whole thing took her four and a half years on and off and didn’t work out quite the way she hoped but made for an extraordinary adventure. She is a published author through a traditional publisher. She’s a successful motivational speaker. What she recently wanted to do was produce a film from the footage she had from the adventure she set out to raise forty thousand pounds on Kickstarter. And I interviewed her about the planning for that Kickstarter how they put it together. So next time a fascinating half an hour conversation about how you can use crowdfunding to help your venture dreams come true. I hope you’ve enjoyed this entire episode. Please look at the show notes to find links some interesting articles about venture funding streams and about the life cycle of adventure funding that you might find helpful. You can find me via the website. The business of adventure dot com. The Twitter is at buzz of adventure and I have a weekly newsletter. It’s all about adventure funding useful tips news articles and of course upcoming adventure grants to find out more about me personally. My website is my Instagram and Twitter are @CathyODowd I’m so glad you’re here for the journey. Please reach out to me on Twitter.

[00:33:14] Let me know what you think and join us next week to find out how Sarah used Kickstarter to raise forty thousand pounds.

[00:33:24] For more conversations from the world of women’s sport including articles blogs videos and podcasts visit WiSP Sport Radio is the world’s largest podcast network for woman sport. There are more than 750 episodes across 50 shows and a global audience of one and a half million. You’ll find it on all major podcast players such as iTunes and Google Play and follow up with two on social media @WiSPsports for regular updates and news.


Photo: Cathy O’Dowd
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