July 13, 2020

Q&A with CEO and Cofounder of Yonder

CCM Staff Post Author

After months indoors, aren’t we all craving a little safe and conscious adventure? That is where Yonder comes in. While looking to pursue a more wholesome life in the mountains, Tim and Sarah Southwell, acquired an 80-acre parcel of land in Southwest Montana located on the river bottom of the Bitterroot Valley. Their land soon became a Permaculture Farmstead where vacationers came to escape the city and immerse themselves in a simpler way of life with a deep connection to the earth. Tim and Sarah, along with the Yonder founding team saw the tremendous potential for both stewards and travelers, and they decided to expand beyond the farm and create a platform for diverse nature-rich experiences. Now, Yonder is on a mission to connect stewards and adventurers to create fantastically unique, nature-rich experiences.  We sat down with Freyr Thor, CEO and co-founder of Yonder, to learn how Yonder was bornm and how they’ve grown with conscious business at their core.

I’m interested in the inspiration behind your company. What is its birth story?

In 2018, our founding team set out to understand the answer to one question: “Can we build a successful business that not only elevates nature tourism but through connecting people to nature, creates a better, healthier world?” We decided the answer was yes. And Yonder was born from our passion for the natural world and everything it offers. So we founded Yonder on the principles of connection, community, and coexistence between people and nature.

What are your values at your company?

Our key values at Yonder are the following:

Win-Win-Win

We believe in conscientious business practices and apply the win-win-win approach to problem-solving. If we ensure that our actions are in the best interests of our guests, our community, and the company, then we all succeed.

Be Extraordinary

We believe all Yonder experiences, from website to stay, should surpass guest expectations. We never lose sight of how attention to detail, personalized service, and unexpected moments of delight can result in a remarkable guest experience.

Be the Change

We recognize the impact positive thought and focused intention can have on the Yonder business, and that it starts with each and every one of us.  When we take the briefest of moments to set clear, positive intentions for our individual work, the entire company benefits. 

Be Real

We communicate with sincere intention and build trust by being transparent, approachable, and humble. We’re quick to share information, mistakes, and victories.

Be Whole

We understand that living a balanced life will benefit us all: self, family, team, company. When we invest time in our personal wellbeing, and growth & development, we’re better equipped to give back — mentally, physically, spiritually, and creatively. 

Can you elaborate on the structure of your business model and how your company operates?

Yonder has something for everyone— whether it’s learning about organic farming, trekking through a canyon, sampling grapes on the vine, or taking in a majestic view, Yonder features experiences that immerse guests in the natural world. Yonder understands that travel is about more than a price and listing, so it spotlights what guests will take away from the experience that they might not find elsewhere, such as the personal philosophies of the Stewards. These Stewards are the owners and operators of the properties listed on Yonder whose livelihood depends on the protection and sustainability of their land and heritage.

We offer the following differences for our guests:

  • Hand-Selected: Stewards and properties carefully selected and vetted for exceptional hospitality, natural surroundings, and activities.
  • Easily-Discoverable: Reduced search time to find lesser-known, nature-based accommodations, and activities.
  • Personalized: Guests provided with an option to build custom itineraries centered around their stay – activities, food, local attractions.
  • Transformative: Experiences deliver on the many benefits of nature connection (mental, physical, spiritual) and support ecological harmony. 

Impact/Traction: Please share any quick stats or numbers you’re proud of that gets at the footprint the company is making in the world/community.

We’re finding that people are starting to get out! Our bookings are up 80% from May to June and we’re expecting steady growth through 2020.

What made you decide to become a PBC? 

We have a belief that businesses should exist to do more than just turn a profit, and be used as a force for social, economical, and environmental good. 

How have you seen your company change since becoming or in the process of becoming a PBC? (Public-Benefit Corporation)

Yonder has joined the ranks of other PBC companies like Method and Patagonia.  This means that we place equal importance on creating both profit and positive societal and environmental impact. So Yonder properties offer more than just a place to crash for the weekend, they offer a promise — to connect people to the healing benefits of the natural world. Which we hope, in turn, helps to inspire people to protect our planet. 

What advice do you have for those considering becoming a PBC?

You should weigh what’s important to you, your employees, and your mission in determining whether you should be a public benefit corporation. If you’re a community and environmentally-minded business, owners can preserve their social goals without sacrificing the ability to make a profit.

Venture Capital firms still prefer Delaware C-Corporations, but there are newer, more conscious VCs who care more about benefit corporations. Also, there is an annual cost of time and expense in maintaining a public benefit corporation, and you really should make sure that what you are doing as a company is serving some “general public benefit.”

Anything exciting to announce/on the horizon?

We’re currently running a WeFunder campaign here which allows anyone to own a piece of our company, especially for those who agree with our values and purpose as a PBC. We’ve already raised $130,000 from over 60 investors in a short period of time and our campaign ends on October 4th. 

There is fantastic interest in what we have to offer and we’re excited for future announcements and geographies in 2020. Currently, as each state begins to open up, we’re learning that the types of places Yonder promotes are exactly what people are looking for – nature-based, often off-the-beaten-path, and full of lessons about how to rebalance our lives. The future of travel closely resembles Yonder’s model—uncrowded getaways accessible by car, lesser-known outdoor destinations and activities, and the support of local economies.

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

As in nature, we see harmony as an expression of interconnected relationships; between peoples, communities and nations. There is, above all, a deep and sacred bond amongst all. Our founding purpose to create a harmonious world is not only relevant, it’s increasingly urgent. 

What is the largest challenge that you’re facing right now?

We took great care to make sure we were ready to launch in March 2020. The Covid pandemic hit and our founding purpose “to create a harmonious world by connecting people to nature” became more relevant than ever. Were we prepared for civil unrest to divide our country weeks later? To be honest, absolutely not. But despite the volatile news, the interest in Yonder continues to grow worldwide. 

What is giving you hope for the future?

We are living in one of the most uncertain times on planet Earth, witnessing extreme climate shifts, pandemics, and social unrest. Yet amidst this uncertainty, there is something sacred which unites us, the interconnectedness found in nature. By turning to nature as our teacher, we are better placed to tackle the challenges in front of us. 

We believe the Stewards and the experiences we connect people to not only inspire a deeper appreciation for the natural world but also a greater sense of responsibility to protect it. So in a sense, we’re helping put our planet back in balance by connecting people to nature

Top 3 lessons for Business Leaders (or others in similar industries/models)?

My top three lessons for leaders are:

Continually adapt

I grew up in Iceland where we learn from a young age that nature is boss. This teaches life lessons of patience and the need to continually read and adapt to your environment. I have been able to apply those lessons to my career over the years in various industries such as entertainment, media, and travel. As a result, my advice for anyone setting out on an entrepreneurial journey is to not be afraid of experimentation, with all of its stops and starts. Starting a business is always about an evolutionary journey. It’s essential to adjust tactics as you develop and grow your business, but never lose sight of the primary mission and commitment that you set out to solve. 

You will never be fully ready

Sometimes we need to take a chance on ourselves, and the time is always now. When we begin to have difficulties, it’s important to stay calm, learn from best practices, and figure out a feasible solution as quickly as possible and start testing. You won’t know what works until you start testing and sometimes that could be a bit chaotic and scary, but that’s all a huge part of the fun of the entrepreneurial journey.

Celebrate little wins

Building a startup is extremely hard and the only way to avoid burnout and keep a team energized is to celebrate the small wins. It takes a lot of perseverance to iterate and build traction. The wins can be slow and infrequent. People will abandon it if they don’t get excited, and excitement comes from celebrating the little things.

Leadership
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