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June 16, 2020 5 min read
My name is Jenelle and I’m the president a co-founder of The Wild | Life Outdoor Adventures. Headquartered in Calgary, AB we deliver monthly outdoor-themed subscription boxes for kids that provide outdoor gear, adventure ideas, skill-building lessons, and crafts, that align with the Canadian curriculum. The goal is simple: to get more kids outside, more often. We are committed to removing barriers so that all kids, and all families, can feel like they belong in our outdoor spaces.
I’m a 6th generation Calgarian, so we grew up spending time outside all year round. I grew up with two older brothers, and whether it was playing with “Army Ants” in the front yard shrubs, building snow forts that could rival a rebel base on Hoth, or catching minnows - those experiences we’re a huge part of the people we became. The outdoors made me strong, curious, and confident. Spending time outdoors as a child inspired me to explore Canada from coast to coast, visit over 30 different countries, live abroad, and see the natural world not only in my own backyard, but all around the globe. I’ve always been grateful for those experiences but never fully considered the impact. Most of the pictures from my childhood are outdoors, usually holding an animal, amphibian, or insect.
Then I became a Mom.
When I became a parent, I thought a lot about my childhood and the childhood I want to provide my daughter. Being a working Mom was (and still is) challenging for me. For 13 years I worked in Marketing and Sales within big multinational companies and start-ups, I worked at agencies and consultancies and spent all of my career growing and advising other people’s businesses. Which was great! But juggling time with my family (my partner works shifts at the hospital), really made me consider the value my work was creating. I had an inner voice that told me nothing would be more challenging, rewarding, and make me a better businessperson – than starting my own business from scratch. I thought about the times and places where I felt the happiest and the most important lessons I wanted to pass onto future generations – I kept coming back to the outdoors.
My oldest brother Jeremy and I are notorious “idea guys” – particularly around the campfire or along the trails. In February 2019 I challenged us to get together at the Calgary Central Library once a week to really explore some of our ideas.
Step 1: We did A LOT of research. We leveraged the librarians and the online databases, we read articles, and books. The deeper we dug the bigger and broader the problem reared: Canadian kids are not getting outdoors enough, and the consequences are serious.
Step 2: Create a product that helps to solve this problem. The product development was relatively easy for us, and the delivery method (subscription boxes) came naturally as a way to ensure kids were getting access to outdoor gear, tools, educational activities, and adventure ideas every month – not just during family vacation or summer camps.
Step 3: Test the product. For us, this meant a lot more research and financial modelling. We brought in my sister-in-law Heather to rein in the “idea guys”, keep us focused and bring new skills to the table. We engaged a Calgary consultancy, Tenato Strategy to run focus groups with beta products and provide additional research on competitors in the space.
Step 4: GO OR NO GO. At this time, we had the information we needed to decide to go for it or not. It was September 2019. We went for it. In hindsight, these timelines were super aggressive and ignorant on our part. In November I quit my fulltime job to become the president of The Wild | Life as we incorporated the business.
Step 5: Launch (about a million more steps), learn, grow, fail, learn, grow… repeat.
We launched on March 11.
Right smack in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic. Not ideal. Our big launch was to be at the Calgary Outdoor Adventure Show with over 30,000 attendees. It was cancelled. Like many, everyone on our small team was struggling with various work from home scenarios. Our supply chain was disrupted, our lead times tripled, exchange rates when the wrong direction, and have just launched this year, we didn’t qualify for any financial aid. It was tough, it is still tough. It would be so easy to quit. But then I remember why we started this all in the first place, to get kids outdoors more often. As the world gets flipped upside down and sideways, it’s never been more important to me to be an ambassador to outdoor spaces and the opportunities they provide, break down barriers and to give more kids more ways to be curious, to adventure, and to be wild.
When unexpected things happen, plans often go out the window. We’ve had to improvise, pivot, and make tough choices. But I will tell you, the biggest value we’ve created and the most success we’ve seen has been doubling down on the community. If I could do it again, I would have created more of these connections earlier in our journey. Individuals, organizations, businesses, communities, and media outlets, if you have shared goals and purpose – there are people out there to support you. If you are a local business – find your people, find shared values and voices and lift each other up, ask for help, lend a hand, go the extra mile for partners, customers, and like-minded organizations.
I have said - more than once, that I would never own a business and that certainly I would never be a part of a family-run business. Now I do both. Over the last year and a half, the business has brought my family closer together and had many positive impacts, it’s put us and our children outside more often and taught us many new things about business and the outdoors. Sometimes you find work, sometimes the work finds you. But I am convinced that when you start a business deeply rooted in its purpose, success will come.
Whether you are a business owner or community member; be patient, be resilient, be a leader, and get creative – when we use our shared voices, we can create change far beyond the products we bring to market.
Thank-you Local Laundry for providing this platform to share our story, and so many great stories. We are grateful to have allies like Local Laundry amplifying the work of local Canadian businesses.
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