Brad Frankel is a co-founder of Flooglebinder, an educational travel company, who build and design projects to inspire change. All of their projects include conservation, community & culture to help protect awesome places and hopefully create more positive global citizens.
Their programs are designed to give students the opportunity to gain invaluable experience and a range of wider key skills, to help with university and employment opportunities, whilst experiencing new cultures and communities. All of their programs have been tried and tested and promote the importance of sustainable travel.
“We believe that learning outside the classroom is fundamental to a student’s development and there is no better way to do that, than through travel.”
Due to popular demand, they also run special programs for professionals who are wanting a career break and/or interested in purposeful travel and value the importance of sustainable tourism and conservation.
Brad shares the story of why him and his co-founder Ian launched Flooglebinder and gives some great advice on the lessons learned along the way…
What initially inspired you to make a difference and what career path did you follow?
It’s kind of an interesting journey for us, really as it slowly developed and kept building momentum and focus towards sustainability. Me and my business partner, Ian, studied marine biology at University. That’s where we met. Ian became a lecturer in animal behavior and ecology, and his students needed to gain really good, hands-on valuable work experience; that’s where the idea started. I’d travelled heaps and done 2 around the world trips and have always been very passionate about the experiences and skills that you develop through travel.
So we decided to start building our own programs and, from our own experience didn’t want to just fly in and out to a conservation project. We wanted people to explore more, see the place, the people and the culture. So, as well as the conservation aspect and ability to work towards their studies, they would also connect with these places. As a result, this can create behavioural changes and develop more global citizens, mindful of their impact.
When we first spoke about it, it was more of a pipe dream to do something we loved.
I was working as an Art Consultant for about 3 years. It was quite pretentious and not really my cupppa’ tea and it was when speaking to one particular couple that I realized I was in the wrong job. We were trying to setup an appointment and when I asked about one particular date, they mentioned they would be away. I asked them where they were going and they said ‘Thailand.’ I got so excited. I started telling them what to do, where to go and I realized then that I really wanted to help people have a great experience through travel.
Our focus has always been marine conservation, due to our background, but realising the change that we were having on younger generations, we opened up the trips to be more focused to younger years, geography, biology and general personal development. And, by giving them those opportunities to see things and make those connections… they might start to make changes to the way they live, eat, travel etc.
Through running the program, we realized we can have a serious impact on younger generations.
Was Art Consulting your first job out of school?
No, before that I was in recruitment for a couple of years. It was never really a career, just a job. The goal was just to save up some cash and once I hit a certain amount I would bugger off and travel for a few years. It was always about travel for me. Whatever job I had, it was always about taking trips and exploring.
Tell me a bit about how Flooglebinder is working to make a positive impact and what being a B Corp has meant to you?
We were looking at programs that were originally for slightly older, college and university students but when we realized the significant development of the softer skills – the problem solving, the critical thinking, the personal development – we felt it was even more important for younger students to go on these trips.
For us, it comes down to our personality as well. We always wanted to bring people together, do the right thing, and have an honest and ethical way about doing things.
Being a B Corp just summed it all up for us. Looking at our social impact – the way we travel and how we can make the smallest footprint possible, the kind of companies we work with, and making sure that when we do go somewhere, we leave the smallest footprint possible, and make sure we work with the local, grass roots companies was important to us. We want to make sure the money spent goes back into the local economy, so those people can then flourish and not be exploited for their resources and their environment as typical tourist models have done for years. Through sustainable tourism, everyone wins. The people that go have a greater and deeper cultural experiences. They get to really understand and meet the locals. Then the locals benefit so much more as it builds their skills set and provides more income, which they then spend in their own communities, benefiting their own economy.
For us, it ticked so many boxes of what we’re trying to do – be more sustainable, more focused on the environment and helped us implement good structures within the business. Not just the way we work with customers, but the way we work with everyone. When you’re working with other B Corps, you don’t even need to go through that vetting phase. There is an immediate trust, respect, and loyalty. It’s such an incredible community and it’s so inspirational as well. When you hear some of the stories of what companies do, it drives us to think… what can we do better? A lot of what we’re doing now is relating our trips to the UN sustainable development goals.
What are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome thus far?
I think the list is too long. One of the things I’ve noticed with all of the books I’ve read – business mentoring, psychology, inspirational/motivational books – is that a lot of them detach the personal side from the business side… and you can’t.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in wearing my heart on my sleeve, and that’s who I am as a person. It’s so difficult not to attach that. Recognizing it might be very different for someone else that has a similar business to us, when I look my and Ian’s journey, it has been the personal things that were sometimes the biggest hurdles.
We had the idea for the business, and then soon after Ian had a baby and he moved houses. Then I had a girlfriend and we moved to Australia. Then we had to figure out how to run the business in different parts of the world and still communicate with each other. There were so many external personal factors that were difficult to mitigate. But when it’s something you’re so passionate about and you have so much commitment and tenacity to make it work, it works…because you just make it work. This means you put in 25 hours a day, trying to reach out to anyone and everyone, and you gain all of the skills that you need, whether that’s design, accounts, SEO or business development.
The biggest learning curve was to make sure that we focused on what we were good at. The hardest thing, when we started the business, was thinking ‘What hat am I wearing today? Am I the accountant? The marketing person? Am I working on SEO? Or the design? Am I sales?’
When you’re trying to work on everything, you’re trying to focus on one thing, but you start thinking ‘Oh, I have that invoice due on Friday… and I need to finish the newsletter’ you quickly get distracted by other tasks. You ultimately end up doing loads of things very badly. You start realizing it would take me 2-months to build a website and it would take someone else 2-days to build it, so let’s pay someone else to do what they’re good at and we can focus on what we’re good at.
What advice do you have for people that want to change the world or pursue their passion?
I think it can be really difficult sometimes, so tenacity and faith are key.
Some of the clients that we’ve tried to work with don’t want to take the time to understand what we really do, and see us a just a trip provider as opposed to educators. It can be quite disheartening at times. So I would say, don’t worry about those people. Focus on the people that do care as there are many of them out there, rather than waste your energy on trying to convert the others. Work on the ones that do want to be a part of your community.”
Collaborate – collaborate with as many people as you can or want to in the space you operate in. I use to go into meetings with a very sales-focused head, because for 10 years I had been in sales and recruitment. Everything was targeted with figures and KPI’s.
However, now I would just say, let’s talk about stuff, because amazing things can happen when we talk about random things and go on creative tangents. Collaborate with cool people in your space.
What are some of the collaborations you’ve done?
We’re working on some pretty cool ones at the moment… and they’re all B Corps.
There is an activity provider company over in Wales called TYF and they are brilliant. They hosted the B Corp first-year party there in Sept 2016. They have a similar ethos to us, to educate through adventure, and they do it unbelievably well, and have been doing it for many years. We aspire to be where they are in a few years time. They are all about outdoor education – connecting people with the outdoors and appreciating it, so they can become ambassadors and want to protect it. It’s education through adventure. We’re working on a few really cool programs with them for UK schools.
We met Adam from Red Inc and now buy all of our stuff from them but also introduce them to schools so that ‘the school’ can start to think about their supply chain and becoming more sustainable.
We’re also working on another massive project, with TYF, which is part of our 5- to 10-year plan, called A million minds. We’re going to connect 1 million students, that’s 1,000 students at 1,000 schools. It sounds like a big number, but if we split it into 7 countries, it’s 150 schools per country, which is really achievable.
We’re looking at rolling out at an educational program that will run from the Year 7s (our secondary school). The first will be residential program 3-day trip and then there is a set of educational programs throughout the years on conservation, biodiversity, sustainability, all in relation to our modern economy so they are prepared for life after school. The idea is to work in collaborations with other B Corps who will help fund the entire program, as if they purchase from them, the B Corp will contribute towards the project, making is self-funding.
You never know what can come through collaborations.
So since you’re such an expert traveler… I can’t resist asking, right now, where is your favorite place to go in the world and why?
I find it difficult to come away from Thailand. I went originally about 10 years ago to do my dive master training. I love the simplicity of island life. I love the Thai culture and their view on life. You have shelter, food, friends, and family and that’s kind of all you really need. It’s my reset button. I’m not the most spiritual or religious person, but it’s a spiritual reset for me. It realigns the important things in life. I love it for the food, the weather. I can’t sit still when I go away and there I can dive, do Muay Thai, yoga, and there are so many other activities that are so easy to arrange. It’s just terrific. Koh Tao is definitely my favorite spot.