Where The Wild Is: The tour operator specialising in extraordinary Arctic experiences

Where The Wild Is is an eco-friendly tour operator that organises bespoke trips to the most magical parts of Scandinavia. Founder Emma Durkin talked to us about starting Where The Wild Is as a side hustle and the challenges of being a solo founder.

I was working for a corporate travel company in the marketing department. They weren’t selling destinations like Finland, Norway or Sweden before I joined, but I helped to set up products there.

I ended up going to Finland for a week, just hiring a car and touring. I loved meeting the suppliers out there – the people that run these tiny guest houses. It was really good fun.

When I came back, I put some products together and added them to the website. They started selling quickly and continued to do well. The whole experience was so enjoyable that I started to think ‘I wonder if I can do this for myself’.

I started sketching ideas at home of the brand I wanted to create: eco-friendly and high-end luxury. I reached a point where I wanted to put more time into it, so I asked if I could reduce my hours to four days a week. Thankfully, they agreed.

Get out of the house to focus

I spent every Friday in a cafe in town pretending that I had a business, to see if I could bring it to life a bit. Sometimes I’d work on it at the gym – I’d get to the gym two or three hours before a gym class and work on it at the gym cafe.

It was just important to get out of the house. When you’re in the house, you might put a load of washing on, make a cup of tea and watch Homes Under the Hammer. Before you know it, it’s the end of the day and you haven’t done anything!

You have to get out to an environment where you’re forced to do it. 

The “now or never” moment

Moving to full-time was a pinnacle moment. I was really fed up with my job and my head was always in Where The Wild Is.

I went on holiday for three weeks to Australia for Christmas and I read Escape the City for the third time on the beach. When I finished it, I thought, ‘I’m going to resign’. 

Having that break gave me the chance to really relax and think, ‘if I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it’.

I knew I needed about £20,000 to start the business and be able to live and pay my mortgage. I had it saved up already and I truly believed Where The Wild Is was going to be successful. 

Making decisions as a solo founder

It’s always been just me in the business, so I had a real issue with making decisions. I found myself procrastinating over things. If you have someone to bounce ideas off, you can eventually be like, ‘right, let’s do it this way’.

I had friends and family, but no one in the travel industry so it meant decisions could take a really long time. Whenever I made a decision, I was worried that it wasn’t the right one.

Sometimes I really wish that I shared the business 50/50 with someone else, but other times I’m just really proud that it’s mine and I own the whole thing. When it’s a good way, I’m chuffed to have a business that’s 100% mine. It’s a real sense of achievement doing as much as you can on your own. 

Believe that your idea will work

If you have the passion, belief and skills or background to help it succeed, then go for it. But you do really need to believe your idea is going to work. I’ll have bad days or I might not get a booking I thought I was going to get, but I never go home and think, ‘gosh I wish I hadn’t done this’ or ‘I don’t think this is going to work’. Never.

It’s hard work, but you have to keep going, keep marketing and keep getting out there. I think it’ll be what I want it to become in the future. You’ve just got to get on with it.

When you enter startup land, you get invited to loads of events where you get loads of opinions. Don’t say yes to everything, because you can never actually get your work done. I started going and realised that I wasn’t doing any work because I was always out and about”

The main thing is to spend your time wisely. Make sure that whatever you do is going to be useful for your business. We’re all going to be dead in about 60 years, so you might as well be doing something you want to do! You have to be happy every day with what you’re doing.

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