TJ and Graeme of Beach Travellers: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.

TJ: Beach Travellers is a doorway into travelling other cultures at the ease of a click of a button. We make it easy, adventurous and, most of all, we make it incredibly fun to travel. We offer full-service adventure backpacking trips through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Bali and beyond. 

Graeme: Designed for travellers by travellers, our trips are for people who want an authentic backpacking experience but don’t have time on their side; travellers who want to see and experience the best of everything that a country has to offer without dealing with the day-to-day hassles that come with solo travel. With Beach Travellers, you know you’re in good hands with a small crew of like-minded travellers.

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?

Graeme: TJ’s lifelong dream was to travel to Southeast Asia after high school, mine was to move up to Whistler and play around on my snowboard. Plagued by injuries and forced into early retirement, I had my eyes on Australia. I wanted to learn to surf in a new neighbourhood. It was a chat conversation late one night between TJ and I where the first mission to Asia was born (keep in mind this was when Hotmail and MSN chat were still in).

TJ: Graeme and a few other friends hopped on a flight to Southeast Asia to meet me towards the end of my trip. I became their personal tour guide.

Graeme: The business idea had been mentioned and joked about many times throughout the trip. TJ was the ultimate combo between best friend and travel guide, one that you could trust. There was no wall between guide for hire and tourist. The idea was not to be tourists but travellers, rolling through exotic foreign countries with someone they felt comfortable with, someone they felt like they’ve known their whole life. Someone who not only enjoys taking care of the small stuff, but thrives off of delivering it in style, always upping the ante and in turn giving that life-changing experience.

TJ: None of us had seen or heard of an adventure travel company like that before. So we decided to offer trips to our peers who don’t necessarily think of themselves as people who would go on a group tour.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?

TJ: Well, I’m currently sitting here overlooking a world-class surf break on a vacation. Travel is the incredible perk but I would say hearing feedback from people that it made a life-changing impact is the motive. The most challenging part is the same as most businesses: how to separate our personal life from the business.

Graeme: Over the past couple years we’ve done a really good job at separating our roles within the business. We still collaborate but now that we have better defined roles, we’ve been able to thrive. The best part of the day to day for me – I’m in sales and marketing – is seeing an idea like a social media campaign or contest come to life online. The best part of small teams is we get to come up with these ideas together but small teams are also the most challenging part. We have a zillion ideas on the go but given the limited resources of small teams, we’ve learned to prioritize and plan. We have a calendar on the wall divided into operations, administration, and sales/marketing. It paints a monthly picture of how the next 18 months are going to play out, which in turn has been the biggest change for us. We can all sleep at night because we’re confident in our 18-month plan; we’re calm and constructive, not reactive like we once were in the past.

Where do you see your business going in five years?

Graeme: We’re happy to continue delivering extraordinary trips and changing lives one traveller at a time. We’re growing at a pace that we’re happy with and we cater to a unique market made up of travellers from across Canada, and recently a few from around the world. There’s that old saying, if you build it and they will come. We just keep on building this thing as best we can, people first, and organically we continue to surpass our growth expectations every year.

TJ: In five years I see us continuing to build trips of the highest caliber, always prioritizing quality over quantity. We are planning new trips through a number of other countries and we’re looking forward to sharing our new adventure destinations soon.

What does success look like to you?

Graeme: We gauge our successes based on how hard we’ve laughed. Deep, uncontrollable belly laughs. 

We’re in business to serve a big picture above and beyond profit. We put people first. Our travellers, our guides, our HQ team, our founders. We all come first. We work hard, really hard, but we see success in that; a clearly defined path where our hard work pays off and we get to reap the rewards.

TJ: To us, success is the balance that you find so that you always have the opportunity to see your life and business from another perspective. Being able to step away is one of the most important things so you can see what’s most important and take your head out of the sand.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?

TJ: The most memorable milestone in my career is the moment we realized that Beach Travellers was going to be fine moving forward. It was the realization that we could do this for as long as we wanted, an unreal feeling that takes away the sleepless nights and a lot of the anxiety that comes with owning and operating a business of this size.

Graeme: For me it was actually a few weeks ago in Thailand. I had just returned to Southeast Asia after six years and I got to see and experience what we do as if it was the first time. Except this time, I was there simply as a spectator, a traveller, soaking it all in, looking at what we’ve built over the past 10 years and it was surreal. We had 100+ travellers in Bangkok kicking off their trips at a welcome party. The next day I was in our first ever Thailand – Laos – Cambodia trip, which TJ was guiding. Overall, it was crazy to see what this business had become. TJ and I were walking by one of the hotels we stay at and we could hear some of the guides giving a farewell speech to one of the groups that had just returned from 24 days running around Thailand. As we were walking towards a restaurant for dinner we heard them chanting, “BT! BT! BT! BT!” TJ and I looked at each other and laughed at this feeling. This warm realization of accomplishment came over me in a way I’ve never felt before. I was a bit in disbelief of what we’ve built.

Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?

Graeme: There’s only so much you can do behind a desk. It’s important for young professionals to understand that they need to get out in their field and experience things first hand. If you were, say, starting a t-shirt company, it would be beneficial for you to go to China or Thailand or wherever you are producing these t-shirts to see the manufacturing and experience the process firsthand. People go into business to make themselves and their business thrive, to build, develop and enjoy the experience in work and life. You need to remain excited, and most importantly you need to continually do things bigger than yourself.

TJ: Having purpose. Creating, testing and applying systems and working hard will do wonders. But before you do anything, sit outside of your business and decide what’s most important and why. The “why” will give you purpose and get you through the thick of it. Purpose is what helps people achieve remarkable feats.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?

TJ: We support a charity called created in memory of Benjamin Trompetter, who was our best friend as well as the manager of Thailand operations for a number of years. Live Like Ben supports underprivileged kids mostly in Southeast Asia. We also support schools in Southeast Asia, giving our travellers the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the places and communities we visit. All proceeds and donations go directly to the communities and the kids. We see these initiatives as a positive way of using our large supporter and traveller base, without the proverbial middleman. We believe that when travellers engage with communities overseas on a personal level, they return home with a realization that they can also impact their own communities positively.

What is Notable to you?

Graeme: To me notable is being in business for passion, above and beyond profits; to employ others who are just as passionate; to serve a purpose beyond making money; to help others (in any way you can) and to encourage everyone to contribute in each other’s growth.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?

TJ: I use iPhone and we have all Apple products. We find it easiest to all operate on the same systems. We use the cloud a ton as well because we are operating from different parts of the world all at the same time.

Graeme: iPhone4Life… you can’t travel the globe and stay in touch without good ol’ iMessage.

How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?

TJ: Graeme and I just make sure that we’re always doing the things that we love. For instance, right now we’re away on a retreat. Our goal here is to unplug, surf, read, eat, sleep and repeat. These things keep us fresh. I also play and compose music on guitar, lapsteel and piano. I’m incredibly passionate about that as well, which takes me to another world. This would be my form of mediation that keeps me present.

Graeme: You have to make time for yourself or you’ll burn out. As cliché as it sounds, it’s all about balance, which is nearly impossible to achieve. So it’s really life, work, family, sport, surf, party, living in harmony. 


Image: Whitney Kruzfeldt Photography

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