April 11, 2022

Careers in Motion Takes a Spin Around the Globe with Entrepreneur Richard Campbell

How the owner of 10Adventures parlayed his skills in tech startups with travel and where the battered industry is poised to go.
Richard Campbell

Behind the orange fleece jacket and the nighttime ritual of watching Poirot with his kids is a Haskayne grad who’s parlayed his financial acumen into a startup travel company, 10Adventures.

While studying at UCalgary, Richard Campbell, BComm’99, completed three co-ops with Cadillac Fairview, one with Foothills Pipe Lines; hung out at the Den on Thursday nights; regrets he wasn’t involved in the Outdoor Club; and loved the fact he could tack on umpteen electives to his business degree. “Biology, evolutionary psychology, chemistry, history, English . . . I took so many courses which gave me a different framework as to how the world works,” says Campbell, whose company marries travellers with outdoor adventures in 75 countries around the planet.

What was your first job after graduating with your commerce degree from UCalgary?

I got a two-year working visa for the U.K. and worked for a tech startup called uSwitch.com (a price-comparison service for a range of energy, personal finance, insurance and communications). It’s a funny story because I had two job offers, but I needed the money for a down deposit on rent and the startup promised to pay me first, so I took it. I ended up loving it . . . it’s sort of where I figured out who I was and what I wanted from a job.

Which is?

I crave change, like to create things and solve problems.

What advice do you have for people who might like to work at a startup?

Working in a fast-growing company is incredible because you get so much experience. If you don't like that, or if that scares you, then go the regular corporate route, because you'll just be so much more successful. In a startup, you find out what things don't work and come up with solutions. You have to be comfortable making mistakes and learning why you were wrong. For me, that’s the best way to learn.

How did you parlay your skills at uSwitch into your latest endeavour, 10Adventures?

After I left London, I went hiking in Europe (trekking the Tour de Mont Blanc, the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, and the GR10 that crosses the Pyrenees), took a transport truck from Nairobi to Cape Town, and then came back to Canada and worked with an NGO in Montreal and Argentina. By then, I had caught the travel bug, but it took me years to turn that into a company.

Richard Campbell

What distracted you?

I joined my dad’s engineering-consulting firm (Vista Projects) to, initially, create a billing system. The three-month project became six and then the projects became bigger and bigger and, in a few years, we grew the company from 18 to 425 employees. Then, I spent a few years planning how to get my dad out of the company, as he wanted to retire. Along the way, I took an EMBA at Harvard and got a Sloan Fellowship at the London Business School. By then, I was 40 years old, my dad was out of the day-to-day operations, and I really wanted to get back into tech with a project that combined a few of my other interests.

Was that the genesis of 10Adventures?

Yes. It began in 2016 as an online guidebook, really a website, about my favourite hikes from Jasper to Glacier National Park, and then people started asking us to be their guide on the Amalfi coast, Chamonix . . . all over. I didn’t want to be their guide, but I liked the idea of creating a marketplace where people could connect with very good guides and get a great deal. And that became the foundation of 10Adventures.

How big is your operation now?

We have an app with 8,000 different routes on it. It’s a bit like All Trails … eventually, you’ll be able to personalize and record all your stats. The idea is to incorporate tours onto that, as well. And we now have a staff of 12, plus partners in over 75 countries. Basically, it’s a marketplace that’s very careful about working with legitimate, high-quality companies. We don’t want to hear from travellers who are lost in the Andes because their guide took off.

With the world in lockdown for the better part of two years, how has business been?

Travel has been amongst the hardest-hit industries. In 2020, we had just a handful of bookings, mostly by Canadians travelling to other parts of Canada. In 2021, we saw growth, but our conversion rate was roughly five per cent of what it was, pre-pandemic. Most bookings were Americans and Europeans going to Western Europe. Nothing in Asia and very little in South America and Africa. January 2022 started with our best month ever, and we are seeing great growth, but this is just the start of the travel recovery, and there are still lots of people who are waiting a bit before taking their first big trip.

Is the travel industry poised to come back?

Our bookings tell us it is. People now want to do what’s on their bucket list. Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, the TMB, or seeing Machu Pichu or the Galapagos Islands . . . so many bucket-list trips seem to be adventure-based and so we are getting lots of inquiries and bookings about just that. We are also seeing an uptick with pilgrimage spots in Spain and Portugal, as well as bike tours in Germany. We hope to see an increase in demand for trips to Asia and the Himalayas soon, but it seems most travellers are dipping their toes in the travel waters right now.

Having worked for both large and small companies, what are the advantages of working in a large firm?

Although I prefer to work somewhere small, there’s value to working in a big company. If you look on people's resumés, a recruiter may say, "Oh, you worked at Microsoft or Google or TransCanada,” and they know what that is. It's nice to have it on your resume but, for me, the focus of many jobs at large organizations was just too narrow.

Campbell family in the mountains

What top business books would you recommend? 

How to Live Your Life by Clay Christensen and Obviously Awesome by April Dunford.

Any favourite novel that you’re read countless times?

Yes. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.

What holiday is on your bucket list?

The GR5 (a 700-km hike from Lac Leman down to Nice, France). That’s what I am training my kids to do. And the Elbe Cycle route in Germany. Travel will be a big part of our family’s life.