Ben Southall, Best Life Adventures
Chris Hogan - Good day world, Chris Hogan coming to you from Burleigh Heads here on the Gold Coast and I'm here with a special guest today Ben Southall, who you may know as the Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, won that competition. Was it The Best Job in the World in 2009?
Ben Southall - Yeah, nearly 10 years ago now, so that was I suppose my introduction to Australia. That was back in the days when Tourism Queensland were trying to market the Great Barrier Reef to the world and I'd just gone around Africa in a Land Rover and run a website and a blog and that was the criteria they needed to do that job and 34,000 people later, I was the winner. Easy isn't it?
Chris Hogan - So, hopefully you're not best known for that anymore because you've got some cool stuff coming up and you've been doing some really cool stuff ever since. So, bensouthall.com is pretty much the old placeholder for the old biography I guess in the life before now and now you have bestlifeadventures.com which is about to go live, probably go live by the time we actually launch this.
Ben Southall - I've fingers crossed if it goes and be up by the end of the week, that's the plan.
Chris Hogan - So, what is Best Life Adventures?
Ben Southall - Okay, so I suppose the whole Best branding started nine years ago with The Best Job in the World and ever since then, we've tried to sort of encapsulate my passion for travel and adventure, sharing physical challenges in the great outdoors with, what started as a local audience, has become an international audience now. It started off at first, I suppose, a spawn of Best Life in the World was the Best Expedition in the World, which was for me getting in a kayak for four months retracing Captain Cook's route all the way up the east coast of Australia through the Great Barrier Reef all the way to Cooktown, that was a project for Tourism Queensland, so that was The Best Expedition in the World. And then in 2015 my wife Sophie and we drove from Singapore all the way back to London in my old Land Rover. That took a year, and we called that The Best Life in the World. And that was to go and find people on that journey who had smiles on their faces every single day, love what they did whether they were a taxi driver or a CEO of a company, what are the criterias in life that give people a smile on their face and make them want to get out of bed in the morning? That was The Best Life in the World. And we have these lovely theories about what it is. Whether it's family or friends or money or the best job. Whatever it is, what are those things that give people that recipe for life. And a lot of it will revolved around interaction with family and doing great things in the great outdoors. So every time I've come back from one of my various adventures, there always is at least one, maybe 10, maybe 50 people that say. I would love to go and do an adventure like that. What do I have to do to go and do it? So I knew there was this gap in the market. There was a niche there were people, they've got cash, they're time poor, they wanna go on these adventures. So why don't I start curating them, making it from scratch, making them left of centre for anything you're gonna get from a standard travel brochure and do the extremes of life and the extremes of the world because people like entrepreneurs are adventurous in their mindset, they love what they do, they love challenges, they love innovation. So I can find innovation in the adventure space, package it up, market it and take people out there, small bespoke groups of people, there's a gap in the market that means there's business opportunities there. And hence, Best Life Adventures was born.
Chris Hogan - Fantastic, so one of the common things I see run through all of your adventures is building resilience.
Ben Southall - Absolutely.
Chris Hogan - Why is that so important and how does it transcend from going on a holiday or an adventure back into business? Does it actually, is there a crossover?
Ben Southall - Well yeah, I mean we deal with a range of clients now. We deal with government clients, we deal with corporate clients, we deal with private groups and all of them, all the people that come on these seem to be people that want to achieve the most that they can out of life. They wanna prove to themselves that they can do the best that they can in their personal life and their business life and they can go out there and suck as much as they can out of this short limited time that we get on planet earth. They're people that wanna get up and do things. They're not people that lay in bed until 11 o'clock in the morning on the weekend, they're up at sunrise, they utilising their day. They're making the most out of it. They're building great friendships. And that sort of reflects from the personal development into the business world because what we're finding and I believe this is the truth is that the people that really wanna achieve lots in their personal life are the ones that are gonna achieve a lot in their business life. So, the world of adventure and entrepreneurship I think are very closely entwined in the fact that adventurous people love to get out there and do things and entrepreneurs love to get out there and do things. We started off Best Life Adventures really with the Advance Queensland Initiative of the Office of the Chief Entrepreneur. So Mark Savey and I, good friends, sat down and talked about the idea of going and proving to yourself that you can achieve something with a physical adventure in the great outdoors, makes you realise that you're able to take on these hurdles that you think you're gonna struggle to clear but by the time you've gone out there and given it a go and you've cleared that hurdle and you've realised, I didn't think I could run a half marathon and you sit down at the end of the half marathon and go, wow, I'm a lot better that I thought I was, maybe I'll do a marathon. And you set your goals and you move those benchmarks and you keep going further and further and further. And so the idea of resilience is if you can develop a strong mindset as an individual, based in the great outdoors where you've got no distractions from mobile phones and you can take people's laptops away and you can stop notifications. If you can focus on being in the moment and concentrate on achieving something for yourself, you can translate that back into your business life. When you get home and realise, okay, we've got tough times coming up as a business. I know that I can go through the shit and come through the other side and be better off for it. And that's why The Best Life Adventures' theme is all about building resilient individuals in the great outdoors to make them better people in life and ultimately better business people.
Chris Hogan - Fantastic, is it just through their experiences and I guess, those tough times that people learn through these adventures or is it actually a bit of a classroom scenario? What's going on on these adventures? I mean, I've read Aaron Birkby's blog from the Everest Base Camp Trek.
Ben Southall - He went through the ringer. He really did go through the ringer.
Chris Hogan - He totally did. He kind of scared the pants off me a little bit.
Ben Southall - And off himself quite literally. if you read the blog.
Chris Hogan - Yeah great blog, actually we'll link to it in our comments but is there a classroom scenario? Is there time to sit down and share with other entrepreneurs?
Ben Southall - Absolutely.
Chris Hogan - Do people just dump on each other, you know?
Ben Southall - It's different horses for different courses, it really is because we are running a very different catalogue of experiences, really. If you're on a private group and you wanna go and trek to every space camp that's all about the experience of meeting new people. Walking through a tough challenging environment, seeing some beautiful landscapes. But at the end of the day, at the end of what could be a six to eight hour trek for a day, sitting down and having those conversations with people. So that's the sort of private group side. The idea of the government programme, the adventure programme that we do through the Office of the Chief Entrepreneur is very much about building community. It's about not just building the resilience of the individual, but about building the resilience of the Queensland Startup Community because better connected people have better opportunities and can problem-solve a lot easier. If I know that 11 o'clock at night on a Friday, I'm trying to punch through to a deadline and I'm thinking, how the hell do I get 3D printing done to get this product off the line by Monday? Oh my God, I remember Chris, I was sitting with him by a campfire in Tasmania, we had that conversation, I now feel comfortable enough to pickup the phone, call Chris and ask for some advice on it. So, for the government programmes, some of the best parts that we have, we don't push people to 110% of their physical abilities during these programmes, we push them 99%, but we leave space that in the evenings, the campfire conversations that people have are the biggest benefits to the individuals and the community as a whole. Those open networks that are formed through using adventure as an engine and as a medium for breaking down I suppose the barriers that sometimes normal networking events might have. You know, you stand there with your glass of beer and you say hi, what do you do, and what's your business all about, what do you study? It's very shallow, single dimension. If you put someone through a physical adventure as part of a group, so and so, maybe Cody will pull John up the hill cause he's really struggling that day. Or John will turn around the next day and say, okay Cody, I saw you had some emotional issues but can I help you through this? The community that is built up through this programme is so much deeper and longer lasting than anything that I've seen in terms of networking. I think there needs to be a study in what is an effective networking tool. And I will put my hand up to say that shared adventures are one of the best ways of really connecting on a much deeper level than I've certainly ever seen before. I think that's what we're really trying to do. We've built up out of the back of the venturer programmes that we've done, we've done four now. We've done the Whit Sundays, we've done Tasmania, New Zealand, we went up to the far north Queensland to Wujal Wujal and we're off to another one in the end of March in Mongolia. The people that have been through this programme all are natural members to come into the society of extraordinary adventurers. So what that does is that open up other events that we go and do, so we might do walks up in Springbrook National Park, we might do a sunrise sup down at Burleigh, we might go and do an evening drink session up in Fortitude Valley. What it does is it opens up that group of 20 people that came on one trip to this whole cohort of 80 to 100 people now that we've built up through the Venturer programme. The longer it goes, the more IP allows you to develop because you're building up that network of friends who down the line, are gonna be not just your buddies and the people that you've gone through the mud and shit with but ones that are gonna help you in your business. That's my theory.
Chris Hogan - Sensational, the mission to Mongolia, Mission Five to Mongolia looks absolutely sensational. I've watched all of the shows on Genghis Khan and all that sort of stuff and I've always dreamed about a trip to Mongolia. Is that it's ideal for, people like me who dreamed about that or should people that are dreaming about sitting on a beach at the end of the business year in Fiji to really relax and wash out all the year that's been, are they suited to the Mongolian trip?
Ben Southall - Mongolia is a real buzz word at the moment. I think there is a lot of interest in the slightly left of centre destinations. And I think there's an air of mystery to Mongolia. It's sort of that far off land that we know is covered in snow for a lot of the year. We don't really know much about it because not many people go there. To go to somewhere as remote as Mongolia for Venturer programme is a bit of a step outside of my comfort zone as well. I think it's not just about challenging ourselves physically on these, it's about challenging ourselves emotionally and culturally and this trip yes, there will be a physical element to it, not nearly as much as we've done in the some of previous programmes because we're gonna be challenging people culturally. We're gonna be living on the Mongolian Steppe which is at the end of the Mongolian winter. It's gonna be five degrees probably in the daytime. We're gonna be rugged up in reindeer coats. We're gonna have thick winter boots on. We're gonna be moving with the Nomadic herders who herd these vast flocks of reindeers, I don't know what a collective term for reindeers are but it's called a flock for now.
Chris Hogan - Probably just a herd.
Ben Southall - A herd of reindeer. So we're gonna be moving with the Nomadic herders as they move from their winter pastureland to their spring pasturelands. We are gonna be learning from the eagle hunters out there that use eagles obviously for sourcing their food. We're gonna go and find a local mountain that's at least 2000 metres above sea level so much higher than kosciuszko will be or is. So there's a physical element, cultural element. And ultimately, because we're taking people who've been involved in the Queensland Startup Community from not just in Australia this time, but from overseas. The opportunities it will offer to people from the Queensland Startup Community to network with other people who've successfully migrated their business to say San Francisco, or to London. Those people are gonna come, we've got a really good cohort that we're working with from our own Birkby Startup catalyst. We're recruiting from over there overseas to bring some more people back, we're all on foreign land. We've all gone somewhere slightly different. We all don't have the ability to just call up our friends in the evening because we'll be disconnected. So to have that cohort learn from each other, from an international community is one of the biggest sell cards that we've got for this. We've got adventure capitalists coming, we've got Leanne Kemp, Queensland's Chief Entrepreneur for this year coming along as well. We've got three or four female founders and it's always been a tough gap to fill. The female founders, sort of age 25 to 35, quite often they're looking after families, so we try to really recruit a lot more from that area now to try and get a level playing field of people. We've got people coming from corporate backgrounds. We'll have two or three coming from university scholarship winners that really have got that injection of life and that youth element to them. So we're trying to build this complete circle of the Queensland Startup Community so that people can learn from each other. And cherry pick who they sit down with that night for a campfire conversation, who they decided to go and do the eagle hunting with. So it's gonna be a really interesting group with between 15 and 20 people. We're gonna have seven days, eight nights out there in the Mongolian Steppe and it's just gonna be an absolutely whack sensation.
Chris Hogan - It certainly would, I would love to do that Venturer programme for sure. Bit of a toss up between Everest and that one because they're a month after another.
Ben Southall - Yeah they're a month apart, so we now do sets of every space camp trips every year. The next one that comes up over the Easter window, so the seventh to to 21st of April. Yeah, for me it's a bit of time out of the country at that time of year but that's when you've got that wonderful transition in the Northern Hemisphere from winter coming to spring and that's when you really find the people on the ground, this is what we're gonna learn a lot as well, resilience is not just about what we get as a group of people involved in the startup community. For those Mongolian herders to go through the toughest times of harsh Arctic winters and to come through and see spring on the other side, it's that sort of corelation between tough times in business. and when all of a sudden every tree is in fruit, every flower is coming out and the good times are there. I think we're gonna learn a lot from the Mongolian herders when we take people there. And the same with the Everest Base Camp Trek, going there in April, in the tail end of the winter, all of the trees are coming out into flower, everything is looking good, it's getting healthy. It's a lovely time of year to be in high altitude Himalayas just as it is in the Mongolian winter on the Steppe. That's gonna be great.
Chris Hogan - Fantastic, we, me media are huge supporters of mental health and sharing I guess experiences and even our own stories around mental health challenges and how maybe we've overcome them. So LIVIN is the charity we choose to support and I wear it openly on my sleeve. Mental health, resilience, they go hand in hand, right?
Ben Southall - Yeah, I think the mental health thing, especially the great outdoors, I think that's one of the things these days. And I think I've been guilty of it. The Best Job in the World was all about telling your story via social media and that was the early days. There was no Instagram when Best Job in the World days. It was very much just the early days of YouTube, Facebook was there, Twitter was there. I think the further it's gone social media wise now, I'm starting to back off it more so, just because I'm seeing that it is almost more detrimental. For me, I use it as a marketing tool for my business. But in terms of constantly storytelling, constantly looking at how many likes you've got or constantly having to get that feedback, it is a mental health issue and it's gonna be a stronger and stronger one in the future as people look to stylize themselves based on what other people are thinking online. I think that's definitely detrimental to people's long term health. Using the great outdoors as that disconnection time is our best time to realise who we are as people to build up those real friendships. I'm sitting here looking at you in the eye. I'm gonna shake your hand physically. To be able to help that person up a hill. That sort of thing, that real human interaction is something that is slowly but surely drifting out of our lives as we use up more screen time as we sit there and we double tap on our images to like them. That to me, yes I still have to use it for marketing but I think the more we can back away from that in the future, and the more we can reconnect with our planet and people out there in the great outdoors, the better that is for mental health around the world.
Chris Hogan - Absolutely, I'm 100% on the same page. I use it for marketing, I don't use it a hell of a lot for myself, in fact, sometimes I find myself in the scroll and it tends to last about five days for me. A whole week I'll realise that this isn't healthy. I'm spiralling, ya know?
Ben Southall - It's very easy to do, it's such a simple, it's almost this scheduled thing of what is the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up? I rollover, I put my phone in my hand and I check what's happened in the time that I've been offline overnight. And that's a really bad habit to be and I've really considering now, putting my phone downstairs in the kitchen and physically walking down to it in the morning as one of the last jobs that I do in the morning. I'll get up, I'll have my run, I'll go for a shower and then maybe I'll come back onto my phone an hour later. Let's see if I can make it stick.
Chris Hogan - Well, I kind of do that already, but it's for kids though, right? I think it's super important to teach them the importance of understanding the emotion behind what people say on social media. Why are they choosing to say that there? That they're really stuck in their own mind and actually, it's almost like verbal diarrhoea through thumbs. Not getting no emotional feedback from anybody else on what they're saying so they can say whatever they like and they can be as mean or as nice as they like. And then they hit send.
Ben Southall - It's gone and you caused the problems.
Chris Hogan - And causes all these issues, right?
Ben Southall - So, this is one of the sort of things I used to talk about. When, in the early days of Best Job in the World, it used to be very easy for somebody to come on your blog and leave a comment. And it was a throwaway comment. They could write it in 30 seconds, like you say, and press send and it was done. If you rewind, now I'm gonna prove my age here, if you rewind to the days when there used to be a comments page in a newspaper, if somebody really wanted to have a negative comment they would sit down with a notepad. They would handwrite a letter, they'd put it in an envelope and they'd post it off to the editor of the newspaper and it might be printed a day later. So that was early feedback, that was your comment. So you would actually stylize a letter and you'd think about what you were saying. You'd probably have a rewind, delete, go back again. Whereas now it is so instantaneous. Being able to press send, that unfortunately, everybody and it's usually the worst of the worst will put their message out there, press send. And alienate or give somebody an issue or knock somebody's ego and it's not a great way. Bullying, online bullying is a really problematic thing these days. And with my 18 month old son, I really am trying as hard as I can not to constantly put photos up and publicise it, I don't want him to live life in front of a camera like I had to do for five years.
Chris Hogan - It's funny that we got onto this topic. The love and hate relationship with social media and how it affects mental health. I think we're not alone here, there seems to be a lot of people going through the same thing. What I love, I love the reference to the campfire entertainment. Campfire entertainment, there should be more of it.
Ben Southall - Yeah.
Chris Hogan - If you've got the opportunity to light a fire in your own backyard, I encourage you and all your family to go and enjoy that as many nights of the week as you can.
Ben Southall - We did this on Saturday night, exactly that. We had the fire-pit going, we had friends down at our place on Saturday night and we sat around and chewed the fat and it was just wonderful being able to be out there, hear the sounds of nature, looking up and just about see the stars on Saturday night. But it just was a really grounding experience and I think I then felt on Sunday morning like I was more connected to the people I'd sat there with than I would have been if we'd just gone down to the pub or sat on the beach and watched the sunset. We were there, we were immersed in the moment. No one had their phones and you were forced in a good way to be there with your best mates.
Chris Hogan - Yup, so if you can't do that, light a candle. Light some candles, turn the lights down.
Ben Southall - Or like we did on venturer one, cause it was fire ban on the wet Sunday, everybody got their head torches, and there was one that had a red head torch we put them in the centre and everybody stood around for three hours around a red head torch thinking it was the embers of a fire. And it still worked.
Chris Hogan - Beautiful, where do I go from here, you know? I'm on board, I wanna go and do one of these. If I can't do this one, if I can't do that one then I'll plan for the one after. You're running multiples. I know you wanna get tickets sold. I want you to get tickets sold because to be honest, the more people that have mental health clarity around life that are in my community, the better my community is gonna become, so it's absolutely selfish.
Ben Southall - I think as entrepreneurs, we struggle with that a lot because we are so focused and fixed and so driven as individuals that we want to make something work at all costs. And that could be we apply ourselves so much in our business that we don't leave time for friends and family and just us and making time and I think Aaron Birkby's Peak Persona Programme is a really good one on that where you take stock of where you are, you look at the things you do in a day and you assess who you are as an individual. You put those building blocks in Place to better prepare your mind, to line your life with the things that are important to you, to take time out. The venture programme is very much about that. That's what we've tried to build. The first one started off as just an adventure. We didn't really do much in the way of mindset coaching or workshopping, and as we've gone on and developed this we realised there is more and more value to be taken from sowing seeds of conversation with people and letting the conversation flow naturally. We're not there as a therapy session. We're not trying to go out there and be a, ya know.
Chris Hogan - I like the sowing the seed, though.
Ben Southall - It's just literally drop a question in the start of the night, have three or four that you'll populate the night with. Then everybody just takes the conversation from there. And there's no alcohol involved, apart from the last night cause you gotta have a sendoff. So it's just those good natural conversations that just flow and as we've gone from Venture one now through to delivering Venture five, I know that we're gonna have a really good one with this one because actually bringing a group called the Nomadic School of business in to help us with all of this. So, they basically correlate the relationship that the Nomadic herders have with their pastureland and you with your business. So look at the Nomadic herders over the course of 12 months. What are the threats that attack them over the course of 12 months. It could be a lack of pasture ground. It could be wolves, it could be extreme temperatures. They're the threats that they struggle from every day much like in business, you're struggling with your staffing. You're looking cause there's more competition coming around. How do you deal with those threats? Aligning those two mindsets and learning from the Nomadic herders as they will learn from us as business people, is that really interesting journey that we're gonna take people on through Mongolia. So it's gonna be five days on the Mongolian Steppe, five days worth of mindset coaching, of head space engineering so that everybody comes back having had a great adventure, yes. Having gone to a new country for culture experience, yes. But connected better to your community and maybe just a little bit more streamlined in your thought process of what you are as a business, where you want to go as an individual and how the next 12 months are gonna pan out.
Chris Hogan - Fantastic
Ben Southall - Is that sold? We're done. So, bestlifeadventures.com is the website that will be up by the end of the week. There will be an apply now box in there. If not, if you wanna apply for the Venturer programme, the Office of the Chief Entrepreneur website has got great links in there. Or me, ben<at>bestlifeadventures.com is the best place for, we're cycling the world's highest road next year. We're motorbiking the world's highest road next year. We're going to Everest Base Camp twice. We're going to Mongolia for the Venturer programme. There's a whole load of new stuff rolling out. I would love people to get on the Best Life Adventures Facebook page, like the page and we will put some great content out for you.
Chris Hogan - Fantastic, thank you so much Ben. Ben Southall, bestlifeadventures.com bensouthall.com if you like. That's it for episode 106 here at me media. You can see that the content is changing, why not? If there's a message, if there's a lesson to be learned, it's factual, we're gonna share it. Keep watching, you can see all the episodes on memedia.com.au, cheers.
Ben Southall - Nice one, mate.