FoundHer Series: Emilie Cortes, Founder of Call of the Wild
Introducing my FoundHer blog series. Every week I will showcase an amazing female founder and share her story. As a female founder myself, I have found inspiration through connecting with other women founders, sharing our stories, our war wounds, lessons learned, how we are navigating the funding struggles, and our Why’s for starting our businesses. Entrepreneurs are a rare breed- we tend to be extremely passionate, determined, resilient, innovative, visionary, and with a slight bit of crazy (a good kind of crazy that keeps us going). Women founders tend to also have an incredible amount of “heart”, which I think makes us even more extraordinary and awesome!
The women profiled have inspired me and I hope they will inspire you! We will share stories of founders across different industries and not just focus on Tech. If you know an amazing female founder you feel should be profiled, please let me know!
Let me introduce Emilie Cortes!
Call of the Wild, Founder
Location: Bend, Oregon
Tell us about Call of the Wild
Our mission is to provide world class women’s only adventure travel, active vacations and outdoor trips to some of the world’s most unique places and exceed our client’s expectations while doing it. Having an all-women’s focus provides our clients with a completely different feel and creates a unique experience. Our trips build comradery ad support. The women on our trips come from all walks of life, but give each other courage. The amazing experience is what brings our clients back time and time again and helps them make new friends and adventure partners. It is really a beautiful spontaneous community that forms on each trip.
Why did you start Call of the Wild?
I acquired Call of the Wild 2 years ago because it made sense to buy an existing guide company versus start from scratch, as there was less of a ramp up time. I found a company that met all of what I wanted to see in a company, mainly integrity. Currently the company feels 1/3 start-up, 1/3 turn around, and 1/3 existing.
When did you know you wanted to start Call of the Wild?
Around time I tore my ACL. I had a growing dissatisfaction with the corporate world. After tearing my ACL I wasn’t able to get support from my employer to do physical therapy. No one should have to give up their body and health for a firm. I eventually found it to be intolerable to not be able to do what I loved. Deep down I wanted to have an impact and leave a legacy.
What about entrepreneurship excites you the most?
Being my own boss. You get to wake up every day and decide how you are going to spend your time. The ability to say I want to have impact and go and do it. Spending time doing what I love and hire for those things where others can do better.
What/who has been your greatest support?
As a surprise to me, it has been my clients. My clients that keep coming back and bring friends and family. It’s validating that customers believe in you and you know you have something that works.
What is your vision for Call of the Wild?
I would love to expand trip offerings. Focus around 3 types of trips:
- Dip your toe adventure trips (for those new to wilderness that would like to enjoy some comforts)
- Intermediate trips (for those of average fitness and camping ability)
- Rugged trips (for those more extreme adventurers and globetrotters)
Continue to let women on our trips do something tough and be inspired by female leadership; someone they can relate to.
What have been the greatest challenges?
Capital. As a very small business with unpredictable cash flow, finding financing options is tough. For the most part options include: credit cards, lending tree, small business loans, and other lines of credit. These are not necessarily a good idea and why some small business fail, as you don’t have enough cash flow. Equity is not an option if your business is not a sexy interest for investors. Investors tend to want quick exits and acquisition options along with high ROI. Small business owners are regularly forced to list home as collateral or utilize retirement funds, which can compromise one’s overall livelihood.
How do you feel you can empower other women?
My mission in life is to empower other women. The most common thread is to let fear and anxiety hold them back, they hold themselves back and their belief systems hold them back. Some may be interested but scared, mainly scared of failing. In my trips although some women lack the confidence going in, 99% do not fail although they thought they would. It is important for me to relate our outdoor adventures and accomplishments back to everyday life. Something like hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro can look so intimidating, but one step at time gets you there. My challenged is to get these women to take those first steps in everyday life and demonstrate how you can have success and rewards from trying. The greatest failure is not showing up at all.
What have you learned about yourself in starting this company?
My own capacity for risk. I worked with a coach for a year and half to work through accountability and own fears. I also have had to become comfortable with financial insecurity. Much more resilient than I ever thought I was.
What advice would you give to other founders?
- A well thought out business plan is critical to force you to think through all those details, but in the end you need to have flexibility to throw it out and do what needs to be done.
- Do not listen to everyone about what you should or should not be doing; you need to trust your intuition and that you know what is best for your business to keep moving forward with the vision.
- Be careful with mixing friends and business and who you want to financially involve in your business.
- Having good legal and accounting representation is key.
Do not be afraid of your competition.
Women tend to be more collaborative when it comes to competition. I have had some success with collaborating with my competitors to expand our offerings and keep expanding the pie.
Who inspires you the most?
The average every day person that can work through fear and go after what they want.
Favorite quote or life motto?
Applying lessons from the mountains to everyday life-If you don’t have a clear head you will fail.
Live everyday like it is your last. People have unpleasant surprises all the time. Why not go after your dreams now.
How has starting your own business been a life changer?
Can hardly fathom how different life is now- flexibility, joy, and reward. The highs are high and lows are lower.
Moving to bend and radically changed how my life operates. Can’t ever imagine going back to how life was. For whatever complaints, frustrations, and disappointments I may have at times, I can’t imagine trading that in for security in something that is unfulfilling.
What are you most proud of to date?
The business has survived for 2 years so far.
My feedback from clients and expanding their life horizon of what is possible because of going on one of my trips. I am having more impact than I could have ever imagined on another.
The way I have been able to transform the business and how it operates.