Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Andi Cross Of WILDPALM and Edges of Earth Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey
Authority Magazine

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Hard, hard, hard work — I thought I worked hard in corporate, but I work even harder when it’s my own creation. Why? Skin in the game. When things work, it’s an amazing high and you can relish in the moment. When things don’t work, there’s only one person to blame. You have to have grit and tenacity to keep the momentum going, and sometimes that’s very hard to always be in what I call “hustle mode.” No one really prepared me for how hard I was going to work.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”,I had the pleasure of interviewing Andi Cross.

Andi Cross is the founder of WILDPALM, a growth strategy consultancy that helps mission-driven startups and scaleups share their impact with the world. Her corporate experience spanning over a decade — partnered with her love of scuba & freediving — will merge this Spring 2023 when she leads a 2-year expedition to 50 of the most remote Edges of Earth. During the expedition, she and her team will drive visibility to ocean nonprofits, eco-tourism operators, dive professionals, tourism boards, individual scientists, researchers and explorers, as well as mission-led forprofits, telling ocean good news stories that largely go untold.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Growing up in Philadelphia, I spent my weekends exploring my local quarry and creeks for salamanders and toads. Summers were spent scouring the beaches of South New Jersey for crabs, jellies and one-of-a-kind shells. I’d come home with tales from the great outdoors and wonder if there would ever be a time I’d get to call the ocean my home. I even carried around an encyclopedia of earth’s fish species, architecting my grand plan to become a marine biologist. My first word was even “fish” — not “mom” or “dad” — but fish. The obsession was real from day one.

However, societal pressures took hold of me and I deviated to a more traditional path for a young woman growing up on the east coast. I became a Growth Strategist and moved to New York, working up the corporate ladder to follow in the footsteps of marketing greats before me. I was fully poised to fulfill the American dream, just as I had been told to do by all of those around me. By the time I was 30 years old, I had built a strong career, but felt something was missing. That’s when I moved to Perth, Western Australia in 2019 and started a company called WILDPALM with the help of Adam Moore (Operations) and Marla Tomorug (Creative).

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Since 2018, I have been running a consultancy called WILDPALM, helping build businesses and brands that fuel the future. My team and I design growth strategies that enable founders and leaders to bring their vision to global stages. Working with both early-stage startups and high-growth companies, WILDPALM identifies how to evolve businesses depending on key growth measures and desired impact. We work with those who are mission-driven and seeking impact towards a greater good — be it protecting our ocean or helping people live a more fulfilled life.

Today, we are out on an expedition to bring this type of support to exceptional local partners that are dedicating their lives to our planet every day, but whose stories haven’t been told. We will tell the truths of life on the road and uncover what it takes to master diving, but most importantly, we’ll help those we encounter share their impact and good news stories through the growth strategy model we’ve built at WILDPALM.

This expedition is the culmination of all of the hard work we’ve put in with early-stage and high-growth companies that have substantial backing — either through VCs or other investments. Since the model has worked for these types of businesses, we want to see how we can apply it to those who need the most and have the least. Not to mention, access to this model will thrive beyond the expedition itself, with the potential for further scaling.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Online discourse is only getting stronger with the internet becoming more accessible and ingrained in societies around the world. For the next generation — or digital natives — the internet is a “source of truth.” These individuals use social media as their primary news source, with their feeds dictating the way in which they see and interact with the world. Unfortunately, today’s news feeds are filled with pain and suffering — from pandemics, war, recession, political unrest, and a planet that is said to be in decline to the point of no return.

There are heavy statistics suggesting that the next generation is deeply concerned about the planetary crisis and are actively looking for ways to address it. Youth are craving ways to contribute, leveraging any skill that they have to be part of the ocean decade, with the universal goal of getting their home back to a place of stability. But in their search, they often get caught up in the fear-based clickbait that’s constantly bombarding their feeds. Finding the good news requires deep searching, and is hard to come by organically.

What inspired the expedition (and generally the work that WILDPALM does) is to share the ocean wins and positive progress happening around the world. Our method of storytelling is meant to be a wholesome interjection of hope, positivity and inspiration. We are taking the next generation on a journey of what others are doing to conserve and protect our ocean in their own backyards. By showing relatable examples of what a diverse set of people have done to bridge profession, passion and purpose, we leave our viewers feeling excited by the solutions happening all around them.

Because of our professions, we have an understanding of how social platforms’ algorithms work. That’s why our content creation methodology will be significantly different from what others have produced before us. By shifting away from pixel-perfect content that is becoming less favored on social media, we have a chance to push our good news stories to the top of feeds.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Oh yes, there were two “aha moments” that sealed the deal. The first was moving from New York City to Perth, Western Australia. Two places that couldn’t be more different. One is the city that never sleeps and one is the most isolated city in the world. My most asked question of 2019 was “why are you moving to Perth?” I had gotten a sample of scuba diving and what life was like below the waterline and I couldn’t look back. I wanted to leave my Corporate America bubble and try something totally different from anything I knew — throwing myself right in the deep end. I was so burnt out from working 80 hour work weeks, and not having any hobbies or free time. I wanted to connect more with my passion — the ocean — and work my way from a non-swimmer to a divemaster. I made the decision to move to Australia in December 2018, and by May 2019, I was Perth’s newest transplant.

The second “aha moment” was out of desperation. I started my business a year after I moved from New York to Australia. Touching down in Perth, I was working a 9–5 job that I absolutely hated. However, it was my entry point into the country and the only way to kick-start my life so far from home. Like many, I lost my working visa due to the pandemic and ultimately ended up with only a tourist visa instead. Anyone who knows ex-pat life knows this meant I was unable to work in the country legally. Because the borders from Australia to America shut completely in 2020, I was left with no other option but to take my skills from my time in corporate America — and my skills in building startups with VC partners — to launch my own company. And with that, WILDPALM was born. With desperation fueling my fire, I managed to build a profitable business in four months. I did so by tapping into all of my relationships from the States and having faith that a remote work life would suit me and my business. Without any cash infusion or backing, this is how the journey all began. I’m quite happy to say I haven’t looked back since!

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Starting a business and planning an expedition are similar in a way. There’s a few things that I like to do when creating something out of nothing:

  1. Define what I like to call your “default mode” — Ask yourself, what were you most passionate about as a child? What did people around you say you were good at? For me, it was my communication skills. So, I started to look into fields that require lots of it. And from there, I learned from the best. I did my time in the corporate world in order to learn from others. This helped to take a lot of pressure off to “deliver” as a business owner straight away. Start there and get the essential foundational knowledge and experience — it builds confidence and reduces feelings of imposter syndrome.
  2. Know your vision — Having a crystal clear vision for what you’re trying to do is paramount. It also needs to be something that is needed. If it’s not needed, you might find you’re building something for nothing, as it won’t get the traction required.
  3. Do you research — On the note of “what’s needed,” it comes down to heavy research and validating your big vision. Also, research helps to understand who else is doing it, how you can make your vision different and unique, and who you’re ultimately going to reach.
  4. Build a plan — With some knowledge, it’s plan building time. I’m a big fan of writing it all out, even if it feels exhaustive. The more info down on paper (or google docs), the more real it becomes. I’m a big fan of “brain dumping” and getting all the gut-instinct thinking down first, and then iterating my plan with more research and data.
  5. Talk to others — This is equal parts validating your plan with those who have done it before, or those you respect and will shoot you straight. And it’s also about testing the market to see if, in fact, your vision is needed. Understanding your audience from the planning stage allows you to ask them questions before even getting your vision off the ground.
  6. Just do it — Being a business owner or creator is hard work. But there’s a payoff. You get to build your own culture, create something that’s yours, help others with their careers, and set your own terms that work for your life and your goals. Not to mention, you will hopefully be at the helm of an organization that is creating a better future. That’s monumental and something you should never give up on: Just go for it when you feel the time’s right and you have the foundational knowledge, plan, backing and support you need to make it real.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When you start a remote company and plan an expedition from one of the most remote places on earth, you have to meet everyone you work with online. Marla Tomorug, our Creative Director for WILDPALM and our expedition was someone I met in an online ocean chat room. We bonded over our love of the ocean in the chat, took our relationship to zoom, and we’ve been working together building impact brands and businesses ever since. I finally met Marla in person after a year of online collaboration and she was exactly what I expected. But, it was crazy to realize that you can connect with genuine people online and build and create with them, if you open your mind to the possibilities and put in the meaningful time to form real relationships. That’s what we did, and it’s since translated to everyone else we work with. For example, our expedition Illustrator, Matilda Bishop, is someone we met on Instagram and our connection was instant.

It has been said, that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a humorous mistake that you made when you were first starting and the lesson you learned from that?

We made so many mistakes, it was constant. From offering our services for free, to falling asleep in the middle of zooms due to the 12-hour time difference between Perth and New York, to simply working with the wrong people. The list goes on. Marla, Adam and I would talk constantly about how many mistakes we were making at the start of WILDPALM, and sometimes they hit emotionally rather hard. But, mistakes are our greatest teachers, I agree. And all the mistakes have led us to this moment, where we are on this expedition doing the work we are most passionate about.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

When I had lost my visa, and times were extremely desperate, Adam was my influence and cheerleader. He was the one that would remind me every day that I always wanted to start my own business and go on expeditions to help people share their impact with the world. His constant reminders of the “why” gave me the motivation to work tirelessly to stand up WILDPALM and see my vision through for the Edges of Earth expedition. We were locked in place anyway with the pandemic at our front doors, so it was the perfect time to rally around something dedicated to helping people and planet. He was the one to fuel the fire and make it real. Anytime you start a business or plan an expedition, you need a support system to help you along the way. Finding people that believe in you and your vision is the key to making it all possible. Human connection and relationship building is at the forefront of building businesses that work and last.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We’ve done an amazing job highlighting what the issues are for our ocean and planet. But what we need now is bringing more people into the conversation, educating more and ultimately helping people understand how they can personally take action in their everyday lives to reverse the damage done. How can we do this? Lots of ways.

Businesses can build genuine sustainability plans into their corporate strategy and take responsibility for the damage that they have done by creating more sustainable products. Policy makers can pass important legislation that protects the planet, and listen to those who are sharing action plans and solutions from the ground. On a societal level, we can push for further education so that we are knowledgeable not only on what the issue is, but what the solutions are, and how we can get involved in our lives every day.

This is a big theme of our expedition: highlighting what people are doing all over the world to contribute to restoring and conserving the ocean. If we are able to shed light on how others exist and what their contributions look like, perhaps we can inspire the next generation by giving them options as to what’s out there for them. Sharing ocean good news is uplifting, and giving those interested ideas on what’s possible is extremely powerful.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

In my opinion, it’s no longer good enough for brands and businesses to just have a strong product or service. Today, brands have to be a bit deeper than that. They need to have a strong product, an authentic story, great design and user experience and lastly, they have to be transparently contributing to world betterment. Consumers are smart — they look for these things. And if they don’t find it, they will search for it elsewhere. There are two studies that I’ll reference here that show sustainability is a key factor in consumer decision-making when it comes to brands they will purchase from. IBM found that 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact, and Accenture found that 60% of consumers said they are more likely to buy from brands that are environmentally friendly.

Then if we drill down into Gen Z (born between 1997–2012) and their preferences, the numbers change a bit. This generation is deeply concerned about climate change, social justice and sustainability, which are reflected in their purchasing behavior. They expect brands to share their values, their transparency and their results. A study by McKinsey found that 73% of Gen Zers said they are willing to pay more for sustainable products, and 81% said they strongly or somewhat agree that companies have a responsibility to help improve environmental and social conditions.

Let’s look at Patagonia for example: the company’s revenue has increased by double digits each year since 2013, and the company’s online sales increased by 26% in 2019. This is largely attributed to its environmental campaigns and stance in the market, winning the hearts of many cross generations. For example, in 2020, Patagonia’s Black Friday campaign called “Buy Less, Demand More”, encouraged customers to reduce their consumption and demand more from the companies they buy from in terms of sustainability and social responsibility. Patagonia pledged to donate 100% of its sales from Black Friday to grassroots environmental organizations working to protect the planet. The company ultimately raised $10 million from the campaign, which was distributed to over 1,000 environmental organizations around the world. Massive win. This is why Patagonia is widely considered one of the most sustainable apparel brands in the world — being named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by the Ethisphere Institute for 10 years in a row. Doing good pays off if it’s part of a brand’s DNA!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Hard, hard, hard work — I thought I worked hard in corporate, but I work even harder when it’s my own creation. Why? Skin in the game. When things work, it’s an amazing high and you can relish in the moment. When things don’t work, there’s only one person to blame. You have to have grit and tenacity to keep the momentum going, and sometimes that’s very hard to always be in what I call “hustle mode.” No one really prepared me for how hard I was going to work.
  2. Being ok with the unknown — When I first started out, I wanted to have all the answers immediately. I wanted a safety net of certainty wrapped around me at all times. That’s just not how this works. It’s critical to have a plan, but even more critical to realize things are going to change and you have to be ready to pivot at any given moment. For example, I’ve been planning our expedition since April 2021. 4 weeks before departure I sprained my back and had to cancel the first leg of the tour. And, I’m currently on expedition recovering in some of the most remote parts of the world. Such is life, you have to be able to go with the flow.
  3. Embrace the journey — So often, we want to get to the finish line. We want to say we achieved the “big thing.” The journey is the BEST PART of starting or creating something. And doing it with others is the most rewarding. Trying to sprint to the finish causes you to miss out on all the life lessons that ultimately make you a better and stronger person. Don’t skip those steps!
  4. When everyone else says no, say yes — If you have a dream, a vision, a goal that you truly believe in, and those around you are telling you it’s too risky or not the right move for you, have a think on this. Have you validated your vision? Have you put in the research and the work? Do you know in your gut this is right for you? If the answer is yes to all those things, don’t let other people’s perspectives bring you down. For example, most people in my life told me moving to Perth, Western Australia would kill my career and future. It did the exact opposite and I knew it was my time to leave NYC in my heart of hearts. If I had listened to the nay-sayers, I wouldn’t be on expedition today.
  5. Have some fun — This is the most important part. If you’re having fun, love what you do and bring the energy, people will want to work with you. If you’re truly “in it” and passionate about the vision, it becomes more believable. If you make people feel good and help them, then you’ve figured it all out. That’s what it’s all about really when building or creating an impact business — helping people, the planet, and your team do the best work, amplify others’ successes, and give people what they need.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There are lots of ways to get involved and do something for our planet. You don’t have to be a scientist or researcher. If you have a skill, you can apply it to safeguarding our planet and ocean. You can use your “default mode” to make a difference, you just have to search for the opportunities. There’s lots of different pathways you can follow to find yourself contributing to something bigger than yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that the science pathway is the only way. Today, the world needs strong skills in other areas in order to reverse the damage done to our planet. Choose your craft, become a master at it, learn from others, make tons of mistakes, and find the pathways where you can take that skill and apply it for good. The planet needs you, and the time is now to start thinking of how to connect your passion, profession and purpose.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote of all times comes from the story Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. One of the greatest stories about revenge and letting go.

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome. Do your worst, for I will do mine! Then the fates will know you as we know you.”

This is about how you show up in the worst of times. It’s easy to be your best self when everything is going great. It’s much harder to be strong when your world is crumbling around you. I’ve had lots of moments in my life where everything came shattering down. And I’ve had to make a choice: let this pain and hardship consume me, or power through it and come out the other side stronger. Being able to choose the second option, time and time again, is what it takes to start a business, plan an expedition, and make your passion your reality. Because starting something is HARD WORK and has lots of highs and lows. You need to be able to ride the wave, as it’s worth it when you come out the other side.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’d love to spend time with Sylvia Earle. She’s always been an inspiration and role model, given her contributions to the ocean and our planet. Historically, scuba diving has been a male-dominated sport. According to PADI (diving membership and diver training organization) in 2021, 35% of all newly certified scuba divers were female, while this percentage dropped to 23% for higher certification levels. Sylvia has been one of the leading women and a face of the diving world, bringing people like me into the sport through her work.

How can our readers follow you online?

We have an expedition blog that can be found at www.edgesofearth.com and then on all social media, by following this handle @edgesofearth_ where we are going to be posting stories from the field regularly.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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