“Words of Wisdom with Steve Barlow, founder of Wildlife Integration LLC”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Barlow, a Certified Wildlife Biologist who started Wildlife Integration LLC in 2006 with the expressed goal of integrating wildlife habitat structures into our daily lives. Steve’s passion is artificial wildlife habitat structures, and he has vowed to house more bats and birds than any human in the history of the world! To this end, Steve has provided Big Bat Houses in 15 states and two countries with each structure capable of housing over 5,000 bats. With his newest patented invention, the Nesting Post, Steve plans to place hundreds of millions of bird houses across the entire North American continent.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a beautiful natural setting in north central Florida and at an early age dedicated my life’s work to wildlife and their habitat needs. Obviously this came out of the beauty to which I was exposed then but was also motivated by the speed of habitat loss I witnessed growing up in a state with rampant development. Realizing all development and progress cannot be stopped I started thinking about creative ways to expose people in the suburbs and urban areas to some of the natural beauty I had the privilege of experiencing in my youth. Thus I began my side hustle “Wildlife Integration LLC.” I was fortunate to have a very strong “why” at an early age, I think many people go through life knowing what their true “why” is but they just sort of “date” their why instead of making a commitment and “marrying” their why. Not me! I married my why at 10 years old and have remained 110 percent committed ever since!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
When I set out to build my very first bat house, I went to a local home improvement store with my “bat house materials list.” A helpful employee at the store joined in to help me find everything on the list, which was quite varied. Finally curiosity got the best of him and he asked me “What on earth are you building?” When I replied “a bat house!” He looked at me in total disbelief, handed my list back to me and completely walked away, refusing to offer any more help! He was my first big naysayer and a indication of what was to come. I reflect on this often and am grateful for the many naysayers along my journey. Of course, I have had more people encourage me than discourage but the naysayers help to motivate me just as much!
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Almost everything! First, I am committed to my Why. It’s not about goals or profit — it’s about legacy. It’s about some kid somewhere watching bats pour out of a bat house in the evening or birds nesting in a utility marker pole and becoming the world’s next great conservationist. It’s about taking my own kids to a bat house and sharing those moments with them. It’s about way more than me or even my LLC. Second, it’s about making a tangible difference as I have spent a career working as a professional wildlife biologist for a variety of agencies and organizations often times getting mired down in bureaucracy and feeling like nothing more than an account manager where this pot of money was moved here and there. With every single sale I make at Wildlife Integration LLC, I know for a fact real, tangible wildlife habitat has been placed, money did not just move on paper so this group or bureaucracy could tout what had happened ostensibly for wildlife. Now, understand I still support wildlife agencies and conservation organizations, but for me to feel completely fulfilled, I just felt the calling to do pragmatic things too. Many large conservation agencies and organizations are doing positive things for wildlife in many ways, I just wanted to do something in a different niche in a way I could effect and see.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have had so many great people help me. I have been blessed with great teachers, mentors, coworkers and friends. The greatest of which was my Dad, who taught me so many things the most important of which was determination. In my first job as a wildlife biologist out of college, I was very disgruntled to not really be doing meaningful work. When I complained of this situation to my Dad ,he said this to me, and I will never forget this- — “Son, obstacles are opportunities in disguise. It is your responsibility to find a way around, over or through the obstacle.” This was just one of many lessons he gave me on not giving up and continuing forward. The biggest asset I have is not my talents, abilities or skills — but it’s just not giving up. Opportunity always finds the person who refuses to quit!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
What success I have had certainly brings goodness into the world, otherwise it’s not success. Every morning when I wake up, part of my daily gratitude practice is to give thanks for the literally hundreds of thousands of bats who at that very moment are returning home to roost in one of our Big Bat Houses. I think about each bat, each beating heart, and I am most grateful. In the evenings, as the sun sets, I think about those same bats pouring out of bat houses and perhaps someone somewhere is watching that spectacle and being blessed with that beauty. I count my ROI in wildlife housed — and I am a millionaire! All of this brings me great joy and peace.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. It’s a marathon not a sprint: Be in it for the long haul. For example, with my product- It can take up to five years for a Big Bat House to even get bats. Be patient, and have faith.
2. Embrace the naysayers, and give thanks for them: Early on, I spent tons of energy trying to prove my point to the naysayers, such as when I built my first bat house, but really you should be thankful immediately, often ironically they are the best indication you are on the right track!
3. Stay in your lane: if you’re the wildlife biologist, do that. Hire out the bookkeeping, marketing, manufacturing, shipping, etc. It was a big leap for me to start paying people to do my bookkeeping, build my product, writing, legal services, website, publicity etc. But it was such a big help for me. I have found sites like Upwork and Fiverr to be invaluable.
4. Be brave: If no one else on earth is doing what your doing or selling a product like yours, don’t be afraid of that. It takes courage to be the only one doing something, especially when even your closest confidant tells you it’s crazy! Be brave and stay true to your heart, your unique song and what you and only you can make happen.
5. Don’t make it about the money: Sure you need money, but don’t let that stop you. Money is a tool to grow your dreams, a vehicle and nothing more. When I catch myself worrying about money, I count how many bats and birds I have helped or how many people have enjoyed one of my structures and I immediately shift from lack to abundance and gratitude.
Some of the biggest names in Business read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
OPRAH! I love her hero story, the story of all she faced and overcome. Her life is one of the most inspirational lessons of our time… any time in my life when I feel I can’t do something or fall into self pity because I am from a small depressed rural community, from a broken home, lost my Dad in a traffic accident, etc. etc. etc…. I look at heroes like Oprah, and it inspires me to keep going!