A husband-and-wife team show how following your passions can lead to adventure and wide-ranging business opportunities.
When professional practice as an environmental scientist in Helsinki, work with the Environmental Protection Authority and remote employment with a global oil and gas exploration company in Australia wasn’t “enough”, Matt Natonewski jumped at the chance to take a new direction.
Passionate about what he and wife Anna are now doing, like many of us Matt was initially apprehensive about talking business. Matt, who quit Chevron Oil’s Barrow Island program in remote Western Australia, said, “My world was losing depth, directly or indirectly, by way of a plethora of cultural, environmental and community tightropes. So, the freedom of doing nothing in order to create something special became irresistible.”
While some might question quitting at any time, least of all without a clear forward plan and underscored with a bundle of family responsibilities, in retrospect Matt’s savage change of direction makes sense when you understand he is from a generation after some of modern Australia’s biggest disruptions, when many minds focused on doing their own thing, on occasions almost to the extent of “never mind the consequences”. But things can be exciting if you are prepared to take a chance, work smart and listen to the wisdom of those who have jumped in at the deep end.
Matt told me that he needed space to recalibrate.
“With Anna’s support and encouragement, we travelled to India, to adventure and do some motorcycling,” he relates. “Returning with our luggage bursting with leather goods, we had the idea of opening a leather goods stall at the Fremantle [Freo] Markets.”
Peeling back Matt’s layers provides insightful clues to his determination and the energy that underpins the Natonewski’s start-up enterprise, Nevermind, which sells Indian leather goods, motorcycle travel and motorcycles, the catalyst for which unassumingly evolved from their decision to open that “stall”. This was complemented by their own entrepreneurial spirit, which answered the curiosity of others who couldn’t get enough of Matt and Anna talking about their most recent Indian motorcycle adventure. At the start, though, those adventures were more a sideshow, given their real purpose for returning to India was to source, and return with, more leather goods for their Freo Market stall.
That was until those listening decided one day to proposition them. “Why don’t you organise a trip to India for us, riding those Royal Enfield Bullets you talk about?” someone asked Matt. At which point the concept of retro motorcycle adventuring in India gathered momentum. Those early adventures weren’t without drama. “Getting people and motorcycles unfamiliar with each other out of central Delhi, for example, is something we now sidestep,” Matt explained. “By jumping on a train we save time and allow today’s Nevermind travellers a gentler immersion into the intensity that is India.”
The trips enable travellers to enjoy the contrasts between the intensity of riding among India’s city congestion and a sedate passage between rural villages, navigating their way through free-roaming animals against a kaleidoscopic backdrop.
In its five years of operation, Nevermind has already enabled more than 3000 customers to experience adventure on less-travelled pathways and is now expanding its travel offering to allow many more to have the opportunity to indulge in a retro brand adventure experience.
Nevermind’s quirky branding is a goat with goggles, inspired by the fact that many of the leather goods on sale at the pair’s Freo Market stall are made from goat hide. The original slogan “Once bought, never-worry” became “Nevermind” to encompass the surprise and delight the riding groups experience on their tours. Matt believes their branding gives the small business a distinctive position, suggesting curiosity, fun and confidence.
Matt and Anna understand the lifestyle dimension of their business attracts potential employees of a certain personality type – someone really invested in being actively involved in offering customers an adventure somewhere different. The Natonewskis value the contribution of their staff on the ground in the far-flung locations they run their tours and encourage them to step up from an assistance role to become tour leaders.
Matt allies his passion for travel and seeking out the less-trodden path with the organisational skills he developed during his professional background, to ensure staff understand what’s required so that customers have a truly memorable “adventure” while still enjoying comfort and structure on their trip.
Nevermind now has its own “in-house” travel department so they can manage riding days versus rest days, transfers, accommodation, flights and support in all 13 domestic and international destinations in which they operate. The options include a journey among the precipitous hill forts of India’s Rajasthan, high-altitude itineraries in the Nepalese Himalayas and trips through the villages and stunning scenery of Vietnam, to closer-to-home adventures in the Otway Ranges, along the Great Ocean Road and around Tasmania.
Strategically, Matt and Anna balance the requirements of the niche sectors they operate in. They are passionate about using technology to communicate with prospective, first-time and established customers. Believers in the power of social media, their marketing communication strategy also leverages the physicality of product-activation experiences – promotional special events and encouraging staff to be “actively” involved in the development and running of the business. This open communication forum gives customers the opportunity to engage with, and know, the whole team, boosting their confidence and optimising the customer experience.
The retail side of the business is expanding, reaching far beyond its genesis in the Freo Markets, with a new showroom in Geelong. Alongside an ever-expanding portfolio of adventure travel destinations, Matt and Anna are building a business designed to be attractive for investment – scalability and a distinctive brand are a potent mix that should generate interest among potential investors, not just in Australia but also the many territories in which Nevermind now operates.
Graeme Sedgwick, marketing communications specialist and author of “Engage to Create Your Future”