Escaping the 9 to 5 with Brad Frankl

conservation and education

This month’s interview is with Brad Frankl, who studied marine biology before ending up in a recruiting firm for a couple of years first to fund his travel and then as an art consultant. In fact, it was a visit from a particular client, who was off travelling to Thailand, that triggered his desire to do something different. Today, his company Flooglebinder (fans of Tom Cruise’s Cocktail will get the reference!) is a B Corp that offers educational programmes that connect young people with the outdoors.

Watch the interview or read the transcript below to get Brad’s thoughts on his escape from the 9 to 5.

From recruitment and art consultancy to conservation, sustainability and mental health

Brad is one of the co-founders of Flooglebinder, a company that designs and builds adventures to inspire change. He has a degree in Marine Biology and a certification in Business Sustainability Management from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership. Brad has a wealth of experience working on conservation projects all around the world, he is a qualified divemaster and underwater videographer and through his adventures and travels has developed a deeper understanding of global issues and become an ambassador to create change.

You can connect with Brad on his website or on Instagram.

1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?

Host:               Hello, everybody, for this month’s Fearless Fridays. I am here with Brad Frankel. So Brad, why don’t we dive straight in and if you could tell us what you were doing before and what you’re doing today?

Brad:                Hi guys. So before I was working in sales for about 10 years, in recruitment and also as an art consultant and now work on awesome projects all over the world, focusing on conservation, sustainability, and mental health.

Host:                Amazing. So a very clear linear path, it sounds like. So I guess first of all, how did you end up in the first choice? The recruiting? I know you mentioned before that you studied marine biology, so how did that happen?

Brad:                Just kind of fell into it, really. So after university it was really a case of just earning some money, just wanted to save as much as possible to then go and travel. So, yeah, was working locally and just said that it’s really easy, get involved. And I worked there for just under two years and then when I hit a certain amount, I then went off travelling for about 18 months.

Host:                And then what happened when you came back?

Brad:                Again, just didn’t want to sit still. So I was straight back into recruitment and then after a bit of time I went into art consultancy. So I was in art consultancy for about four years and it was them really during that job realised that it wasn’t all about money and needed to do something that had much more purpose and impact behind it.

Host:                And was there a particular trigger or was that just sort of a gradual process that you came to realise that? Or did it happen suddenly?

Brad:                So what was that?

Host:                Just if it was sort of some type of something that happened over time, gradually you felt that actually this isn’t what I wanted to do? Or was it some kind of trigger? Sometimes people are made redundant or they’re promoted or they have a chance meeting that then sort of opens up these new opportunities?

Brad:                Yeah, I think it was probably a combination of both. I certainly knew I wasn’t happy just doing that. I knew there was more and I wanted more from life and it wasn’t about the money for me. And that kind of just kept chipping away at me over a few years. And then for me it was kind of one probably client visit in particular. We would sell quite expensive artwork. So we would take it to their homes, they could see it in situ. And whenever I would sell work, all I was thinking about was my commission. And this particular client, we were trying to set up a date for another appointment and they were off to Thailand, and I realised that I was more excited about their trip to Thailand and it was about making the sale. So I realised I needed to make the move.

Host:                Okay. And having had that realisation, I guess, what helps you? Or how did you work out what you’re going to do instead?

Brad:                It was quite tricky. I went back into recruitment because that was going to give me a bit more time. And I was speaking to an old friend from university and he had the idea of setting up these kinds of educational conservation trips. And with my travel experience and passion for travel, it seemed like really good partnership. So that was the kind of, I guess, a stepping stone to go back into something that was a bit easier, not as kind of time constraint, so I could spend a bit more time setting up the other project.

2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?

Host:                And what challenges did you come face to face with? It sounds again like you landed quite naturally onto an idea and it sounds all very exciting, but what were the difficulties you faced?

Brad:                Everything. I mean, it’s funny because you read books and you listen to podcasts and articles and kind of every problem I think that I’ve certainly read and heard about, we went through, from problems with cashflow. There was one issue once where we used an image and we thought we credited it and we had Getty Images after us, who were really nice about it because they realise how innocent we were. We had problems with names and branding and marketing, so many issues. And there’s times where we kind of kicked ourselves and kind of get frustrated and look back and think, “Oh my God, how long did it take?” And we certainly learned the hard way. But I think that journey in itself, as cliche as it sounds, it’s testament to how passionate we are about it because all of those obstacles, just kind of, the tenacity and passion semination we’ve got what we’re doing, we wouldn’t have got through them and we wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t keep fighting for it.

Host:                That’s a good way of looking at it so you don’t get to de-motivated by all the obstacles and the inevitable ups and downs.

Brad:                Yeah. And there certainly was times where, I mean, confidence was completely knocked and low self esteem and you questioned absolutely everything. Did you make the right move? Is a product or service you’re offering right? Is the audience right? And it’s quite often at those really low moments, there’s just that kind of glimmer of light or just something happens that just kind of really sort of helps you get back up and keep going.

Host:                I think that’s often the hardest moment is just before that massive breakthrough, isn’t it? So if you could just hold on a little bit longer, then you’re going to sort of level up and find solutions. So did you just kind of struggle through and help each other out and learn by trial and error? Or how did you get the support? How did you both have the confidence and resilience, but also perhaps the concrete business building skills, marketing, that kind of thing to make it happen?

3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?

Brad:                I think a combination of both of our skills, really. So our first programmes were focused towards students that Ian used to teach. So animal behaviour, ecology students. We then realised actually what we did was really suitable for a lot of secondary schools. So getting into that market was quite new. I think my recruitment skills paid off and that kind of business development and sales helped. But I think ultimately it’s just, it’s people and it’s just us as people and who we are. And the difficulty with schools as an audience is getting into them. But once we got in front of them and they could see who we were and they could see how passionate we were, they kind of got on board to what we were about.

Brad:                And it’s still difficult. It’s always difficult breaking into new schools. And for us now, we’re kind of working on adult projects. Schools have got so many different obstacles whereas working with adults and working those adult trips, it’s, “You want to come?” They’re like, “Yeah.” It’s like, “Cool, let’s go.” So different market.

4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?

Host:                Okay. And you said that you had this incredible passion and purpose and that was really worth working towards. So now that you have that, what’s the best part? Is it everything that you hoped it would be?

Brad:                I’d say it’s bigger, actually. And we’re still on that journey. As I said, we started through conservation. Conservation led into a sustainable [inaudible 00:06:46] back then without even realising, which led us to become an AB corporation. And then by chance or as a byproduct of what we were doing, we had an email from a student who had been on one of my trips to South Africa and pretty much brought me and Ian into tears. She was on antidepressants for about five years. She didn’t really know what she was doing with her life, didn’t know where her degree was taking her, and she came back from this trip and it just completely realigned her values and purpose.

Brad:                And we just thought, well, we’re not even asking that question. We’re not asking how many people are suffering and what difficulties they’re going through. And it was quite scary because once we did start to ask, obviously we uncovered that it was quite a few that were going through these difficulties. So mental health and personal development has now become a really big part of what we do. And it’s all as a result of the nature connection. It’s taking people outdoors, reconnecting to nature and all the benefits that happens through that. We’re just fortunate we’ve got that platform to could give people the opportunity to connect. So we tie in a lot of yoga, wellness, and coaching throughout our programmes as well. So a much bigger platform than what we first set out.

Host:                And it sounds like it has happened quite organically, then? You sort of followed your curiosity, the clues, listened to what people were saying and evolved it as you’ve gone along.

Brad:                Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, for us it first starts with just kind of conservation for animal management students. Ian was a lecturer. He was getting really upset to his students. They would go and do these trips. The trips weren’t very good, exploiting them as students because the money they are paying, exploiting the communities they were going to visit. And Ian always thought we could do even better. Then we sort of laid on sustainability and realised we’re actually doing some really cool stuff. We’re having a positive impact on social projects, environmental projects. And then yeah, as you said, naturally we kind of then found out we’ve done a lot around personal development and mental health, so looking at measuring and tracking that change and how we can help people.

Host:                I think that’s something that’s really important people to hear because it’s easy to just sit behind a computer and try to come up with the perfect business model and idea. And as much as business coaches and experts and things can guide you, there’s only so much you can do in theory. And as you said, if your friend found this problem and he thought we can do better, starting there and actually then just being quite flexible, adaptable, and going with what you see, and that’s fantastic. And just getting your hands into it. And as you said, talking to people, listening, and yeah, going from there. So that’s really exciting that you’re doing so well. And how long have you been running the organisation now?

Brad:                So we started looking into the projects about six, seven years ago. And I’ve been full time now four years this summer.

Host:                Amazing. Congratulations. And would you say there are new both, I guess, challenges and positives now that you’re into maybe a second or third stage? Obviously there’s that first transition which is challenging in itself, but you know, once you’re actually onto a successful model and now you’re into it full time, are you seeing sort of a different level of challenge that you’re having to get to grips with?

Brad:                Yeah, definitely. I think, I mean, the academic trips we run have now taken on a kind of much bigger realm in terms of the sustainability consultancy we’re doing with schools, but now looking into kind of new markets within the kind of adult independent trips. We just have people along the way saying, “Oh my God, these projects sound awesome. Can I come?” And then we said, “Well actually let’s start looking at projects for adults.” So for us it’s now kind of come down to those hurdles of marketing and communications. We’re not very good at it. We’re science geeks who like to travel. So now trying to get into the world of online marketing, content marketing, social platforms is a bit of a new area for us. And that’s another hurdle that we’ve got to come.

Host:                Well science geeks that like to travel sounds like a pretty catchy marketing catch phrase for you right there. If that’s something you want to jump on. So …

Brad:                Yeah, we’ll give that a go.

Host:                Yeah. Well in the next phase of learning, isn’t it? So I’m sure then you’ll find the answers as you have done so far. So I guess, what would you say to someone who is that person who is sort of looking at and maybe hearing this and going, “Oh wow, I’d love to do something like this.” Or you know, longing for that trip to Thailand or whatever it might be. What, how should they get started? What’s the best advice you can give them now with your many years of experience?

5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?

Brad:                I think when it comes to kind of creating change, I mean, you want to do it in a way that, yeah, you know that sometimes you need that real like, “Okay, sort it. I’m doing it and I’m just jumping in.” But also to be tactical with it and not to make kind of stupid decisions and go out on a complete whim with something that’s got no research and those sort of backing to it because, yeah, it might flop and obviously we learn and grow so much in these failures. But if you know something’s there, if you know there’s an opportunity and you’re passionate and determined and if it’s got purpose and impact behind it, it will happen. So in that situation yeah, jump, give it a go. I’d say in most situations you can always come back to doing what you were doing before and rather than give something a go then just sit there thinking what if all the time.

Host:                Yes, absolutely. And that’s quite an interesting point that you made. So when you did go full time, what was it? Had you sort of set yourself a specific income target that you wanted to get before you went in? Was it a bit of a leap of faith? And how safe did you feel when you went all in with the business?

Brad:                If I look now, I mean we didn’t have much in terms of sales or forecasts, so it was quite a big jump and probably wouldn’t have been in the same position now, certainly. So yeah, it was a bit of a scary jump at that time, but I was so ready and so passionate and excited that those elements didn’t even come into play at the time.

Host:                You make it work.

Brad:                Yeah.

Host:                Amazing. Well, thank you so much for your sharing your story. Where can we find out more and perhaps get involved? What are your various online footprints?

Brad:                So company’s Flooglebinder, so the name is quite a tricky one, but yeah, Flooglebinder.

Host:                Where does that come from, by the way? I was curious, is there a story there?

Brad:                Yeah, it’s from an old film, Tom Cruise, Cocktail, in the 80s. So it’s the plastic aglet in-

Host:                The guy … Yeah, absolutely. I watched that a few weeks ago.

Brad:                And then our new adult projects are projectchangeyou.com.

Host:                Amazing. Well, thank you so much, Brad. I’m really excited to hear that you found your purpose and hopefully other people can find their Flooglebinder as well.

Brad:                Thanks very much. Cheers.

Host:                Thank you, Brad.

Brad:                Take care. Bye.

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