We talked to Mark Whitman about how Mountain IQ helps plan people’s next mountain adventure, and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Mark Whitman: From a health perspective, we’ve been fortunate. No one in our direct or extended family has had Covid-19 yet. We’ve also been particularly fortunate as we are based on a little island called Guernsey, in the English Channel. After a brief lockdown in March / April, the island reopened but has maintained strict control over its borders, which means we have had very few cases since May, and have not had to social distance, wear masks or change natural social interactions at all.
Our business, though, which is in the travel sector, has unfortunately been decimated. When the pandemic kicked off in March, we saw a huge influx of cancellations. Many customers were willing to reschedule to later in the year, but they have also subsequently canceled as the pandemic dragged on. This has meant that revenues have gone from mid-six figures to almost zero. We are starting to see an uptick in inquiries for travel starting in the Summer of 2021, but things are still very slow, despite the vaccination roll-out.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Mountain IQ?
Mark Whitman: After completing my Master’s degree at Cambridge University, I spent five years working as a management consultant in London, helping companies like Visa, Microsoft, and Willis streamline their operations. In 2013 I left the corporate world and spent four years working as a digital nomad and developing my affiliate marketing skills, online advertising, dropping shipping, and SEO.
As I was traveling, I felt a natural proclivity to the sector, and that is how Mountain IQ was born. Since launching in 2014, we have grown from a humble travel blog into a specialist adventure travel company that helps travelers book trips to some of the world’s most famous mountain destinations. In addition to Mountain IQ, we also operate the most popular online guides to Kilimanjaro (https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/), Machu Picchu (https://www.machupicchutrek.net/) and Everest Base Camp (https://ebctrekguide.com/).
How does Mountain IQ innovate?
Mark Whitman: At the core of our proposition is a commitment to responsible travel that benefits people and the Planet. To that end, we have partnered with 1% for the Planet (https://www.onepercentfortheplanet.org/), where we donate 1% of revenues (not profits) to environmental projects worldwide. We specifically focus on rewilding projects and tree planting initiatives to more than offset the carbon emissions associated with our tours. Another core principle for us is to ensure that at least 80% of every dollar we receive goes directly to the local communities where we operate. It’s shocking to think, but this number can sometimes be as low as 5%!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mark Whitman: As I mentioned above, the pandemic’s impact on our travel company, Mountain IQ, has been immense. So much that I was forced to launch another business in April, I quickly realized that remote working would be on the increase. Having worked remotely with my team since 2014, I was confident I could offer a high-quality Virtual Assistant business. We launched Tasket, a VA company that helps small business owners and entrepreneurs free-up time, get more work done, and grow faster. Things started quite slowly, but the pressure has been on to make this company work, and we’ve seen a good response from the market so far and turned a profit in November. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Tasket, although Mountain IQ will remain my main focus when travel returns.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mark Whitman: I think that entrepreneurship is difficult by definition. There are so many unknowns and challenges that every business faces when starting. I think the key lesson I have learned launching and running my businesses are to 1. keep getting up when you get knock-down, and you will be knocked down a lot; 2. remember that it is easy to hire and difficult to fire when hiring take your time and only keep A-team players; and 3. if you are going to be successful you have to be willing to put in the work, there are no short-cuts (or at least I haven’t found any).
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Mark Whitman: I find exercise and getting out into nature is the best way to deal with stress. That, and I have an incredibly supportive wife.