Making sustainability exciting with Trent Yeo

I first met Trent Yeo at Start Up Weekend Invercargill in 2013. It was a memorable trip! After the Sunday judging Trent and Jose Ganga (another interviewee) convinced/kidnapped myself and a few others and drove us to Queenstown for an adventure! We had an EPIC few days being shown around Queenstown's best attractions and restaurants! Another time when I was down they took me up to the mountain on a surprise dinner where we had a 7 course dinner in a hut in the snow talking about adventure and entrepreneurship and then went cruising in snow groomers at Midnight! Trent is a super connected entrepreneur with passion, drive and experience. He always has a range of projects on the go and his main company Ziptrek Ecotours is world-class. Whenever I am down in Queenstown I have a blast catching up with Trent and recently I managed to interview him for this article! It was extremely fun and inspiring - I hope you enjoy the read!

- Logan Elliott, Lifetime Creative



My names Trent Yeo, I am based in Queenstown New Zealand. I primarily operate and have created a zipline flying fox ecotour in Queenstown called 'Ziptrek Ecotours'. The company employs 35 staff and it affects tens of thousands of people on their visits to New Zealand. I describe myself as a happy generalist, as I put projects, things and people together. An 'attractor of things', which I spit out the other end and make things happen. These things include being involved in the Tedx community as a TedxQueenstown organiser and being involved in a video production company.

I had no aspirations of being an entrepreneur initially. Then I was travelling around the world and got a job as a tour guide where I met my current business partners. They were running a really cool company using tree houses and flying foxes to get around a forest, as a business model for teaching sustainability. This ticked a lot of boxes for me - fun, educative, interesting, unique and something I could apply my outdoor background and experience into. Then a friend pitched our bosses the concept of a zipline eco tour in Queenstown, New Zealand. Just like the I happened to be his 'first follower' like that second crazy dancer on the field in that viral video. Long story short I happened to be the one still carrying the idea at the end. It took four years (!) but then in 2009 we opened Ziptrek Ecotours in Queenstown New Zealand.



I thought about my skills and interests in sustainability and architecture and thought I could not affect people or things that much via doing elitist projects and via fitting into the natural systems. I really rejected architecture after being really passionate about it (and still am). So I decided I needed to just go out 'into' these passions, and thats where outdoor education came in. 

I am passionate about getting people excited about things and that's why I am in tourism. I believe that sustainability can be seen as a positive concept, not a liability - it is the ultimate expression of creativity. This is because sustainability brings the things you have in front of you and around you and puts them together in a way that is future focused, cyclic, reparatory and inspirational. I believe the abstract use of design is really important and that the focus on people is the most important thing. All my projects I am involved in are surrounded by inspiring, educating and facilitating other people. 



The biggest barrier to getting into entrepreneurship is starting your first business. I think of it like an analogy of hurdles - once you get over the first hurdle its much easier to do more. This is due to the history of success in your own mind that you can do something you never thought you could do. It also helps with supporters and the bank, as it shows you are creative and have a speculative mind AND the ability to execute and achieve things. Maybe your first one will not be a 'success' and that is part of the journey.

It is also about surrounding yourself with successful and interesting people that excite you and do not think you're crazy. It is like hanging out with other surfers when you want to learn to surf - if you are not hanging out with surfers then everyone thinks you're crazy. But you are still surfing a wave and there are certain forces you cannot fight - like surfing against a wave. 

Though I also think you need a few people that are detractors and will be critical to your ideas - and you need to learn to listen to that too.

I didn't really know about business when I started as my background was in outdoor education, sustainability and architecture. Honestly at times I still feel I don't know much about business, but I am very focused on identifying the gaps I have and them filling them with skilled people that you trust, can communicate and are on the same page with, or getting good at them myself.



Starting a business is exciting if you're happy to know that you are going to do something that you do not know how to do. Because you are CONSTANTLY doing that - often when people ask a question I do not know the answer, but I work it out, or I defer to them to work it out. You are always on the edge of skill level, high up on the spectrum of flow, where you feel a little bit out of control. But you are able to hold your head enough, back your experiences, your team and community to make sure you pull it off. It's the balance of 'I am doing this because nobody else is, and that is why it is so good'. Many people feel uncomfortable in this space and it's classically an adult thing to feel uncomfortable when you are needing to do something you do not know how to do - kids when they are learning something do not think about failure. 

We still make mistakes when we are older, and in my perspective of risk as a safety professional, it is about managing risk by doing your homework and getting things in line before you ride the wave - which is still pretty crazy.



It is not specifically a book or podcast, but I often think about 'what would Richard Branson do'. He is always up fighting the big players, which I feel is very relevant to me. 

In terms of books, it is good to read outside of business. I have always been a cross disciplinary person - I think anything can apply to anything else. I.e. reading about snowboarding may teach you useful things about business.

"Business is just the act of making money through doing something fun". Therefore I think you can learn from anything you see or read around you. I am also a huge fan of Ted as an inspirational place for content. 



Everything we have is 'Cloud' based as everything is connected. We try to connect everything together in an ecosystem (i.e. finance (Xero), booking systems, CRM (capsule) and daily management systems). There are less mistakes and it means there is less boring transferring work between systems. It is also about transparency as my business partners live overseas - so they can see everything, everyday. 


What is your persPective on risk as an entrepreneur?

All things have risk, including a 9-5 job working for someone else. Everything also has reward and it is about a balance which can sea-saw and sometimes be hard to follow. 

It is about surrounding yourself with the right people and having the team to deliver and respond with. It is also smart to silo some new projects/businesses, so if they fail they will not bring the whole ship down (i.e. launching into a new market). It is not always possible to silo, but it is important to think about 'what would happen if x'.

Risk is not something we should be afraid of, but it is something we need to embrace as part of doing anything in life. Many people are protected from doing anything 'risky' and I think in life is about understanding the environment the best we can, saying 'is that mistake going to kill me, or is it going to hurt' and how much reward is there? I would like to see the concept and teaching of 'managing risk' come back, from childhood and right through. We do not get good at anything by not doing it... 


Trent Yeo,