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My Entrepreneurial Adventure: Why I Embraced 'Different' Over 'First'

Oli Russell-Cowan of Rad Season Credit: Oli Russell-Cowan

You don't have to be first to be innovative. A few years ago, I did not understand that embracing "different" over "first" in one of the most massive industries in the world could change the course of my life.

A newlywed at the time, I was on a four-month honeymoon exploring Latin America with my wife. As curious and adventurous travelers, we wanted to keep a pulse on what local events and festivals were going on in that corner of the world. So, we did what everyone in this technology age does: we asked Google.

Even with the all-knowing Google on our side, there was no detailed information or website with an easy-to-use calendar or location map showing what the current festival season was, or where to find the happening spots for action sports and cultural events.

We weren't the only ones in search of "rad" events, but there was no one-stop-shop search engine for all of our interests.

Let's say you're exploring Southeast Asia in search of the sickest waves (as rad people do), and you keep hearing from people you meet about this awesome event they went to, or a contest the next island over from you — this is what you traveled halfway around the world for, but it seems like you're always one step behind the action.

Action sports and adventure travel information was very fragmented, not only among the various sports, but in how people get it — across the web, print media, and word of mouth. If you got lucky and heard about an event in time, you would still have to pull up multiple websites to work out all your travel details, accommodation, transport, and reviews. The process was a mess. Finding rad things to do shouldn't have been this hard.

I knew there was always something rad worth going to see in the world, I needed to create a way for people to find it, book it, and experience it.

We returned from our honeymoon and I created the world's first one-stop-shop for all your action sports and adventure festival booking needs; a solution for an industry gap that was untouched.

Sure, there were booking platforms that already existed but despite a super crowded travel market generating $683 billion in 2016 (a whopping 10 percent of the GDP), no one was serving the adventure travel niche, a $263 billion market. No one else allowed you to book accommodations, festival tickets, and explore the world's best adventure travel all in one place. We were different.

And so, Rad Season emerged.

The biggest trends in the travel industry are being driven by millennials because of their focus on experiences, adventure, and cultural immersion. Millennials are trading in hotel chains and big box for local experiences, cultural events, and authentic cuisine. Social media use among this demographic is shaping the way they book their experiences, moving farther away from the traditional travel agent and toward unique platforms that allow them to rent a treehouse in someone's backyard or couch surf through Europe.

With millennials driving the trends, I knew we had the potential to target Gen Y. But we needed visibility.

The hustle began: Relationship building. Digital networking. Social outreach. Advisory boards. Mentors. Business models. Budgets. Spreadsheets. I was burning the midnight oil.

I used AngelList to create a startup profile and build brand awareness, since PR is more than just a press release in this technology age. Early in our launch, Rad Season caught the attention of Skift as one of their New Travel Startups to Watch, thanks to AngelList. I couldn't believe it. We were gaining traction.

This accolade led to a massive partnership win for Rad Season. Priceline contacted me about a partnership to provide streamlined travel accommodations to adventure travelers. What started out as a passion for travel and adventure, combined with the world's greatest honeymoon, has now transformed into a new way of experiencing travel. We're redefining the way people travel; moving beyond the "tourist bubble."

We landed the Priceline partnership earlier this year and since then, we've continued to grow and create new products and travel content to bring our community of rad enthusiasts together. With over 1,100 events in our database and a team of 70 adventure travel experts, we're bringing our community the latest in travel trends and adventure experiences.  

Whether it's a snowboarding music festival in the Australian Alps in April, a surfing contest in Hawaii in December, or a camel riding race in the Outback in July, this all sets the stage for Rad Season's notion that it's always "the season" somewhere.

About the author: Oli Russell-Cowan is the founding director of Rad Season, the first platform bridging the industry gap between online travel agent, event directory, and media. He has over 15 years experience in International business development, spanning multiple industries including events, media, digital, action sports, travel and tourism.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.