A tourism nerd chat with Brian Dean

Earlier this summer I was introduced to a cool local program called “Kidsworld, where Vancouver-area families can buy a pass to a different summer attraction each day, for only $50.

The program is a win-win for families and attractions alike, keeping kids busy on a budget while exposing parents to a world of activities in their backyard.

I was so intrigued by the idea, and the operation, that I had a chat with Brian Dean, the one-man-band behind Kidsworld. I’m going to share this with my entrepreneurship class this fall; it’s a great story of how tourism businesses are started and sustained with lots of hard work and passion.

Tourism Nerd: How did Kidsworld get started?

We’ve been around for 25 years, ever since another man named Brian built the program slowly from the ground up. His background was in tourism and his wife was a school principal and they were passionate about meshing educational opportunities with a way for families to spend quality time together around the city. The program seemed to fill a gap with what was available.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine connected us – the ‘original Brian’ was looking to retire. I had been the Program Director of Keats Camps, and while I love the camp, it wasn’t sustainable because you have to move away to an island a few months a year. Before that I was a youth worker on the North Shore. I had been on the search for the right entrepreneurial activity for years. My passions lined up with Kidsworld … this was it!

You mention passion, where did the money come from?

The founding Brian grew Kidsworld organically over the long term, without investors, but also without any goals in terms of growing the business to a specific size or to turn a specific profit. That means the model of the business has the potential for growth in multiple ways.

I purchased the business for a reasonable sum of money that I had saved over the years (as I was looking for an entrepreneurial venture). This business doesn’t have much overhead, and I used my savings to get me through the first year without having to generate much income.

My desire is to learn the business through-and-through for a couple of years and then focus on healthy growth.

What’s your academic and business experience?

I have an undergrad degree in youth work and a Masters of Leadership – which was a great fit because it paralleled an MBA but focused on vision, leadership, and entrepreneurship rather than managing existing systems and people. My years at Keats Camps involved hiring over 100 staff, training them, running the summer operations (and being responsible for almost 400 people a week mostly under the age of 22). I am also on the board of a not-for-profit (church), and have worked as a consultant.

What’s a day in the life for you?

The thing with running your own one-person company is you’re responsible for everything! From the business side to logistics (registration, checking families in on site), to being the face of the organization, there are a lot of hats. With that said, I love that I work from home, and am flexible as my own boss. The hard part is that you never feel like you can leave work behind, because you’re the only one making in happen.

From September to June, my role is focused on networking with organizations to set up events. We have summer events, and weekend events throughout the school year. On event days I’m present to build rapport with the host organizations and the families.

What’s the biggest challenge about running a company like Kidsworld?

There are two major challenges.

First, as I’ve said, I’m the only person. Mentally that’s very draining – to have your livelihood in your own hands, to have the expectations of hundreds of others for you to do a quality job. It’s hard to take a couple of days off, as emails add up and you feel responsible to respond quickly. It’s also hard because I need to become good in the areas where I’m not naturally gifted; for example graphic design isn’t a strong suit but with my budget I need to learn to create good content myself.

Second, I’m constantly searching for new organizations to partner with. Between our two programs (Summer and school year), we work with closer to 100 organizations! That’s a lot for one person to network, arrange, maintain relationships, and be on top of. Very detailed notes are needed to keep it all together. There are a lot of organizations in Vancouver, but setting up partnerships with so many is not an easy task.

So then what’s the biggest reward?

I love many aspects of my job. I waited for this opportunity because I didn’t want to be motivated mostly by money. I want to make an impact in people’s lives and support families. So much of a healthy society seems to stem from having healthy families. Kidsworld allows me to build a business, which I’ve always wanted to do, while also making a tangible impact in people’s lives.

On the business side, the greatest reward is I have learned a lot and met a tonne of great people. I feel like I know everyone in Vancouver at this point, and each day I learn about how I can improve my own business.

Any advice for tourism students and future entrepreneurs?

Be passionate about your chosen area of work, whether it’s as an entrepreneur or otherwise. You spend a lot of your life at work, even more if you consider how much it can be on your brain. You have to believe in the importance of it. I strongly believe the best entrepreneurs are those who also make the world a better place as they build their business.

Entrepreneurship is 99% figuring it out as you go. It’s taking a step forward. You don’t need it all together beforehand, just a willingness to learn, ask for help, and to try your hardest.

Make sure you love it before you invest your life into it! There are a million different avenues that entrepreneurship can take you. It’s an exciting and exhausting journey, so invest yourself in something you’re passionate about.

You can find Brian at venues around the city from attractions to museums to parks as he works with Kidsworld families and partners while building his business. Learn more about Kidsworld here: www.kidsworldprogram.com.

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