18th March, 2020
Melbourne entrepreneur Kane Ford has worked in numerous sectors over the years, including financial services and tech. Yet it’s in the great outdoors that he feels most at ease.
Kane Ford’s business, Get Outside Melbourne, provides luxury, guided hiking experiences close to Melbourne for locals and tourists alike.
The tours cater to people of all fitness levels and involve the finer things along the way, such as food from Melbourne-based artisanal bakers.
The business idea stemmed from when Kane began using hiking to improve his physical and mental wellbeing. He’s hiked for more than 20 years, all around the world.
“The way I get balanced and calm my mind is through active meditation,” he said. “Hiking is a great tool to do that because it’s you and the environment.
“All you’ve got to think about is putting one foot in front of the other.”
Kane likened hiking to releasing a pressure valve.
He began Get Outside Melbourne in 2019 after spending five years pushing himself to grow his career in the financial services sector.
When he hit a wall, it was being in nature that helped Kane recalibrate.
“I was emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. I was sleeping probably three or four hours a night, and spending the rest of my day worrying about work,” he said.
“I was getting chest pains, feeling physically sick from stress and anxiety, and trying to live up to my own unrelenting standards.
“I went to Emergency one day because I thought I was having a heart attack. At that point, I had the realisation that this isn’t worth it.”
Determined to make his health a priority, Kane called his boss.
He broke down on the phone and felt awkward during the conversation, but asked for the time he needed to take a step away and reassess things.
Given two weeks to work out what was next, the first thing Kane did was jump in the car.
“I drove to my favourite hiking spot in Victoria, the Cathedral Ranges,” explained Kane. “I hiked for six hours solo that day, and cried for probably five hours.
“I needed support, and I hadn’t shared that with anyone.”
Seeing things more clearly after reflecting and enjoying the peace in nature, he decided to take action.
“I want to do something positive, as opposed to feeling sorry for myself. That’s why I started Get Outside Melbourne.”
After taking the first step of registering the business and domain names, Kane said, “…it became real. It was something that started to evolve, and it became tangible.
“Then it was about working out my business plan. What’s my strategy, what do I want to stand for, and what do I want to provide people?
“The mental and physical benefits I get from hiking – I want to share that with other people.”
With Kane still working in the corporate world and running Get Outside Melbourne as another business venture, he is busier than ever.
But his love for the great outdoors means his hiking tours don’t stress him out.
The smell of the Australian bush, the sounds of its wildlife, and the escape he receives from technology when hiking helps him breathe lighter.
“The beauty of what I’m doing is that this is my passion,” he said. “I get to combine something I love with something I can use as part of my career.
“Getting outside and hiking and sharing these experiences with people never feels like work. It doesn’t feel like I’m ever compelled to take a group of people out and show them beautiful places.
“It’s about your passions. If it’s something commercial that makes money, great, that’s a by-product.”
Plus, when it comes to running his own business, conducting hiking tours pays other dividends.
The physical activity and time in nature help Kane rebalance and focus.
“It makes my mind clearer. I get perspective. I make better decisions. My performance is much better when I’m balanced and feeling relaxed.”
Kane encourages other business people to pay attention to and talk about their mental health.
“There’s a stigma involved with it, but I’ve learned it’s absolutely okay to talk.
Even, and especially, as a man, there’s so much pressure we place on ourselves that we’ve got to be strong. We’ve got to be a certain way. Even in the corporate context.”
But hitting the wall changed things for Kane.
“These last 12 months have taught me that you can, through vulnerability and being open and honest with yourself and the people around you, get real strength from that.”
That’s not to say, though, that Kane hasn’t had some challenges developing Get Outside Melbourne since launch.
Like any entrepreneur, there are issues to deal with.
“The biggest challenge so far is that I’m the sole operator. I’m wearing every hat, for everything from business development and marketing to accounting.
“In this situation, you have to expand your generalist skillset.”
Kane is looking to the future, too, with plans to grow the business in the years ahead.
“As a small business operator, you’ve got to think big, and just put it out there. When I started, I had this vision of it being about taking small groups of people out on hikes.
“But I can see that, when I look forward, at two to five years in my planning, I can reach a much broader base of people through not just hikes, but also through corporate team building.
“There’s also the idea of keynote presentations around mental health, and sharing my journey.”
When asked about advice for other entrepreneurs running their own small business, or thinking of starting one, Kane urges people to take action.
“It’s all about setting yourself a goal and chipping away at it day by day,” he says.
“Rather than thinking about things, make sure you follow it up with action.
The key, too, is to be organised. To know what you’ve got to do, and keep yourself accountable.”
One of the ways Kane gets more organised himself is through using helpful tech tools, such as MYOB’s products.
“In business, the administrative function is a necessity, but I want to spend as little time as possible doing that sort of thing,” he says. “I want to be spending more time outside.
“I don’t want to be stuck at a computer, doing invoicing and checking receipts.
“MYOB makes things easy and takes the pain out of administration. The interfaces are really easy to use, it’s simple and intuitive, and provides flexibility.”