Tara and Steve Howell were in their mid-twenties when they began working on their vision to create a business that didn’t exist anywhere else: a three-day luxury mountain bike experience that includes overnight stays in luxury glamping ‘pods’ in Derby in Tasmania’s north-east. In April 2017, after three years of blood, sweat, tears and doubt, they guided their first guests along their tour called Blue Derby Pods Ride.

Since then, their bold vision has grown into a thriving tourism business that employs up to 20 people at its busiest times, and gathers consistent five-star ratings from its guests. Here, Tara explains how this married couple turned their weekend passion into business success.

Combine Your Skills and Passions Into Your Dream Business

 Blue Derby Pods Ride co-founder Tara Howell created her business success out of her love of the outdoors.

My background is in brand and marketing, and I’d also been a walking guide in Tasmania around the Bay of Fires and the Overland Track. Steve was trained as an auto technician. Both of us had a love of Tasmania, having grown up here, and we did a lot of mountain biking. We had this desire to stop living for the weekends, so we came up with this idea to create a luxury adventure mountain bike business. 

Don’t Let Age or Self-Doubt Be a Barrier

Steve and I were only 25 and 23, respectively, when we quit our jobs and went out on our own. I started my own marketing consultancy business so we could begin working on what would become Blue Derby Pods Ride. 

Our age was a challenge. When we were trying to get funding, people thought, “Who are these whippersnappers?” People didn’t think we were the real deal, and then we started to feel doubt. It doesn’t matter how many facts or figures you have backing a business case or idea – that doubt can creep in. There were many times – not a handful of times, but many – where we thought, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. But I think being young ended up being a blessing because we had a lot of naivety and our risk radar wasn’t very strong. So, in some ways, we felt we had nothing to lose.

Hone Your Company Vision

Blue Derby Pods Ride’s vision is to inspire a global community of ‘flow-seekers’ with their mountain biking experience.

When we started Blue Derby Pods Ride we put all our ideas down on paper, although that vision has become clearer over time. At first, our vision was to be the first – and the best – luxury adventure mountain-biking product in Australia. But since then we’ve dug deeper, and what we’ve come to realise is that our purpose is to give our guests great moments of realisation during their experience, whether it’s on the mountain bikes, lying back in our luxury glamping pods looking out at the stars at night, or enjoying a craft beer in the outdoor shower. 

Now, our vision is to inspire a global community of flow-seekers. ‘Flow’ is quite a common term in mountain biking – it’s when you get in a state where life feels great or time flies. It’s bliss. And that’s what we want for our guests. So that’s our company vision now.

Don’t Bow to Other People's Opinions

Before we started Blue Derby Pods Ride, mountain bikers were often classed as ‘Middle-aged Men in Lycra’, or ‘MAMILS’. We were classifying our market differently: more towards couples, affluent families or professionals. We weren’t speaking to your typical mountain biker who camps and eats at the pub. And many people – people we respected – told us that the market wasn’t there. That was really hard. Even for months after opening we had to try and explain ourselves. It wasn’t until we got runs on the board, after about 12 months, that people realised this was a legitimate market.

Target Your Specific Market

 Tara Howell, from Blue Derby Pods Ride, says her marketing advice to small businesses is to identify your specific target market.

When it comes to marketing tips, I’d advise businesses to unapologetically talk to your target market and your target market alone. I see a lot of people start businesses and they get swayed by what they like personally, or what they think they should be doing. But every time you put your brand out there, you need to ask yourself, ‘Is that where my target market is going to be?’ Don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities if they don’t align with your market. Be cutthroat, because the more you communicate 100 per cent with your group, the more you will bring them along.

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Try the ‘Start Stop Keep’ Method to Strengthen Your Working Relationship 

Steve and I have been in business together even longer than we’ve been married. We have different strengths and had to learn very quickly how to work together, and put some rules and parameters around our working relationship.

A friend introduced us to a tool called ‘Start Stop Keep’. You write down things that you need the other person to ‘start’ doing, ‘stop’ doing and ‘keep’ doing. For example, I’d write to Steve, ‘I need you to start communicating to me when this certain person books.’ Or ‘I need you to stop asking me work questions at 7pm because that’s when I’ve switched off, even if that’s the time you like to work best.’ And you keep using that framework until there’s nothing left to add. We did this for about six months; we had a whole folder of ‘Start Stop Keeps’. I’m so grateful to our friend who introduced us to that tool. And I think it would work for any relationship, not just working ones!

Ensure That the Passion Is There

] Tara and Steve Howell’s passion for mountain biking is what drives them to continued business success with Blue Derby Pods Ride.

When you go into business, you’re essentially saying you’re going to devote a lot of your time and mental and physical energy into a project. You’ve got to be really sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing. Because if you’re not, it’s going to come through to your customers, your employees and every element of your business, and you’re unlikely to be successful. That passion is also what will help you deal with roadblocks. There will always be roadblocks when you’re starting a business and if you’re not passionate, it will be really easy to give up.

Expand Your Brand and Vision

Steve and I are planners. We have really clear goals about what we want to achieve in life and how we want to continue finding ways to achieve our vision of inspiring a global community of flow-seekers. One initiative we launched in July 2021 was a podcast called Flow Seekers, which gives us a new way to engage with our guests and inspire them to find flow. In each episode, we interview interesting individuals and delve deep into conversation about their life and share stories of how they #experiencetheflow.

It's also been a real honour to receive recognition for our endeavours. We were both over the moon to win a Gold 2021 Qantas Australian Tourism Award and it's really inspired us to keep pushing and doing what we're doing. Beyond that, we’d really like to see luxury mountain bike experiences become as normal as luxury bushwalking experiences around Australia and the world. Maybe we could help with development or, more likely, consult others on how to do what we’ve done in this space.

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This article was originally published in 2022 and has been updated.