Kate and Matt Belcher are the proud owners of Revolution Tours, a cycle tour company in New Zealand’s South Island. The company runs trips on the Paradise Trail near Queenstown and has a very fair claim to the most beautiful guided bicycle and walking tours in the world. However, it has not all been an easy ride for the couple who have finally created their own life in paradise, and their recent success at the Enterprising Rural Women Awards has made the long and arduous journey all the more worthwhile.
I first met Kate and Matt in 2007 in a noisy bar in the adventure capital of the world of Queenstown, New Zealand. They had recently made the move from Auckland to escape city living and try out life in the mountains. The initial draw of the snow and party scene soon turned into a desire for creating a life for themselves that many dream of but few ever have the courage to actually make a reality.
Since then, they have embarked on an epic journey of hard work, sleepless nights and a romantic vision to set up an extraordinary life for themselves. Well, they did it and I have been lucky enough to talk with Kate about their story:
How did you and Matt meet?
Matt and I first got together about ten years ago at Rhythm and Vines music festival in Gisborne – we have a lot of mutual friends and had been crossing paths for years but never really said much more than ‘hi’ to each other. I knew he’d cycle toured around Asia and I’d just bought a road bike so I got chatting to him about bikes.
What first brought you to Queenstown and then Glenorchy?
I grew up in a city and over time this underlying sense of unhappiness was creeping into my life. I was really in a ‘city life’ rut that was just so routine, run of the mill and dull. Matt and I decided to tour around for a year in the motorhome he’d built and just see where we ended up. Queenstown (QT) was attractive due to the snow, beauty and nightlife.
We ended up taking a scenic drive to Glenorchy one day and falling in love with some land and the rest is history!
Did you know straight away that you wanted to be there and what was it that drew you to it?
Instantly! It sounds really cheesy but I felt a sense of calm living amongst the mountains – it’s almost like everything is so open I feel really free but the mountains surrounding me make me feel protected and secure at the same time.
What was your first step to getting life set up in Paradise?
We found an amazing bit of land near Glenorchy which we bought and then built ‘stage one’, a tiny granny flat. We built a very small house so we could live on our land but not have a killer mortgage. We saw a lot of our friends bogged down with huge mortgages which looked stressful and really restrictive. We still wanted to be able to go off on adventures and enjoy ourselves. The plan is to build ‘stage two’ sometime in the next couple of years.
You were both holding down jobs in Queenstown but you knew that would have to change. Did you have an idea early on of what you were going to do for work instead?
When we arrived in QT we both just took jobs we could find – me as a radiographer and Matt had a variety of jobs. Matt had been self-employed before in Auckland and knew he preferred it to being an employee. His background in outdoor recreational leadership, our mutual interest in bikes and QT’s strong tourism industry lead to us starting Revolution Tours. We looked around QT and all the people who were doing well were self-employed.
The idea of starting a tourism company kept popping up in our ‘life’ discussions – it took us a while to get to the biking idea though. We both wrote a list of things we liked doing and biking was the one thing on both our lists that seemed like a commercially viable business opportunity.
Someone once said to me “don’t be afraid to branch out – it’s where all the fruit is.”
It was pretty scary but we had to take the punt. We could talk about it for years wondering if it would have worked or just give it a good crack and see what happened. Matt was always so reassuring especially when I was stressing out – he always said “We started this business but if it doesn’t work we’ll just close it down”. When someone simplifies something to that level it makes starting and running your own business, especially in the early days, so much more manageable.
How long did you do the commute for?
Quite a while. I remember Matt had to leave at 4.30am on his scooter to get to Arrowtown (about 60km) by 6am. The Milford tour bus was based there. So he then had to be ready to be back in QT picking 45 people up from 7am! Thankfully I didn’t do that much commuting as I stayed in the cottage over the road from the hospital if I was working.
Once you got settled into your home, did it take you long to get used to the isolation? Or was it never much of a problem?
Being a couple of recluses, we loved the isolation! However, I definitely took longer to adapt. I missed my good friends back in Auckland (but not Auckland itself). Glenorchy has such a great community feel though and were made to feel very welcome.
What were the main barriers to setting up the business and how did you overcome them?
Finance! We wanted to start up when the banks just weren’t lending to anyone. We’d worked on our business plan for about 8 months then approached bank after bank after bank only to be turned down each time. The last bank manager to turn us down said he was very sorry – his boss had said no BUT he said “this is a great business idea, I can see it being a success so I really hope you find a way to finance this”.
It was hugely demoralising and there were definitely tears
Thankfully a couple of weeks later we found a private financial backer.
The financial barrier was the biggest thing for us – we’d got to the stage where we couldn’t go any further without money. Once we had the funding we started the ball rolling with trademarking, resource consent application, department of concession application, website design, accounting etc. I really had no idea how to run a business so fortunately I had Matt who knew what he was doing. We were on a learning curve (mine steeper than Matt’s) and we just naturally chose parts of the jobs that were our strengths.
You say it’s been a long road but it’s all paying off now… talk me through what you love the most about your setup and why.
I love the fact that we created this from scratch. The tour was designed by us and is so well received – it’s a huge compliment. We work really hard to make our tour a personalised, rural experience, so when we succeed it’s a real buzz.
If you could do anything differently on your journey to where you are now what would it be?
That’s a tough one. Looking back, we probably should have moved our business off-site earlier – we were working from home with bike stuff absolutely everywhere. It’s really hard to relax at the end of the day when you have bike related stuff in your face. Now that we operate off-site our home is now a home, a real treat to come back to at the end of the day.
How is it working with your other half?
Working with Matt is awesome. He’s the only person who really understands how much we have invested into Revolution Tours being a success. He has the same drive and desire to make our tour/s an experience that people remember forever and I trust him implicitly. We also know each other so well that guiding together is a breeze. We communicate very well, verbally and nonverbally. It’s often just a look from him, or the tone in his voice and I know what’s going on. A few of our married friends work together and they suggested setting some ground rules which we did. No talking business in the bedroom, keeping fights fair and relevant to business (not bringing personal stuff into a business discussion) and no business talk after 6pm.
What is your role within the company?
I guide our cyclists with Matt – mainly on days one, three and four and also drive the support vehicle (day two normally). I take care of logistical operations (booking accommodation, organising food, transport), admin (emailing clients, suppliers), accounting (fun, fun), social media. I also do bike work – cleaning bikes, helmets and tuning bikes between tours.
I guess there’s not such thing as a ‘typical day’ so talk me through what you did today.
We have a tour in a couple of days so today I have:
- emailed clients to let them know final details of their first day and pick up time
- confirmed all our bookings for the tour (Earnslaw water taxi, lunch from Fergbaker)
- loaded all the bikes on the trailer (spent yesterday tuning and cleaning them all)
- half an hour of accounting to try and keep up with it
- answered email enquiries
- cleaned out the van ready for the tour
If you could give any advice to others brave enough to also take the plunge and follow their dreams, what would it be?
Someone once said to me “don’t be afraid to branch out – it’s where all the fruit is” and I firmly believe that having a go and failing is better than just talking about it forever. As far as a business goes – do your research, plan well and make sure you know who your target market is. Is there actually a market for your product? Be prepared to work harder than ever before and be kept awake at night stressing – A LOT! Keep the reasons you went into business in the first place in the back of your head at all times and work towards that.
Big thanks to Kate and Matt for sharing their inspiring journey and we hope that life in Paradise is as good as it looks. You can find our more about Revolution Tours on their beautiful website – which we love. The gorgeous photography is courtesy of Matt’s Dad, Lawrence, who runs photography tours out of Glenorchy.