African adventure

Nathan Taiaroa with friend Nathan Taiaroa with friend

UQ alumnus Nathan Taiaroa.

UQ alumnus Nathan Taiaroa.

When he started his commerce degree, entrepreneur/adventurer Nathan Taiaroa had his sights set on being a high-flying CEO. This has certainly panned out – just not in quite the way he imagined.

You graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Accounting, and made it to the Dean’s Honours list. What made you choose that degree and why UQ? What were your original career ambitions?

In my younger years I was very entrepreneurial. At nine years of age, I started collecting macadamia nuts and selling them at the Sunday market to make money. By 17, I'd purchased a truck and started a fruit stall which was successful enough to buy my first car, pay for my university degree and travel.

These experiences, along with my natural drive to excel, made me originally apply to study Business Management at UQ: I had my sights set on being a high-flying CEO and earning the big bucks. I chose to study at UQ because I believed it was the best university in Queensland and I thought studying there would open doors for me, which it did.

Towards the end of my first year, a friend told me about Ernst & Young’s (EY) internship program. I applied and was successful. Ironically I’d never heard of EY and never studied an accounting subject before, but it seemed like a good opportunity and I was eager to try.

The next year was a massive learning curve for me. I learnt the basics of accounting, how to manage clients, how to sit at a desk for 12 hours a day and work well in a team, and that white shoes were never a good idea in a corporate setting.

At the end of that year, Mum was starting to lose her long-term battle with cancer, so I took time off and moved back to the farm to help Dad care for her. When Mum passed a few months later, EY was very supportive of my decision to go back to university full-time, promising that I’d have a job waiting for me when I finished. 

After university, I returned to EY and over the next three years, under the guidance of some incredible managers and mentors, excelled professionally. By the age of 24, I was one of EY's youngest managers and, while my career ambitions were starting to change, I really enjoyed the responsibility EY had entrusted me with. 

In 2012, my step-brother had an accident and died. He was only 12 at the time and the experience made me realise that life was too short to keep chasing a career I wasn’t truly passionate about. Selling everything I owned in Australia, I moved to Tanzania, East Africa, and again, EY was supportive of my decision and gave me an 18 month leave of absence.

I spent the next 16 months living and volunteering at a charity school called the School of St Jude. This was a transformation time for me and, reflecting on the experience now, I realise that it gave me the time I needed to grow as a person and figure out what I wanted from life. More importantly, it gave me time to have fun and be me. 

At the end of my time in Tanzania, I realised that I was extremely passionate about keeping disadvantaged children in school. Across the world, more than 264 million children miss out on this basic human right, and 111 million of these children live in Africa.

I spent the next year travelling Africa, the Middle East and Europe and, along the way, I worked on the concept of creating a social enterprise that inspired people to make a difference in the world through adventure travel. I’d led tours in East Africa before and I knew I had the skills to intimately connect travellers to community and culture, opening up unique experiences they usually couldn’t access. I also knew leading tours was something that I loved doing and that in the process of creating authentic travel experiences for Australians, I could inspire them to sponsor disadvantaged students through school – making Africa a better place to live and travel.

Arriving back in Australia in late 2015, I started an adventure company called Adventure Out Loud with the help of a trusted mentor, Steve Brunskill. I had little to no idea about running a travel company, but I knew I had the skills, experiences, determination and resilience to figure it out. Throughout the journey, I've found so many incredible mentors and friends who continue to inspire me to keep working hard and I am so proud that in two-and-a-half years, we’ve been able to sponsor more than 100 disadvantaged students through school.   

Adventure Out Loud van Adventure Out Loud van
Adventure Out Loud van Adventure Out Loud van

Tell us about Adventure Out Loud.

Adventure Out Loud aims to inspire ordinary Australians to make a difference in Africa through adventure travel. Founded in 2015, we specialise in creating authentic African adventures that take people to some of the most unique and exotic destinations in Africa. In the process of creating unforgettable holidays for our adventurers, we also inspire them to make a difference in the world by sponsoring disadvantaged African students through school.

We offer a range of African adventures that cater for anyone seeking an unforgettable adventure, from rejuvenating yoga safaris to challenging Mt Kilimanjaro treks. Our group tours are hand-crafted to include Africa’s most epic adventures and each tour is led by an experienced Australian guide who has lived in the country our guests are travelling in. Our private and honeymoon itineraries, on the other hand, are personalised according to what people want from their holiday.

How did you get the idea to create this business?

My dream was to link the millions of tourists who visit Africa each year to educational charities who sponsor disadvantaged students through school. My time living in Africa gave me the skills, experience and contacts to create unforgettable adventures for people wanting to visit Africa, and I knew I could achieve my goal of keeping kids in school by including a charity piece in each adventure.

I also knew that these unique experiences would make our adventures more authentic and ultimately enhance our customers’ travel experience. To date, our customers agree – with many rating the charity component as the same or higher than Kilimanjaro or safari.

Has your degree been of value in the business?

Yes. I completed an entrepreneurship subject as part of my degree, which has helped guide me during the startup phase. My degree was also required to get my first corporate job atEY, the experience from this job being invaluable in helping me start Adventure Out Loud.

Nathan Taiaroa in African schoolroom Nathan Taiaroa in African schoolroom
Nathan Taiaroa in African schoolroom Nathan Taiaroa in African schoolroom

Apart from organising tours, you also do a lot of voluntary work in Africa. Tell us a bit about this.

I am a director for a charity in Kenya called the Mirror of Hope (MOH). MOH empowers vulnerable children and women living in Africa’s largest slum through a range of education and micro-finance initiatives. I love my role at MOH and it has been an indescribably rewarding experience seeing the organisation grow so rapidly since I first visited in 2015.

I am also the co-founder of a youth movement in Melbourne called Youth Out Loud, a not-for-profit entity that is by youth, for youth. Our primary objective is to empower young people to solve youth issues by changing the way they think. We do this by connecting them to community, developing respectful relationships, and teaching them to take responsibility for their actions, thoughts and outcomes.

Do you keep in contact with the alumni community at UQ and/or maintain networks?

I reinstated my relationship with the UQ alumni community in 2017 by reaching out to guest lecture for the UQ Business School. I have continued doing this in 2018 and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Reconnecting has also created a number of new networks and some exciting opportunities and in April, a UQ intern joined the Adventure Out Loud team.

Mt Kilimanjaro camping experience Mt Kilimanjaro camping experience
Mt Kilimanjaro camping experience Mt Kilimanjaro camping experience

What does the future hold? Any more study?

Over the next five to 10 years, my primary focus will be driving significant growth for Adventure Out Loud and the Mirror of Hope. I will also be focusing on developing my expertise as a keynote speaker; corporate teaming, leadership and resilience facilitator; and responsible tourism expert.

At this stage, I have no intentions of completing further study; however, I would consider conducting some grassroots research into responsible tourism in Africa.

Any advice for upcoming entrepreneurs? Do you recommend the lifestyle?

If you think you want to be an entrepreneur:

  • Do it before you buy a house or have kids.
  • 100 per cent commit yourself to making your idea a success for a defined period of time (e.g. three to five years).
  • Enrol other people by asking them to mentor or support you.
  • Pick something you are passionate about: starting a business is hard enough without trying to do something you don’t believe in or don’t like – but if you do what you love you will never work a day in your life!

Learn more about Adventure Out Loud.