Mark Hutchinson – Founder of WildArk

Listen to every idea. If someone has shared an idea, then it is of value.

Mark Hutchinson, (aka “Hutch”) has spent his entire life surrounded by the bush. Having grown up in Australia, he is a passionate advocate for the world’s wilderness areas. Hutch has always been focused on inspiring and educating people about the wild through his many entrepreneurial ventures including owning and operating a training and travel business for over 10 years. His lifelong desire is to ensure that he leaves the world in a better natural state for his kids and future generations that follow.

In 2016, Mark launched WildArk, a business focused on protecting as much of the world’s biodiversity as possible whilst helping reconnect people with the wonders of the natural world and become inspired to contribute to making a difference to protecting our fragile ecosystems. WildArk secured its first conservancy in the Kruger Region of South Africa in early 2017 and is working towards building safe havens for species protection. WildArk will continue to work on exploring ways to protect biodiversity in nature hot spots around the world and make a positive impact on both local communities and those who visit the areas.

Mark has a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney, an MBA from INSEAD Business School, France and is currently completing a Masters of Conservation Biology at Macquarie University. When Mark isn’t in the bush or trekking to the far reaches of the world, he spends time on his surf board or exploring wilderness locations with his young family.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

WildArk was really just a feeling, that after travelling to wild places since 1998, had always been there and emanated from a place of wanting to do something significant that really impacted on the plight of biodiversity. The actual business idea and roll-out was then a collective, abundant process of idea generation between my wife and I, and experiences with so many friends who work in the wildlife sector. In particular, my good old mate Anton Lategan who I’ve shared countless game drives with in Southern Africa over a beer and biltong, who runs Ecotraining where I was trained as a Safari Guide many years ago.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m an early riser, so my day usually starts around 5.15am. I’m very habit driven, so diet and exercise in particular in the first hour of the day are super important – otherwise my day is blown! Green smoothie, biodynamic yoghurt, cup of tea and an hour cross-fit style training.

After this my wife and I usually split getting the girls ready for school, so when I’m not on kid’s duty I’m on the farm in South Africa (Pridelands) at 6.30am helping with whatever is happening. For example, we had to capture 65 African Buffalo last week, so I was with the team spotting, chasing and trying not to get trampled. Other days are more normal in meetings, writing submissions for protected area status or the usual copious email flow between our team in the USA, Australia and South Africa.

I am not a very digital person so I like to be in the bush as much as possible, so in order to stay productive I usually limit my computer time to twice a day – mid-morning and then late afternoon. Doesn’t always work, however I personally need the balance.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Good old fashioned white-board is my most useful tool, propped up against a tree or a safari truck in the bush, with 2-3 other people. I have a lot of waking up at 2.00am stewing on an idea, which I then need to write down in gibberish notes what the key points are. 90 out of 100 ideas I have are rubbish, so most get flushed out by my own process. The other 10 get boiled down by workshopping with several mentors or trusted colleagues who are used to hearing some pretty wild notions and then 1 or 2 make the grade.

These few worthy ideas then go into the wider WildArk team, which is quite well rounded in terms of skill set and influence, to progress or alter into a workable plan to execute or often, disreguard completely.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I feel there is a tipping point of people or a global consciousness to help understand and protect our wild places. With incredible digital reach and connection across the planet, there has never been a better time to bring forward business solutions to solve the hardest conservation problems we face. The amount of capital flowing into the impact investing space, ecotourism and nature based digital content creation is incredible. The trend for people wanting to now work in or work out how to get involved in conservation is very encouraging.

What about an Uber for wildlife guides, an Amazon for “green” retail or global exchange for biodiversity credits – these are all real ideas being worked on by very smart people who are choosing to go into wildlife as a career.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Abundance. It’s a term I only recently encountered in a business sense that I am trying hard to work into my everyday attitude. Being free and open with ideas, solutions, issues and anxieties – abundant with thoughts, absolutely helps me be more productive. Not being afraid to share and listen. I don’t always get it right, hopefully I can 51% of the time!

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Picking melons in North-western Australia. I thought I was a hard worker, pretty tough having spent a lot of my youth working on farms in South-eastern Australia. At 18 I travelled and worked with mates across the top end of Australia, mustering cattle, cleaning sheds, painting houses, didn’t matter – we loved it. Until a fateful day we arrived in Kununnarra in the Kimberley region of North Western Australia. We signed up to pick rock melons on a local farm, waking up at 4.00am to jump on a tractor out to the fields. By 7.00am it was 36 degrees and reached over 45 by 11.00am. I was broken, my hands blistered, my feet were swollen, my mouth caved in and man did I complain. Myself and my companions were all fired for not meeting our melon quota – no melons for you!

I learned there are many tougher and harder working people than me.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There isn’t enough room to list what I would do differently! But I think what I’ve learned is that regret consumes you, it destroys confidence and creativity so I have to try and not dwell on past mistakes, but certainly learn and take heed of similar circumstance or actions that I find myself taking. If I was to start again, I would wait longer before taking on partners or certainly selling businesses. Its hard enough to know yourself sometimes and until you do it’s hard to know how you will work with partners.

Now I have some war wounds, I think my ability to pick who I’m suited to work with is more finely tuned.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Listen to every idea. If someone has shared an idea, then it is of value. It may have no commercial or practical opportunity to become reality, however it takes energy and confidence to divulge ideas so I am always open. I hope I am student for life and can always learn from other peoples ideas.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Getting people onboard who compliment my skills. I am only good at 1 or 2 things, so having a team that can fill in the gaps (large gaps J) is critical to our future success. After the team is in place I think you can really achieve anything. Our strategy for WildArk is to “roll with the trend”, that trend being a digital consciousness of people wanting to get involved in conservation – how to we help them feed that need!!!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had many failures and I think I’m really still trying to achieve what I hope is a long-lasting, meaningful business. The one failure that wasn’t as big as others, but very meaningful at an early age was a shoe store business that I started at University with 2 best mates. It was doomed from the start because none of us has the first clue about retail, or business really and it inevitably failed. I think I was a big part of its downfall as I just didn’t know what to focus on or what my strengths were – apparently nothing to do with selling shoes!

I overcame this by focusing on my training business at the time, which was where my strengths were.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I really like the idea of a crowd-sourced Biodiversity Fund, that acquires land across the world for the preservation of species. Money sourced from humans everywhere to put land aside for all-time, so collectively owned by the world, seems really cool. We are working on bringing projects that include large tracts of land that need protection, but smarter people than me need to figure out how to bring a global pool of funds into this space.

What an awesome business to see flourish, imagine you can tap an extra 10cents on your morning coffee if you choose and it comes directly off some form of online banking APP that deposits it straight into a pool of $$$ used to protect lions, bears, koalas etc… real life projects that other independent businesses are operating, the BioAPP just provides the funding. Then maybe the “crowd” also votes each month on which projects receive the funding, so many angles…

Someone needs to do it!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

So easy – Roberts Bird App of Southern Africa. I am a massive bird nerd and this app is epic. Bird calls, great photos, nests, range you name it its there! Wasn’t exactly $100 but I bought my wife the same one, so I get to that number.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Hands down, EO Wilson’s recent “Half-Earth”. Its an amazing summary of the plight and better yet the solutions for our biodiversity crisis. EO is a legendary ecologist and entomologist (yes an Antman!) who in simple and engaging language takes you on a journey across the globe, summarizing the major conservation imperatives of our time.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Obviously Attenborough, silly question. Beyond him Wilbur Smith the great African fiction writer is solely responsible for me falling in love with Africa, David Susuki the renowned environmentalist and scientist, Mark Manson the refreshingly honest and brutal blogger who gives us humans a dose of reality in a very amusing way and finally of course Oprah – but now she’s not around Ellen, funniest human on the planet.


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