“There will be times when you feel like your path is zigging and zagging through a diversity of experiences, but they will all come together to make you uniquely equipped for what you’re doing now.”
An uncommon history leads to uncommon ideas. Terry Lawson Dunn is a wildlife biologist, environmental communicator, author, artist, tour leader, curator and entrepreneur with one common thread that runs through the whole eclectic mix: to inspire connection to and concern for the natural world.
In 2016, she founded an ecotourism website, EcoTripMatch.com, to make it easier for people to find ecolodges and ecotours all over the world. It is fueled by her belief that ecotourism is the most promising conservation tool because it gives people an economic incentive to protect wildlife, wild lands and cultures.
Terry holds a master’s degree in environmental communications, a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science, has worked for World Wildlife Fund, Smithsonian National Zoo, National Audubon Society, and World Resources Institute. She authored the publication, Guide to Global Environmental Issues and more recently published the award winning book, Art of the National Parks. She has also participated in wildlife research projects ranging from wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rocky Mountains to bird research in Panama. Terry has organized group trips to Panama, Africa and Spain and finds that enabling others to experience and understand the natural world in a personal and direct way is one of her true joys. Terry has lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the last 16 years and adores the wide open spaces and surprises that come with living in the Land of Enchantment.
Where did the idea for EcoTripMatch.com come from?
What has always driven me is the desire to connect people to nature, whether it’s been through science, writing, art, or in person. It was a natural progression for me to gravitate towards ecotourism because it puts people directly in touch with nature while also addressing the economics of conservation. If the environment is not valued economically, then other, more damaging economic forces take precedence. Ecotourism can be the economic incentive for protecting wildlife, wild lands and traditional cultures. But, what I saw as I was traveling, were travelers and ecotourism providers missing each other like two ships passing in the night. Travelers are doing a lot of research to find exactly what they want, but the process is overwhelming and sometimes they give up or are disappointed by the mismatch they have found. If the two sides can’t find each other, then the promise of ecotourism can’t be fulfilled. I created EcoTripMatch.com to streamline the process for travelers to find what they are seeking.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I almost hate to admit it, but I do look at my email before anything else so I know what tasks will be added to my mental to-do list. Before diving in and addressing those messages, I do spend 15 quiet minutes with a cup of coffee, thinking about the bigger picture, goals, and how my tasks for the day fit with the broader strategies. From that point, each of my days looks different, but usually involves a combination of communicating with ecolodges and ecotour companies around the world, drafting and designing marketing pieces, planning future group trips, and networking.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My ideas usually come to me when I’m not expecting them, often when I’m exercising, spending time outside, taking a shower or even when I’m sitting in traffic. In the past, some ideas have come to me in dreams. I would say bringing my ideas to life has always been an exercise in toggling between gut checks and to-do lists. There always is an element of intuition, but I’m never comfortable relying on it entirely until I’ve filtered it through my logical brain. Once I’ve decided to follow an idea, I break it down into small, manageable steps which not only gives me clear path to follow, but tends to be more encouraging than larger, vague steps!
What’s one trend that excites you?
I think the trend of people seeking more authentic travel has been exciting to watch. Many people are not happy with canned tours or standard cruises and really do want to get a sense of the places they are visiting. That direct connection to nature and other cultures seems like one that can improve understanding and create change.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
For me, it is essential that I spend some time each day in nature, doing some physical activity like hiking or mountain biking. On the face of it, it seems logical that I would get more done by not taking an hour out of my day for those activities, but I’ve learned over the years that it reboots my brain, creativity, and alertness and I am more productive the rest of the day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell myself, “there will be times when you feel like your path is zigging and zagging through a diversity of experiences, but they will all come together to make you uniquely equipped for what you’re doing now”.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
That behind the illusion of ‘luck’ there is often a history of taking risks and working hard towards a goal. If more people agreed, it wouldn’t look like luck to them.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I really do feel strongly that emails should be answered. Yes it’s overwhelming, but how you treat people is a reflection of your business. It’s all about building relationships and trust.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Persistence. It took time for some of the ecolodges and ecotour companies on EcoTripMatch.com to commit to being on the website. After all, I’m a complete stranger contacting them from halfway around the world. I think it was important to be persistent, in a genuine and friendly way to convince them I was sincere and committed to addressing their needs.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
Expecting things to happen sooner than they do. Patience has been a lifelong lesson. I’m not sure I’ve mastered it, but that’s because I think impatience can sometimes be a motivator. I try to rein in the impatience and believe that things will sometimes work out better by sitting back than forcing things to happen.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Have you ever heard a woman say that a pair of pants she bought in a store fit perfectly and are flattering? I didn’t think so. If someone can figure out how to scan a body to get exact measurements then create a custom pair of jeans, then send them in the mail, I think that would be epic!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I ran an award campaign for the “Best Nature Tour Guide” earlier this year and it was so rewarding that I plan to repeat it annually. I selected some judges, asked ecotourism contacts around the world for nominations, had the judges narrow down the nominees to five finalists and let the world select this year’s winner by online vote. Through this process, I think people gained a better understanding of what these dedicated people do. It also enabled people to do something nice for someone else. In the end, I spent $100 to get an award engraved and sent to the winner in Columbia. The award was created by a woman-owned, eco-friendly company that makes all their awards from wood grown in a sustainable fashion.That was the best $100 I’ve ever spent.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I really like, “Bold: How To Go Big, Create Wealth, and Impact the World” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. I bought it in a hurry at an airport gift shop, and what an inspiring, motivating surprise is was.
What is your favorite quote?
Well it’s a long one, clipped out of a newspaper years ago and I don’t know who wrote it. When I feel discouraged I reread it. “Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What do you discover will be yourself.”
Creating something new at middle age means you are bringing a range of experiences and skills into the mix. That can become the secret sauce for a new endeavor.
Believing you can make a difference in the world is the best motivator.
Time outdoors is never a waste of time. It can lead to inspiring ideas, help in problem-solving and reboot a distracted mind.