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Learning to live in the cloud

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A story of a boutique South America tour operator

SA Expeditions has had quite a year. We passed our fifth birthday. We had a record year over year in revenue growth. But most importantly of all, we re-conceptualized the structure of our company and learned how to grow as a 100% virtual organization after four initial years with our core team in an office. The shift to the cloud allowed us to conceptualize ourselves as a web, with the nodes of our network being guides, destination experts, communities, local ground operators and managers, naming just a few. It’s also required us to put more reliance on virtual platforms and new digital communication mediums to build cohesiveness and values between colleagues.

We let go of the idea of a company with a geographic center, lunch hour and a copy room and stopped aspiring to the ideal of established travel brands created in the 20th century with office spaces in the world’s iconic cities. These ambitions in the early 2010’s only brought us unnecessary costs and the gatherings of colleagues in physical spaces that did very little to understand our products and markets better. We were measuring success by employee and office count, whereas we now measure by the depth and quality of our network.

Although it’s not a simple “all or nothing” analysis of virtual versus physical. Physical experiences are the core of our expeditions and many nodes in our network add critical value precisely because of their integration and presence in a particular geographic. Therefore, it’s about how we optimize the physical and virtual worlds through releasing old ideas, socialized into us from the past. And then importantly, re-allocating capital that would have been spent in things like rent, towards a higher, more fun return on investment.

Therefore, we’ve begun to strengthen our investments in our destination experts by funding unlimited research trips to any destination that we work in. We also established the first annual global SA Expeditions summit to be held in Brazil in 2016, which will be a gathering of the network to learn, collaborate and play. Play is the human act critical to the bonding process that creates shared vision. We’ve also begun to experiment with a concept of temporary live and work spaces for a period of days or weeks in a particular geographic with a high density of network participants. Kind of like mini SA Expeditions summits focusing on a particular topic with specific people.

Being completely in the cloud also means that recruiting human resources can now happen on a global scale, instead of within the context of a particular city or country. Although at the same time this decentralization meant we had to get better at storytelling (as this piece attempts to do) in order to establish a shared culture and mutual understanding of our mission. As part of these early efforts, we’ve began a series called #saexpeditionsuniverse on social media that provides an in-depth background and journey of a network participant. It allows the people within our network to understand the efforts of their virtual colleague’s and allows our clients to meet the people who are the stewards of their financial investment in leisure.

Almost 20 years to the day in 1995, the Hubble telescope’s deep field picture [pictured above] came into focus and clarified humanity’s vision of our universe. Today the SA Expeditions universe, crafted and curated by our curious band of digital nomads, comes into focus too. Similarly revealing that the beauty is in the infinitesimal nature of the web and not conformity to borders.

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