“I wish someone had told me that”: Renae Kunda, Cape York Motorcycle Adventures

Roy rode his motorcycle up the Cape in 1986 and never left. Renae took a break from hairdressing and working on cruise ships to help set up a computer, write brochures and create a logo.

This is the 7th installment of Prospa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, where we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Click here to read the rest of the series.

About a decade later, Renae realised they were actually running a business – Cape York Motorcycle Adventures.

“At that point I realised I didn’t know how to. Does that sound crazy? I’d just come in to help Roy get his thing up and running. I was going back to my career!”

Or so she thought – that was more than 20 years ago.

Now, while her husband Roy is guiding tours of motorcycle enthusiasts out on the muddy tracks of Cape York, it’s up to Renae Kunda to keep the business running back at HQ in Cairns.

It all started with…

A young man and his motorcycle. Roy packed up his bike and left Melbourne when he was 21, intending to start a motorcycle tour business. He rode all the old stock routes across the country before deciding that Cape York was ‘The One’. He did his first ride up the Cape in 1986 and never left. That was the beginning of Cape York Motorcycle Adventures.

I was a room mate of Roy’s in Cairns. I’d been hairdressing and working on cruise ships. Roy and his mates asked me to help them with setting up a computer, and to write brochures and create a logo. I was happy to have a break from what I was doing and go and play on the Cape for a while. I even got to assist on the first ride. It was the last one I ever went on! I was much better suited to running the office.

It took me 10 years to realise we were actually running a business and at that point I realised I didn’t know how to. Does that sound crazy? I’d just come in to help Roy get his thing up and running. I was going back to my career!

Or so I thought.

One of the best things we did for the business was…

Getting it eco-certified. I’d gone back to university to do a graduate degree in Environmental Tourism and we ended being the first eco-certified motorcycle tour company in the world.

We’ve maintained that certification for 15 years, which is longer than most businesses survive. It’s all about the triple bottom line – we have to be financially, environmentally and socially sustainable. It’s a lot of work and we get audited every year on our business practices. We have to show that we are always improving our systems and technology. But it means our product is guaranteed to deliver sustainable practices and amazing nature-based experiences. The certification means customers don’t have to take our word for it.

We’ve developed really valuable relationships with many of the Indigenous communities on the country we tour through and it’s very important to us that our customers understand that those communities deserve our respect. Roy has developed decades worth of earned knowledge and a lot of gates have been opened for us. We think about it as being good neighbours.

I wish someone had told me…

That an image would be worth a thousand words for our business. I would have spent more money in the early days on getting great pictures and less on copy-heavy advertising. People often don’t really understand what we do – they think it’s about riding a Harley Davidson down the highway or riding pillion with a guide. Photos paint a clear picture of exactly the kind of adventure you’re getting yourself into!

In the early days, our only source of advertising was in the motorcycle magazines. We had to be careful to put our money where we could find people who held a motorcycle licence. We are an extremely niche market. Only a small number of travellers hold a motorcycle licence so what works for other tour operators doesn’t necessarily work for us.

I got onto social media pretty quickly but just when I get really savvy and know how to do it all, it changes on me with new functions and algorithms! I’ve been plodding away at it for years but it still scares me a bit. I know how valuable it is in delivering the brand message so I’ve finally been able to put someone on to it for us. Otherwise I’d never have time to do anything else.

We were actually one of the first Cape York operators to have a website. Not through any genius on our part – it happened because one of our riders totalled one of our motorbikes! He sent it spiralling off a cliff and it caught fire as Roy watched on. He felt so dang guilty that he made an awesome website for us and hosted it for 12 years.

One thing that changed everything…

Was technology. New technologies have made our job so much safer. We were one of the first in Cape York to have a satellite phone in our support vehicle. It took up half of an extra cab in the Hilux at the time and weighed almost as much as the vehicle! We didn’t need it that first year but it was used by police, ambulance and other operators for other emergencies.

I remember when Roy would use a pay phone to contact me when he could find one while he was on tour. Now the guides have a phone in their backpacks. The calls aren’t any closer together but at least I know they can make them if they need to.

After we picked up our first ever mobile phone from the airport, Roy left it on the top of the car and drove off. We heard the bang as it fell off and then we reversed over it. But they were made like bricks back then and it was perfectly fine!

I’ve always used what I call my ‘bible’ for bookings – writing them down. But I got some business coaching recently and was told it was time to say goodbye to the bible. We’ve got a whole system designed for us now including automated merchandise shipping so I don’t have to have everything in stock there with me.

“What if there’s a cyclone and we go off line?” I said to my business coach. “That’s what the cloud is for,” they said. Getting comfy with something feels good but you have to shake things up. I’m a bit nervous about the new system but it’s exciting.

The key to running a business successfully is…

Being downright stubborn! Roy and I don’t take no for an answer. We just patiently and persistently figure out ways to find the yes that we need. And it’s important to stay youthful in your sense of humour and let the punches strengthen you. There are going to be bad, sad and ugly times. That’s part of business. Stay true to your nature.

The pandemic wiped a year of travel out for us. We operate seasonally over seven months and we need every single one of them. It was potentially devastating. What do you do? Stay positive. Keep busy. Improve your systems and processes. Fix things. Adapt. Roy is usually away for over two-thirds of the year.

Lockdown trapped him long enough that we could finally write a book about his wild adventures. King of the Cape was published in August and made an Amazon bestseller for our category in October. We had something huge to celebrate then and our clients appreciated the positive news too.

2021 is going to be…

Huge! We have invested in a second fleet of vehicles and have put on a second crew to meet the demand. People are hungry for adventure.

Kicking off your own small business adventure in 2021? Need the financial back up that could help you stay on the smooth track forward? Talk to one of our small business lending specialists today.

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