“A is for adventure, as you will come to see.
Like hiking, or biking or climbing a tree.
Or taking a plane to a faraway land,
or a trip to the beach just to play in the sand.
Yes, A is for Adventure as you come to know,
so get ready, get set, get ready, let’s go!”
That’s the beginning of a book called A is for Adventure written by Nova Scotian Jan LaPierre. But the book is just one part of a movement he started with business partner Chris Surette. Their plan for a children’s book that encourages readers to get outside and explore has turned into the adventure of a lifetime for the two of them and their third business partner Brad Sayeau. Their Dartmouth-based company is flourishing and the core message hasn’t changed.
“At the end of the day, what we are trying to create…it’s not necessarily a thriving business, it’s a thriving community,” says LaPierre.
LaPierre and “A for Adventure” co-founder Surette met in 2012. The first project they worked on together was a fundraiser for Brigadoon Village: it involved Jan and friend Graham Carter paddling from Canso to Sable Island. The journey took them 30 hours and they raised $35,000. Surette was part of the team that helped plan the trip and was also in the support boat.
Realizing there was a future to their partnership, LaPierre didn’t miss a beat. On the way back from the Sable Island trip, he told Surette about his plan to write a children’s book and began to read him the script. “I could automatically envision families reading it and being inspired to get outside,” recalls Surette.
Once they decided to move forward with the book, illustrator Christopher Hoyt started to work on bringing LaPierre’s words to life through pictures. But the team knew it would take some time to illustrate and publish and didn’t want to wait to get the message out, so they started a social-media campaign. “We just challenged ourselves initially to do 100 straight days of adventures…and for the most part those adventures would be really accessible,” says LaPierre.
The campaign quickly caught on, with some people starting to follow along and others starting their own campaigns. Julia Phillips Smith was one of the latter. “We decided to alter the campaign and do 100 different walks in a year,” she says.
This was a major undertaking for her and her husband, Brad. Julia lives with multiple chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue. Brad lives with bipolar disorder and agoraphobia, which is an anxiety disorder. In Brad’s case, it is often uncomfortable for him to go to places he is unfamiliar with, but he was willing to get out of his comfort zone with the support he had from Julia.
“I trust Julia that she knows not to get lost,” says Brad. “I couldn’t do this by myself.” The couple says they enjoyed the whole process, from finding new places to go to planning the trips to supporting communities they visited.
“Whenever we went to a place, we tried to spend money there, too, to support that community…especially during the off season,” says Julia.
They both say that they always enjoyed doing things together like going to movies and events like free comic book day, but this challenge unlocked new opportunities. “We were doing things we would have never done,” says Julia. “It was definitely one of the best years of our lives.”
Stories like that motivate LaPierre and Surette.
“It’s not that we’re changing their lives but we’re helping by giving them the tools so that they can take responsibility,” says LaPierre. “If people can find inspiration from what we’re doing then that’s a major success.”
After the book launch in November 2015, things really picked up. Sales were better than they anticipated; they’ve sold over 5,000 books in more than 30 countries. The book gave them the perfect opportunity to reach children, and they now do a lot of speaking engagements and book readings at schools. “The children’s book was kind of our business card,” says Surette.
They knew they were onto something early on with the amount of interest they were getting on social media. However, the amount of growth the company experienced in a short time was a pleasant surprise. They quickly had people from Nova Scotia tourism and Parks Canada approaching them about partnerships. “People are looking for more authentic coverage and content,” explains Surette. “Staged campaigns just aren’t jiving with people as much anymore.”
Part of providing that authentic coverage involves making videos about different adventures they’ve taken. And that’s where Brad Sayeau comes into the picture. He joined Surette and LaPierre last February and he is the mastermind behind all of the videos they produce. The videos are a big part of their partnerships: they help get the message out about services, programs, and places that people may not know about.
One of those programs is a “Learn to Camp” initiative with Parks Canada. LaPierre, Surette and Sayeau have been traveling around eastern Canada teaching first-time campers all the basics, from setting up tents to starting campfires. It means some long days of driving; they’ve put about 30,000 kilometres on their truck in just a few months, but they say it’s more than worth it.
“We have benefitted just as much as the participants in a lot of cases. We’re watching not just new campers but in a lot of cases new Canadians,” says Surette.
“It’s just a beautifully Canadian thing. We’re so willing to accept people into our country and now we’re taking them camping,” adds LaPierre.
They’ve come a long way in a short time. When they started their first social media campaign, they both had full-time jobs; A for Adventure was a side project. But last year, they were able to commit to growing the business full-time.
As they continue on their journey to spread their message and explore at the same time, they also want to remind everyone that: “A is for adventure, such glorious news. Because you can adventure however you choose!”