A Wanaka-based entrepreneur whose fly-fishing guiding business was wiped out after borders were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic has pivoted to create an outdoor survival kit, forming a startup named after his favourite bird.

Matt Butler has founded KEA Outdoors, creating The KEA KIT, which he says has everything needed to rely on to “survive and thrive” in the outdoors. It is easily transportable and contains the best gear to assist anyone to embrace every outdoor adventure.

The KEA KIT is one of several products under the KEA Outdoors brand. It’s called a survival kit, as its items contain the five pillars of survival: medical, shelter, water, fire, and tools. 

Matt Butler.

“There is no other survival kit built for outdoors that covers the five categories,” Butler said. “I looked at the problems I had when I was guiding and one of the ones was that I had to carry all my safety and survival gear, it was messy, it was a nightmare.”

While KEA Outdoors was initially started with Butler’s savings from his guiding, he managed to raise $300,000 through Kickstarter, an American global crowdfunding platform which focuses on creative projects. That initially enabled him to create 2500 kits, and so was also a successful test for product demand.

The startup is the second most funded Kickstarter design project in New Zealand. Without the platform, the survival kit may not have survived itself.“I probably wouldn’t have done it,” Butler said. “It’s not a cheap product – there’s a lot of expense to make it.

“I could have done it, but it would have had a smaller production.”

For a person who said he hated school and got fired from every job he had, Butler has done well in schooling himself on how a successful Kickstarter campaign would work. He also leveraged off a significant customer base he generated through his guiding business, “so I knew it was going to work, I just didn’t know how well”.

The KEA KIT may be a seasonal product, but last year Butler used internal financing to tide him over the winter then got another Kickstarter to “fill the bank up again”. In future years he wants to get a foothold in the US market to tide him over the New Zealand winter.    

The key to managing a successful startup, Butler says, is working incrementally each day and facing your fears.  

“You’ve just got to push yourself and chip away bit by bit. There’s a lot of times I worry that it’s not going to work, but each day you do a little bit, and then you look back on it and join the dots and see that every little bit you did made a difference.”

Starting a business is a learning curve.  In hindsight, Butler said he would have had a smaller marketing budget were he to start a business like KEA Outdoors again. In August, he used Kickstarter as a cash injection and spent 10 percent of his turnover in marketing, significantly down from 25 per cent for his first Kickstarter. 

He is also going to create different sizes of kits, one for the car or even in the home – it also has a first aid kit – and another that is smaller and therefore more mobile and accessible for lighter outdoor activities.

However, Butler doesn’t just want to head a small startup that makes a difference. While he won’t leave Wanaka, he knows that revenue is what’s going to keep his brand alive, and so brand building and community building will get his startup to the point where thousands trust it.

 “To get to that point will be amazing,” he says.

KEA Outdoor
The KEA KIT contents.

Butler clearly thrives on being his own boss; he hasn’t worked for anyone since he was 19.

“Being in business just means you want to be in control of your own destiny – but it’s not for everyone. It’s a massive sacrifice in terms of time, and also money, and it makes you age pretty quickly. But if you prefer to outsource your destiny by being an employee, that can be a very comfortable life.”

He says he would like KEA Outdoors to have a $50 million annual turnover in 10 years’ time, leading a globally renowned New Zealand brand he is proud of, with the right people to make a difference.

“There are very few in the outdoor space in New Zealand – they struggle to break that global market.

“KEA Outdoors will continue to have its head office in Wanaka, with product design and marketing done from New Zealand and logistics and production outsourced around the world.”

Story by Dave Crampton. In partnership with Startup Queenstown Lakes.

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