Adventure Entrepreneurs: How the founders of Nike, Virgin, and Patagonia Used Adventure to Start Their Businesses

Adventure Entrepreneurs: How the founders of Nike, Virgin, and Patagonia Used Adventure to Start Their Businesses

When most people think of Nike, Virgin, or Patagonia, they think about multi-million dollar companies that are recognized globally. Very few people are aware of the journeys that led to the staggering success of these companies.

Yes, Nike has built heritage in the world of sports and fitness. It is the brand that comes to our mind when we think about developing a workout regime or finding the right gear for our travel adventures. But, what was it that inspired Phil Knight, an ordinary college grad to start selling shoes at the back of his car?

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, is the only entrepreneur who has built eight separate billion dollar companies, all in different industries. What sparked his interests?

Speaking of Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, what motivated him to go from a climber to a billionaire?

Reading the success stories of these inspiring entrepreneurs, you realize that all three of them had something in common. Passion for travel and adventure played a huge role in the journey of Nike, Virgin and Patagonia’s successes. As you might have noticed, adventure is at the core of our DNA, so we’re super inspired by these big shots. Let’s dig a little deeper into the success stories of these idealistic companies and gather some inspiration.


Nike was founded while the founder traveled around the world.

Phil Knight’s inspiration to start what later became Nike blossomed on a world-tour. Phil was on the lookout to delay the inevitable call of the professional life. Filled with wanderlust, he traveled around the world, all the while seeking a way to make a living without having to give up his love for sports.

What started as a college project to devise a small business plan became a reality when Phil visited Japan. During a college project, Phil had implored the idea of getting high-quality/low-cost running shoes from Japan to be sold in U.S.A. Nothing more became of Phil’s idea until he decided to make the leap in Japan.

We believe traveling renders an absolute confidence that makes everything seem achievable.  While in Japan, Phil scheduled a meeting with Tiger – a Japanese running shoe manufacturer and a subsidiary of the Onitsuka Company. He presented himself as an American distributor representing Blue Ribbon Sports (a name Phil came up with at the moment), interested in selling Tiger shoes to American runners.  Phil placed his very first order soon thereafter and started selling shoes from the back of his car.

The rest is pretty much history!


Richard Branson is the ultimate adventure entrepreneur

Richard Branson is known worldwide for his adventurous spirit and daredevil personality. If you look at Richard’s success story, you will realize how being adventurous and open to new possibilities can change your life, for better.

Branson struggled with school, dropped-out at the age of 16, and started his first business venture, a magazine called Student. A few years later he started selling mail records to students who used to buy the magazine from him. His idea flourished, and he opened his recording label with the name of “Virgin records.”

Richard had become a millionaire at the age of 23, but his venturesome attitude paved the road for him to become a billionaire. Richard was heading to the Virgin Islands to meet his girlfriend, but the flight was canceled due to some reason. Since it was the last flight, Richard was left with only one option, to charter a private airplane. Running short of money, Richard picked up a blackboard and wrote: “Virgin Airlines $29”. The tickets soon sold out and the idea to start “Virgin Airlines” was born.

In 2013, the ever-adventurous Richard later focused his efforts towards space tourism. He partnered with Scaled Composites and incepted The Spaceship Company, which developed a suborbital space plane.

Richard Branson’s story stands true to the saying that “life is an adventure.”


Patagonia’s founders didn’t want to start a company, they just wanted to go on adventures.

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s founder, was passionate about climbing right from his childhood.  He became a member of the Southern California Falconry Club when he was 14 years old. Nothing was stopping Yvon from indulging in his passion for climbing after he learned how to rappel down the cliffs at the falcon aeries. During his 20s, Yvon spent more than six months every year climbing gigantic peaks and gallivanting across North America and the Alps.

Yvon learned how to blacksmith and started making climbing equipment to finance his mountain adventures. Yvon forged pitons during the winter months, spent the summer climbing the walls of Yosemite. He then used to head for the high mountains of Wyoming, Canada, or the Alps, and back to Yosemite in the fall.

Yvon supported his passion for adventure by selling gear from the back of his car. Soon there was enough demand for his gear, which forced him to use machinery to forge the equipment. In 1965, Yvon went into partnership with Tom Frost, an avid climber and an aeronautical engineer with a keen eye for design and aesthetics.

In his book “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman” Yvon Chouinard wrote, “We took special pride in the fact that climbing rocks and icefalls had no economic value in society.” He took his philosophy and passion and embedded it in Patagonia, which grew to become the top provider of outdoor gear and clothing.

Nike, Virgin, and Patagonia found their passion in travel and adventure. They leveraged their passion and turned it into their success stories. What did you learn from their stories?

If you want to read more about these guys’ adventures, we can’t recommend the following books enough:

“Shoe Dog” about Nike – Find it on Amazon here.

Losing My Virginity” about Virgin – Find it on Amazon here.

“Let My People Go Surfing” about Patagonia – Find it on Amazon here.

And if you’re not ready for big adventures like these guys, then check out our post about microadventures.

This post was sponsored by our friends at Venecenter

How would the world look if we were all digital nomads?

How would the world look if we were all digital nomads?

One thing we have noticed here at Refuga is that the whole movement around digital nomads is really gaining traction. At the time when Refuga started and one year later, when I started to travel full-time myself, I didn’t even know the term. I remember meeting an American journalist in Beijing. He had offered his boss to step his salary a bit down if he could work from Beijing instead of Washington. He was more or less a digital nomad, but he never used that term and wasn’t part of a digital nomad community.

There is a lot of hype around digital nomads and media loves the stories of young people working from an exotic beach. They see it almost as a revolution in how we work and live. Somehow they are right, but it really depends on which perspective you see it in.

If you look at it in a big perspective and see the long history of humankind, it’s interesting to see that we have lived as nomads 99% of our history. So theoretically it’s not a revolutionizing idea, even though in a shorter perspective it’s a big change to how we work and live.

An interesting question would be; are we going back to being nomads? Is being nomadic maybe the most natural way of living for us? Is the rise of digital nomads just the beginning of the future possibilities that will become so normal, that everyone at least has the possibility of being more or less nomadic?

My guess is, that yes it is.

We will all become more nomadic

I don’t think everyone will be full blown nomads, but I think most will have the opportunities to be more flexible about what they work on and where they live, giving them the opportunity to live in other places for at least some periods of time.

The normal pattern of always living in the country where you were born and living in a city based on where your job is located, will not be normal in the future.You can work online, you can find a place to live on Airbnb and you can very cheaply fly to the other side of the planet. Therefore a lot of people will choose to try to live in other countries at least for a period.

Overall there will just be much more flexibility and opportunities. At the same time, what we are seeing now in the digital nomad space, is a snow ball effect. If you have never heard of working online and living where you want and moving location, it sounds crazy and impossible. But if you find someone online that you read about, that has done it, it becomes a bit more realistic. When you know someone, friend or family, who has done it, suddenly it becomes much more realistic.

What we are seeing is not a small sub trend in my opinion, but the beginning of a new normal.

But what would it mean if more were nomadic?

I have given a lot of thought to how the world would look like if there were a lot more nomadic people. It’s a difficult question to answer, especially because I’m part of it – I’m doing it myself – so I’m pretty positive about it.

But when I have been traveling around I have also experienced some of the more negative sides. Some of the challenges on a bigger scale would be:

The impact on local communities

The world is, in general, seeing more and more tourists and we have to learn how to travel better. A lot of us travel out to experience local living and learning about other cultures, but mass tourism can have a negative impact, simply destroying local culture. It’s happening in Venice and Barcelona, but it’s happening all over the world.

Digital nomads love digital nomad hubs, like Chiang Mai in Thailand and Bali in Indonesia. The problem with these hubs is that too many people go there to be part of a digital nomad community, to live cheaply and to be cool, rather than to experience the country and culture they are in. Of course, we all travel in different ways, but it’s important to support and respect local culture and business when you travel.

What about taxes?

Quite a few of the Western digital nomads that I have met in Asia brag about not paying taxes. They are not registered in their own country and they live in cheap countries on tourists visas.

I more or less do the same (I pay full tax in Denmark) because there is no better way. If a lot of us were nomadic, we would have to change our tax systems to fit this change of how we live. In the good old days, you could avoid paying taxes if you were rich and could afford the best lawyers. Nowadays you just have to be a digital nomad.

I would love some kind of global digital nomad citizenship, where you pay taxes based on a number of days you spent in each country.

Digital Nomad loneliness

One of the downsides of being a digital nomad can be loneliness. Yep, you’re thinking that it’s a real first world problem and you’re probably right, but it’s still a challenge for a lot. Being self-employed and switching locations from time to time, it can be a real challenge to create and develop relationships.

Loneliness is not just a problem for full-time travelers but globally. Never before have so many works alone, lived alone and eaten their dinner alone. A world with more nomads will probably mean more problems with loneliness, so solutions to that would have to be created.

Could the world become a better place with more people living as nomads?

There is no doubt where the movement is going and it’s clear that there are some challenges with a world with a lot more nomadic people, but what kind of positive impact would it have?

It’s more or less about freedom

If people have the opportunity to become digital nomads, it means that they have a lot of freedom. Freedom to decide what to do, where to live, which kind of people to spend time with and so on. And more freedom is a good thing that we should embrace.

Freedom is also smaller things, like working the way you want. Some people work better in the morning, some better in the evening. It’s the freedom of not having to go to the same office every day and thereby adding a daily commute to a life that is already busy. If you commute just 45 min each way, you’re effectively working 6 days per week, not 5.

More freedom will make people happier.

Hiring and find work will be based on skills, not geography

Meaningful work is a big part of thriving. Finding the right people is a big part of a company being able to compete on a global level. Global trade brings more peace.

In a world that is becoming more and more global and where borders mean less and less, being a digital nomad means that you have the flexibility to go where the opportunities are and if you’re a self-employed nomad, it also means you can hire the right people when and where you want.

Not being limited to geography will really be a big change.

Travel is one of the best ways to redistribute wealth

Travel is one of the biggest industries in the world and that’s why it has a great power to really change the world. When people travel, it’s effective redistribution of wealth.

With more and more people traveling it would hopefully also mean, that people travel further and not just to a few popular places, which would mean that money gets spread even more.

These are just some of the positives and negatives things that will be the results of more people being nomads. A development I think will continue to grow.

In future blog posts, we will dig deeper into some of these and other issues of the impact of digital nomads.