My journey from army time trials to leading adventure trails - Matthew Smith

It’s a cold November morning and I am sitting in a coffee shop in the West End of Edinburgh waiting for Nick Freer of the Freer Consultancy to arrive for a long overdue catch-up. As the heavy rain bounces off the pavement outside, I begin to contemplate my entrepreneurial journey and think about how far I have come since leaving the army in 2016.

Adapting after 22 years in the army and growing a business has been a huge challenge, says Smith. Picture: Contributed
Adapting after 22 years in the army and growing a business has been a huge challenge, says Smith. Picture: Contributed

Passionate about the great outdoors, wilderness living and survival skills, I have always had a healthy love for adventure. Running expeditions in the military and taking people out of their comfort zone was something I always wanted to do when I left the forces.

It’s safe to say there have been some challenges along the way; entrepreneurship is not something the military prepares you for. Adapting after 22 years in the army, juggling family life, growing a business and keeping myself sane at the same time has been a massive challenge.

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Networking, events, getting to grips with social media and marketing was a steep learning curve. Sound advice from experienced and reliable mentors during the journey has certainly helped. I have been privileged to meet a few, namely Gurjit Singh Lalli, head curator at TEDx Glasgow, and Andrew Dobbie, founder and managing director of creative brand agency MadeBrave.

Corporate groups are increasingly looking an authentic wilderness experience, says Smith. Picture: John Alexander
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Through dedication and hard work, the Primal Adventures brand has grown significantly from its early days as a bushcraft and survival company, transitioning into the adventure and expedition arena and finally into the more bespoke corporate and incentive group market.

It’s easy to see why the tourism industry in Scotland is booming. With its breathtaking views and stunning scenery, I decided to capitalise on what was already on my doorstep on the west coast. As a lad from Ardrossan, I have always enjoyed the ferry to the Isle of Arran, Millport, Bute and more recently Little Cumbrae.

The islands are steeped in history, magic and mystery with hidden gems such as Mount Stuart on Bute, one of Scotland’s oldest coal lighthouses and Pictish burial grounds on Little Cumbrae. Running bespoke wilderness courses here was my next challenge.

Promoting Scotland's coasts and islands

I have never been a seafaring man but I decided to develop sea legs and started running sailing trips. This soon grew into remote island adventure trips and survival challenges which have proved hugely successful, particularly with corporate teams seeking an authentic wilderness challenge.

With high speed, fast rib insertions, old castles, abandoned lighthouses, escape rooms, abseiling, marine wildlife and learning about remote island survival skills, the possibilities to create bespoke experiences have been endless.

With VisitScotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, it’s an exceptionally exciting time to be promoting Scotland’s coastline and islands. As an Ayrshire lad there is also a lot of excitement about the upcoming Coig routes. Private sector-led with public sector support, this mould breaking approach to tourism is being led by Tom Campbell, creator of the North Coast 500. Showcasing the best of Ayrshire and the islands, the Coig brings together five great routes spanning Ayrshire and the islands.

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With so much technology in our daily lives there has never been a better time to disconnect and get outdoors into green space or the open water. Whether it’s learning new skills, hillwalking or going for a paddle in the sea.

When Nick arrives, he tells me about his friend Gib Bulloch who has just launched a “business decelerator” on Bute. I say how I feel fortunate that innovative ideas and creativity have helped me to cater for a diverse client base. Every day is a school day in the entrepreneurial world, but with good mentors offering sound advice, a great team and lots of hard work I know I will get there.

- Matthew Smith, chief executive and founder, Primal Adventures