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Business Tips from the Jungle Family

By Tamara Jacobi, originally published by The Expat Magazine

Has your family been daydreaming about creating a business together? Particularly now, as global circumstances have shifted, you and your loved ones may be brainstorming a “plan B” or a fresh start. Perhaps it’s time to embark on a new family adventure!

For years, my parents and I sat by campfires and dreamed of creating a family business. What exactly? The wild ideas were flowing. We had a lot of arrows and no target! We were passionate multicultural adventurers…how could we translate that into a business?

Our “ah ha” moment came on the day of my college graduation (class of 2007). At 21 years old, I wrote a business plan for an ecolodge and pitched the wild idea to my parents. They grinned, said “hasta luego” to our home on the border of Vermont/Quebec, packed their flip flops and we all headed to the Mexican Pacific where we rolled up our sleeves and dove into creating our dream business. Nearly 15 years later, we’re still together— working, playing and thriving in the jungle. We’ve been called the Swiss Family Robinson of the Mexican Pacific. My new book, Wildpreneurs, tells the story of our family adventure creating the Tailwind Jungle Lodge.

Our journey has been transformative, challenging and incredibly rewarding. Working as a family is truly what has kept us going all these years and allowed us to thrive. Together, we tackled the challenges of stepping into the unknown and blazing our own trail. We chose to perceive obstacles as stepping stones (there is no failure!) and together, we became masters of artful mistake making.We’re a family of Wildpreneurs—it’s not just business, it’s a lifestyle. Considerations Before You Begin Regardless of your geographic location,as you and your family explore your business ideas, you may also want to consider these practical questions (as a family and individually):

  • What kind of business might we create with as a family?

  • Do we have complementary skills? Are we compatible?

  • Do we communicate well?

  • Can we work together as a team?

  • Do we believe in each other?

  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?

  • Are we prepared to be financially involved?

  • Can we be patient with one another?

Compare your responses. If your collective answers jive and give you confidence to move forward, then you’re ready to give it a shot. Feeling a bit uncertain? Consider doing a trial run. A backpacking trip or small building project (can you construct a tree-house together?) can be a good teamwork test and a further opportunity to daydream too!

Tips: Family Fundamentals You won’t really know if you have what it takes to thrive as a family business until you try. However, as you get started, a mindset shift can set the stage for success. Let go of the romantic notion that creating your business will be easy. Be prepared for challenge! Embrace the mantra “no mud, no lotus” (philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh). Family business is hard work—it takes grit, perseverance and a willingness to get tough and work through inevitable obstacles. If your family embraces this strategy your lotus will sprout—you will find your family paradise!

Additionally, based on our experience working together as a jungle family, we’ve found the following “family fundamentals” to be particularly valuable for every step of the way

  • Trust. If you don’t trust one another, you won’t get far.

  • Patience. Be prepared,your patience will be consistently tested. This skill is invaluable!

  • Persistence. Believe in yourself, one another, and your work as a team.

  • Respect. Be mindful of your tone, words, and attitude toward your coworkers—even if they are siblings, parents, etc.

  • Love. At the end of the day, you’re family. Whatever comes, never compromise your family bonds.

How to stick with it? You may find that as you get started, the beginning phase is a lovely honeymoon period. You’re fueled by the excitement and adrenaline from taking the plunge together. When the novelty factor eventually wears off; then what? How do you keep the spark of inspiration alive and keep going? We’ve discovered that a key ingredient has been to build our business on a foundation of fun (it’s a lifestyle, not just work). We’re never too busy to go for a family surf, hike or kayaking adventure. We’re definitely not workaholics! We love to frolic in Mother Nature’s playground. Play is a powerful ingredient for success. What kind of play does your family love?

We’ve also found the following ground rules to be helpful in maintaining balance and keeping our family healthy in the long run—personally and professionally.

  • Clearly defined roles:Arguments, disappointments, and disagreements over who is supposed to be doing what can be easily avoided if you clearly outline expectations, roles, responsibilities, and job descriptions. No assumptions—be as specific as possible. This will give your business more structure, professionalism, and help you to avoid squabbles.

  • Clear communication:We’ve learned to avoid making mountains of molehills by improving our communication skills (listening, focus, constructive criticism, etc. communication is a journey not a destination).

  • Financial divisions:Make finances and compensations as clear and as simple as possible from the start. Either a handshake agreement or written contracts—be clear around money.

  • Boundaries:The intimacy of family business can be over-whelming. I reflect in Wildpreneurs, “One of the most valuable gifts I’ve ever received from Jungle Judi (my mom) is a handmade sign that says “SIESTA.” It is accompanied by a rule: When the sign is up, the jungle girl needs personal time.” Establish clear boundaries—personal, family, and business—for both time and space.

  • The art of support:Our ability to support each other has made all the difference. We know how to pick each other up, dust each other off, put our heads together to tackle the latest issue, and dive into whatever comes.

The jungle family is cheering for you and your family—we believe in you! If you’re unified by a family dream then you’re in for a life-changing adventure. As I write in Wildpreneurs, “Our shared passion for wild living enabled us to create a mission and vision for our business that we all agreed upon—we were on the same page from the outset. Together, we committed to the sacrifices, challenges, and rewards of both the journey and the destination. We’re a team, united by a shared dream—a stability that has helped mitigate the many challenges of wild living and ultimately guided us to success.”


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