Brian Kurth was stopped in traffic in the hour-long commute to his marketing job at the phone company, thinking there had to be a better way to make a living. “I wondered what it would be like to be an entrepreneur,” he says. Kurth looked for a company that could put him together with a mentor to test-drive his fantasy. There was no such business--so he invented one.
In 2004, Kurth, happily relocated to Portland, Oregon, launched Vocation Vacations, which sends people on two- or three-day one-on-one mentorships. You can roll dough with a pastry chef, shadow a martial arts school owner, or watch a b&b owner keep house. VV got a lot of buzz, including a segment on the Today show, and business took off.
Kurth's business hummed along until the recession struck. VV mentorships aren't cheap. Add in travel costs and you could spend a couple of grand test-driving your fantasy job. Kurth needed a new idea.
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Enter Pivot Planet, a video-conference-based version of VV. Instead of being on site with your mentor, you log a session together online, at a cost as low as $50 an hour. (Each advisor sets his or her own rate.) “You pay as you go, and you can have as many advisors as you want,” Kurth says. Vocation Vacations will continue to be offered alongside as “the high-end concierge level service.”
Pivot Planet isn't just cheaper, it's more practical-minded too. Where VV put you alongside schooner captains and alpaca ranchers, PP concentrates on more traditional fields that are growing, like technology, education and health care. Kurth has nearly five hundred advisors on board for the launch this month and hopes to have more than a thousand by year's end. Advisors are vetted by PP; they must have worked at least five years full-time, and Kurth is working with organizations like Civic Ventures to find the best people in a given field.
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People at midlife are a major audience for VV, and are expected to sign on for PP too. “They're looking for brass tacks; this isn't fantasy for them,” Kurth says. “Most are not uber-wealthy testing out whether they're going to buy that special vineyard. They're regular people who've made a decent living and want an encore career that is more fulfilling.”
Voice-over actor Kim Crow, who's mentored dozens of Vocation Vacationers and will join the advisors on PP, agrees. “Usually people have this hole in the soul that the wind blows through. They've gotten the kids through college, and that nagging voice won't stop,” she says. Some set up home studios and look for voice-over work, while others use the skills they learn in other ways. “The techniques for voice-over serve you in other media jobs. I counseled one woman on setting up a travel agency where she could do audio tours.”
Eight years ago, VV was a game-changer. No one had done anything like it. Kurth says the same is true of Pivot Planet. “We go beyond career coaching, beyond outplacement. We're going to revolutionize how people explore a new career.”