Small business success #39: Chill Expeditions, Crawford “Chill” Hill

By Mark G. Auerbach

There are numerous travel programs for high school and college students out there, but Chill Expeditions LLC stands alone as an educational travel program founded and staffed by educators who customize a travel experience to the needs of the teachers integrating the experience into their curriculum AND the individual students participating in the program.

Chill Expeditions is the brainchild of Crawford Hill, known as “Chill,” and Eddie Rodriguez, who took a program called Costa Rican Adventures, originally started in 1995, and redesigned it as Chill Expeditions in 2010. Chill’s enthusiasm is recapped in a video that explains what sets Chill Expeditions apart in the marketplace.

Or, as Chill puts it, “What clearly distinguishes us from anyone else is our unique, deeply intentional educational approach to travel, particularly with young people. We have a guiding approach second to none, with decades of experience in the classroom and lab, coaching and mentoring and, most importantly, experimenting for over 40 years with how best to bring out the best in young people in foreign places. The professional experiential educators/guides you travel with matter and ours are the best.”

“Our expedition pillars are The Expedition Mentality and the Story Approach,” adds Chill. “Again, the experiential educators you travel with make all the difference in the world. There is a great deal of educational infrastructure that goes into our expedition mentality, which is about bringing out the best in each individual and in the group as a whole. That takes great technique, understanding and strong execution in the field. That is what distinguishes us and makes a profound difference in the outcome.”

Career switch

“I loved my 35-year career as teacher, counselor, expedition leader and coach at a great school,” says Chill, “and had lead hundreds of students and dozens of teachers on many expeditions, including yearly from 1999-2010 with Costa Rican Adventures as a client. The founders decided to sell in 2009 and I jumped on the opportunity to pursue my interest in intense experiential education in amazing places. My good friend and colleague Eddie Rodriguez being on board from the get-go was a critical part of my decision to pursue this amazing opportunity.”

With Crawford Hill at the helm, Chill Expeditions has grown over the last eight years. “When I started we had four employees and we now have 12 and several part timers in addition to over 25 freelance guides who love working with us in our various destinations. We started out with several hundred participants a year and are close to 1000 now–students, teachers, families and friends…but mostly schools groups of all kinds,” says Chill.

Chill adds “We took over a company that worked exclusively in Costa Rica and because that is such an amazing place with so many wonderful opportunities we have grown our options there dramatically and thus we continue to do most of our business there. However we have more than 12 destinations now and our most recent is the American southwest desert, which offers all kinds of special learning opportunities and adventures. For us it is about finding local visionaries in special places where we can apply our unique approach–it is foremost about our approach, which can actually be applied anywhere…so when we find the best likeminded folks we set up in a new place.”

Chill Expeditions averages about 50 expeditions a year, ranging in size from small family groups of three to student groups as large as sixty. The groups come from all over North America, and include public schools and independent schools.

Building on a strong foundation

Chill manages and markets the company fulltime. “My educational and expedition skills are put to strong use across many platforms with many different kinds of groups rather than simply teenagers in a classroom. Any excellent teacher is a sales person so that can be leveraged dramatically. A fine coach knows how to build a team so that as well can be powerful when leveraged in building a business team. I always taught through a multi-disciplinary lens and that practice has served me well both in developing the product and building a sales team and strategy,” says Chill.

According to Chill, when asked about the best piece of advice he’d received, “Various entrepreneurs told me that as a really fine educator–and you’re still in the education business–so you can do this and you will be good at it. It was good to hear that from folks in different domains who were themselves successful entrepreneurs. Teaching gives you a very strong foundation to leverage when you believe in the product and have a strong team!”

And the worst piece of advice? Chill says, “I paid too much attention to several SEO ‘experts’  about how dramatically that black box would increase our sales. It was not that simple. There are a lot of BS artists in that niche.”

We asked Chill what he’d say to the Chill just starting out with Chill Expeditions based on the experiences he’s had building the company. “Given that we sell primarily first to teachers and then through them to students and parents, I would have devoted more effort sooner to building a direct outreach operation to schools rather than relying as much on the Internet. Anytime we get directly in front of educators and parents we do superbly. It is easy for them to understand how seriously we take the educational approach to travel and how obviously good we are at executing that vision in a way congruent with their school’s ecosystem. Travel is an investment and we are very good at leveraging that investment to the max. That matters to families, so getting in front of them is very helpful to us. Understanding our long sales cycle nuance sooner would have been helpful!”

And, that’s succeeding in small business.

For details on Chill Expeditions, headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, PA: Phone: 800-551-7887 or Chill Expeditions is also on Twitter @chillexpedition


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.


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