Ultra Adventurer, Mountaineer & Entrepreneur

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Ryno Griesel holds a number of FKT’s including the fastest crossing of the Himalayan Mountain Range and has recently circumnavigated Lesotho on foot with his friend and fellow adventurer Ryan Sandes.

Apart from all his adventures, Ryno is also a qualified Chartered Accountant and partner in a number of diverse businesses.

Episode Transcript

Welcome to Expedition Business where we talk about the highs and lows of our entrepreneurs and their business adventures. Today we have the privilege of talking to Ryno Griesel. I’ve started following Ryno many years ago when I became interested in trail running but it took me a while to realize there’s much more to Ryno than all his insane adventures. But

The list of Ryno’s running, cycling and adventure racing adventures goes on forever. But it might just help to mention that he holds the fastest known time, or FKT, for crossing the Himalayan Mountains. He has also recently circumnavigated Lesotho on foot in a record time with his friend and fellow adventurer Ryan Sands.

a thousand one hundred kilometers, 33 000 meter elevation gain, all in 16 days. Apart from this, Ryan is also a full-time entrepreneur with a couple of business adventures of his own, which includes the Gravity Group, Volvus Pride Trail Park and Solomon at Volvus Pride.

Check out the description of this podcast for details of Ryno’s businesses that he manages to pull together. But before we continue our chat with Ryno, please remember to follow us and share this episode with all your friends and family. We do need your help to share Ryno’s amazing journey.
Ryno, what is your view on the future of South Africa?
Ryno:I think we’ve got the best prospects in South Africa, that I’ve ever seen. I am super excited about the South African economy, but you can’t do it the old-school way. You’ve got to think out of the box. There are way more opportunity in South Africa from a business point of view that we, the three of us, can handle in our lifetime.

I mean the basic concept of a lot of people have left, so we’ve got a skill shortage. But also what I see is…

We’ve recently been through the whole experience of COVID. It’s changed the concept of employment in South Africa. You have your businesses that have gone through a very emotional process of Section 189 layoffs, and now they need to, because we’re all starting up again, they need to employ people back. But now I’m a little bit scared and weary because I don’t want to offer permanent contracts again. So we’ve got this concept of employing people on fixed contracts, three, six, nine, 12 months.

or 24 months and that’s almost in my opinion just a stepping stone to where I think South Africa is going. If I look what happens in Europe and some of our first world countries people don’t really get employed permanently anymore. Everybody becomes a little sole proprietor. I used to work for an employer in Europe for instance and now he says please I need the same services. I see we gonna have an explosion of entrepreneurship. I hope so. I think with the right leadership and

guidance, the South African population has shown that we are resilient, we are innovative and I think with a little bit of the right foundation, which sadly I don’t think is going to come from government on the short term, so if we can create a platform for entrepreneurs, give them the mentorship, but even more than that, give them the confidence, we could literally turn this around in the next five years. That’s my opinion.
Christél: Do you ever think of business while you are running?

Ryno: As a business owner, you never switch off. And in fact, you’re away from the noise doing those projects. So you actually get time to unpack a little bit. So it’s the other way around. You’re physically tired, but you’re mentally, I think more ready than ever to come back to work and just share and then start implementing.
Johan: But in these events, like you mentioned, when you were in these situations, I remember watching your lessons from the edge on YouTube. And I saw you say that you always

prepared to take these high risk situations. So what is like your risk tolerance in terms of like your personal or things like the running, the venturing versus like your business? What’s like the level of risk you take?
Ryno: I think firstly, the risk tolerance is very dependent on who will be affected by it. So if it’s only me that’s being affected by it, I’ve

basically got no filter, I’m willing to take any risk. If in a business environment, my decision will influence a lot of people, a lot of stakeholders, not just own employees, but it will influence the industry, might influence the safety of people, then you would use a different benchmark to make that decision. If you’re only responsible for yourself in a project, I’m happy to take any risk. If I committed to do something, I’ll do it regardless of the outcome. But in a business environment, I do think my…

The fun part of adventure still allows me to look at a specific challenge from different angles and maybe approach it with an out-of-the-box solution, but you have to keep in mind as a leader that…

you might put other people at risk which didn’t actually voluntarily sign up for that. And that’s quite a tricky thing as a leader is that you need to be able to make decisions on behalf of other people and also absorb a portion of that risk on their behalf.
Johan: How do you feel about friends and business? Should they mix or is it a cocktail of danger?
Ryno: I cannot think that you can,

even attempt a business without friends. It’s like even those that join the business, not being friends beforehand. If your intention is not to become the best possible friends, I cannot see how business can work. Like, honestly, I believe that if you do not…

Like a quote that I live by is, if you don’t understand people, you cannot understand business. But you cannot understand people if you don’t have a relationship. And for me, that is friendship. So like, if I were to, for instance, have an interview with somebody to potentially join a business that I’m involved in, I’m less concerned about telling that person what we do as a business. Because to be honest, that’s just an excuse. The, like to have fun. Like what I will tell that person

and then try to find out about that person, is our approach to life, and what’s important to us, and the why, you know, the bigger thing. So, because what’s friendship? Friendship, I believe, is people that have a common overlap of things we enjoy doing together. And, for definition, for me, that’s a business. So, to have a business where it’s like, these are the rules, you’re in or you’re out, honestly, there’s other people that might be able to, I wouldn’t personally be able to do that.

Christél:So how much fun are you having in your business adventures?
Ryno: Never gets easier, firstly. And secondly.

We have a saying in adventure racing and in ultra running in general that it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun. It’s fun because you decide it’s fun. Honestly, this whole week, I didn’t go to bed before 12 o’clock. I’ve been working since five o’clock in the mornings. And it’s hard. It’s not fun. But I’m having the most fun here today because I decide to have fun. So not to try to lecture, what I’m just saying is that we shouldn’t confuse fun with it’s always a nice experience.

One is what is the ultimate goal? Fun is something that we enjoy doing together, and that doesn’t actually mean it’s always enjoyable. There’s a very, very big difference between the experience and the decision. What I mean with doing business with friends is that firstly, we’ve got to make sure what do we want to achieve? What is the why? What is the overall arch of our business?

And then I gather people around me that’s also willing to put in the same passion towards that.

And the fun comes from knowing that if it’s hard for me, it’s hard for you, but if it’s good for me, it’s good for you. That’s the fun part. It’s that working towards a common goal, as opposed to hopefully what you’ve experienced a little bit today by walking up here and meeting some of the people in this business is, I promise you, they all have a challenging day. But the difference is acknowledging each other that we’re in it together.
Christél: Ryno, how do you achieve a work-life balance?

Ryno: you’re referring to the balance between your personal passion and your business. And the one other pillar you’re not mentioning but that all of us battle with is family or people that’s important to you, whether it’s family or friends or whatever. And you’ve got these three pillars. And we render ourself pretty useless by overthinking it the whole time purely because when I work, I feel guilty because I should train because there’s a race on its way. When I’m running, I feel guilty about

and when I do any of those two, I feel like I should be at home. Which means that even if I am at home, my head’s not there. And then you start like maybe unpacking the concept of work-life balance and what does that look like. And categorically I must say, I don’t believe that there is something like work-life balance. It’s humanly impossible. I don’t think it exists.

Depending on how you look at it, but for me, if work-life balance should mean that I give 50% at work and 50% at my sport, because that’s balanced by definition, it means I’m pretty mediocre in both. What’s the use in that? Then rather just choose one. You’ve gotta create space for all of it. But there’s a difference between creating space.

and understanding why we’re creating space versus work-life balance. Work-life balance, if we don’t put it in context, we try to be good enough for everything, but I try to have my head, it’s almost like multitasking. And I don’t believe that works, and from mistakes in the past, I know that doesn’t work. So what I mean is create space. So time management is extremely important to create boundaries on your time that you spend

but then when you spend time on that pillar, to be ruthless with your time and your thoughts. People often talk about work-life balance as where do you spend your time and energy? The one we miss is where do you spend your thoughts? I could be at home and my head can be running. And that’s the problem in my experience. So to put it in context,

Work-life balance, if it means dividing your percentage, it doesn’t work for me. But if work-life balance means creating space so that you can dedicate at least being 100% of your focus on something, but also understand that that’s not the only thing, then it makes sense to me. If I’m home, be home. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, be 100% present. When the clock hits, whether you are done with what you had to do or not, whether it’s work or running, stop. Not let the one flow.

into the other. So if we can be aware of the 24 hours we have, and then that 24 hours divide that into how I’m gonna spend it, and be super disciplined in that time, then you can look at all three pillars. And what I wanna get back to what you mentioned is, the biggest asset that you take into your business is you, not your time.

You could potentially double your time and be not nearly as effective. But if you, and you’ve mentioned it, to be you, you want a need to run. To be you, you want a need to spend time with family. But if you can be 100% at your family, you take that fullness 100% into your business. You take that fullness 100% into running. And that’s what I mean with creating space. So to be an entrepreneur, to be a leader in any context,

super disciplined from my experience and I’ve made many mistakes there’s only reason why I can say it with how you manage your time, your energy but more than that your thoughts. You’ve got to also read things your thoughts meaning that you’ve got to be present in where you are. I could be busy chatting to you guys here and know that there’s x amount of emails in my inbox and then actually we’re all wasting each other time and that’s why I want to get to you.

Christél: What is your biggest mistake that you have ever made?
Ryno: The biggest mistake I’ve made in my life is to assume that when I join a team, for when I go into a relationship, that the other person have the same outlook. Okay, so.

Because I’m very happy in emptying myself out for everybody around me. The biggest mistake I’ve made is that I’m very happy sleeping two, three hours a night. The person that I journey with, whether it’s my fellow colleagues at work, whether it’s in a relationship, whether it’s a person in a sport team, assuming that we have the same goal. So when Ryan and I run around Lesotho, we spend a lot of time, what is our actual goal? The goal is not to run around Lesotho, that’s just what we’re gonna do. What do we wanna achieve out of this? What are the risks we’re willing to take? How far are we willing to push it?

In this business as an example, like what is our goal? And so the biggest mistakes I’ve made is that I’ve got a certain outlook and not communicating and spending enough time to make sure that before we go into any partnership in sport, life, or business that we have the same desired outcome.

Because then we can work together well, but if we don’t aim for the same thing, not only are we not that effective, we will literally destroy each other.
Christél: From all the stories that we’ve watched, I think especially the Himalayan experience that you’ve had, there was some points where people wanted you to stop and throw them down, but you didn’t.

Is that how you approach business as well? We just go no matter what? Or have you had experiences in business where things really didn’t turn out well and you had to throw it down?

Ryno: I do approach everything in life similar to the Nepal project in the sense that I think life is an endurance sport. And endurance in my definition is if you know what your ultimate goal is, you’re willing to endure, you’re willing to be patient. If you’re not patient in the long run, you will go out, all out and burn out within 10 Ks. So I do approach everything with the long vision, with the ability to step out in this gravity business. We remind each other we’re building at gravity 400 years from now.

it forces us to whatever decision we make now, will it get us closer or further away from the next generation’s benefit? Okay, so I approach it in that. But when it comes to I’m willing to push through no matter what.

The portion that I do apply in business is the reason why I really wanted to push through and not quit is because I knew and thought it was the best for Ryan. If I had to pull out, he needs to pull out. He wanted me to pull out because that’s the best for me. So we almost had this counter conflict of, I know it’s the best for you, he knows what’s the best for me, and that’s not necessarily the same. To a point that we had to say, okay, well, our common goal is to finish, let’s do this as quick as possible. So the portion there that I would apply in business is

Any decision you ask me about risk, I’ve got to consider how my decision influences people around me, as opposed to just me. But in terms of pushing through to the point of having a light heart attack, if it’s just me, that’s cool, but if I had to push and then cause other people to have heart attacks with me that they didn’t voluntarily know what they were getting into, no, I won’t do that. And that is just to answer your question earlier, Johan, of if it was just me, I’m happy to go until I fall over,

biggest thing in business leadership is trust. And trust is, my people around me’s got to trust me that I have their best interest at heart. And there is no space for, I know it hurts, but I know it’s good for you. Not in business, you know? There is like, okay, but let’s collaborate. Let’s, what does this look like? So individual or smaller teams have a way more focused approach than maybe bigger teams, because there’s so much more you’ve got to keep in mind.

and you’ve got to be able to stand back, take your foot off the pedal, and make sure we’re all on the same page, and we all looked after. That psychological safety, I mean, I know we’re in the physical safety business here, but that psychological safety as a business leader is the biggest responsibility that you have as a leader. And if you break that trust, then all the friendships and everything we spoke about earlier is just smoke and mirrors.
Christél:Ryno, what is your opinion on high growth startups?

Ryno: You look at this, the more the social media or more the Silicon Valley startups and you have the Facebook approach of move fast and break things.

And again, I think, as I’ve mentioned earlier, you must always be open-minded and take things out of different ways of people doing things and then apply what works for you. I’m all for challenging the status quo. So I’m all for people have always done it this way. How can I do it differently? Okay, so there I’m all for moving fast and breaking things. But the one thing you can’t rush is people. You can’t rush a journey. People have 24 days.

about 24 hours in a day and we go through this journey. Now, my background is, I always wanted to be a full-time post-op. That’s my background, that’s my passion. I went to study what I did because I come from a strong audit family environment. And even that I did as quick as possible. People normally take seven years, I squeezed it into four and a half because that was my passion and I did very well. So people thought, yes, this guy’s a natural auditor, no he’s not.

So to give you that as a background, my ultimate goal is to journey with and spend time with people. I’m a terrible businessman. Yeah, I’m fortunate to be part of businesses that grow and make profit, but businessman by definition is growing the entrepreneurship concept of maximum profits, if that’s your definition. I love your website, by the way, because it’s definitely not that on your website.

I love the fact that even when you talk about your Killi club, this is not for you if profit is your main focus. So I could really resonate with that. So understanding my focus is actually having a journey with people and you can’t rush people. So therefore I move a bit slower because it’s more investing in the person and the business is the end result of that relationship growing as opposed to two people trying to make profit.

And it’s not the best business approach probably, but it’s worked for us.
Christél: Ryno, what do you think is the benefits of entrepreneurship?
Ryno: Do you think what entrepreneurship allows us is to think for yourself? Yes, you take your own risk, but you also make your own decisions. You’re not part of a structure, you build your own structure. And the reason why I’m saying that is…

What I find very interesting is you think entrepreneurship is somebody that wants to break away, like do their own thing, okay? Like you had the boy band and then you have the main singer going away. What does he do? He just creates a new band. So if I’m an entrepreneur and I work in…

a business and there’s maybe 30 employees, and I decide I’m gonna break away, I’m gonna do my own thing. And if I’m successful, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna appoint 29 other people later. They’re not back to where I was. So why did I do it? The difference is I can build it on how I want to do it. I have the ability to create a space and environment that I’m comfortable with. Doesn’t mean the other one was wrong, it just means I can, I have autonomy about how I wanna approach things. So it’s not about going solo, it’s about building your own

foundation. Get back to you, if you have people realizing that, if the power in individuals to create their own space and they network together.

That’s why I say five years can make a massive difference. Because if you have, let’s be honest, those of us that’s still here, we’re pretty resilient, you know, we haven’t left yet. But if we then realize we can change our way of thinking about finances, employment, et cetera, and we network, it took the 95 World Cup a few weeks to change a country. Why can’t business do it in five years?
Christél:So what would be your advice for the youngsters of today that want to get into entrepreneurship?

Ryno: Stop thinking what you’re gonna do and spend more time on who you want to be. Because what you’re gonna do, especially in today’s time, is gonna change the whole time. Us as parents, I’m not a parent, but, and you can maybe back me on this one. We ask people, what are you gonna be when you grow up? Now I’m gonna be a fireman. No, that’s what you’re gonna do. Who are you gonna be?

Like, are you gonna be an engineer? Now that’s what you’re gonna do. Who are you gonna be? So if I’m young and if I had to advise my 20 year old self, I was fortunate you asked me about mistakes and maybe more disappointments. I’ve been very blessed at school, being head boy primary school, head boy high school, and all the sports captains and all the academics. I just wanted to do it all because I enjoyed it and I was very, very blessed.

I just happened to fit the mold of what school wanted. But then the first disappointment ever in my life, really in terms of success, was the results came out. Because I even had interviews beforehand in the newspapers, because you’re gonna be matriculant of the year, and all of that. And then when the results came out, for some other reason, two of my subjects, I didn’t have distinctions. And that’s impossible. I’ve always been super successful. But it was the best thing that could ever happen to me, because I actually went in a bit of a

for the first time in my life, how is this even possible? And then there’s a very, you won’t know, you’re too young, but there’s a very cool film, Cool Runnings. Okay? And there’s a quote in Cool Runnings that said, if you’re not enough without the gold, you’ll never be enough with the gold.

If you’re not enough without being an engineer, you’re never gonna be enough being an engineer. So if I have to give any advice for parents of youngsters, and then as we grow older as youngsters, who do you want to be?

as opposed to what you want to do. Because if I had to explain to somebody what I do, I can’t. I’m an accountant, I’m a tree climber, I’m a sports person. If I have to explain to somebody who I am, I’m somebody that’s extremely passionate about people and joining with people outside the box, outside the norms of what is possible.

And that I do wherever I do. And that makes it possible to actually get back to our discussion on balancing time. Because only it all becomes more one as opposed to so. And you’re not too young. I was thinking a lot when I was in grade two. You can start journeying as a parent with your kids. It’s like, what do you enjoy? What makes you excited? Because what makes you excited? If you can connect that with what you do, then you’ll be successful.
Christél: Ryno, I would love to know what you are reading at the moment.

Ryno: There’s a very cool book, Let My People Go Surfing by Ivan Sherad, the Patagonia story. The accident of how the Patagonia company started. I really enjoy that. Purely from a…

a business I really aspire to where the focus is not profit but it is very profitable. So there’s a couple of others. I mean I enjoy the, I mean like you said the atomic habits and so on, but I enjoy the how do I make my life better daily books and I really enjoy Steve Magnus and Brad Storberg’s books from Peak Performance and the Practice of Groundlessness and now Do Hot Things that came out two days ago. But in terms of something I aspire to.

my people go surfing.
Christél: What would be your favorite quote?
Ryno: I think again it depends on the context but I would say one I live by is Howard Thurman, do not ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that because what the world needs is people who have come alive. To get back to what do you do when for free, like what is your passion. But there’s

particularly FM Alexander that says people don’t decide their future, they decide their habits and their habits decide their future, which ties into your atomic habits and what you do daily. But I think one of my favorite ones is purely cool running, if you’re not enough without the gold, you’ll never be enough with the gold.