After 20 years behind a desk, adventure seeker starts business leading hikes in the mountains
David Fatula gave up his career one day to pursue his passion for the great outdoors. As owner and operator of Guineafowl Adventure Company, he now leads guided hikes in the White Mountains––and never has to work behind a desk again.
Graphic by Zach Christensen/Northeastern University
David Fatula’s office is the great outdoors. The owner and operator of Guineafowl Adventure Co., Fatula leads guided hikes throughout New Hampshire’s White Mountains, some of the most rugged terrain in New England. It’s a dream job for a lifelong hiker––and not at all what Fatula would have seen himself doing as a career a few years ago.
Fatula always knew he wanted to start his own business. He graduated from Northeastern University in 2001 with a degree in entrepreneurship and finance and worked in the world of real estate finance for 20 years. But for someone who “is a trail runner at heart” the call of the great outdoors was too loud to ignore. After a two-decade career in finance, Fatula left it all behind in 2021 to start Guineafowl.
“I love what I do, and I honestly would never look back,” Fatula says. “The three tenets I had when I thought of Guineafowl were that I didn’t want to be behind a desk anymore, I wanted to be outdoors and I wanted to help people.”
Fatula’s love of nature started when he was a kid exploring the woods behind his childhood home in Connecticut. His parents would take him on hikes in Chatfield Hollow State Park, and as a teenager, he discovered snowboarding and the joys of mountain life.
“No matter what venue, whether I’m hiking, trail running, ice climbing, snowboarding, bouldering, whatever the case may be, it’s always a place where I’ve felt a true sense of serenity,” Fatula says.
When he came to Northeastern in 1997, all of that fell by the wayside, but what came to the forefront was his passion for entrepreneurship. Fatula says he always knew he would end up starting his own business, even when he was young. He’s always had a bunch of ideas for companies and projects rattling around in his head.
During his final year at Northeastern, Fatula did a co-op at Atlantic Coast Brewery, working as an assistant distribution manager. Fatula’s post-graduation plans revolved around being able to stay on in that job, but because of the brewery’s decision to outsource distribution, he found himself at a loss. Even after all this time, that experience affects how Fatula thinks about his own small business.
“It was one of the best work experiences I had through the Northeastern co-op program and just in general,” he says. “It taught me a lot about entrepreneurship, a lot about managing a small business, a lot about trying to grow a small business, managing people, processes.”
He landed a job as an accounts payable clerk at a Cambridge-based developer before moving on to the RMR Group, a commercial real estate firm. He remained there for a decade, eventually becoming director of acquisitions and dispositions, negotiating over $4 billion in commercial real estate transactions.
Fatula admits he found himself in the world of real estate “totally on accident.” But he quickly figured out he enjoyed how “immersive” it was, requiring him to be involved at every step of every deal. Relationship building was at the heart of the job, and for a natural extrovert, it became the driving force behind his decades-spanning career in real estate.
Eventually, Fatula left RMR and, true to his word, started his own business, the commercial real estate investment and advisory business Pleasant Street Advisors. Building relationships and connections between buyers, sellers and investors became even more important when he was starting something from scratch.
“It taught me a ton in terms of the relationship aspect of business, how to create and foster positive, successful relationships, how to move transactions forward, how to create situations where everyone feels like they’re being taken care of, compromise––all the things that you need to be able to be successful in a business,” Fatula says. “Being able to work on those types of relationships on a regular basis for the better part of 20 years, it shaped who I am and how I operate Guineafowl now.”
It was also during his time in real estate that Fatula started to spend more and more time hiking and trail running again. In his early 20s, Fatula’s then-girlfriend, now-wife introduced him to obstacle course races, which reignited his passion for the outdoors. He started doing Spartan races, mud races and more obstacle course races, and with each race, he wanted to see how much further and faster he could go.
Every moment he wasn’t working in the office was spent trail running, racing, hiking and climbing. So, by the time COVID-19 hit and decimated any new investment opportunities for Fatula’s company, he already had an inkling that something needed to change.
“The idea of effectively starting from scratch and going out and raising new money for new investments after COVID and what that looked like … wasn’t as appealing to me as going out and finding out how to do what I love for a living for the rest of my life,” he says.
Guineafowl Adventure Co. was born out of this soul-searching period in Fatula’s life.
At first, Fatula had doubts that his idea––a guided hiking company––could be profitable. After all, one of the best things about hiking is you can do it alone and for free. But once he started talking to people outside his network of trail runners, he understood the value his idea had.
Some people are interested in getting outdoors, especially in the White Mountains, but don’t know where to start. That’s where Guineafowl comes in. The company currently offers 16 different guided hikes that range from easy to strenuous and provides guidance, gear and roundtrip transportation.
The aim, Fatula says, is to take away all the stress and barriers involved with hiking so that people can just enjoy the experience.
“There’s a perspective shift that happens when you’re in nature,” Fatula says. “For me, [it’s] the acknowledgement that I am tiny and what happens in my day-to-day life is inconsequential in the world and inconsequential in nature. … You need that. You need a break from all of the daily stressors of your life.”
Fatula started Guineafowl in 2021, and the company has since grown beyond just adventures in the White Mountains. He’s started offering shorter local hikes in the Blue Hills Reservation and Middlesex Fells Reservation and Walden Pond. He also has put more of a focus on youth programming through partnerships with private schools, community organizations and nonprofits like METCO.
“Kids need [this] because kids need to form a bond with nature early so that they continue to recognize that nature is a place for them and that the wilderness is a place for everybody.” Fatula says.
After two years of leading hikes, Fatula says his fear that doing what he loves for a living would take the joy out of the outdoors hasn’t come true. Fatula recently returned from a 36-mile traversal of the Taconic Crest Trail that runs through parts of New York, Massachusetts and Vermont. And the White Mountains still never fail to leave him speechless.
“I wake up getting in the van to go pick people up at 6 in the morning to take them on a hike, and I pinch myself that this is what I do for a living,” he says.
Even though he’s hiked these trails countless times, the weather, trail conditions and group dynamics are always different enough to energize him and keep him on his toes.
Fatula still remembers the first group hike Guineafowl ever did: a group of eight people who ranged from a preteen to someone in their 60s. He was leading them on the Welch-Dickey Loop, one of his favorite hikes, and was approaching the summit of Dickey Mountain. It ends with a stunning view of almost the entire route the hikers have taken to get to that point, but hikers are usually so preoccupied with looking up that they don’t look back. It meant Fatula had the element of surprise.
“When everybody got to a place where they were comfortable, I said, ‘Alright, now before we continue, I want everyone to take a deep breath and turn around,’” Fatula says. “Everyone turned around and was just like, ‘Woah!’ At that point, it just clicked in my head: This is never going to get old. This is never not going to bring me joy.”
“I texted my wife later to tell her, ‘This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.’”