Dream Genie

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Joshua Dawson makes
wishes come true

Like many of us, Joshua Dawson has to travel outside the province to make a living.

Here is his Facebook status, for December 3:

Up early again today. On my way to Fox Studio to surprise a cancer victim with a Dream Day! I hope she likes driving fast cars, animals, isn't afraid of heights and loves being pampered.

As may be apparent, Dawson has no ordinary job. He is the owner of the Experience Genie, a web site thats all about making peoples wildest dreams come true.

The site lists more than 25,000 unique experiences from all over the world. Corporations use it to browse reward travel and team building junkets. Tourists visit to get vacation ideas. And adventure travel operators list their experiences at the site, which pays its way through sponsored advertising.

To create buzz, the site invites visitors to browse dream experiences, make a wish, then invite their friends to vote for them. Once a month, the site selects a winner. Dawson then organizes Dream Day tours, four times per year, in which he visits major cities to make winners dreams come true.

Dawson travels to major North American cities to bring an unforgettable day to someone, usually suffering a life threatening illness or other major life challenge. In each city, he calls ahead to arrange coverage from at least one major news outlet. (The publicity drives visitors to his site, which pleases the advertisers, and the circle of life continues as nature intended.)

Dawson is in the middle of a tour right now that has already taken him to New York City, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, San Antonio and Houston. Still left on the itinerary are Tampa and Atlanta.

In each place we spend the first day surprising the person and doing their dream day, and the second day on network TV talking about it, Dawson said, in a telephone interview.

For example, in New York City, Dawson treated one lucky person to a helicopter tour of the city, horseback riding in Central Park, circus performer training and Hollywood stunt training. In Orlando, there was indoor skydiving, a dolphin swim and Richard Petty stock car racing. In Jacksonville, it was skydiving (real this time), horseback and ranch experience, monster truck driving and a Segway tour.

In all cases, the recipient is taken by surprise. The doorbell rings, theres the blue Genie and a cameraman, and the Dream Day begins. The lucky person is taxied for the day in either a Ferrari or Lamborghini sports car. The experience is hosted by the Genie, a striking figure in a bright blue mask, usually portrayed by Dawson. He is also accompanied by a camera person.

Its fun being the blue guy, Dawson said. When you walk around like that, you get quite the reaction. Its a $1500 silicone mask that moves with your face. People actually think its makeup, it looks so real. Youre a blue guy driving a Ferrari, so its a head-turner for sure!

Yeah, this is what Dawson does for a living. He has what is quite possibly the most unusual job on the planet.

Yeah, I hear that a lot, he says, laughing.

To understand how he arrived at this juncture, it helps to retrace Dawsons career path. He was born and raised in St. Johns and attended Memorial University, before moving to London to work with a large travel company called Sabre, which managed travel sites for airlines. He transferred with that company to Australia, all the time seeking out adventures and having fun not realizing he was conducting business research.

I got sick of being so far away from Newfoundland, Dawson said, so I moved to Toronto and started my own company, called Big Day Out. We sold dream experiences, mainly to corporate clients. We basically offered a catalog of unique things to do in various cities. The company did well, and we were tapped in different frequent flyer programs in the unique experiences component of their programs. One of them, the administrators of CIBC Aventura Visa, liked the concept so much that they bought the company, and hired me to operate the business for them.

He eventually left to work as an independent consultant, advising unique experience companies around the world on how to effectively promote themselves.

But I grew tired of semi-retirement, Dawson said with a chuckle, so I came back to Newfoundland three years ago and was approached by the provincial Department of Business, to work as their Principal Investment Advisor, tasked with attracting businesses to the province.

Dawson served in that position until recently, when he resigned, moved to Montreal and went back into business, launching the Experience Genie site. He had returned to his self-employed, unique-experience roots.

And it seems to be working. Dawsons company now has three full-time employees and six contractors managing the IT side of the business. He said the sale of his first company, Big Day Out, did not make him independently wealthy, but it did bring some measure of security.

I dont have to work as much now as I used to, he said, adding that he now has more freedom to listen to what his heart is saying.

Thats what Im trying to do with this company, he said. My last business was based on making money. With this one, I want to make money while giving it back. If I cant help people out or give back to society in some way, whats the point of it all?

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  • Michelle
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    Congratulations Joshua!!! This venture looks like a very exciting one to be involved in. Best of luck with it.