It has been a little more than one year since I took the leap to pursue my dream of trekking and adventure. I decided to quit my well paying corporate job as a business head and took the path less traveled, well, trekked in my case. I officially founded TrekNomads with my friend and former colleague Mahendra Rathod. A community that curates premium and all-inclusive trekcation experiences with a core focus on safety, quality and sustainability.
I’m penning down a few thoughts of what these 365+ days have been for me.
How I traded the desk for the wild?
If you asked me 10 years ago where I thought my career would take me, I would have answered: “I’d be an entrepreneur.” I’ve always been a person trying to look for solutions to problems we face on a daily basis, for as long as I can remember and that is how I started my first startup — BookMyInterest about 5 years ago. Post the acquisition of BookMyInterest by Xoxoday in 2016, I went on to work with the latter where I understood a lot more about the startup ecosystem. I would like to thank Xoxoday Co-Founders Sumit Khandelwal, Manoj Agarwal, Kushal Agarwal, and Abhishek Kumar.
What I also did during my time at Xoxoday was nurture the one passion that was extremely close to my heart — Trekking. Something that I have been doing for most of my life. After multiple discussions with Mahendra Rathod, who is my partner and also a trekking enthusiast, I decided to give this a try and build a trekking community. This was the beginning of TrekNomads.
Over the next 2 years, I took more than 500 people on multiple treks. From colleagues to friends to friends of friends etc. we started nurturing the idea of comfortable trekking (something that this industry lacked as the idea of comfort + wilderness did not go hand-in-hand). People loved the concept and we realized it was time to make it go all out.
The Conviction of Turning Passion into Profession!
Taking the plunge with my first startup BookMyInterest was a total leap of faith. I knew where the business was heading but there was something missing. Although everything went well, there was one piece of the puzzle that didn’t quite fit. I realized what that was when I was evaluating the way forward for TrekNomads. The missing puzzle was conviction.
Trekking was my passion, it was my happy place, it reflected who I was as a person and there was nothing that could convince me otherwise. I knew that this was it. Having said that, leaving a well-paid job and stepping out of my comfort zone (once again) was definitely the first challenge. I took a couple of months to assess the uncertainties, risks, and challenges that would accompany this decision. Mapped out the worst-case scenarios, spoke to a few of my mentors, and decided to jump right in with Mahendra and Malavika as my strong pillars of support.
The Beginning of my Second Innings.
In April 2019, I quit my job and kick-started TrekNomads. I was extremely particular about everything. Although we had worked out the proof of concept, viability, and partners & customer base, I knew I had to stay on top of the game. The first thing I did right after quitting my job was to complete my mountaineering course. I gave it my best and completed the 28-day course from JIM&WS with an ‘A’ grade. This course wasn’t easy. Since the program was run by the Indian Army, the training was strict, disciplined, and hard (which is an understatement, to be honest). It did take me back to the good old days when I was an NCC Cadet. Upon returning from the program, I had to get my company registered. After pitching out several names for the company, we decided to go with ‘ALEMAARI’, which loosely translates to Nomad in Kannada. There couldn’t be a better word to describe us and what we stand for.
Building and Raising TrekNomads!
I am a firm believer in getting basics right. I knew that if I had to make this more sustainable and long-lasting, I would have to build a firm foundation. As the founder, my first priority was to get our business recognized. I knew that this would help me go that extra mile to instill trust in my customers. We got recognized by both Startup Karnataka & Startup India and got DIPP certification. We even got incubated by Mobile 10X — IAMAI.
My second priority was to ensure that every step we took was authorized and legal. For an industry such as trekking, especially in India, getting permits, guides, etc. is not something that people/amateur groups are accustomed to. I wanted to ensure that every trek we organized was authorized with necessary permits.
Priority three, also something that we are extremely proud of was to ensure that our ‘Nomads’ would always be safe when they trekked with us. To do this, we introduced no-cost insurance as an inclusive of the trek package. From 1-day treks to 2-day treks and multiple-day treks, all departures had insurance as a complementary inclusion. We also started to notice that our competitors followed suit but gave it at an extra cost, but, we were still ahead in terms of the benefits as insurance was made no cost and inclusive of the cost.
One thing that I was exceptionally particular about was — delivering excellent customer experience. More often than not, we, as business owners are glued to making profits that we forget the one thing that holds it all together — Customer Experience. We built a simple review and rework model that helped us gauge feedback, understand what each of our customers had to say, and implement the good points as and when we came across them. Every decision we made revolved around our customers, and we began to realize that while acquiring new customers is essential, the key is to build a more loyal customer base. In the past year, we saw 43% recurring customers and over 30% from referrals. Coming back to my point — when you treat your customer right, they will keep coming back to you and they will bring their friends along.
Navigating the Ups and Downs.
The past year has been incredible, as a business we have achieved several milestones. We introduced International Treks, Treks for specially-abled children, customized corporate outings, conducted women-only treks, and completed over 10+ departures to the Himalayas during peak season. We were on a roll. But, we did see our fair share of downs as well — for eg. We were not able to focus on our departures to the Western Ghats as I was focusing more on Himalayan and International treks and was away most of the time. Lesson learned — Delegation.
After we began to realize that we could not leave western ghats treks behind, we began focusing on building a team of trek leads. As the crux of this business lies in customer safety and experience, we came up with a thorough onboarding process. This included observation (as co-lead in treks that we used to lead) and testing trek leads on their knowledge, humility and leadership skills before getting them onboard, etc.
Changing myself for the better.
I’ve learned a whole lot in the past year. From professionally to intellectually and personally. I have built some strong positive characteristics that a desk job would never have taught me. Being in the mountains was satisfying and fulfilling, and it has taught me to focus and build smaller aspects of myself that would help me in the bigger picture. From focusing on completing one task at a time and making sure it is of quality, to ensure that customer’s feedback is taken and applied as and when needed. Most importantly, letting go of things that constantly bother me, this has helped me clear my mind out.
I also decided to pursue the challenge of climbing the seven summits of the world and started a project that is dear to my heart — Project Seven Summits by the Alemaari. I planned and completed my first summit to Mount Kilimanjaro in October 2019.
Learnings from the mountains.
As I always say, Mountains decide whether you can climb/summit her or not. So no matter who you are, where you come from, and what kind of expertise you have, you are just a mere human when in nature or when you’re in the mountains. All we can do is focus on putting our best foot forward, giving everything we do 100%, and achieving our goals. If something fails or doesn’t get through, it is fine. Remember failure is not final. In giving something your 100% you would have had a memorable journey to cherish. Plan to Workout and Workout to Plan.
All businesses across the world have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourism sector has taken the biggest hit and lost 3 good months of business and may lose out on the next 3–6 months as the world recovers post-lockdown. It will take long for people to feel safe to hit the roads and the mountains largely because of the second wave predicted in July/August.
I am foreseeing a more local/regional travel/trek trend post-lockdown as people will refrain from traveling across the country particularly to avoid air/rail travel. There will also be a paradigm shift from budgeted cost-effective packages to premium healthy, safe, and comfortable experiential packages.
TrekNomads has always been a community that curates premium and all-inclusive Trekcation experiences with a core focus on quality, safety, and sustainability.
We have also started a campaign for the trekking community to help the locals sustain this pandemic. Anyone can be a part of this campaign #NomadsAgainstCorona.
Expressing my gratitude
As humanity fights this pandemic, it is important that we acknowledge and remain thankful for the entire medical fraternity, police force, security, and the Corona Warriors. Being a part of Corona Warriors Taskforce myself, all I can say is that it has been a humbling experience to be of service to our city, state and country in this pandemic. A special thanks to Mrs.Malavika Avinash, Major Pradeep Shoury Arya and Major Prashaant for giving me an opportunity to be a part of the team.
As a way to show our gratitude, all we can do at this point is be responsible citizens and respect the efforts put in by all those people outside by following the lockdown rules to Stay Home and help people who are in need in every way possible.