ADVENTURE PULSE hopes to get people from across the world to love the great outdoors
Integrating the textbook approach of what they learned during their MBA course with their passion for trekking and mountaineering, two young Puneites have launched a startup called ADVENTURE PULSE that hopes to get people from across the world to love the great outdoors, writes Huned Contractor.
At a ti me when t he youth not only have surplus cash to spend, but are also keen to push some adrenaline into their lives, it makes business sense to get into a venture that offers the joy of trekking and mountaineering. That’s the thought behind Pune’s start-up called Adventure Pulse, which recently made news by successfully leading the largest contingent of Indians to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the continent of Africa. As many as 17 climbers made it to the height of 19,341 feet. “For us, it spelt an astounding 95 per cent success ratio, where the average summit rate is no more than 50 per cent on a mountain like Kilimanjaro. Our team had 18 members and only one of them had to turn back just short of the summit,” says Samir Patham, the expedition leader. Incidentally, the team also had 10-year-old Aryaa Bhatia, who was accompanied by his mother. “He is now the youngest Indian-American to have reached the summit of Kilimanjaro,” Patham informs. In this interview, the founders of Adventure Pulse, Samir Patham and Sauraj Jhingan, recount their experience of having flagged off such a unique start-up.
Could you give a background of Adventure Pulse?
We started Adventure Pulse primarily looking at the incredible potential the outdoor adventure segment had to offer, and at the same time pursuing our passion for climbing as a natural extension of what we loved doing. We met in 2005, when we were both pursuing our MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, Pune, and discovered a mutual inclination towards spending less time in class and more time outside. As a business project, while other student managers were studying the 5P’s of marketing or playing the ‘stock market’, we found ourselves coming up with business plans for an adventure company, much to our teacher’s shock. In fact, we set up the first adventure club of its kind in the institute and regularly took our batch mates for treks to the hills and forts of the Sahyadri mountain range surrounding Pune. To be brutally honest, at the time, any thought of setting up an adventure company was a fantasy. Like the rest of our batch, we got caught up in the placement process and picked up corporate jobs. Sauraj eventually ended up at Standard Chartered Bank as a regional manager and I was working with Infosys BPO as a business human resource manager. Interestingly, our corporate careers were short-lived, as after a short stint of about five years, we were overwhelmed by the sheer monotony of it all. On a leap of faith, and incredible amount of support from family and friends, we quit our respective jobs and bravely set forth to set up Adventure Pulse, our very own adventure company in 2011. Today, it’s a private limited adventure and training company that specializes in trekking
and mountaineering expeditions across the world from India, Nepal, Africa, Russia and France. In addition, we have also established our credentials in the corporate development training space in the form of Outdoor Management Development Programs (OMDP) for corporates and educational institutions. We focus on taking adventure sports to a completely new level by not just promoting adventure sports in India but also combining it with the basic principles of management such as leadership development and team management.
What prompted you to start a company with a specific focus on mountaineering?
Both of us, having been brought up in military families, had the opportunity and exposure to adventure sports from a very young age. From trekking though the Indian Himalayas to rappelling down steep cliff faces, we not only enjoyed the thrill of being outdoors, but began to appreciate the role adventure sports can play in individual development. At the time, there was a major paradigm shift taking place in India’s corporate sector, where the focus on employee development was shifting from the traditional classroom format to a more experiential methodology of training. This provided us with a unique opportunity of not just specializing in mountaineering, but combining our passion with our educational qualification, to establish ourselves in this new corporate training space.
What were the initial challenges in starting the company?
Taking that leap of faith and having the courage to leave a monthly salary and a well-paying job, to branch out and start up our own business venture, required tremendous amount of guts. In addition, when we launched Adventure Pulse in 2011, this was in the midst of an economic recession. The popular opinion, especially of our erstwhile colleagues, was to wait, take our time and then look at it. This of course was from the few that actually understood why we were looking at leaving a cushy job.
What was the capital required? And how was it arranged?
The start-up capital required was 1 lakh, but we were looking at registering a private limited company with a total investment requirement of 5 lakhs. The finance came through in equal part contribution from the principal directors, on account of the money we had saved up during our short career stints. We intentionally set up Adventure Pulse as a private limited firm, despite the additional statutory requirements and associated fees, as we believed that by establishing a strong foundation we would be able to grow, incorporating additional members on the board who would be able to add intrinsic value to the start-up.
How many excursions have been successfully completed so far?
In the last eight years, we have conducted expeditions to some extremely niche destinations in the segment of trekking and mountaineering, including over a dozen treks in the Ladakh region. We have led six expeditions to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as expeditions to Mount Elbrus in Russia and Mount Blanc in France. We have organised over 38 trekking expeditions to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, including taking the largest school contingent from India, as well as facilitated the Everest Base Camp trek
for one of the youngest trekkers from India at the age of six years. One of our achievements is that in the last three years, we have been one of the few companies in India to have conducted our own Mount Everest climbing expedition, in 2015 and 2017. Though we were unsuccessful in reaching the summit, the learning from this experience has been incredible. In 2018, we will be embarking on our third expedition to Mount Everest and have got the support and backing of one of the largest automobile industries in India, Force Motors Ltd.
What is your target plan to be able to grow in this sector?
Unlike other sectors, the travel and tourism industry in India is largely focused on cultural tourism. Adventure travel and tourism, which is a subsection of this industry, is extremely unorganized, and as a result, one finds it very difficult to establish or conform to classic textbook definitions of sector growth in this particular industry. Personally, for Adventure Pulse, our endeavour is to not only create opportunity for outbound tourism, but establish our credentials in order to attract adventure thrill-seekers from across the world for inbound adventure expeditions.
How do you get people to sign up for any excursion? Is it through social media or personal contacts?
There is a tremendous amount of investment done with respect to ensuring our customer experience and delight. Each one of our adventure programmes involves a large commitment to ensuring the physical and mental preparation of the trekkers/mountaineers, so that when they embark on an adventure, they are not disappointed. Our commitment to safety gives us a competitive advantage, thus ensuring that we get enough follow on business through personal references and recommendations. However, brand-building exercises are essential in order to promote these achievements, which therefore must be regularly promoted on our social media platforms, predominantly through our website, Facebook and Instagram. This also challenges us to come up with more creative visuals. The old adage, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’, does not hold true in today’s day and age. It is crucially important to not just do brilliant work, but to showcase it to its maximum potential.
What kind of investments are you looking at for growth?
We are definitely looking at investment at this point to be able to grow our digital presence and primarily our sales and marketing efforts. We are also very keen to add a few new niche destinations to our portfolio. We have some numbers in mind, which we have discussed with a couple of potential investors. However, we are not in a position right now to share those numbers.
What is the competition that you face in this niche sector?
Unlike traditional sectors, the fundamentals of economics in a highly competitive market do not exist yet. As I mentioned before, the adventure travel industry is still in its infancy, with tremendous potential for growth and development. Having said that, there is a fair amount of competition that has come up in this space, primarily because of technology, which has made it easier to reach people, and we only see the competition growing in the next few years.
What are the factors that give you an edge over other such companies?
In the last few years, quite a few local budget adventure operators have come up, operating in their own small regions like the Garwhals, Manali, Kumaon, etc. However, for us, we focus on a range of adventures worldwide, including Nepal, Ladakh, Russia, Africa, France and of course the Indian Himalayas, thus not restricting ourselves to a particular region or season. In addition, the clear distinction between two product lines – one being high-altitude trekking and mountaineering expeditions and the other being the outdoor corporate team-building programmes – helps us balance our revenue well. We also feel that our qualifications and experience in the corporate world enable us to deal with clients in a better way, and as a result our reference rate is very high. We also have good penetration in the HNI segment in India.