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They say “Grown men don’t cry”. I did, in the initial stages of becoming an entrepreneur!
Flash back – thirteen years ago – when I was at the peak of my corporate career as the Chief Operating Officer for India and South Asia of India’s leading, Swiss-owned tourism company Kuoni Destination Management. Things could not have been better, but for the internal nudge most mornings when I reached work, “What are you contributing today?”
I have always believed that you should quit when you are at the top – in no matter what you do. Quit, not out of defeat or insecurity, but out of the confidence in your own self to be able to start something from ground zero all over again. Thoughts of building a small, boutique resort which challenged traditional norms of hospitality had been taking shape in my mind for over a decade by then.
So I took the plunge from the corporate world to entrepreneurship in 2008, when I started building the Tree of Life Resort & Spa, Jaipur. It was just 13 villas on 7 acres of land, 15 kilometers outside Jaipur city. Well-wishers and industry friends cautioned me on the business model and my loan for the project was rejected in the first round on account of ‘project not being viable’. I pushed on, believing in my gut feeling that this is what travelers of the future would look out for – space, privacy, calm. And yes, it was in those days of insecurity that I occasionally cried, wondering if I had made the right move.
Fast forward to 2020 – the Tree of Life Resorts is presently operating nine properties across the country, and we should be closing another four this year. Over the last decade we have stuck to the non-negotiables that I started out with a decade ago: Stay small – each of our properties are between 10 and 20 keys; Away from city centers – we will always be 10 to 15 kilometers away from the noise and crowds of city centers; Pet-friendly – all our resorts welcome our four legged furries; No buffets – we prefer to serve our food fresh and on the table. And post Corona, while hotels and resorts try and adjust to the ‘new normal’ in travel, we have been practicing these norms for a decade now!
What did it take for me to do what I did?
First – a blind trust in my own self and in what I was doing. Yes, I occasionally wavered, but not once did I lose confidence in the path I had set out for myself. I just knew it had to work.
Next – I was not in it for ‘big bucks’, like most entrepreneurs are. I wanted to create a space which I believed in and have fun operating it. Even today, while the hospitality industry operates on ROI – Return on Investment, I operate the Tree of Life Resorts on ROE – Return on Emotion. I want my guests to enjoy what we offer and to keep coming back to us. Money is important, but it does not drive us. So yes, improvise – but do not waiver from what you believe in.
And, most importantly for me – the sort of people I associate with in business. Both sides must have a similar belief system, otherwise no matter how lucrative the deal is, I walk away from it. The challenges as the Tree of Life Resort grows are actually related only to growth – how ’big’ do we want to get? Size matters, but ‘small’ is also a size! I see us staying in the boutique niche that we have carved for ourselves. The number of properties under the brand is not important – how satisfied are our customers; do we continue to believe in what the brand stands for; are we able to look after our team members to the best of our availability; are we considered good business partners – these are the priorities for us as we move ahead.
- The article was originally published in Career Ahead October 2020 issue.