I’ve met doctors and I’ve met lawyers, and they all say they have jobs that help them sleep like a baby. I’ve met chartered accountants and I’ve met builders, astrophysicists and engineers, architects and chefs, all doing exactly what their 11-year-old selves had wanted. However, ask each of them if there was one thing they’d throw away their entire career for, something that would grant them fulfilment as well as unabashed happiness. A guilty-pleasure, if you may. That unanimous fantasy is travel journalism.
Here’s a man who went after the global dream with a vengeance. And oh by Magellan, did that risk pay off. The awe-inspiring chronicles of this rolling stone, Ajay Jain, made sure his one true ambition gathers no moss. His journeys of discovery and self-discovery as a traveller, blogger and entrepreneur, mark the journey of Kunzum.com: at first, a travel blogger’s diary, then the wildly popular website which led to the opening of Kunzum Travel Café. Today, Kunzum is a virtual as well as physical landmark and reference point for people who like their travel served raw and real.
“I just woke up one day and decided to….
Leaving the nest of a secure job is usually how the greatest journeys begin, and Ajay was faced with the same crucial fork in the road. The fork was exceptionally obtuse, as he was not only an accomplished journalist at the very heart of his field, but also a popular tech blogger at the time.
“I had been writing on business, technology and matters related to youth for a few years. My tech blog, Techgazing.com, was the most popular tech blog in the country at that time. But overnight, I discontinued it as I was yearning to be a travel writer. I figured travel content could create a legacy of its own rather than yet another gadget review. So, I just woke up one day in June 2007 and decided to be a travel writer,” Ajay says.
Conversation with the gods
Deciding to perch on a Himalayan wonder, somewhere at an altitude of 4,551 metres, sure invokes deliciously crazy things in people. Ajay was one of the many who go up there to have inspiration whack their whimsies into action.
“My first journey as a ‘travel writer’ was to Lahaul Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, within a few days of my decision. The trip included crossing Kunzum La- a spectacular junction in my journey - literal, and of life. I had never stood on such high ground; it seemed I was with the gods. The sheer beauty of the landscape and the overall experience just strengthened my resolve to pursue this profession,” Ajay says.
So moving was the experience, that he came back and branded his travel blog ‘Kunzum’.
Ajay explains how he never intended for Kunzum to become a brand – to him, it was more of an enterprise to show Indians and the world how one needn’t go too far in search of ethereal beauty. “In a way, Kunzum started as a social enterprise. I wanted my blog to do its bit to sell the India Travel Story to the wider world, promote tourism and create sustainable livelihoods,” he adds. As of today, the site directly reaches over 70,000 people, and many more through shares and forwards.
Being an entrepreneur in spirit, though, I could never stop at just writing content. I ventured into Kunzum as if I were on a journey, and just like any trip, I allowed myself to be surprised at every milestone. This is how ‘Kunzum - the business’ evolved.
When wanderlust met business acumen
Under the Kunzum name, Ajay began exploring everything else he could do for to help his love for travel along.
I started writing books and these were published under the imprint Kunzum.
In 2009, he took up a space in south Delhi’s trendy district, Hauz Khas Village, to set up a gallery for his photographic art prints. The gallery was as galleries went: with fair footfalls of some connoisseurs, and others who weren’t.
...And when acumen met opportunism!
“One day, over homemade dosas at a friend’s place, the idea of the Kunzum Travel Café was born. We did the math and realised our downside would only be the raw material cost of the coffee, tea and cookies. We were anyway running the space as a gallery with staff, which was trained to make coffee. The café did not have any additional overheads,” Ajay explains.
What fits right into Hauz Khas’ artsy landscape as a beloved haunt is that it really is a jaunt, taking one far away from the city’s brouhaha as soon as one enters. The walls continue to be the gallivanter’s gallery. The floor space, though, is like a “face-to-face Facebook” for travellers, photographers, filmmakers, writers, musicians and other creative folk.
The place soon became the talk of the town, turning it into a hub for events. Sponsorships from brands followed, giving the café PR that money could not have possibly bought.
“The decision was strategic from one angle: when people come in for coffee, they will see my books and prints, and that would lead to sales. That happened, and lots more too. ‘Kunzum - the brand’ today would not be as known but for the café,” Ajay notes.
Cutting the monthly paycheque in half
Did it feel like treading on thin ice, in order to follow this unstoppable yet unpredictable passion?
“To be honest, I am prone to decisions that may not always pass the test of rationality. Yes, financial security is important; I ensure I have a reserve before jumping into choppy waters. My philosophy is that if things go bad, I can always go back to a secure job or business environment. Till then, I do what I feel is a more satisfying way of leading life, without worrying about chasing paycheques,” Ajay says.
But, luckily, it hasn’t ever come down to that, and it doesn’t look like it will. “Due to the experimental nature of our business, we don't have a steady revenue curve but our revenues have been growing by at least 50 per cent for the last five years,” he adds.
Ajay Jain’s top three hacks at changing swiftly the traveller, blogger, and entrepreneur hats
Hear the top three cheats right from the horse’s mouth. Follow them, and there is no reason why your blog won’t make business sense too.
First, address the following questions: Why am I blogging? Who is my audience? Why would they consume my content? How will I market my blog to get to the desired audience? Bloggers must be multitaskers, and have a grip on writing, photography, videography maybe, a bit of technology, marketing, accounts and design. Most bloggers will have to do all these themselves; it is not easy to afford to hire someone to do it.
Once it does start grabbing eyeballs like you had planned, you must strike the iron when it is hot. “You cannot just rely on eyeballs alone to get you ample advertising revenue. Be enterprising. This could include books, e-books, consulting, events, content syndication and speaking engagements. The blog can be the springboard to open other avenues for you,” Ajay adds.
You may have flat tyres, but these only create pauses, not stops
“Get real!” he exclaims.
There is no shortcut to building traffic. You have to wait it out and have to be pragmatic about a lot of things including finances and your own limitations as a creative person. Perseverance, dedication and patience will be your best friends on the path to success.