Narayana Menon on how he co-founded a start-up that crafts authentic travel experiences, supports micro-entrepreneurship and promotes responsible tourism
This brand marketer quit his high-flying career to follow his passion to create socio-economic impact through his experiential travel platform. This is his #PassionToPaycheck story.
“I always had a non-conformist streak in me,” says Narayana Menon K, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Wandertrails, an experience-led travel marketplace. From putting together gully cricket tournaments to organising college fests, Narayan always found himself in the thick of action outside the purview of academics.
Finding his calling
He exhibited an entrepreneurial streak at a very early age. In fact, as a child he spent evenings sitting on the veranda with his younger brother, bouncing off ideas on business ventures they could start when they grew up. Every day, a new business idea excited them. A few years later, when his work took him to new places across the globe, he immersed himself in the diverse culinary and cultural experiences indigenous to the place. Narayan says, “These conversations and experiences which were always at the back of my mind transitioned into a strong passion to do something that could effect a socio-economic change, both at a macro and micro level.” So 10 years into his well-paying job, when he decided to quit to start up, no one batted an eyelid.
While there are those who believe they are making a difference in the world through armchair activism, Narayan is more of a doer. “There are only a few among the millions who muster the guts to cross over and walk the talk. I wanted to be one among them,” he says.
While becoming an entrepreneur was something that he had foreseen, he adds, “It is important for me to recognise that the coming together of a strong co-founding team made it happen.” The aforementioned team includes Vishnu Menon K, Sruti Ramesh Chander, Pranav Kumar Suresh and Hari Gangadharan Nair, besides Narayan, who happen to be friends first. Vishnu who is the CEO of Wandertrails, is Narayan’s younger brother.
Adding the oft-forgotten elements to travelling
His desire to foster a positive socio-economic change led him to co-found Wandertrails, an experiential travel platform that allows travellers to discover and indulge in bespoke experiences authentic to that destination. So these could include going on a ghost trail through the spooky village of Kuldhara in Rajasthan, staying with a performing theatre troupe and learning theatre at Pondicherry, going on a veena trail in Tamil Nadu to see how the stringed instrument is made and learning about its significance in music, or tasting 40 varieties of tea while staying in the tea estates of Munnar.
Wandertrails has 4,500+ handpicked experiential stays and 4,000+ curated local activities, with a supplier network of 4,700+, and these numbers are growing rapidly.
These experiential stays and activities have been crafted to meet the aspirations of the new-age traveller. In keeping with its tagline, ‘Discover the Real’, Narayan says, “The experiential stays and partners listed on the platform are carefully chosen after being evaluated on four non-compromisable parameters. The first is the uniqueness of the location. The second is the aesthetics or the legacy behind the property or the experience. Third includes activities that are intrinsic and have a deep-rooted local flavour. The fourth and the final parameter is the nature of the host.” Focusing on these four parameters has enabled Wandertrails to provide an experience that is totally organic and beyond any run-of-the-mill itinerary printed on glossy pamphlets.
Wandertrails currently has over 50,000 monthly active users on its platform and its Facebook page has a following of more than 7,80,000 travel enthusiasts. A majority of Wandertrails’ users fall into the millennial group. The co-founder says, “The quality and efficiency of our services can be gauged from the fact that we have a customer Net Promoter Score (NPS) of over 80 per cent with a good number of bookings being driven by referrals and repeats. But statistics aside, the real triumph is in enabling our customers to transition from being just a tourist to a traveller through these meaningful experiences.”
Primarily a B2C player, Wandertrails also supports a B2B model focused on corporate offerings where they redefine team outings, employee rewards and recognitions and corporate getaways by adding in the experiential quotient. The next big task for the team is to scale up the business model, from being present across 16 states and 85 destinations to over 22 states and 125 destinations by the end of 2018.
When the passion to create impact is a winning equation
Narayan believes curbs on the travel industry are not the right way to go about reducing the negative impact of mindless mass tourism on the fragile natural ecosystem. He says, “We need to drive more awareness and put into practice the fundamentals of eco-friendly, responsible and sustainable tourism.
This is exactly what Wandertrails consciously does. “We would like to think of our partners as micro-entrepreneurs. So we forge a partnership and the conversations are not limited to just business. For instance, wherever we see an opportunity or a possibility, we encourage our partners to do organic farming.” Narayan explains that the impact of one simple move like this is multi-fold. On one side, it helps to generate local employment, sustain agriculture, reduce the carbon footprint, gain additional revenue, and thereby revive the local economy, and on the other side the travellers get to enjoy safe and healthy food cooked from locally grown vegetables, which again adds to the authentic experience.
The other significant way in which Narayan is creating socio-economic impact is by enabling the micro-entrepreneurs to hop on to the digital bandwagon. “A significant number of our partners are often those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, which means they do not have the resources to leverage digital presence. By creating a digital identity for them on Wandertrails, we are enabling easier discoverability, which helps them generate more revenue. About 30 percent of our partners did not have a digital presence until we made it happen for them. We hold these little victories close to our hearts.”
The Wandertrails team consists of 65 people, excluding the co-founders, “It might sound very basic, but it’s a great feeling to be able to bring together a fantastic team who are committed to the cause, and to make an impact in their lives as employers. ” says Narayan.
On job satisfaction, achievements, and a positive outlook
An MBA graduate from the University of Abertay, Dundee in the UK, Narayan has led the marketing division for well-known companies such as Sanovi, Novell, IBM and Toonz Animation. He also had a great run as a brand marketer and won accolades at various industry forums. He is also a passionate writer and a published author. He has published a short story as part of an anthology titled Picture Perfect. His opinion pieces have been published in leading dailies and magazines. He is currently working on a collection of short stories.
However, according to him the thrill and satisfaction that entrepreneurship brings is unlike anything else. “Being able to combine my passion, structuring a sustainable business model, and being able to touch the lives of thousands of people is unparalleled,” he shares.
He says his biggest achievement is organising and scaling a fragmented supply market and technologically empowering the players while catering to changing demands and staying rooted to sustainable practices. If there is one thing he has learnt as an entrepreneur, it is this, “As entrepreneurs, we should focus on value creation and not valuation. If the former happens, the latter will follow suit.”