From corporate world to underwater expedition, this woman entrepreneur is living her dream
After quitting her corporate job, Nishi Srivastava started Mad Over Maldives, a travel expedition company, in 2021, which focuses primarily on ocean expeditions like snorkeling and scuba diving.
As she dived into the ocean near Dharavandhoo Island in Maldives during her diving lessons, Nishi Srivastava had an encounter with a majestic manta ray, a kind of fish, which glided past her. Its large, flat, diamond-shaped body and distinctive triangular pectoral fins made for an unforgettable sight, she recalls.
Srivastava couldn't help but feel that the brief encounter with the manta ray was a sign for her underwater journey.
“From working at the corporate office desk to becoming a professional rescue diver and exploring the wonders under the ocean, my life has changed for the better,” she shares with HerStory.
After quitting her corporate job in 2018, Srivastava started Craftsutra, a platform for artists and art lovers to learn different regional art and craft from experts. She then started a travel expedition company called Mad Over Maldives, focusing primarily on ocean expeditions like snorkeling and scuba diving.
“My main goal is to offer a genuine Maldivian experience that extends beyond the widely promoted water villas. Mad Over Maldives lets you explore the ocean, unveiling the enchanting underwater realm," she says.
Growing up in a family of engineers, Srivastava never thought of any other career option. She also went into a conventional engineering career and worked in the corporate world for six years.
“I had stability, promotions, and everything one wants from a job, but I was never happy. I just knew that I cannot keep doing this desk job for the rest of my life,” she says.
In 2020, amidst the Diwali festivities, Srivastava faced a life-altering event—a fire accident that confined her to a bed for a month. During this period, she experienced a profound epiphany, realising how easily humans take life for granted and tend to defer things they want to do for the future.
"During that month, she took a hard look at her life, realising that chasing milestones at the expense of personal happiness wasn't the way to go."
“I felt that if I want to do something I better do it now or it might be too late,” she adds.
After her recovery, she booked a solo trip to Maldives. While it was her first trip to an ocean, she saw a pamphlet for a whale shark expedition. Excited, she booked a slot for herself. However, she could not be a part of the expedition as she did not know swimming.
“I felt I was missing out on so much in life, and made up my mind to learn swimming,” she says.
However, despite her initial fear of water, Srivastava went snorkeling. She vividly remembers being so uneasy that she wore a life jacket even while sitting on the beach.
“In that moment, the pristine blue ocean was calling me. It all felt so magical,” she says.
Right after her first snorkeling experience, she was struck with the idea that Maldives is so much more than just overpriced villas. The trip changed her life as she found a purpose, and all she wanted to do was help others explore and find their purpose.
That is how she started Mad Over Maldives, a travel company, in 2021.
After returning, she learnt swimming and announced a women’s group trip with 14 solo women travellers in February 2021.
Calling it a turning point she says, “Witnessing these women, many of whom had never travelled solo or experienced the ocean, conquer their fears by swimming with sharks in the open sea filled me with confidence. It affirmed that what I was doing was impactful and beneficial. This experience fueled my determination to continue providing such transformative opportunities for others.”
The group did snorkeling at various reefs, encountering turtles and the vibrant marine life. However, the real highlight was snorkeling with sharks.
“For many, especially non-swimmers, snorkeling with the sharks was a unique and empowering achievement,” she adds.
Srivastava says that after that trip, there was no looking back. While planning more such snorkeling expeditions, she simultaneously completed her diver training and became a professional diver with expertise in night diving in 2023.
However, her journey so far has not been a bed of roses. She recalls that initially, her parents had some reservations about her unconventional career choice. But after witnessing her passion for oceans and diving, they were happy with her choice.
“Few years back, I could not have imagined all of this, but one never knows what destiny holds for them,” she says.
Srivastava adds that many people might think that being a brown woman diver in another country can be challenging. However, she has not faced any discrimination.
Talking about challenges as an entrepreneur, she says that its about how one chooses to see things in life.
“I started the business with all those how’s and ifs, and had nothing to fall back on if it failed. Such challenges and roadblocks did come and go but I chose to look at them as learnings which made my journey even better,” she says.
“I might not be an extremely good swimmer, but I am good at sinking deep in. So, it’s how you look at things,” she says with a hearty laugh.
Diving into a whole new world
Mad Over Maldives is a bootstrapped startup that offers two types of expeditions-snorkeling for non-swimmers or new swimmers and scuba diving. The Gurugram based startup also provides diving courses for which it has collaborated with top diving centers and instructors in the Maldives like Eco Dive Club in Maafushi, Fulidhoo Dive Center in Fulidhoo Island, and Blue World Mantastic Divers in Dharavandhoo.
“For those seeking certification, our trips provide the opportunity to become Open Water Certified or Advanced Open Water Scuba Divers,” she explains.
The startup has also introduced Liveaboard experiences–where the participants live on a boat for a week-long expedition. They sleep in cabins, have meals on the boat, and dive–all in one place.
“With a pre-decided route in the ocean, our liveaboard trips cater to about 20 divers, creating a seamless cycle of diving, dining, sleeping, and repeating–with three to four dives daily,” she adds.
The price for these expeditions depend on the nature of each trip. Snorkeling-based expeditions, inclusive of direct flights from Mumbai, commence at Rs 75,000.
“The starting price for diving expeditions is approximately Rs 1.25 lakh, encompassing all aspects, from diving activities to accommodation and meals,” she adds.
She further adds that the packages are generally pre-made for group trips. The duration of these expeditions varies depending on the destination and the activities included.
“Snorkeling-based expeditions typically last for 4 nights and 5 days, while diving expeditions are designed to be at least a week long,” she explains.
Speaking about her snorkeling trip with Mad Over Maldives, Nivedita Misra, who works as an assistant director at a fintech startup, says, “We saw beautiful corals dancing in the sunlight, giant turtles, moral eels, manta rays, reef sharks, lion fish, and many more. All in all, it was an excellent and perfect week, one that I would not want to change anything about.”
The startup has also launched a new vertical called Oceaon, which offers ocean expeditions worldwide.
Under the new segment, it is planning expeditions in Malapascua and Philippines, followed by Thailand and the Red Sea in 2024.
“The plan is to expand further, adding at least six new destinations to our roster of expeditions,” Srivastava says.
These expeditions run consistently throughout the year, with 3 to 4 every month. However, they are planning to scale it up to 6 to 8 expeditions in a month.
Talking about the target audience, she says, “Our target audience includes anyone who are keen on ocean exploration.”
Srivastava has a team of 14 people, which also includes trip leaders having expertise in different disciplines.
“While I don't go on every trip, I am actively involved, and I always try to add a personal and enriching touch to the experiences we offer,” she says.
Edited by Megha Reddy