Entrepreneurs saying no to growth?
Some crazy lifestyle entrepreneurs do.Chetan Mahajan
“No, I don’t want growth.”
Those words sounded like a sin to me, a TIE member fresh out of Kellogg back in 2007. I was talking with my friend Ajay Sud. Ajay and his Partner Rajesh Ojha had built a fabulous brand and business over a decade of hard work. They had set up a chain of resorts called Banjara Camps. It had grown to four locations in Himachal. They had proven that franchising would work. And their word-of mouth and repeat business was legendary.
And here was Ajay saying no to investment or further growth.
“But why would you not want to grow?” I asked. “VC's will be happy to invest in Banjara.”
“What would I grow for?”
“The Banjara name would get bigger. You would earn more. You could be one of the biggest names in hospitality in India.”
“And to achieve this growth I would have to form a board, be answerable to others. I would have to live and work in Delhi – or spend a lot more time there. I would have targets, pressure and milestones?”
“Yes, but that's how you grow.”
“And let’s say I succeed. Grow the business and make my investor and myself rich. Then I would have a lot more money. What would I do?”
“You could do whatever you want.”
Ajay smiled. “But I already do whatever I want. I earn enough to happily support my family. I live in the mountains. I trek and travel all over. I do photography. If I already do all this with what I have, why should I screw myself?”
I sputtered and fumed, but couldn’t convince him.
Over the next 8 years, I went on to run two start-ups. I raised 4 Million dollars in VC funding for one. I reported to a board. I did the whole targets, pressure, milestones thing. Then in 2015 I packed my bags and moved to the mountains. Up here I had no job offers or career options. My so-called plan was to write books and figure things out as we went. As Lao Tzu said “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
I found myself without a corporate label. In a professional vacuum, I sought inspiration. As a published author, I am deeply passionate about good writing. In addition, teaching and entrepreneurship were wired into me. I realized that writing retreats were a niche international phenomena, but India was not on the map. India offered a few, very amateurish retreats but nothing with strong presence and credibility.
Even within India there was an unmet need. I knew many people who dreamed of writing a book but never got around to it. I had been one of them before 2014. Yet most Indians had never heard of a writers workshop - leave alone a retreat. Opportunity screamed, and I realized I was in the perfect place – the Himalayas.
I started tentatively with a 3-day retreat. I fashioned the content myself from scratch with the goal “get your book done”. Two of the six participants finished their first drafts within weeks. One participant – Jennifer – extended her stay by two weeks and wrote and wrote.
That one event has grown into multiple themes and formats. We now host retreats on blogging and podcasting and also one for kids. Writing is core and we have retreats for the wannabe writer and for the advanced author. We partner with well-known names such as Manu Joseph, Mariam Karim Ahlawat and Kiruba Shankar. Our word of mouth is great and referrals are growing. We now host an event every month.
I enjoy each retreat. I meet other people passionate about writing. Some deep friendships are formed. I love pursuing my passion while living a relaxed lifestyle in the mountains. I have made my hobby a profession, and am living a life I had only dreamed of.
The Himalayan Writing Retreat is a lifestyle business*. I seem to be onto a good thing ripe for growth. With online education doing raging business, the growth path is obvious. The other day an entrepreneur friend visited from the city. "It’s time for you to go digital. Plan for 10X growth in the next 3 years." he said.
I smiled and told him I wasn’t interested. Deja Vu.
My dream is not growth. My dream is my life right now. Our family life is unrecognizable from three years ago. As a honcho in the city I was rich in some ways but poor in many others.
Besides, I want my writer-participants to have real, physical experiences - not virtual ones. They need to feel the cold air in their face, see the green rolling hills before their eyes, feel the inspiration. Silicon valley still hasn’t figured out how to put a real mountain online.
*To realize why it’s called a lifestyle business, read my last blog post at https://yourstory.com/read/ddc752cb7f-a-father-s-motorcycle-diary .