Ratan Tata’s hope in me kept my dream alive, says Faraway Tree founder who touched Rs 13 Cr turnover
As a teenager, Akshay Rawat lost his heart to the Andamans. And over the years, despite travelling to multiple places, the islands continued to dominate the dreams of this Navy officer’s son. All he wanted was to build a bespoke resort, the perfect getaway for people tired of city life. And, he managed to transform that dream into reality – with plenty of perseverance and backing from industrialist and investor Ratan Tata.
Akshay Rawat (left), Founder, Faraway Tree Hospitality Pvt Ltd. and Ratan Tata (right)
“I was in Class 7 (in 1995) when my father was posted to the Andamans. We moved to many other places but a part of me remained there,” says Akshay, who’s now 38 years old. In an interaction with SMBStory, he recalls that though a resort was on his mind since then, it took him more than two decades to turn it into a reality and found Faraway Tree Hospitality Pvt Ltd.
Chasing his dream
Akshay was young when he began thinking how he could make his dream come true. In 1998, when he was 17 years old, he boldly sent out emails to prominent businessmen, including Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson, sharing his dream and looking for a helping hand.
Help wasn’t forthcoming from those quarters; it was available closer home.
A few days later, he was walking on the promenade of the Mumbai US Club when he noticed a recognised person walk his dogs and drive off in a white Honda City. The man was Ratan Tata, and Akshay wondered if this man would understand what he wanted to do.
Akshay’s dream was not to build a chain and make a multimillion empire; he wanted to run one bespoke property that created a “from-the-heart”, unparalleled experience.
One day, when Ratan Tata was out for a walk again, he gathered his courage and approached the business magnate. “Sir, I have a dream and I would like to share it with you.”
To his surprise, Ratan Tata gave him his landline number and asked him to call. That day on, Akshay called up his office each day, even becoming good friends with the operator. However, he only got one response: “Sir is not available.”
But Akshay didn’t lose hope. After three months of calling, on December 28, 1998, he received the call that changed his life. “Come over, Boss has only 10 minutes,” he was told.
That 10-minute meeting spiraled into an hour!
Ratan Tata (left) and Akshay Rawat (right) in 2006
Ratan Tata gave him a hearing, and told him he didn’t really know how he could help but they should keep in touch. That led to a bond, and Akshay was encouraged to move ahead on his path.
He joined a TAJ management training programme in 2003 to pursue a career in the management sector. He worked in New Delhi for six months in the hospitality sector, but soon realised his heart wasn’t in it.
Turning the dream into a reality
In 2004, he decided to move to the Andamans and joined Jungle Resort to help in its business development. He worked there for a year, and then moved back to Delhi to open a resort in partnership. However, that deal didn’t last long.
I have had such instances where I signed deals but then broke them because they didn’t connect with me. I needed someone to have the same belief as me,” Akshay tells SMBStory.
In 2005, he returned to the Andamans and joined Jungle resort again, as fate would have it, he met Ratan Tata, who was at the resort for an RBI meeting. They ended up talking about his idea, and hope sprung again.
Akshay spent eight years in the same resort, heading the sales and marketing team, and felt like he was working towards his dream. He took the resort from a Rs 4 crore company to 22 crore until one day
when the news broke that some other company was going to acquire the resort.
I had hit a roadblock, and couldn’t think of what to do ahead. At that time, I couldn’t think of anyone else but Mr Tata, who could support me with my dream,” Akshay says.
He spoke to Ratan Tata about starting on the plan he had once discussed with him, and was surprised when the tycoon asked him to submit a proposal.
Akshay drafted a proposal in November 2014. In March 2015, he received 100 percent investment for his project, about Rs 2.5 crore - from Ratan Tata.
View of Something different- a beachside cafe
Elated beyond words, he started looking for the perfect location for his resort, but couldn’t find the right one. He decided to change track and begin with a restaurant and a travel company instead.
“I didn’t want to build something for the sake of it. I wanted to build my dream and for that I had to find the perfect location, which I couldn’t. So, I settled for a restaurant and a travel company, which I would say are one of a kind.”
In 2016, Akshay launched ‘Something different- A beach side cafe’ in Havelock Island. In under four years, the restaurant has really taken off. Despite the presence of various cafes nearby, Akshay says the “feel and ambience” of Something Different sets it apart. There is a footfall of 200 guest a day at the cafe.
“People throng the cafe for the great view and also for our special Thai curry and almond pudding,” he says.
Akshay’s Something different cafe has been ranked first by tripadvisor.com. His travel company has become one of the largest B2B operators in Andamans, catering to more than 5,000 passengers last year (2018-19) with a fleet of 10 Xylos, four tempos, and a large team of dedicated tour managers at Port Blair and Havelock.
He now employs more than 70 people across the restaurant and the travel company. The company has recorded an annual turnover of Rs 13 crore in 2018 and Akshay has repaid Rs 50 lakh out of the total invested amount to Ratan Tata saying that it was the right thing to do.
He invested in my belief and while I may repay this investment, I can never payback him for believing in me."
Akshay reveals that recently they became line producer for movies being shot in Andamans thereby, coordinating entire ground location for the shoot and arranging entire logistics, stay, and catering for the meals. He has handled Roy Kapur Films’ The Sky is Pink and Mani Ratnam’s Kadal to name a few.
The cast of The Sky is Pink at the cafe
Akshay may have been sidetracked, but he’s not lost sight of the dream he started with: the resort. However, he’s clear that he won’t compromise with the location. Till then, he’ll continue making tourists and travellers happy with Faraway Tree and Something Different.
“If I hadn’t met Mr Tata and he hadn’t given me his number, I may not have had the courage to continue on my dream,” he says, adding that he’s still dreaming of the day when he launches his dream project.
Ratan Tata’s hope in me kept my dream alive,” Akshay says.