11 Things I learnt about business when hiking the Himalayas

A couple of months ago, I did a contrary thing, I went hiking in the Himalayas in the monsoon, when the meaning of torrential rain translates to pounding waterfalls, melting glaciers, and dangerous landslips. Why did I drop everything and fly across the globe to do this? And was it just to claim a business expense? I did it to walk in an area that is only open in the monsoon, and with a group of friends who rarely have the chance to take time off together.
So what do a bestselling author, a tech startup founder, a professional dancer and a head of a IT multinational have in common? We never forgot our beginnings as a “gang of four” girls from the early days of India’s silicon valley, and we never stopped looking out for each other.

  1. In business, strike when the iron’s hot. There is no convenient time to start a business, the best time can be when it’s difficult. The Valley of Flowers in Garhwal Himalayas is only open for a small window in the year, and if you want to see the most flowers, you must go in the midst of the monsoon.
  2. It takes all sorts to hike an adventure and there is no one type of person who can start a successful business. We felt we were fit and unique to be doing this trek — but on the hike, we met people from teenagers just out of school, to grannies walking up in slippers. If you want a walking feast of diversity, go hiking the Indian himalayas — the entire spectrum of adventurous hikers are represented, from all over India and the world.
  3. Where there are people, there is business. Ghangharia, the staging point for the Valley of Flowers, is purely a tourist village, it is accessible only from June to October. From hotels, to masseurs from the plains, to cooks making only parathas, and hot water providers. Yes, we were ready to pay extra for a couple of buckets of smoke scented hot water. What niche can you fill in a market where there are significant constraints, but a deluge of buyers?
  4. If you are leading provider of services, you better not get complacent about your customer service. The provider we used had a good reputation, and this was their niche, they had the website, they had the app, they provided the service — but they and their staff were rude, unhelpful and dismissive — as they knew we had paid the (exorbitant) fee, and had nowhere else to go at 4000m. If you are dealing with people, it’s good if you and your staff actually like people, despite the cold, the damp and the high altitude.
  5. Be ready for high altitude sickness — above 8000 feet, or 3000m , mountain sickness is alarmingly common, easily treatable and easily fatal if ignored. In business, keep an eye out for symptoms of oxygen deprivation aka cash shortages, and take action quickly, or it can be too late.
  6. Mind the company you keep, spend your time with people you care about, and sometimes, stay away from your family and immediate circle. While we are friends, we all have different careers, and come from different backgrounds. In business, diversity pays huge dividends, with different points of view, come different opportunities.
  7. Get the right boots — and if you need repairs, find a repairer, or “mochi’ quickly. You need the right boots to walk day after day, the most unglamourous part of your outfit is your footwear. In business, too, make sure you have the right tools, processes and systems in place, or you may not be able to stay the distance.
  8. Turning off that smart phone, can be the best thing you can do. There was no mobile coverage on the trek, so we had to use our phones as cameras only. Have real conversations with your companions, in business, don’t rely so much on technology that you forget your face to face interactions with your team, your customers or your contractors. Real conversations with people you care about are priceless for your health and your business success.
  9. Forget the multi-tasking. If you don’t watch your step, you are going to trip and maybe plummet down hundred of feet into a churning torrent. Relearn to really focus on one thing at a time — there is value to be gained, and pleasure. If you want to take a photo, you need to stop, put down your trekking poles, take out your phone/camera and then shoot your ‘casual’ selfie. Or you can ask someone else to take that ‘selfie’, so that you don’t lose your life in the effort of an awesome shot. There is no selfie in business — ask for help when you need it.
  10. If the air is thin, you need to take small steps, carry less, and ascend slowly. And you will enjoy the hike. Plan your business likewise, do what is appropriate for you and your market, not what is successful for the latest inflluencer or marketing guru. What works in New York, is not going to work in Govindghat — at least climbing wise.
  11. Take care of those around you — not just your companions, but also the local people who are trying to make a living. Don’t be miserly on the small stuff. When you have paid $100 on extra baggage to the airline, don’t grudge the Rs 800 to the pony man who is carting up your luggage to Ghangaria. Take care of your employees and contractors, and your business will prosper.

I could go on, but I’m already planning my next adventure, being an adventure writer is good that way. After all, all business is an adventure.

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