Looking for a solo trekking experience? Or have plans to travel with your family or friends? Trekmunk offers you both the options – fixed departures where a person can join a fixed batch where the maximum batch size is 16 people or a customized trek, where they organize a trek for a group of friends or a family as a private group, irrespective of the number of people. Startup Dunya Interview Series – in Conversation with Mohit Goswami, Co-founder, Trekmunk.
Tell us everything about your startup, what does it do?
Trekmunk is a story of three people who decided to join the cult of overcoming fear and following their passion and most importantly, their dreams. The goal was simple at the beginning: ‘To create a platform where people can trek in the Himalayas with like-minded people, keeping in mind the safety and sustainable tourism’.
What were the challenges of setting up and scale? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge/roadblock of following your passion is always crossing the threshold of your home. One can imagine the amount of resistance created when you tell your family that you will be creating a life in an Adventure field of which they had no idea about and had no certainty which means we had no support whatsoever from our family.
The other challenge which we faced in our initial phase was the financial aspect. When we registered our company i.e. on November 17, 2016, three of us decided not to opt for any sort of investment/funds from V.C. or any angel investment company and also not to take any loan from any bank. The main reason for that was since we all came from a corporate background, we didn’t want to make our passion a business, if we had, we might have quit from it again.
Has your goal stayed constant over the years?
Four years down the lane, our goal is to change the face of a trekking organization. With every other organization running towards the end reward that is big profits, He wants and is already working a social angle. Trekmunk believes in trekking for a cause wherein, it hosts trail cleaning treks, escorts doctors to high altitudes to treat the less fortunate, Trekmunk is also working towards going paperless and is in talks with numerous NGO’s to collaborate towards societal progress.
When and how did you start your journey?
While we traveled and trekked in the Himalayas like nomads, we started to get bookings and we accepted them. Our first batch which we organized and lead was Chadar Trek (Frozen river trek in Ladakh) on January 6, 2017, and the second batch was on 14th just right after the first one. Both the batches got full. Later on, we came up with our own unique style of customizing treks according to the need of the trekkers and focused majorly on the development of mountain villages by organizing trek for a cause.
How did you meet and how did everyone align with the idea?
All three of us met at an orientation program in Rishikesh and instantly hit it off. We have a shared passion and humor. The drive until the base camp of the trek was long and hence, we got ample time to discuss the reasons that brought us there.
We commenced our job as trek leaders and trekked together at some of the most beautiful slopes of Uttrakhand. After doing what we assumed was our dream job for four months, all of us resigned and moved on to setting up TrekMunk eventually.
How did you come up with this idea and what was the Eureka moment?
We wanted to deviate from the commercial routes and take our customers to deeper and unexplored parts of the Himalayas. We have a company policy of limiting the trekkers through our company and boycotting the most commercialized treks like Kedarkantha Trek, as thousands of people trek on this trail in the season and the essence of trekking is lost. The more important mission is to bring a positive change around us.
What is your focus while organizing your trekking trips?
The key aspect is organizing premium trekking in the Himalayas in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. We are expanding into Motorcycle trips, Cycling trips, Cultural Tours, Skiing as well as Photo Tours into these regions by 2021.
Your area of focus?
We are experts in Personalised Adventures. We provide tailor-made packages for our clients. We can tailor-make a trek/tour according to the needs of a particular client. We cater to them personally as their Adventure Consultant. We even take people for solo treks. We have over 100 treks on our website and are adding offbeat and non-commercialized treks continuously. We are working towards making our operations more environment-friendly by removing single-use plastic from trek operations. Also, we are on our way to becoming paperless as a lot of paper is used in legal documentation and medical certificates whenever someone comes for a trek.
How do you stay connected to your customers?
We are not just an organization but a platform from where people can connect. All 3 of us are always in touch with the trekkers. Their personal stories and experiences are on our website where people can read and can get inspired.
What has been Revenue, traction, and growth from the date of inception till now?
In 2019, i.e. our 3rd year of operation, our turnover crossed Rs.1 cr. When we started our company, our aim was not to earn a lot of money, nor did we have any budget and financial goals. We just wanted to travel as much as possible. One of us had to stay back in the office to take care of customer queries and other backend tasks, while one had to handle the operations. The third person used to lead the batch. We kept shuffling our roles for two years and couldn’t focus or track everything. From the third year, we started to plan better and that proved a gamechanger. We created a database, worked on our website, started working on SEO and marketing. We also worked on financial projections and started hiring people so that we could focus on more relevant matters.
What are the unit economics and margins for a business like this how does the model work?
We started the company without infusing any capital into it. The only way we could do that is to work with the vendors who were already operating on the different slopes of different states in the Himalayan region. Every vendor has a different cost depending on the trek and number of people coming in a single batch. We treat that cost as a Fixed cost which could vary from 50% to 70% of the cost that we charge from our client. If a product is a commercial one and is on our fixed departure list, our margin is sometimes 20% but then we have to play with the number of people. The higher the number of people in a single batch, the lower we are charged with the fixed cost, and the higher we get the margin.
Also, around 20 to 25 of our products are commercial and popular, which makes them cost-sensitive, so we have to work on a lower margin. The treks which are not famous, we call them off-beat treks on which we can increase the margin and can be sold
at a good markup, sometimes even at 60 to 70%. Then we have customization of a trek, which means if a group of friends or a family asks us to organize a trek just for them as a private group. Customization can be sold at a high markup
What is the one thing that sets you apart from your competitors and what’s your revenue model? Who are your key clients? How much do you charge them?
‘We believe in doing our bit, as little as it may be. When we follow this enough times, it makes a big difference.’
Holding onto that thought, TrekMunk came up with a social initiative called ‘Trek for a cause’, under which we try to take the basic amenities to high altitude and remote villages or leave them in a better condition than what we get. Setting up medical camps, providing education, supporting women empowerment, opting for eco-friendly trekking options, cleaning up the trails, are some of them.
The range of your products?
Right now we have more than 100 treks and mountaineering expeditions on our website. Each trek is categorized into 6 difficulty levels. Easy, Easy-to-moderate, Moderate, Moderate-to-difficult, and Ultimate.
What is the difficulty level based on?
It depends on three things: number of days, altitude gain, and the terrain. If a person is a first-timer/beginner, we recommend them to go for an easy or easy-to-moderate trek. If his/her fitness level is good, then they can join a moderate-level trek. If a person is an experienced one, he can go for a higher difficulty trek.
Does seasonality impact the treks?
Each trek has a season: Winter, spring, summer, monsoon, autumn.
Any locations of primary focus for your treks?
The trek gets categorized based on the region too. We are operating in Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Sikkim, West Bengal, and northeast India.
Any suggestions for those who wish to enter into a similar field?
To build a trekking organization in the Himalayas, you need a strong network in the Himalayan region and a good understating amongst the local people. It was possible for us only because we traveled and trekked in the Himalayas at great length and made mountains our home. You also need to have at least a basic understanding of mountaineering and the risk involved in it. Mountain sickness is common at high altitude trek and if your trek leader does not have medical knowledge and past experience, you might be risking the life of your client.
“If you have money but no knowledge of this industry, then again you will be risking your client’s life.”