Entrepreneurs: Amit Thaker, Mihir Shahani, Mishana Khot & Varun Attal
Business Name: The Great Next
Welcome to Entrepreneurs of India #startupstories episode 57
Gone are those days when you plan a one-day trip to some random picnic spot with your family. Today, the definition of travelling has changed. It’s no longer restricted to clicking some photos, dining out and returning home before sunset.
Now people seek out experience when they travel. This recently emerged passion for experiential travelling has opened new avenues for adventure trips across the globe. The trend has come to India as well. Now we often see riders backpacking together and setting out on a journey to explore the hills, woods and mountains.
However, adventure trips are not everyone’s cup of tea as they involve a lot of risks. So most travellers are usually reluctant to embark on an adventure trip. They have many concerns about such trips that need to be addressed properly.
Being avid travellers, four friends, Amit Thaker, Mishana Khot, Varun Attal and Mihir Sahani, thought to solve this problem. They wanted to give a seamless experience for travellers. That’s how they founded The Great Next, an adventure travel aggregator (technically a marketplace), where travellers can find all kinds of adventure trips depending on their budget, their travel date and convenience.
With an emphasis on continuous customer feedback, The Great Next provides extensive details of each trip, ranging from itineraries to packing lists, to offer a hassle-free experience.
But was it easy to satisfy the first-time adventurers and the experienced adventure travellers alike? Let’s learn more about The Great Next as Amit Thaker, its co-founder, stops by to share their story.
1) How did you get your idea for this business?
I’ve been trekking since my teenage years, plus done my share of trekking, scuba diving and paragliding. For years, I was the go-to person for friends who were planning their own backpacking trips, and operators asking if I could help them find clients from Mumbai.
The no-brainer solution seemed to be setting up an adventure travel company that could handhold both first-timers planning their first adventure, or advanced customers looking for their next great adventure. That was always the plan. All of us, I and my co-founders, come from the digital space, so it was just a matter of finding the right solutions and pouring them into the site.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
India is on the verge of a boom in the adventure travel space. It’s a niche market, but with a population this size, even a niche space is huge. Younger Indians are more keen on offbeat and adventure trips rather than mainstream holidays.
A lot of Indian travellers have done the holidays abroad and are looking for something different. And that’s where we come in. We help first-time adventurers choose something that is right for them, but we also cater to experienced adventurers looking for their next trip.
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
My family was used to me packing up and going out to the mountains, and not always doing things the conventional way! They’ve always been incredibly supportive. Would also like to add that a LOT of friends and ex-colleagues have also been very supportive. More so, we’ve got introduced to strangers having specialist skills for advice, who in turn have gone out of their way to support and help us.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
Wow! We have definitely made our share of mistakes. But the important thing is we have constantly improvised based on what we have learnt. However the most critical one was making an MVP. We were advised by several people to make a very basic version before we went live. Our first “MVP” was not as lean as it should/could have been.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
Our biggest challenge is hiring fast enough to match our growth. We are extremely cautious on recruitment. This means that hiring across functions is a lot slower than we’d like it to be. We’re paranoid this might hurt our growth, but we’re always trying to find that fine balance.
6) What habits contribute to your success?
The four of us have worked at advertising agencies, so we’re used to juggling multiple tasks, working with tight deadlines, and putting in incredible effort towards achieving our goals. We’re very organized, and use a number of tools to track and monitor our work.
We’ve also developed a habit of regular (but short) meetings and constant communication because two of the four of us don’t live in the same city. That’s contributed a lot towards keeping the progress consistent, and we’re working at inculcating these habits in our team too.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
This would bring us back to the MVP topic. If we had to start all over, our MVP would be something that we would churn out in 3-4 weeks, not 7-8 months.
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
We’re not really inspirational quote people, but there’s one line that we’re always using in office. It’s from a scene from a 1990s movie, Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec Baldwin gives an inspiring (and sweary) locker room speech to a sales team, and tells them “Always be closing.” We love that line! All the members of our sales team are in their 20s, and some weren’t even born when the movie was out, but they’ve all watched the scene on Youtube many times.
9) Where do you find inspiration?
We get a lot of energy and inspiration from our customers. We’re constantly talking to them, before, during, and after the trip, and we learn a lot from them. It’s very inspiring to watch the Indian adventurer heading out fearlessly on adventures they’ve never done before. We are always thrilled when solo women travellers or families with young children (even babies sometimes) get in touch to book a trip.
It’s not something that was common in the 90s and noughties, but we’re seeing it more and more now. It’s so inspiring to help them find something that suits them. Groups of friends often call to plan a short trek or a getaway together, and we love seeing how the idea of travel and entertainment is changing.
10) What is your favourite book?
I’m currently reading Ed Viesturs’ No Shortcuts to the Top. It’s an incredible story of a man and the mountains, but it also talks about his career graph. It’s very inspiring, and of course, is filled with fascinating mountaineering stories. The analogy to what we’re trying to do simply cannot be missed.
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Keep at it. There are no breaks when you’re running your own business. It overflows over into your personal life, and you can’t treat it like a regular job that you leave behind once you leave office for the day.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. We’ve had some lucky breaks, but you build your own luck when you’re an entrepreneur. We’ve had friends and family step forward to help in all kinds of ways, and it’s helped us get to where we are today.
Don’t listen to everyone. This is in direct contradiction to the above, but it’s also important. You can ask everyone for advice, but it’s you and your business that will feel the effects of any decision you take. It’s hard sometimes, but you have to do what feels right.
Above all, enjoy it! You’ve built a business and you work for yourself. Yes, it’s difficult and incredibly stressful some days, but it’s yours. Take the time to look around and be proud of what you’ve done.
Amit Thaker and team have bigger plans for The Great Next. They are planning to expand their domain to Bali and Thailand. Everyone who packs a bag for an adventure trip is their potential customer.
As entrepreneurs, Amit and his co-founders unlocked an opportunity in the adventure travel space by popularizing it among everyone. Even first-time travellers including women approach them to plan a trip.
In entrepreneurship, thinking about an incredibly new idea may not always bear the fruit. But improving the existing ones can create a big difference! A big thank you to team The Great Next for sharing their amazing story.
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