Having graduated in business studies and having run a startup once in life, I was convinced that conventional work wasn’t my cup of tea. Even when Anuj, Kshitij and I initially stumbled upon the idea of creating and marketing video based adventure sports content, we were hesitant about starting up. None of us wanted to move back to the city. However, too good an opportunity to be passed away on whims, we decided to go ahead with the idea; christening it with the name 4Play. Initially we set up shop in a rented apartment in a shady alley of New Delhi. However, bootstrapping as we were back then, we soon realised that a metropolis was way unaffordable compared to our meagre investment. And rentals only seemed like sunk cost. That is when we made the decision to move our operations to the quaint little town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. As incredulous as it may sound, the move was purely a strategic one. Here’s what we are reaping out of it.
One of the major savings that we were able to achieve by the move was in terms of real estate cost. We are currently housed in a double storeyed complex with ten independent studio styled rooms, two ample balconies, parking space, a garden and some of the most beautiful Himalayan vistas. We took a lease on the entire place for a couple of years. The monthly cost is easily one-sixth of what we would’ve been shelling out for a similar sized accommodation in Delhi. And even if we could afford a place in Delhi, we wouldn’t have managed the view and the locales as we have here.
Our cost of living came down drastically. Basic things like vegetables, fruits and groceries are obtained directly from farms. Eating out, even at one of the best places, is no more than INR 250 per person for a meal. The town is spread across a span of a 1 kilometre radius. One can either walk to most places or use public transport which is quite inexpensive. Someone living frugally can get through the month in less than five thousand rupees.
Being content producers and marketers, the most important infrastructural support we needed was internet (with phone connectivity) and transport. From the options available, we found BSNL’s customer service slow. Hence the only other option was a private ISP which provides a wireless connection. Installation was marginally high in comparison to the service providers in most cities. On the transport front, Manali has great road connectivity with major cities such as Chandigarh and Delhi. We were able to negotiate a bulk deal with a Volvo bus service, which made going to Delhi, or beyond, for work assignments really cheap. Moreover, there is an airport 40 kilometres from Manali with daily flights to Chandigarh and Delhi.
Hiring and Retention
One of the major benefits that accrued to us as a business, was in terms of hiring great talent and retaining it as well. Being a distinct content offering, rooted in adventure sports, we are forever looking for people that not only enjoy living outside, but also possess great contextual awareness about the sports and the industry. Until now there haven’t been any setups in India which allow people with these specific skill sets to build themselves in the outdoors as well as accomplish work at a routine job. Our unique workplace caters to solving this problem. Hence, we are able to easily hire a talented bunch that are greatly accomplished in adventure sports and also possess marketable skills such as writing, cinematography or social media expertise.
Adventure and outdoors are deeply embedded in the work culture that is shaping up at 4Play. Most of us train for at least 2 hours a day. It’s almost a mandate for the team to pick a sport or activity and develop semi professional expertise within it.
To support this, we’ve divided our double floored space into work and residence for the entire team, saving time that might have been lost in commuting. The company takes care of food as well. Local women from the village cook meals for us which are homely and delicious. In turn also saving each one of us a lot of time and effort, which may instead be channelised into building outdoors based vocation. Additionally we maintain a 4 day work week, providing ample time to work, live and play. Not only are we developing a specific talent, but also providing our colleagues a healthier lifestyle and an excellent work-life balance. This has helped us achieve great cohesion and bonding, which usual corporate team building exercises can’t achieve in ages.
We’ve observed that moving away from the city has lead to various socio economic benefits accruing to interior regions such as the one we are currently based in. Manali’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism as well as cash crop agriculture. An organisation like ours which provides direct and indirect employment to locals has opened up options for alternative employment. Moreover, the counter effect has been that moving a group of people here, has also contributed to taking pressure off the cities.
Moving to Manali has primarily been a strategic decision. I personally look at this place as a parallel of Chamonix in France. It’s a broad valley, with a low floor and high peaks on either side. Making the place suitable for all kinds of mountain based adventure sports. Moreover, the presence of a government run mountaineering institute, various outdoor service providers, and a unique topographical layout, further adds to the strategic advantage of the place. The spectrum of sports practised in Manali range from rock climbing, mountaineering, paragliding, kayaking, grass skiing, skiing, snowboarding, luge, mountain biking, trail running, to several other endless possibilities.
Summing up, moving to Manali has opened up a world of possibilities for us as a business. What initially seemed like a move sprung out of managing with limited resources, has turned into a very specific barrier to entry in our industry and a key strength for the organisation. We hope more entrepreneurs learn from our experience and explore opportunities in unsought for places.
Author: Sukrit Gupta
An avid climber, ultrarunner and day dreamer, Sukrit is a fan of everything that is self-managed and solo. A flag bearer for self sufficiency and pushing beyond limits, he loves to spend his time slithering over rock faces and devising cruel trail running courses in his mountainous backyard in Manali.