Starting up in Manali: Sneak peek into 4Play’s Hoffice
When Anuj, Kshitij and Sukrit initially stumbled upon the idea of creating and marketing video based adventure sports content, they were hesitant about starting up. None of them wanted to move back to the city. However, too good an opportunity to be passed away on whims, the trio decided to go ahead with the idea; christening it with the name 4Play. Initially setting up shop in a rented apartment in a shady alley of New Delhi.
However, bootstrapping as they were back then, the three soon realised that a metropolis was way unaffordable compared to their meagre investment. And rentals only seemed like sunk cost. That is when they made the decision to move 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 they are reaping out of it.
One of the major savings that 4Play was able to achieve by the move was in terms of real estate cost. 4Play is 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. The company has a lease on the entire place for a couple of years. The monthly cost is easily one-sixth of what would’ve been for a similar sized accommodation in Delhi. And even if one could afford a place in Delhi, one wouldn’t have managed the view and the locales as there are in Manali.
The company’s aggregated 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 4Play needed was internet (with phone connectivity) and transport. From the options available, BSNL’s customer service is sloth paced. Hence the only other option is 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. Negotiating a bulk deal with a Volvo bus service, 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.
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Hiring and Retention
One of the major benefits that accrued to the business, was in terms of hiring great talent and retaining it as well. Being a distinct content offering, rooted in adventure sports, 4Play is 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 their career in the outdoors as well as accomplish work at a routine job. 4Play’s unique workplace caters to solving this problem. Hence, the content startup is able to easily hire a talented bunch that is greatly accomplished in adventure sports and also possesses 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 the team members 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 at it.
To support this, the double floored hoffice space has been divided; into office and residence for the entire team, saving time that might have been lost in commuting. The company takes care of food as well. A resident cook prepares delicious and nutritious meals for all. In turn also saving each employee a lot of time and effort, which may instead be channelised into building outdoors based vocation. Additionally the startup maintains a 4 day work week, providing ample time to work, live and play. Not only is 4Play developing a specific talent, but also providing its team a healthier lifestyle and an excellent work-life balance. This has helped it achieve great cohesion and bonding, which usual corporate team building exercises can’t achieve in ages.
One of the best things to have happened to the startup ecosystem ever since 4Play moved up, is the launch of the incubation program at IIT Mandi – Catalyst. Being one of the few startups in the region, 4Play enrolled for the program to lay the foundation of a community to spearhead enterprise in the region. During the course of the program the team was able to work closely with some of the best mentors from around the country, access and pitch to investors, improve industry connect and refine the product and business model. The incubation also brought in a modest grant to support 4Play’s participation and initiatives during the tenure of enrollment; and it even provided the team speaking opportunities at esteemed stages as the Startup Jalsa.
The founders observed that moving away from the city has lead to various socio economic benefits accruing to interior regions such as the one they are currently based in. Manali’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism as well as cash crop agriculture. An organisation like 4Play, 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. The founders draw parallels for Manali with 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.
Moving to off beat locations can bring in special advantages for several businesses. What advantages exactly, depends on startup to startup and are for the entrepreneurs to figure out. For 4Play cost savings was a huge incentive.
If you’re looking for more examples, ace digital media company WittyFeed operates from Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Career advice platform Lifepage is invested in Dehradun. Even billionaire investor Warren Buffet has operated from his home in Omaha, Nebraska for most part of his life. Far from the bustle of New York.
Which place do you think can be a good startup hotspot?
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.