Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
When a passion turns into a career, the job is anything but drudgery. Hari Nair, Founder and CEO, HolidayIQ, a large travel community and holidays review platform, has always loved to travel. That his father had a job which took him places around the country whetted the travel appetite in young Nair to see more places and understand the history and people in these regions. But travel as a career choice opened up much later in Nair’s life.
Nair’s life though has been a series of happy coincidences that has led to the next rung up the ladder and to a still better view of life and work.
When your father or close relative is in the civil services, the question that's often thrust at you is: Aren’t you studying for the civil services or opting for a job in the civil services? Nair was asked the same question, but his parents wanted him to take that call.
“I was free to choose what I wanted to,” says Nair, reminiscing about his early days. He lived his formative years in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He moved to Delhi when his father was posted in the capital for work, and completed his studies there. The different ways of living and attitudes that were diametrically different in the south and north were a lesson to Nair that helped him in life later.
College education took on a new meaning without Nair having chiselled out a clear plan of action regarding his studies. Finishing his Class XII studies, Nair was whiling away his time as Delhi University had then declared a strike. “A few friends of mine were writing the entrance test for Chartered Accountancy (CA). I thought of giving it a try,” he says. His 'try' hit the target and he was successful in the exams much to his surprise, he says, laughing at the memory.
“I must confess though that I enjoyed myself studying a new curriculum,” says Nair. Finishing his CA studies, Nair went on to work as a software coder in a blue chip firm and quit it when it was not exciting. “When one is excited about a job, it is a joy to work,” says Nair. It is this hunt for an exciting job that had Nair quit a few and then a successful career as a consultant before coming home to his first love, travel, and building a career around it.
Nair travelled a lot for leisure and studied the market. From his research he realised that the tourism market in India had largely remained static since Independence. “We have always aimed to get foreigners to travel to India. That has been our focus. We have largely ignored the Indian traveller,” informs Nair. The Indian traveller has had no guidance or advice on places he could visit beyond the known terrain. Nair decided to tap into this market and build a business that would cater to domestic travellers.
HolidayIQ was created to service the travelling middle class Indians, says Nair. “I started off on the premise that if I provide information that comes from a traveller on the portal, it would attract others who want to explore the country. When more travellers share their stories on the portal, the company becomes a receptacle for that information. However, I was clear the information on the site would be for Indian travellers and cater to their requirements,” he says, adding that the reviews on HolidayIQ about hotels, destination and attractions are unbiased and solely based on traveller's feedback. "We do not sell any products to users. We are not a travel agency and do not do any bookings. We route users to various travel agents, online and offline, and help them make bookings of hotels or packages."
Providing information on travel is a worthy objective, but business is after all about money. Nair says that was not the initial objective when he started off. “We were keen to occupy a niche space that had no one had looked into and fulfill the need for information on travel. Monetizing the business was not a priority at that stage,” he says.
Change in lifestyle
Nair had a thriving international career of 15 years that he chose to quit while in his late 30s to become an entrepreneur. The comfort and luxuries that of a successful career must have hit him hard when he chose to leave it behind. Acknowledging that it was a reality which was painful at first, he shares the changes that affected others around him more. “In my job as a consultant, I was a frequent flier. I remember some airlines would call me to give me silver and gold cards to upgrade my status as my travel increased. When I quit my job to chase my entrepreneurial dream, the cards were progressively pushed down from the gold to silver to still lower grades. That was hard to accept. More than me, I think the family got affected with the change in status."
One of the first principles of an entrepreneurial journey is to conserve one’s resources, says Nair. Frugality meant that one had to walk the razor's edge and put out a business model that served the target clientele without cutting corners or going overboard. Nair says it took him three years to get his target audience and that is when he decided to monetize the portal. He had luck on his side again. He got funded and was able to scale up faster.
HolidaqIQ has raised over $35 million (close to Rs 240 crore) in funds till end-2015. The challenge now is to grow beyond to 12 million visitors on the portal and the app per month to 25 million and expand to smaller cities and towns so as to tap into a larger leisure travel market. Nair says, the aim in 2017 is to get 30 million visitors.
Having travelled extensively in the country and abroad, what has Nair noticed about the Indian tourist? What would he advise domestic travellers so that they can come away with memorable experiences from beyond the obvious? Nair responds immediately. It seems that this is a thought that he has pondered over for long. “There are three things that I wish the Indian traveller would go out and explore which is in our backyard. One, go see the Himalayan ranges. It is possible for a traveller to get a glimpse of the Himalayan ranges from Assam, Sikkim and other states. Next on the list is watch tigers. These fabulous beasts are so unique to India. Once upon a time, we had the biggest lion population but that has long since dwindled. Travellers must go see tigers in our tropical jungles. Coming face to face with a tiger is a compelling sight. You will not understand its magnificence unless you see it. Another must-go place is ancient sites that point to a civilization that is over 2000 years old. We have many such in India, like Dholavira in Gujarat for instance. It is a pity if we don't travel and appreciate the unique treasures of India," he says.
Nair’s career and passion are synonymous. His love for HolidayIQ, that was in the ideation stage in 2004 before being launched in 2007, has not waned. “HolidayIQ is my passion. I love to think and execute ideas with my team that will excite my audience and encourage them to travel.”
That apart, there are a few hobbies that have become habits. Like playing the drums. Nair is a trained mridangam player. He tries and indulges in this hobby when he finds the time for it. The one hobby that has become a passion akin to HolidayIQ is yoga. Nair was introduced to it five years ago and practices it almost daily. “It helps me to challenge my limits.” That is what Nair’s life has been largely about. Meeting challenges and scaling them to look for the next one.