The trigger for this blog is a discussion between some Pepperfry folks who are set to go on a high altitude trek in the next few weeks. I had done the ‘Chadar Trek’ recently in February this year and through the trek I kept thinking about the similarities between trekking and startup life. It’s an introspective monsoon day in Mumbai, business is good, so what better time than this to put my thoughts on paper.
IT’S THE PEOPLE WHO COUNT
There was a great bunch of people at the trek, a batch mate, his colleague, people I met for the first time at the trek and a couple of people I would have loved to hire for
sheer enthusiasm. The weather had become warmer a few days before our trek and therefore parts of the ice sheet on the Zanskar River had melted. This had caused some groups who had left a couple of days before us to turn back and our group was faced with a similar decision. Our group decided to move further on, knowing fully well that we’d have to climb the cliff face over some sections of the river to continue the trek. We helped each other, learnt new and safe ways of climbing with experts (locals and porters) advising us and successfully forged on together as a group.
Pepperfry has been a similar experience. I have been blessed with a great co-founder and have had the fortune of counting some of the best human beings I have ever met as colleagues and friends. Together we have had our share of tricky paths to navigate over the last 4 years. One that I’ll never forget is when due to a subdued capital market in 2013 all the leaders in Pepperfry took massive pay cuts to restrict layoffs and still be able to invest behind marketing and supply chain. Our team and partners are the reason behind our success.
THINGS THAT LOOK GOOD SOMETIMES AREN’T
The Chadar ice sheet is tricky to navigate. There are basically 3 types of surfaces I encountered, this is a laypersons definition and my apologies in advance for not following any established nomenclature that might be out there.
The first type ‘hard Ice covered by fresh snow’ is easy to walk on as the snow provides enough friction to get a decent grip, you can walk faster and don’t get tired that easily. The second type of surface was ‘plain hard ice’ which looked and was slippery and you had to be extra careful walking on it. The third type of surface was the treacherous ‘hard ice covered by day old snow which looked like fresh snow but was as slippery as ice’, which lulled you into a false sense of comfort by looking just like fresh snow and was responsible for the largest number of falls. I must have fallen 10-15 times a day on this third surface till I accepted my inability to judge between old snow and new snow and therefore treated all snow with equal caution.
The lesson I learnt at the expense of several hard falls on the Chadar applies well to the startup life and is the fallowing (pun intended) – paths that look the same very often aren’t the same, it pays to investigate further and learn fast in order to avoid faltering on a regular basis. In Pepperfry for example, we started off selling all lifestyle goods including clothing and jewellery. We learnt the pitfalls of these categories early and despite them being attractive propositions at the time, realized they weren’t in line with our core values hence pivoted out to become a pure-play furniture and home retailer. Obviously, a great strategy in hindsightJ.
We had all prepped for the trek with good equipment, great guides and endurance training. Then one of our group members fell and broke his wrist. Here, some context is important – the Chadar trek is done over a river that has iced over and is in the middle of a Himalayan gorge – no vehicle (on air, land or water) can get to you in an emergency. To top it all, cell phones don’t work which is an awesome break from office life, but sucks big time when you need help. So the only alternative open is to strap on and start walking back to the base station. Fortunately we had a sports doctor in our group (amazing, right!), the person who had broken his wrist had awesome will power and thankfully the incident happened on our way back so he and I trekked an extra 10 Km on the last 2 days to get back to civilization (Leh) a day earlier.
Here’s my learning. Prepare well and leave no stone unturned when you are trying to do something for the first time, but sometimes things don’t go as per plan and you’ve got to improvise, put in additional effort and above all be positive to manage under the toughest of circumstances.
We wore tons of sunscreen during the trek, at higher altitudes the sun is closer and its rays have a significant effect on the skin. But my reason for including this learning is the songJ, I love the song, do check it out when you get the chance
I guess the fun of a trek like a startup is in the journey and not only the destination. It’s in how we plan during the good times, how we face up to hardships and the friends we make along the way.
Happy Trekking To You!
RELATED LINKS AND CREDITS
The ‘Chadar Trek’ is a winter trek on the frozen Zanskar River/Zanskar Gorge in the Zanskar region of Ladakh. It’s a trek between vertical cliffs up to 600m high and on sections of the river less than 5m wide at places. The term ‘Chadar’ comes from the local language where it means ‘layer’ – indicating the layer of ice that covers the river.
The Chadar Trek is a high endurance trek which covers a distance of about 105 Km on foot, a typical trekker completes a distance of 15–17 Km each day for about 9 days.
The best time to do the Chadar Trek is January/February when the low winter temperatures (the temperature drops to -30o Celsius) freeze the river enough to be able to trek on the river.
Here are some useful links to learn more about the Chadar Trek:
Photo Credits Courtesy Deepanshu, Pooja and Bala, Friends and Chadar Trek Group Members