I'm writing this post almost secretly.
Because if the founders, Arjun and Sandhya, find out what I'm writing, they'd go into hiding with embarrassment! They'd ask me to stop right away.
Well, there's a reason I'm writing this.
Everyday, when I open the newspaper or Twitter, I read about so many CEOs and founders. I read about their business outlook, their lifestyles, their habits, their personal affairs.
In fact, I recently read a book about Mr Ratan Tata, written by a young lad who works with him closely. I was marvelling at the candid image of Mr Ratan Tata I got — he was so different from most of the CEOs we read about. No airs about himself, no flashy lifestyle, just a simple person with good habits and a large vision.
Somehow, it sounded all too familiar.
That's when I slapped my forehead.
For the past seven years, I've been working under two of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country. They have built the largest trekking organisation in India, along with it, shaping the trekking habits and behaviours of the country.
Sometimes, I'm at such close proximity with them that I forget the significance of their accomplishments. I almost take them for granted. Yet, I know that their habits and outlooks have moulded each of us at Indiahikes.
So today, I thought I'd outline just a few of their habits, which I've found to have a lot of personal and professional gain.
This is in no way a character dissection because there's so much more to them, but these are observations to learn from, habits to reflect on.
1. They don’t spend unnecessarily (not their money or others)
Our founder, Arjun Majumdar, was recently invited to Vellore Institute of Technology as a speaker. They requested him to speak to the E-Cell students about his learnings as an entrepreneur.
After Arjun had accepted the invite, they offered to book flights for him from Bangalore to Vellore and ferry him in a taxi to the college and back.
Arjun would have none of it. He didn't want them (or anyone) spending such unnecessary amounts on him. Instead, he booked a two-way ticket in a train, which cost less than 1/10th the flight fare. Even when he returned and got off at the Railway station, he took a bus back home. No Uber, no auto.
This is something true of Sandhya too. Even after a 26 hour international flight, I've seen her take a bus back from the airport to her home, not indulging in the Rs 800 taxi drive.
Time and again, I have seen them being frugal with money. Whether it is their personal income, the organisation’s finances or anyone else's. They frown upon unnecessary indulgence and believe in saving for a rainy day.
We saw a hard-hitting impact of this habit during the pandemic — all our treks were wiped out for nearly a year, and yet we had our income flowing. All because the organisation had reserved finances in some way.
Perhaps this habit has stemmed from the trekking world, where only your needs count and not your wants. The founders have ensured that frugality is not a virtue here, it is a way of life.
The Indiahikes founders have always been careful about how they spend, whether its their own personal income, the organisation's finances or anyone else's money. Here's Arjun doing a bus ride, which is a normal thing for him during travel.
2. They have been running 5k every morning for the past 13 years (together!)
I think even within Indiahikes, several people don’t know about this habit of our founders. I, too, found out only a few years ago.
Right from the beginning of Indiahikes, our founders have been running 5K every morning (consistently within 27 minutes). While this consistency is a true testament to their fitness, that is not really the habit I want to point out here.
They start their run together at 6.15 am everyday, and are in continuous conversation with each other during their run.
There's a reason behind this.
Given that they are always surrounded by team members in the office, they rarely get time to discuss larger thoughts about the organisation and the direction it is headed in. Their morning run is their time to take a step back and reflect on how the organisation is growing.
They discuss everything, right from the organisation’s objectives, to new explorations, to ingraining the right values in team members, to challenges Indiahikes is facing.
This is also their time to reflect on learnings from any articles / books they have recently read.
Watching this habit of theirs, for me, the biggest takeaway is that to build a successful organisation, it is imperative that you dedicate a few hours consistently everyday to nurture and care for the organisation. Just plain work is not enough.
This shows clearly in the way they have steered the organisation from Day 1, making important pivots when needed and sticking to the strong guns when needed.
For the past 13 years, Arjun and Sandhya have been running virtually together everyday, using it as an opportunity to discuss organisational thoughts.
3. They read at least five newspapers everyday
After their runs, every morning, both of them head back to their respective homes and start their reading. Business news, international news, local news, op-eds, they drink them in like morning coffee (neither of them actually drinks coffee).
It's not just newspapers. They are voracious readers, always reading to understand how the world's best businesses are run. They are always up to date with the latest technologies and business models in the world.
This makes a very big difference to how they see Indiahikes. They always look at Indiahikes on a global pedestal, seeing how we can be the best in the world and not just best in India.
This habit of theirs rubs off on all of us at Indiahikes. Because everyday at lunch we have elaborate discussions on the affairs of the world. Just this afternoon, our conversation was about Sheryl Sandberg stepping down as the COO of Facebook, which in turn became a conversation on women in leadership.
"Many people know we sit together and have lunch like a family, but what people don't know is that the conversations, the debates and the learnings make our lunchtime as meaningful as it is. All the credit goes to Arjun and Sandhya for that," muses Lakshmi Selvalumaran, head of Experience at Indiahikes.
Lunch time at Indiahikes is special not only because we eat together, but because of the several discussions and debates we have about the world's affairs. Picture by Jothiranjan
4. They compost their own waste
In both our founders' homes, they are the Compost King and Queen. On a weekly basis, you'll see them chopping peels, churning, sieving and composting. Regularly, this compost lands up in our office lawn, which has grown luxuriant with so much healthy manure.
But it's not just about composting. They are both very conscious of the waste they produce and how they can reduce it.
Whether it is larger lifestyle changes of avoiding takeaway food and driving electric vehicles to smaller habits like tending to their own gardens, they are very conscious of how they can preserve the environment around them.
This habit is clearly reflected in our Green Trails practices at Indiahikes. It's not only their intention, but also their large knowledge that helps us better our human waste management in the mountains, reduce the waste we produce on a large scale in our trek operations and overall bring down the carbon footprint of trekking.
5. They know almost all the employees on a personal and familial basis!
I'll admit Indiahikes is not a large organisation. We are around 200 strong. Most of us know all other team members at least by name.
Frankly speaking though, from all I've read on the internet, the CEOs are the last to know all team members.
Yet, it is the opposite at Indiahikes.
Arjun and Sandhya know almost every Trek Leader, every Experience Coordinator, every cook and guide by their names and even their family backgrounds! While most team members know each other well within their own teams, our founders know members of all teams well.
I keep wondering how they manage to make time and space for so many team members and dive deep into all their lives. But somehow, magically, they do.
A rare thing I notice is that this is not at the cost of their own family relationships. Arjun lives with his wife, daughter and parents. He regularly takes his daughter trekking and involves his family in all the ongoings at Indiahikes. Sandhya, on the other hand, lives with her husband and her mother. She regularly goes out with them on small day hikes. Her husband is almost a part of Indiahikes behind the scenes.
This whole outlook of theirs stems from a simple belief — Relationships come above business. "We believe an organisation is not about markets, products, services or profits. It is about building strong relationships. The stronger the relationships, the more robust is the organisation," they have always believed.
The founders make it a point to take the whole team outdoors regularly to have informal conversations with everyone about trek stories and personal lives.
6. They pursue and encourage a high quality of life.
Almost everyday after lunch, you'll see several people at Indiahikes running off to their cosy corners or rooms for a nap. This nap time is not only accepted by our founders, but also encouraged. They love their nap time themselves!
Again, this stems from their deep concern for everyone's well being.
Whether it is going running in the morning, eating healthy home-cooked food or sleeping well, they are not only practising it themselves, but constantly egging everyone on to do the same.
Recently, they also moved their homes closer to the office to cut out commute time. They believe commuting to work is one of the biggest waste of human potential.
A direct reflection of this is that 90% of our team members live within a 1 km radius of the office. Cutting out the commute enables them all to run in the morning, cook their own meals, pursue their hobbies or even work. In the end everyone pursues a healthier lifestyle.
7. They regularly rescue and care for animals.
Two weeks ago, I saw Sandhya's room door closed, and I was wondering why it was shut. Our founders rarely shut their room doors, since they want to invite conversations.
When I knocked and peeked in, I was welcomed by a tiny kitten that ran towards me. Sandhya had rescued it from a neighbouring area, and it was now ours to foster until it found a home.
This is a normal day at Indiahikes.
If you've ever visited our office, you may confuse it for an animal sanctuary. We have Blacky, Lola, Pepper, Berry, Sapota, Puppy (and now Kittu), all of them being cared for during the day at Indiahikes.
While we have different team members taking them home after the day's work, it is only Arjun's and Sandhya's deep care for animal welfare that allows us this atmosphere.
So much so, that a large sum is set aside by Indiahikes every month for the well-being of these animals. (It was their birthday gift to Lakshmi and Sharu, two of our team members who run foster homes for animals.)
"When we talk about care as a core value at Indiahikes, it extends not only to our trekkers but to every form of life. And that care exudes from Arjun and Sandhya first, and then seeps down to the very last team member of Indiahikes," reflects Izzat Yaganagi, head of Experiential Learning at Indiahikes, who has known the founders for over ten years.
The Indiahikes office doubles up as an animal sanctuary because of the founders' love for animals.
While asking my colleagues for more thoughts on our founders' rare habits, I realised there's so much that we could write a book about it!
There are so many of their habits and qualities that have inspired us to become better professionally and personally — from aiming higher at our workplace to simplifying our own personal lives, they have taught us hundreds of lessons.
If you ask me, their strong leadership and pursuit for global excellence is one of the biggest reasons to work here.
I hope this small post leaves you with a small insider-perspective of our founders. I'd love to know what you think after reading it. Do drop in your thoughts in the comments below.