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Nandini Cholaraju, Founder at OLLIT EXPEDITIONS

Great Companies: How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I was in my early twenties. The software company I was working for shut down in 2008 due to the recession. I applied for several jobs and attended many interviews. I would either reject all the job offers or consciously give bad interviews. This pattern continued for a year. One day, I paused and questioned my actions and I realized I didn’t want to work for corporate any longer. I got clarity on what I didn’t want to do.

Next question was, what do I want to do? The answer was quick. I wanted to travel all over India. I wanted to trek in the Himalayas. I wanted to start my own business

(The visuals of my helplessness and my colleague's anger and grief when we were given pink slip would often bother me. I didn’t want to put myself in that position again )

I didn’t know what business to start. I had no clarity of my life ahead. I withdrew my provident fund and gathered whatever little savings I had and started traveling. There was no defined path or destination. I would go wherever my feet took me. I went everywhere with the hope of finding myself somewhere... Every day was a new journey, every moment a new experience. Journey through the unknown paths, with unknown people, their diverse cultures, and distinctive lifestyles were transforming. I backpacked for 4 years.

The experiences, observations, and learning's I gathered through my inquiry during my travels gave birth to OLLIT EXPEDITIONS

What makes OLLIT EXPEDITIONS different from hundreds of other Travel firms?

Traveling is not an activity. It is an experience. Some experiences don’t just happen, they have to be consciously created. Something as simple as the sunrise and sunset is an enriching experience. It can be transforming. It is distinctive in each landscape. How can we miss that?

At OLLIT EXPEDITIONS, We handcraft every experience. We go as minute as timing the travel experiences so our clients get exclusivity. A couple of weeks ago when we went on a biking (cycle) tour, my clients felt they were trailing through a private road meant exclusively for them. In actuality, we chose to go on that route at a time when there is less movement.

If you choose any tourist destination, you can find 80% of the tours are centered around 20% of the locations. It is not balanced. The tour operators may say they are catering to the demand, but in reality clients choose from the available options. Many places are not explored. India has much more to offer than tourist spots. Each region has its own unique culture, heritage, architecture, art, and crafts. Every corner in India has a hidden gem and a unique offering.

Every time I get an inquiry for a particular location, I evaluate the region and experiences it can offer. I later stitch the experiences with a fine blend of regional food, culture, history, and local experiences.

Also, we do responsible tourism. We encourage our clients to promote existing home stays where a family lives and ask them to spend locally.

Great Companies: What are the struggles and challenges you face?

Every day is an adventure. Every trip throws a new challenge. My mother often asks me why are you struggling so hard? Why can’t you get a day job?

As I am writing, I got a call from my client asking if we were leaving tonight for our scheduled trek because the state government has announced a night curfew. I have to now spend few hours re-scheduling the entire trip.

In 2014, when I started the company I sold 2 DSLRs to fund myself. I let go of the cameras with great difficulty. My cameras were my best friends. I didn’t want to take a loan because I wanted to grow organically. Growing organically has its positives and downsides. It takes a lot of time. I have invariably developed patience in the process. One thing that keeps me going is the passion I have for my work.

For many years, I struggled with pricing. I would take fewer people on my trips to give exclusivity, increase the quality and charge nominally. It just didn’t work out. It was frustrating to see my efforts were not fruitful.

Another big challenge is the payment. Some institutes don’t pay on time. In the last program, my client released the bill after 6 months. I can’t keep my vendors waiting. I have to juggle around every time I take up a big project.

I promote rural tourism. Many a times communication and co-ordination with the local guides becomes difficult. They don’t have a good mobile network and they don’t maintain a calendar. Recently we had a trek in the rural area. I had informed our local guide about our weekend program and asked him to be available, he happily agreed.

We reached his place and I waited outside his house for an hour. Clients slowly started feeling restless. His phone was not reachable. I went to every single house in the village asking his whereabouts. Someone walked up to tell me he has a ceremony for his daughter in the nearby temple...

Each time I conduct an adventure tour, I have my heart in my mouth until the program concludes. My clients' safety becomes my responsibility. Many people have an emotional outlet in the outdoors. Their behavioral patterns change. I have to be very observant.

Also since March 2020, there is no business due to COVID. Though I get very short windows for business between the lock-downs, it becomes difficult to plan and execute travel programs with so much uncertainty.

Great Companies: How do you plan to grow in the future? What does 5 years down the line look like for OLLIT EXPEDITIONS?

Given the present situation and uncertainty, it’s difficult to plan anything. I am taking it one day at a time. However, I would like to see myself doing the following

Special Interest tours :

Handpick a few regions and curate experiences with local people. Contribute to the local economy while putting an effort to preserve the local art, culture, and traditions. (Instead of executing tours all over India)

Adventure Tours :

10-12 curated higher altitude treks and expeditions in a year with a minimal group.

Biking (cycling) expeditions

Queer exclusive/friendly adventure tours

Soft adventure tours for senior citizens

Adventure - Camps for special children

Experiential Education Tours :

Work with children on outdoor and environmental education

Great Companies: If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Start with why? While climbing the mountain, at a difficult stretch, there may come a point when you want to give up. Pause and ask why did you take up the journey.

You cannot take a correspondence course for swimming. You have to enter the water. Similarly, You cannot learn business by books.

Don’t stand on the edge of the cliff and waste your time, take a plunge.



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