Once upon a time two very high brow advertising professionals came over to my office and set up a power point presentation to illustrate how common place and confusing the name of my company was and the tag lines that followed it. One particular tagline ‘It’s about the people’ a personal favourite seemed to invite their unequivocal disapproval. For days after that I was like a fourth grader whose inspired piece of writing about her fanciful flight to outer space was ignored by her favourite teacher. For a few months I stopped using this line all together and if I did, I quickly moved the slide and guiltily looked around for some comments. None came and soon during the many conferences I attended, TED talks I listened to and panels I sat on….it became very clear that I was right. A business is indeed about it’s people and at RARE what we do and why always came down to the people through all the layers of the unique business we are into. From the hoteliers we audited to take under the marketing and communication umbrella as RARE, the community that worked at the hotels we marketed, to the tour companies who began to move their travellers and guests – it was the power of the people and their awareness of what our company did and the unique hotels it represented as a community.
Soon and suddenly my company was a Brand and one that invited ( sometimes ) unwanted and uninvited attention from investors. Some excited conversations roughly went like this….How many hotels ? Ah ! we could scale to so and so, establish this and that, diversify here and there and the term I hated the most – ‘milk’ the brand value and goodwill to its potential and the final ‘duh’ moment for me was when they mentioned selling at some astonishing sum. This is what confused me : you want to buy to sell ? They lost me at the moment of scale and they were history to me the moment they mentioned sale ! You see, I did not understand this game of numbers at all, and I believe most people who did small businesses like me and began in the mid-nineties or before will never get it.
This reminds me of a childhood story which my father used to tell us children - ‘suth na kapaas julahoon mein latam latta’. It was a part of his Madhyamik curriculum to learn Hindi ( it was compulsory back then ) to be eligible for his promotions in the Railways . The story was about two cotton ( kapaas ) farmers ( julaha ) who after a good year’s harvest sat day dreaming on their charpoys, smoking their hookah. They dreamt of the price they would get at the wholesale market, how they will buy more land and next year get an even better crop and so on. The farmers then began to fight over the huge profit they would make and eventually came to blows ripping up the sack of cotton. And there went the cotton and their dream of being rich on cotton. This to me is the perfect state of affairs of those who build to sell and have an exit plan ready. I have no exit plan and never will !
RARE wasn’t built in a day nor can it be credited to the work of just one person despite holding steadfastly to the core of the brand, amply supported by the community, friends, industry and the team. RARE began as an idea that was flung at me as early as 1995. Walking, driving, taking trains and mostly buses to way out places to discover gems in lesser known destinations in the country where the inbound trade hadn’t yet made inroads meant understanding destinations and routes that are now as familiar to me as the lines of my palm. This is also when I understood detail and luxury that differentiated a star hotel from an owner managed one. I learnt the joy of community dining and also why it is not for everyone. The power of intelligent and passionate conversation, the romance of staying with scientists, mavericks, poets, film makers, farmers, ‘junglees’ and free spirits.
I was and am passionately in love with India and our neighbours around where cultures has entangled to create curious ad-mixtures. The culture, politics and geo-politics, art, tribes, geography, crafts, folk, regional literature, communities, heritage and its rich natural history. The business of RARE began in 2004 and the growth was rapid. From dealing with domestic, corporate and expat travellers I began to walk into the offices of tour operators who were at that point hardened to the idea of the kind of India they would like to sell. Here I was telling them something else, and there weren’t many takers. On the other hand small-key hoteliers did not give too much thought to marketing and had even less money to spend, unless there was a westerner who did the talking. Life wasn’t easy but every waking moment of my day was filled to the brim in thinking, creating, building and promoting the idea of an alternate India away from the typical cities for tourism and the standard fare for hospitality.
The next 15 years of my life since then, this is all I did and continue to do, clocking 15-19 hours of work on a good day. Finding and keeping talent, mentor and train them into the RARE philosophy. Find avenues to increase individual brand presence of each hotel of the community by aligning their narratives to suit different markets in India and abroad. Every word on the website and all social media, ideation for every event, write ups and hotel profiles, invites and flyers, RSVPs and itineraries, training modules and power point presentations, logos and tag lines, strategies and campaigns, media profiles and contracts are ideated, written and executed from a desk that rarely packs up. Add to this managing finances, resolving team dynamics, managing hotel partner expectations and PR. Who had time to think about the money the ‘brand’ may bring, every minute of the last fifteen years was spent reaching here. The core team is a strength today that I have taught to huddle regularly to work as a team and to believe in hard work, by being engaged with them where ever in the world I have been.
Work-life balance. What is that ? This is my life when I retire I may think about working. Let not my insta and social media posts mislead you, each time you see me there – it’s a busman’s holiday ! This is not a work to suit my lifestyle or limited beliefs powered by exalted dreams that doesn’t match my words, RARE India has been an inclusive journey of learning constantly, caring and sharing and taking people along an incredible journey. And look around when you meet someone passionately believing in what they do…..it will always be a similar story.
RARE India will eventually belong to all those who have believed and encouraged us, team members, mentors as hoteliers and tour operators, travellers, family and friends who have stood steadfast and unstinting in their belief in what we have done as RARE India, created a dent in the way people travel and we are still at it. And I am assured that none of them ever think in terms of money. I began there….it is indeed about the people.
Founder RARE India
Excellent post. It adds to the allure of RARE. Always authentic,original and pure as snow. Just like it's founder. Meet a Rarean and what hits you is their authenticity and their eagerness to serve. Management gurus preach that one must hire the best. But how is it possible to do that in a startup? Shoba gives u a clue in this blog! How do you create a brand? When customers buy from you again and again, you have created a brand. Shoba shows how she has created her own brand story. Out of sheer mileage. From a market that wants everything sastha! Providing a platform for all those maverick property owners a market where there was none. Now everyone wants to create a RARE experience and claims to offer a RARE experience, thanks to RARE and the DMC's that supported such an idea. Every entrepreneur knows the pain and hardwork of running their ventures. And what you see now is a result of the many Train journeys, Air Miles, Road Trips, Footsteps traversed by Shoba and her happy foot soldiers. Many have come and gone but the story continues....I wish you and your team all the best and the well deserved dollops of good luck!
Pepper Mathew | 23 Jun, 2019
Shoba, touche (with a little stroke on the e).. your passion shines through this beautifully written post. Thank you.
You speak passionately for India.. I can witness with that.. I have the same passion which was ignited in me after my first visit to India back in 2007, and it still continues to burn brightly and very passionately.
India is not just a country, it's her people that touch my soul - yes, India's beautiful souls write stories deep into my heart, every visit.
I salute you for not making your business a life sentence, rather a life journey that you travel through so excitedly, daily.
I wish you and your RARE India family the best of days ahead.. x j
GlamGirlsLuxTravels | 12 Nov, 2019