Zostel is India’s first chain of backpackers’ hostels, where in travellers can simply book an affordable hostel, online. Founded by a bunch of IIT-IIM and MDI alumnus just a year ago, Zostel has grown to be admired as India’s hottest startup. We had a chat with one of the co-founders, Mr. Dharamveer Singh Chouhan.

R: It’s been a year since you started this venture and you have come quite far. How has the journey been so far? 

D: Well, its been eventful, exciting. It has been liberating to work with people who are equally capable or even better than you. Zostel is a result of everyone working pretty hard. Everyone has put in their all. We drive our satisfaction from happy customers and other happy zostelers. Every video we receive, every comment on facebook and every tweet of appreciation motivates us to do more, a lot more. That’s how the journey has been.

We have innovated quite a lot. We have come up with lots of small experiments like the one of its kind 50 day internship where one actually gets to act as a CEO (chief exploration officer) for a day. Zostel is a result of extreme dedication and som really hard work.

We have grown from a mere idea to a fifty member team. We have served more than 25000 zostelers from around 100 countries. We hope it is just the beginning. We want to change the way India travels. We want to make people ask themselves trivial questions, like “Who you are” and “what you want in life.”

R: Starting a business of this magnitude is not easy feat and I read you guys have raised all the funding pretty evenfully. What was the wildest thing you had to do to come up for the funds. 

D: (chuckles) Well, there are confidential things regarding all the funding but yeah, we did many crazy things like college friends lending us like 5k. Wilder things like extending our student loan for a lakh more. All the struggle you do makes you mentally adaptive.

R: You mentioned struggle. The question will sound childish but how much did you guys struggle?

D: There is a daily risk. It all depends on people who have trust in your vision. There are people who can get good (read better) jobs but will work with you. They get lower salaries than what the market has to offer. You start to dwell into the impact it has on your people and to their families. Its all a part of the struggle. You do meditation to keep your cool because at the end of the day, your decision making must not be biased. Everything depends on you making the right decisions. This happens on a daily basis. It’s the reason we struggle. It creates us the human beings that we are. See, the movie Interstellar, tells us to move beyond the planet. Humanity has to evolve and struggle to continue its journey.

(Bad reference for me, I didn’t get it at that time, so I watched Interstellar the very night and yeah, as crazy as it may sound, this guy just won me over with his words.)

R: The cost is dirt cheap pretty affordable for the facilities that you offer. How do you manage to that?

D: Its all about our business model. We can and do provide our customers with the best in class accomodation services and facilities. At the end of the day we do have a higher occupancy than the industry average so we are able to mitigate the concerns about prices. Personally, I hate the words dirt cheap or cheap being associated with us. We are affordable. We offer value for money. We go beyond of what is expected of an everyday hospitality chain. You see, everyday, many companies try to rip off their customers, many  travel agents charging extra for Cabs, pickup charges etc. We are not one of them. We want to change all this. We offer our services at a fair price. Its not like that we are making a lot of profits. We could have but no, We are not here for money, we are here to change the way India travels.

Bad choice of words on my part..:/

R: Moving along, did you face any hindrances from the Government or the private sector, while trying to buy or lease properties?

D: The Government is doing lot of good stuff for the people. There are certain rules and regulations laid out for everything. We have a strategic team in place to handle all our licenses and legalities. For now,we haven’t faced any issues. Its actually a pretty new concept for the industry and even the tourism ministry is quite interested in the whole backpacker style of travel. India is truly a great country for entrepreneurs.

Even in the private sector, while buying or renting properties, people actually trust you. Zostel is now an established brand. We have over 200 franchise offers from people who want to partner with us, invest in our idea.

R: A final one, being a budding entrepreneur myself and on behalf of all our readers, some words of advice on how to pursue “the dream”?

D: Of course, see it all starts with you being willing to take risks. You are an engineering student. So by default, you belong to the top 1% of all youth of your age. You cleared IIT-JEE, got a 5000 rank from the 5 lakh people who applied. Look at it from this perspective. You are lucky, privileged enough to be well educated. To be where you are, learning each day. You haven’t probably worked as hard as many other people like you. Make the most of this opportunity. Its your responsibility to create further jobs, opportunities for other people.

Take it as your responsibility. It is going to be easy enough. And don’t ever do it for money. Do it forinternal satisfaction. If money is a driving factor, you can’t sustain in the long run. Believe me. Even if you are lucky, but there will be ups and downs. Think of ideas which are executable. Think about things that are in your realm. Its not like you google up tourism and start a business where you don’t have any idea about what it is. Don’t go thinking about bio technology that you don’t have. Think about ideas that you can execute or what people around you can execute.

Firstly, very easily quantify how much time you can dedicate, what skills you have, how much money you have and how many influences you have. This the main mantra actually- time, skill, money and influence. Once you are able to see these four things along with your team and provided that the whole team is dedicated enough, quantify what you can do.

Identify what you have, a technical person or a designer or someone else. Once you do that, then start thinking of some grand idea. Proceed to the next step once you know you have the resources. Understand what all you have and then try to solve the problem with it. If you do this, entrepreneurship will be very easy for you!

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