In March 2010 I went on a rickshaw adventure across India. That’s right, I said rickshaw. Two friends joined me on this foolish escapade. And just a few days after the starting gun went off and 70+ teams set off from the starting point in Fort Kochi (Kerala) northward toward the state of Sikkim our rickshaw flew off a bridge and crashed head first into hard ground.
It was a miracle that none of us died. The driver (Natalie) sustained a terrible injury to her leg which required immediate medical attention and while the other passenger (Kelly), who sat next to me in the back and escaped with minor injuries, tended to her, I ran into the middle of the road with my hands raised in the path of an oncoming bus. Thankfully, it stopped. We carried the injured driver inside and got off at the next town, from where we hired a private car to drive us to the nearest city hospital.
Within two hours of the crash Natalie was being treated in a hospital in Mysore by a wonderful and talented Dr. Vijay L. Upon her release we checked into the Royal Orchid Metropole Hotel, a little oasis situated in the heart of Mysore, where we rested for a few days, during which time I hired a handful of labourers and a rented crane truck to go recover the rickshaw and have it fixed. That’s our rickshaw below.
Before long we were on the road again and eventually finished our adventure by arriving at Gangtok, the end destination.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because that very adventure opened several business doors for me in India. To give you an idea, two years later, I found myself in Mumbai signing a mandate with one of the largest luxury hotel groups in the subcontinent. What sort of mandate, you’re asking? To sell India’s most expensive hotel.
A deal of that scope and size usually meant one of the well-known boutique investment banks or the likes of JLL or Knight Frank got it involved. But not that time. It was my deal. And were it not for the crazy guys at The Adventurists and their ridiculously insane rickshaw run adventure then it would have never happened.
Let’s rewind a little, to give you some background info.
Goodbye prison … I mean investment bank
In early 2010, I decided it was time to leave investment banking. At least in its current form. I no longer wished to work for a large, highly hierarchical organisation. So the only thing left for me to do was to choose a departure date.
On a cold and dark February morning as I walked into work and squeezed into an elevator with nearly ten other bankers I overheard two of them chatting quite nervously. These were men in their late 40s or early 50s stressing over a meeting with one of the legendary dealmakers of the firm. They were shit-scared. These weren’t men working for Putin. They were bankers in jolly old England. A chemical reaction began taking place inside my head. Thoughts formed and a belief emerged. By the time elevator door opened to my floor and I stepped out, I knew that today was the day. I turned back around, took the elevator down and went to grab a takeaway coffee from a nearby Italian delicatessen I normally stopped by in the morning to order a takeaway before running to my desk. I needed a moment to myself.
When I arrived at the cafe I decided to sit down and properly enjoy my coffee, thinking back to a conversation I once had with a junior Italian banker who sat across from me on the floor, Carlo. He’d shake his head in disgust every time he saw one of us carrying a takeaway coffee cup. “Coffee ought to be drunk from a porcelain cup,” he’d say. Not cardboard paper, which, he fervently claimed, was barbaric. Carlo prided himself on never having ordered takeaway coffee in his entire life. Even if it meant being late to the office or an appointment, he consumed his drink in an establishment.
By the time I asked for the bill, I was already some twenty five minutes late and had three missed calls from my line manager. On any other day, were I not in my seat at that time I’d be stressed. But not today. What the hell. I motioned the waiter over before he rang up the bill and asked for another pain au chocolat.
“Take away?” he said.
“To have in please,” I said.
Next, I reached inside my suit jacket’s breast pocket and took out my mobile. I typed a text message to my line manager: “C u in 10mins.” He replied instantaneously with: “???” I laughed and put my phone away.
I entered the building for the second time and went up to my floor and walked over to my desk. As soon as he saw me coming, my line manager threw me a contemptuous look. He restrained himself and remained quiet. I realised it was because one of the celebrated investment banking Global Heads was standing just a few feet away.
“I need to talk to you,” I said, nonchalantly, while removing my tie and throwing it on my desk, an act of sacrilege in a bank.
He looked at me aghast.
“In a few hours,” he said, before turning his swivel chair to face his monitors and continue typing an e-mail.
“Now, please,” I said, and walked toward one of the meeting rooms.
I could feel his angry eyes burning a hole through me while my back was to him. Anger turned to concern as he figured it was somewhat serious. His suspicions were proven correct, when, a minute later, I told him I was leaving. Au revoir.
Approximately a month later I was on a Jet Airways flight headed to Kochi, India.
I needed a proper break from the day to day working life of an investment banker before moving on to my next role and, coincidentally, on a tube ride into Canary Wharf a few weeks prior to my resignation my eyes fell on an article headline from a discarded newspaper left behind by a passenger on the empty seat next to me. I picked up the paper and read about a 2,500km Indian adventure on a three-wheeled glorified lawnmower, i.e. auto-rickshaw.
I signed up to the Rickshaw Run and accepted the risk of riding around India on a 2 stroke single cylinder, 8 liter tuk tuk, while sharing the road with cars, trucks, cows, donkeys and various other creatures.
The adventure ended some two weeks later in Gangtok. After spending a few days there hanging out with the other teams and exchanging stories, I flew back to Mumbai and checked into a backpacker’s hostel from where I’d head to the airport the next day and fly back home to London. But fate had other plans in store for me. An Icelandic volcano erupted, creating an ash cloud responsible for closing most air traffic to Europe. When I arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the Jet Airways staff member at the check-in desk did her best to manage my expectations.
“There are no flights going to London,” she said, as all the phones around her rang off the hook. “The earliest flight we can put you on is gonna be end of May.”
What? That was over a month away. I had to find another way home.
The scene at the airport was one of mayhem. Lots of travellers found themselves stuck in Mumbai for an indefinite amount of time and, because many had spent all their money during their trip, had nowhere to go. Therefore, people camped out and slept in the airports for days and days.
One evening a few days later, after spending an entire day at the Jet Airways office in Colaba trying to figure out a way back home to London I went for dinner at Leopold’s Cafe in Colaba.
The restaurant was bustling when I arrived and I was asked if I’d consider sharing a table with another guest given the limited amount of space.
“Sure,” I said.
The host led me to a table where a young Indian chap was sitting. In front of him was a notebook with 3 mobile phones resting on top. We started chatting. His name was Benoy and over dinner I learned that he was a Mumbai-based dealmaker. Essentially, he went around town structuring and putting together deals.
Dinner was a friendly affair. We exchanged contact details and agreed to stay in touch.
In the days that followed, the flying ban was lifted and I managed to get on a plane back to London.
It would be nearly two years since that evening at Leopold’s before I received a call from Benoy.
“Yaar, it’s me Benoy”
I was in the middle of run in Hyde Park when I received the call.
It so happened that I had a client in India at the time and was traveling there regularly. So when Benoy asked me when I would be in Mumbai next, I already knew.
“Next month,” I said. “Why?”
“You need to meet Samen,” he said. “I’ll make the introduction by e-mail shortly.”
The following month I met Benoy’s contact, a silver-haired financier in his mid-fifties, at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai.
“I understand you have a good network of contacts in the Middle East,” he said. “Prominent?”
“Some of the largest investors in the world,” I said. “Family Offices, Sovereign Wealth Funds and specialised investment vehicles.”
“Then I would like to tell you about a highly confidential investment opportunity, which I believe would appeal to Middle Eastern money.”
I was all ears.
By the time Samen had finished explaining to me that India’s most expensive hotel was potentially for sale I was excited and sad. Excited about phenomenal real estate opportunity. Sad that my chai drink had gone cold.
The following day, Samen took me to meet with the owner, CEO and CFO of this luxury hotel group, at their Mumbai office.
Long story short, within two weeks I had the official mandate to sell the hotel. A multi-hundred million dollar deal. And the following month I was back in Mumbai with members of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority‘s real estate team.
The rest of that story is for another post but I hope you get the message. Were it not for the Rickshaw Run, I wouldn’t have travelled to India in early 2010. And had I not been in Mumbai when the volcano erupted in Iceland then I’d not have eaten at Leopold’s the night I was asked to sit across the table from Benoy, who later introduced me to Samen, who in turn introduced me to the hotel deal.
There are several reasons why:
Do it for YOU: the clock is ticking for us all. It’s the one thing we share in common. You, me, the girl sitting across from you on the bus, your professor, your colleague at work and your parents. Let’s face it, we all have an expiry date.
Ironically, though we know the time given to each of us is finite, many of us continue to live as if there is no end in sight. And we forget how quickly the time we’ve already been fortunate to have – whether you are now in your twenties or forties – has passed. I, too, am often oblivious to this very important fact and force myself to recognise it from time to time.
So go on those adventures you’ve always dreamed of before it’s too late. Create wonderful memories and shared experiences.
Do it for BUSINESS: going on adventures make you a more experienced and fulfilled individual and enriches your character and personality, all of which, whether you realise it or not, does impact your business dealings. You’ll have more world experience. More to talk about. More potential points of interest in common with potential business partners and clients. More interesting stories to tell.
People like interesting people. I would rather get into a business partnership with an interesting person and make USD100,000 than partner with a dull being and make USD200,000.
Do it for the unknown: do it because you never know what’s in store for you when you venture into the unknown. I’m no fortune teller but the one thing I can promise you is that if you don’t get out of your comfort zone then you leave a lot to chance, who, the likes of Marcus Aurelius have told us over the years, does NOT favour the fearful and risk-averse. Be intrepid and open yourself to the world. Who knows what the universe will throw your way.
The Rickshaw Run enabled me to learn more about a country I love by traveling cross-country on a three-wheeler; to meet a dealmaker in India and a famous Indian hotel group; and also to befriend the crazy guy who founded The Adventurists.
On the nature of Adventures
Anyone who knows me well will tell you that about 30% of my personality is directly attributable to the Indiana Jones movies. When I was child I dreamt of living the life of the fictional archeology professor. And though from a very young age the films whet my appetite for travel, through the years I’ve learned that one need not travel far to experience adventure.
You don’t have to sail across the Atlantic or ride a motorcycle across the Saharan desert to go on an adventure. Colourful exploits can happen in your very own neighbourhood, campus or office. So long as it’s exciting and daring it does NOT matter where it takes place or how much you pay to enjoy it. A motorcycle rally from London to Ulaanbaatar is glamorous but it would be a mistake to overplay the importance of the location (e.g. India) or the tools (e.g. auto-rickshaw). They are but the superficial layer in the stack. What you experience and learn, not to mention the people you meet, in the course of your adventure is the real value proposition.
If you want a seminal adventure somewhere closer to home without having to fork out lots of money then start paying attention to two simples rules.
- Break your routine: by definition setting off on an adventure means veering off the predictable every day path you take. Think of your journey to work or school. If you’re like most human beings, you do it practically on auto-pilot which means your senses are running at minimal capacity. You don’t pay as much attention to detail. Therefore, take a new route and your ears and eyes will thank you for the refreshing new taste. Why not explore a part of the town or city you haven’t been to before and make it a point to speak to strangers? If you live in a big city then you know how it is to run around all day and walk past hundreds of people without every saying a word to them. Occasionally, too, we recognise people we’ve seen before whose daily routine leads them to cross paths with us. Why not say hello to them and work your way to a conversation. I regularly remind myself to chat to people, whether I’m in line at the coffee shop or in an airport lounge. Remember, if it weren’t for breaking routines explorers of the Old World would not have discovered the New World.
- Get moving and do something: by definition an adventures requires you to act. In other words, you need to transition from being a spectator to a doer. Turn off Netflix, step out of the door and try something new. Book a cheap train or bus ticket somewhere new and explore. Warning: beware of the quicksands of the ‘pencil sharpening’ stage. Don’t spend hours thinking what adventure to go on or you’ll sit in front of the computer researching and researching until you say to yourself, ‘Well I might as well sit home and watch a movie’. Make a quick decision and act on it.
My promise: make an effort, however small, to appreciate the above two rules, and adventure will begin to drip into your life.
Simple exercises to adopt an adventurer’s mindset
Ambitious goals and endeavours require an individual to make varying degrees of life changes. Many of them will fall under the “little things in life” category. In other words, if you want to become someone else or something more, then there are little steps you need to take to set you on your way. Collectively, these adjustments will help you reach your goal.
First, change your route to work or school tomorrow morning. It doesn’t mean tripling your commute time but trying something new. For instance:
- Create a morning routine. Or perhaps tweak yours
- If you sit at the front of the bus or train then sit at the back
- Try out a new mode of transport
- If you avoid speaking to people next to you then strike up a conversation. Start with a “hello” or “hi” if you’re shy and gradually work your way up to having full conversations (Note: some people will find you weird and will ignore you. That’s okay. You need to get comfortable with different reactions and develop thick skin)
- If you drink a particular product (tea) en route then try something different. And go to a different establishment (cafe) to change settings
- If you walk a certain path then change it up
Secondly, change the things you do during the day. For instance:
- Eat different foods for lunch; try a different restaurant (one you’ve never tried before)
- Eat somewhere new, such as in a nearby park or outside in a public area
- Speak to at least one new person at work. Don’t just say hello and walk away but try to learn more about them as a person. And show genuine interest.
- Pick up the phone to someone you always e-mail and speak to them instead
Lastly, try out new things in the evening. For instance:
- Don’t watch television or Netflix. Avoid social media
- Go for a long walk
- Try out a new form of exercise (e.g. hot yoga)
- Start working on a novel. Even if you’re not a great writer you can become one with time and practice. Or write a screenplay. Or a poem. Writing does wonders for the mind
- Go see a play or some other live performance
- The idea is for you to move away from being a spectator (watching shows) to doing or creating
Over to you
Remember, it’s never too late to get adventurous. Even the guy or girl who climbed Everest once wore diapers and cried mommy when a police siren went off in the street. With time we can become the people we want to be.
Adopt the right mindset – break your routine and be a doer – and your life will become the greatest adventure there is.
Who knows, maybe our adventures will cross paths someday and we’ll meet.