In search for meaning in business!

The writer explains the concept of escaping life as people have known to the one they want, from the point of view of business

In the olden days, if someone gave up his ‘normal’ life, either he gave it up to become a sanyasi and he banished himself to the mountains or Varanasi; or he ended up as a ‘hippie’ on one of Goa’s innumerable beaches. In both the cases the trigger was frustration with ‘normal’ life. Post Covid, this frustration seems to have intensified to the power of hundred and it is making people do unexpected things. In the entrepreneurial space, it has made people become suddenly risk-prone – anything to change the way things are – safety net be damned.

Covid has made us all realise that instead of planning how we will live in the future, we should start living in the moment, because the only certain thing is this moment. This has led educated professionals to give up their jobs and their lifestyle and choose to live in a manner that is almost grassroot. The domain could be anything – it could be farming, or adventure sports in the mountains; it could be ‘unschooling’ or it could be plant-based nutrition. The urge to ‘escape’ from life as they have known, to a life as they desire, seems to be imminent and genuine. How they go about it to make a viable and sustainable business model remains to be seen.

We live in the mountains in Uttarakhand and since Dominique, my partner and I love trekking and climbing, we are fairly tuned to whatever is happening in the holiday/adventure sports domain in the entire Himalayan biosphere. Two constant refrains as value propositions being offered, of late, are ‘slowness’ and ‘organic’. I’m guessing by slowness they mean there is no rat-race; and by organic they mean chemical-free. Given that most of them focus more on selling the visuals and none on creature comforts, you’d expect price points to be reasonable if not rock-bottom. Much to our surprise we found that a mud-hut is prized like a Louis Vuitton bag!

When we opened Concoctions, our Indo-French eatery, we were very clear that our pricing would not be driven by costs. Since we had a Michelin Star Chef, we could have positioned our eatery as a gourmet artisanal space and therefore commanded premium pricing. But like Kamprad (of IKEA), I asked myself, why should gourmet food cost a kidney?
And when we decided to shut down Concoctions because we wanted to hang up our professional boots and wear trekking shoes for the next phase of our life, we were in a place where we could afford to do so, without compromising on creature comforts. This is not the case with those who are becoming disenchanted with their lives and embracing grassroot entrepreneurship. They still need to earn their livelihood and therefore they offer products and experiences at prices that are exorbitant and not commensurate with their intrinsic value.

This can at best be a phase of transition. On Instagram I see that every second person is a happiness coach or a yoga teacher or a nutrition expert. If these are the new escape career options and if there is no thought applied to make them sustainable, more such ideas will fall by the wayside and we will have a more frustrated populace. In business, heart matters. Only as long as heart guides the head to build a robust business model. When we shut down Concoctions, and we put our equipment on sale, plenty of people approached us. Somehow either the intent to buy was not backed by the purchasing power or the last mile closing would falter and we did not press the action button. Then one day someone who wanted to set up a Community Kitchen in the temple town of Tiruvannamalai reached out on LinkedIn and bingo! It clicked. It seemed that our heart had found a new body to beat in and continue to create meaning! We decided to donate all our equipment to this company and we are hopeful that the Concoctions spirit will continue to live and spread cheer!

It is very hard to get head and heart to have a meaningful conversation, especially in business. It is strange because both are intention-centric, yet the head overlooks the value of intended consequence. And that necessarily has to be to create meaning in society. If this doesn’t happen and happen on scale, the person who ran away from the life that frustrated him will duplicate the exact same life for himself and more dangerously for others!

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