10 years in Nepal #2: A Business evaluation.

Why did you leave Denmark?

People asks us this question – if not every day – then at least once a week.

When they hear or read about our comfortable and privileged life in Copenhagen they don’t understand why we ended up with a hotel in Kathmandu…. (And now one more in Lisbon)

Well – it’s not difficult. If you know us – how curious we are & how we think – we are pretty sure you will understand our decision.

Back in the 00s we worked with the most interesting companies and brands in what we found the most attractive industries in the world: Entertainment, Beer, Communication, Design, Branding, Advertising & Fashion. And together with the best consultants, advertising agencies, brand strategists & specialists we had been involved in some of the biggest successes at that time.

We just couldn’t imagine projects more interesting than the ones we’ve already worked with.

But most important – after working up to 100 hrs every week for more than 25 years only to increase business for big corporations, we wanted to do something more meaningful. We wanted to use our skills and experience to make life better for people.

These reasons combined with our desire to live in other cultures were our driving forces behind leaving Copenhagen to start-up in Kathmandu (I have blogged about that before)

Have you achieved what you wanted?

This morning I had breakfast with a guest from Indian who have read our blogs and new a lot about Tings and us… I told him more or less the story above and thought all was good when he asked me the question above…

If we have achieved what we wanted!!!.

I didn’t have more time – and if I have had I wouldn’t be able to answer him… so I just said hmmm… and wished him a good day.

This months it’s exactly 10 years ago we left Copenhagen to start up Toga Hospitality Pvt Ltd. our company in Kathmandu. So I have spend the day looking back evaluating.

We are marketing people or strategist. Not doctors who cures people or engineers who build roads, wells or power plants. We make business plans, creates brands & Concepts and discover and develop talent. So that’s what we brought to Kathmandu… a business plan for Tings Kathmandu and our experience.  

Tings Kathmandu is the platform we work from. It’s here we hire and engage young boys and girls and teach them how to run our hotel and restaurant according to our brand and concept. This Business must be self sustainable – in other words – it has to exist on strictly commercial conditions without any support from Embassies, organisations etc. Like in the rest of the world: If there is a market AND if we can reach this market with an attractive service then the business will last. Finally Tings must be able to be managed by the ‘kids’ we employ and without our involvement.

The whole expat community thought we were out of our minds when we told them about our plans:

An international hotel hidden away in a residential neighbourhood behind the main road – are you crazy? And … leave the business with young kids… Forget about it…  they will run away with everything were a few of the prejudices we were up against…

Today we have proved all of them wrong.

Tings Kathmandu has been up and running for 8 years now – with top ranking on all travel charts.

#11 with 292 Top ratings – Tings Kathmandu still going strong on 8th year!

After 1 year we left the responsibilities to Dorje Dolma. A young and powerful Tibetan girl with the right approach and attitude, but with NO experience in Hotel Management at all.

Like in all other modern companies her position grew with her responsibility. Today she is not only manager – she is our partner and MD of Toga Hospitality Pvt Ltd that owns Tings Kathmandu. Add to that all the other young boys and girls with different background, religions and cast who have passed through Tings and developed their skills with us and at the schools they have asked to join and we’ve funded from the income from Tings.

So not only have we dealt with traditional Western arrogant prejudices (where poor often equals stupidity, laziness etc). In a country where sex, religion and a medieval cast system are barriers people are forced to deal in their daily life, we have shown that by focusing on talent and attitude – like we do in the business world – you can easily start-up and run a business. It may not seem like a big difference – but it is.

A restaurant for locals and international without local food. Hahahaha… and home baked bread for breakfast… are you stoned?… this was another prejudice, we were up against. And another stupid one we proved wrong. And we know exactly when we knew, we had succeeded.

When HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark visited Nepal, Tings Tea Lounge won the menu entreprise in front of a few 5 star hotels. “We” is actually the wrong word – Dorje and our then chef, Jit, won it – and planned and prepared everything, from the first mail to the final payment from a very enthusiastic ambassadeur. Annette and I were not even there – we were in Lisbon!

We are not chefs but we now how a bad olive oil smell, how to make pasta al dente, confit, mayonnaise and other food items we love ourselves. So we just taught the kids in the kitchen how to make our recipes and how to clean a kitchen. The kids who had higher ambitions than we could help them with, we send to restaurant school or encouraged and helped finding another and more ambitious restaurant than ours.

Tings Tea Lounge still exist – and still without local food. Again it’s not big – but again it’s a difference.  

We try to support and help where we can – like starting up Full Circle Nepal

Yes we have achieved what we wanted

A few years ago I researched the Danish B2B program in Nepal. Despite huge government fundings over the years it was only a handful of projects (out of hundreds) that still existed. I am pretty sure that you won’t find a single existing B2B project today. And nobody cares anymore.

So money is obviously not the way to nurture the business environment in developing countries. A bullet proof business plan is the only way to make a difference – with that you get investors.

We had a plan we believed in and was willing to risc our own money and time. We got involved in all ways 24/7 for 2-3 years where we stayed, lived and worked among our staff – none of them had never travelled before – or stayed in a hotel for that matter. So ‘talking’ about ambiance, ‘hygge’, the music we wanted to hear, pasta al dente etc didn’t make any sense at all. We had to show what we wanted by doing things ourselves.

Furthermore: To get the right picture of the business, we didn’t burden the the company with our international salaries.

As we expected – the kids we involved were as smart and clever as their fellow kids in Denmark. The most difficult part was to get them to call us Thomas & Annette instead of Sir and Mam 🙂

This business approach frightens most NGO’s and iNGO’s.

To us there’s nothing wrong in making money – especially not in a poor country. It’s the way you spend them that matters, which brings me back to our platform.

We have used Tings Kathmandu to teach, educate and develop all the boys and girls that have passed through our life in Lazimpat: By paying for their schools, by giving them jobs, by explaining why we do things the way we do and by listening and holding hands.

Self sustainable charity: Tings Kathmandu is our platform we work from.

But Tings is more than that – it’s also our playground for our personal interests: Annette plays with her designs in Tings Ting, I play with food at Tings Tea Lounge and we both play with Art & Culture in Tings Art. A web of other projects that have involved hundreds of other young and talented boys and girls who have benefited from the business generated from Tings Kathmandu.

That’s another story.

This is the first of 3 evaluations – read:
10 years in Nepal #2 – An art evaluation