Kolkata: This placements season at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, four students didn't do the job interviews. Why? Because they have already launched their own venture, one that last week won the Wharton India Economic Forum Startup Competition. Called Zostel, it is India's first ever chain of backpackers' hostels. There are two Zostels now but they have big plans - maybe 65 Zostels across India sooner rather than later.
Zostel isn't really a word, but a gang of seven is determined to make it a household name. Backpackers' hostels with a zing, Zostel promises a never before travel experience which is also cheap. Beds at the Zostel's air-conditioned dorms start at less than Rs 400 a night.
"At Zostel we have a huge focus on creating engaging evenings, ice breaking session between people from different cultures and that's the right way to travel. You should not come to Zostel because it is affordable. You should come to a Zostel because it is the right way to travel," said Zostel CEO Dharamveer Singh Chauhan.
But at Rs 400 a bed per night, is the business model workable? "We are not fools," says Paavan Nanda, another IIM-Calcutta student and one of the gang of seven entrepreneurs. "The payback structure is 12 to 14 months. Of course we have garnered interest of external investors. We are planning to get external funding, considering our aggressive plans of opening 8 to 10 properties in the next 12 months. The investors are happy with our business model. It is workable."
The brains behind Zostel are Dharamveer, Paavan and two other IIM-Calcutta students - Akhil Mallik and Tarun Tewari. Their fellow entrepreneurs include two Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University) friends and a finance whiz. Their start-up got a big-thumbs up at Wharton last week. But even before that, they knew no placements for them. They were going to follow their hearts.
"I am an avid backpacker. I am a trekker so I take a lot of interest in this," says Akhil. "So if you can do something you which you are really passionate about, which you really love and still earn your living with it, I think that's the best life one can have."
Zostel's two hostels are in Jaipur and Jodhpur. They plan 65 Zostels across India and then on to Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The gang of seven's biggest dream: change the face of tourism in the Indian subcontinent.