OneSeed Expeditions Founder Wanted A Job That Would Allow Him To Travel — So He Created One. And You Can Ask Him Anything About Toilets in Nepal.
Chris Baker, 30
OneSeed Expeditions, an international adventure travel company that invests 10 percent of every trip’s cost into small businesses in the host countries.
Yes. Chris also has five full-time employees and nearly 70 local travel guides who contract with him in seven host countries.
Chris started OneSeed Expeditions with a month-long crowdfunding campaign that raised $20,000. Each investor then received quarterly interest payments and financial reports.
BEFORE BEING AN OWNER, HE WAS
An anthropology and South Asian studies major who had several jobs in high school and college – from family and pet portrait photography, to driving a recycling truck, to doing “waste-stream analysis” at his university, which he says was a fancy job description for wearing a hazmat suit and diving in dumpsters. After college graduation, he worked with Kiva, an international microfinance organization, and then with Teach for America, as a special ed instructor in Aurora, Colo.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Chris fell in love with the mountains of Nepal, working there during college and with Kiva. He was struck by how many tourists visited the country – often to climb Mt. Everest – and how much money they spent doing it. “I remember sitting in a lodge in the Everest region and realizing that, on average, each traveler there was spending the annual per capita income for Nepal every three days,” he said. “Right around $500 at that time.”
He also saw what local entrepreneurs were doing with relatively small business loans. Loans of $150 bought a dairy cow or a started a chicken breeding program, “and the returns on investment were really big,” Chris said.
He decided to build a for-profit company with a social mission. One that would support local small business owners by giving them interest-free loans from the profits of their country’s adventure travel.
HOW HE DID — AND DIDN’T — SPEND HIS MONEY
Chris’s biggest expense at first was traveling to Nepal and running a month-long guide training there. He personally checked every bed and bathroom they were considering for OneSeed guest lodging. “I have a huge folder of toilets in rural Nepal,” he said.
He didn’t initially spend his money on nicely designed business cards, t-shirts or other branded material. He also didn’t hire anyone to help with business functions like web design or bookkeeping.
“You can do pretty much everything on your own the first year,” he said. “It’s good to reach out to people for support and guidance, but if you’re right off the bat contracting out core functions of your business, it’s probably not good. And if you can’t determine whether it’s a core function of your business, then you definitely shouldn’t be contracting it out.”
THE MOMENT HE FELT LIKE IT WAS REAL
Chris can still vividly picture the morning after school let out for summer vacation in 2011. He’d resigned from teaching to work on OneSeed Expeditions full time, and as he was biking across a bridge to his new coworking office, “the sun was coming up in Denver, the ballpark was there, and I was like, ‘This is it. This is what being an entrepreneur is like.’”
He also recalls the day, four months in, when the company earned its first revenue. “I remember taking that check to the bank,” he said. “I was so proud. But it also locked me in. Now I had to do this thing.”
Chris intended OneSeed Expeditions would be limited to Nepal travel, but after one season he realized his business model could be replicated in other countries. The company now operates in Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Peru and Tanzania, and plans to add Bhutan this fall.
SOMETHING HE’S STRUGGLED WITH
“Moderating emotional reactions over time,” Chris said. “You really can’t get too excited about anything, and you really can’t get too upset about anything.”
This applies to heavy and light sales days, he says, but he also remembers a time when he read a mediocre Yelp review right before bed and couldn’t sleep for four hours. Now, Chris tries to keep his emotions tied to the bigger picture. “You’ve got to learn to pull out the things you can take next steps on and cast aside the things you can’t really control.”
SOMETHING HE’S PROUD OF
“We’ve invested in 350 businesses around the world and never taken a dollar in donations,” Chris said. He talks about meeting the pig farmers in Nepal and the food cart vendors in Chile whose ventures OneSeed Expeditions has granted interest-free loans to with the help of local microfinance organizations. “It’s not like [OneSeed Expeditions is] coming in and dumping some money,” Chris said. “We’re business owners working with each other on equal footing.”
BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OWNING AND WORKING FOR SOMEONE ELSE
“Having autonomy over my schedule has always been number one for me,” Chris said. “In elementary school I remember wishing the teacher would just put the whole day’s assignments up on the board in the morning so I could do them and go home. I realized later in life, that’s exactly what entrepreneurship is.”
BEST ADVICE TO BUSINESS OWNERS JUST STARTING OUT
“You have to figure out what motivates you. Whether that’s money or flexibility of schedule and time. Whatever that thing is, align that with how your business works.”