Three years ago I meet a young man on the platform at the Jaipur Train Station, Janu. My arrival in Jaipur was preceded by three long sweaty weeks of solo travel in India where everyone wanted money. Janu is a driver and he was looking for a fare. I knew I was being hustled but in my exhaustion, I gave in, bargained for a price to the hotel where I was to meet a friend. When he dropped me off at the hotel, none of us had change to break the large bill and Janu said something that took me by surprise. You can pay me later, he said. For the first time in three weeks, a transaction that was not money–centric. He impressed me. I ended up hiring him for the next couple of days and wrote about it here.
Wanting to experience Holi, I emailed Janu to see if he would help us out and act as our fixer for the few days we will be in town.
What a difference three years makes.
Janu’s Private Tour is now an expanded operation with drivers and six cars under his command. Long gone are the days where he greets the arriving train and hustles fare from the platform.
Over coffee one afternoon, in between juggling calls from two cell phones, Sherry and I talked to him at length about his business.
Your Schedule. Whatever You Want, However You Want.
Janu’s operation is not a typical tour operation. He doesn’t have a pre-set package that you would join with a bunch of strangers. Instead you hire his car and his drive and set the schedule yourself. You can stay in a town longer than anticipated, for less days than you originally thought and change your mind at the last minute about where to go and what to do. You are in control. Janu and his men are here to facilitate.
His Word. Remember That Little Something Called Honor?
No deposits, no credit card number necessary. All you need to do is make the arrangements, the numbers of dates, approximate itinerary and price and he will be there to pick you up. Showing up is not contingent on payment received. What a concept! Showing up is a matter of honor and that he has given you his word.
Pay Me Later.
Years later, with a vastly expanded operation, Janu still does not accept money up front for his services. You pay him at the end of your trip, and of course if you are not happy for any reason, you can re-negotiate the fees. Satisfaction guarantee is baked into the business and service from the start.
Part of a tour operator’s standard business practice is the commission they make from making hotel arrangements and other secondary services on your behalf. What Janu does it he give you a list of hotels within your budget in the cities you want to visit. You can look over each property on your own and make the reservations directly. He does not make any commission in between, as there is no way for the hotel to know how you are referred when you make the bookings on your own.
This alleviate the question you have in the back of your mind, I wonder how much of a percentage did he make off of me / am I being rip off?! It also has the added benefit of reducing the amount of customer complaints. Everyone has different standards and minimal necessities when it comes to lodging. Some wants air-conditioning and other must have turn down service. There is no way to please everyone and someone is bound to be unhappy. If your tour operator is in charge of your lodging, they would be the first of hear of your dissatisfaction. By forgoing the commission, Janu ensures the variables he cannot control (i.e. hotel managements and services) is not directly reflected as part of his business performance.
Three years ago Janu impressed me with his manners. Three years later, his ability to eliminate all Westerner’s concern and possible objection when booking a tour impressed me yet again. It is no wonder he has expanded so rapidly and successfully.
The hard part of any business expansion is the how do you clone yourself problem?! With the expanded and growing operation, Janu must hire and try to select people whose ethos best represent his business conduct. I had a chance to meet a few of his other drivers and they all seem to be on the up and up and lovely. But lets be real. This is India. Everyone has a side hustle if not two. Whether Janu knows of them, if the manner those side hustles are conducted are inline with his own ethos that is hard to say. I trust by the success, the repeat business and all the glowing recommendations from other travelers that Janu has managed and selected his team well.