Business Lessons I Learned Driving a Rickshaw Across the Himalayas (Part 1)

05.03.20 09:17 PM By Matthew Whyatt

Business reflects life in so many regards, and after a somewhat audacious adventure with my best mate through the oxygen-deprived mountains of the Himalayas in a woefully unsuitable vehicle, I was reminded just how much that’s true. Over two wild weeks, we journeyed from Leh Ledakh to Shimla by rickshaw. Yes, by rickshaw. That compact, three-wheeled 10hp vehicle also known as a tuk-tuk, which, in this case was unsurprisingly overtaken by four-wheel drives (a much more sensible choice) and the odd asthmatic pensioner the entire way. Two grown men in an undersized vehicle was as much a site to behold for bystanders as it was a challenge for its occupants. We had no experience, no training and, most of the time, no GPS to guide us. What we did have was a sense of adventure, determination to make it work, a clear goal, a fair helping of common sense and perhaps a little bit of sheer luck. Sounds like all the ingredients you need when setting out in business too…

In this series of posts, I’m going to do something a little bit different and look at all the ways my crazy adventure reminded me of important lessons I’ve learnt from twenty years in business. Hopefully you’ll be able to learn something too – from the safety and comfort of your couch or your desk chair or the bus, wherever you may be.

So, without further ado, here are my first two lessons.

Lesson One: Start Early and Go Long

Traversing by rickshaw through the Himalayas was by no means an efficient journey. Particularly when your rickshaw is weighed down by two fully grown men as well as two weeks’ worth of luggage. It took a really long time to get from A to B and involved a lot of setbacks and many things we didn’t – and couldn’t have – seen coming. Fortunately, this is something we were expecting and we’d planned our trip accordingly. Being prepared for the unexpected meant that when things went awry or took a lot longer than anticipated, it wasn’t the end of the world. We weren’t bothered or stressed or unable to see a way through. Instead, we could keep calm, find a solution and – without sounding like a cliché – enjoy the ride.

This experience reminded me that good things take effort. A lot of effort. Sometimes this effort comes naturally and other times – like when two inexperienced rickshaw drivers venture into the unknown – it’s a lot harder. For example, you might find yourself thinking that your rickshaw is broken and decide to try and improve its performance at the highest transit camp in India. At night-time. And then you might find that you’re 4,600 meters above sea level changing the fuel filter and the spark plugs and pulling the carburettor apart in the dark, only to learn that the rickshaw was already operating at full capacity and none of these things were going to make a difference. The only thing that was going to make a difference was keeping at it – going long, if you will. As the great Steve Martin once said: “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent”. Our persistence got us where we needed to go, even if our optimistic performance enhancing ideas did not. Likewise, if you keep persistent in business, you’ll get there too. Even if you’re not the most talented or experienced competitor on the block, never underestimate the power of hard work and just how much you’ll learn along the way.

Another thing this trip and my experience in business has taught me is that good things also take time. It’s important to get started as soon as you can – armed with a plan – and settle in for the long-haul. On our Himalayan journey, for instance, we chugged along slowly and were constantly being overtaken by more suitable vehicles – stronger, faster four-wheel drives that were equipped for the terrain and got where they were going in half the time or less. In business, you’ll find the same happening with other companies who are seemingly getting there faster. Don’t be disheartened or discouraged – their goals and their strategy are different to yours, but it doesn’t mean these are better or more effective or even more sustainable. As long as you keep your eyes on your own unique goals and utilise your own skills and resources, you’ll achieve everything you want to achieve at your own pace. Our Himalayan adventure – and life – aren’t a race, after all.

Lesson Two: When things are shit, take a moment to realise how far you’ve come, keep it light and keep going

On a similar note, it’s important – both when on a dangerous mountain adventure and when running a business – to remember that things are not always going to be smooth sailing. But when things aren’t going as you’d hoped or expected, these are good times to stop and reflect and remind yourself that, actually, you’re achieving something awesome. At one point on our journey, we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam for three hours at the top of the mountain surrounded by four metre ice walls on either side as the weather became progressively worse. Clouds rose in and it went from sleet to snow to rain. I don’t need to remind you that we were in an open-sided tuk-tuk. 

With nowhere to go, we had to dig our rickshaw into the side of the mountain to make room for a truck to get past. It could have been a grim “why on earth are we doing this?” moment, a dark cloud – pun intended – over our trip, but instead we were able to stop and reflect on everything we’d done that had led up to that moment. We could then laugh at the craziness and then – once the traffic had cleared – head back towards our goal. Because, at the end of the day, in life and in business, a bump in the road or a traffic jam or whatever it may be, is nothing you can’t handle. Learn from these hiccups and achieve success in spite of them. 

For more business lessons learned driving a rickshaw across the Himalayas, keep your eye on or follow me on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.

Matthew Whyatt

Matthew helps owners and managers of B2B software and technology companies who are frustrated with their sales results, to win more business. Matthew started his first software business over 20 years ago, after a very successful sales career where he regularly outsold long established players in a number of markets. Matthews' relentless thirst for knowledge and his ability to apply that knowledge in real world situations makes him a truly versatile salesperson. If you're interested in scaling up and getting more clients then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.