Entrepreneur WATCH:The Travel Business

This is a new feature that I hope readers will enjoy. With my interest in entrepreneurship and becoming one myself, selfishly, I thought it is a good way to feature upcoming small businesses here, and learn from them 🙂

People who’ve dared to follow through on their dreams and strike out on their own. Except for a few communities who’ve always been known for business families, the great Indian Middle Class has always prized a steady job in established professions. This generation is different though, and we are seeing a lot of first-time entrepreneurs in many fields. The Entrepreneur Watch Series will bring you some of these stories, not all well-known, some in little known fields, but all interesting and enlightening for those of us who want to walk this road.

And so, I give you Deepa Krishnan, co-founder of Filter Coffee Tours and Mumbai Magic, personalised travel offerings in India. Deepa has an unusual background for someone who has entered the travel industry, and that was one of the things which intrigued me. I’ll stop here and let you read more about Deepa in her own words, in this interview I did with her.

To start with, it would be good to know a little about yourself. What was your academic/work background? (Any specific experiences/training that moved you towards this industry?)

MBA from IIM Calcutta, marketing and finance. Consulting career in banking technology. Clients included Citibank, Standard Chartered, Morgan Stanley, Barclays Bank. Was based in Chennai for 6 years. My overseas consulting clients who visited Chennai would ask me for advice on sightseeing and shopping…and I became a de-facto local expert!

One client said to me “Deepa, you know there’s a business idea sitting in here, you should do something” And I realized there was opportunity in the market for offering professional tours to business travelers. No one really was catering to the busy executive, visiting India on work, who had an evening or weekend free and wanted to see the city. So set up Filter Coffee Tours (with a partner, Zuleika Nazneen). Its now been three years. Then when I moved to Mumbai, I set up Mumbai Magic. My partner now runs Chennai.

What is it about you as a person that led you to start this?

A love for history and culture, people skills, sales skills, network, I had them all!

You mentioned working as a consultant for the banking industry. Quite a distance from travel entrepreneur! Where do the worlds meet? (Any skills/networks from one to the other?)

I was well networked into several banks, BPOs, finance companies and software companies in Chennai. It helped me get customers really quickly, because I had already been informally doing tours for visitors.

Tell us more! What was the initial experience like? What were the hiccups?

There haven’t been any hiccups actually. The business is doing well, and I’m happy with it.

Moving along, how do you see yourself competing against the innumerable tour operators who offer guided tours in various cities? Where do you score against them?

For a country like ours, there aren’t enough tour operators doing professional, insightful researched tours! There are more touts than guides, especially in the “tourist belts”. There are rip-offs, commissions and scams. I’m hoping we’ll stand head and shoulders above this, both in terms of the quality of the tour delivered as well as the honesty and integrity of the guides

I wish I had more competition, not less!

Between 30-50% of the profits from my tours go to charity, to akanksha. I also offer free tours and discounted tours for people who are doing NGO work/research into slums.

I’m promoting “responsible tourism” by involving community people in the tours e.g. our tour of Worli fishing village uses a lady from a local fishing family as the guide. Similarly the Dharavi tour uses a local person. The idea is for money spent in the country to go into the hands of local people and benefit the local economy.

Is there a particular profile of traveler that you target?

Primary market (for personalized tours by car)
– Indian companies – these are the people in local corporate and banks and software companies who receive visitors and who are looking for someone who will provide reliable hospitality for senior visitors. It is an untapped market.
– Business travelers – people for whom time is money, and who want an intelligent, insightful look into the country.
– High-end tourists – who want a high quality tour with great service, personalized itineraries, and no mess-ups.

New target segments I have started
– Small group tours – 2-6 people. These are bazaar walks, heritage district walks, boat tours etc. No cars.
– Specialized tours – right now, I’m offering Cuisine Tours where you can visit an Indian home and take a lesson, or for larger groups, visit specialty restaurants and learn recipes.
– Travel Advisory services – I am the India representative for Your Safe Planet, a UK-based travel site that promotes responsible tourism.

How are you promoting the offering? How do your customers find you?

The Internet is amazing, isn’t it? People seem to find me. My blog helps a lot. It establishes credibility. I send out emails as well, to a mailing list.

For a five-month old venture (in Mumbai) I’ve had a lot of press coverage here. It came looking for me and not vice versa. Just finished shoot for a Travel Show for Discovery Travel Channel – will air in October in the US. Just did an interview with CNN, not sure when it will air. Current India Today issue also likely to have an interview.

How big is this venture now?

Five guides in Mumbai.
Three in Chennai.
Spanish, German and English language tours.

What next? More cities? Rural? How big do you plan to be? Tell us about your plans!

Opening a Delhi office this year. Might do more cities next year (Pune, Bangalore, Hyd). I’d like to grow to a group of 50 guides all over India in the next couple of years.

Want to do a sort of lec-dem format Bharatanatyam show for overseas audiences. And then expand this to other dance forms. More specialty tours – a cricket tour, or other theme-based tours

Good Luck to Deepa for all those plans! If you know of any other interesting stories, or would like to be featured here yourself, do mail me at aputhebirdATyahooDOTcom



  1. […] the first part of the series, Apu brings you an interview with Deepa Krishnan, co-founder of Filter Coffee Tours and Mumbai Magic. […]

  2. […] first in the series, is an interview with Deepa Krishnan, co-founder of some interesting travel offerings in India. Go read! […]

  3. Excellent interview! Good luck to Deepa. I think I should go on the filter coffee tour. There is so much that I don’t know about Chennai!

    So Apu, when are you going to start your business 🙂

  4. May I suggest Deepa tp my sister in law in mumbai who has a Master’s degree in tourism?She may be interesyed.

  5. SS, Thanks..Its amazing isnt it, how much we travel and yet know so little about the places closest to us…

    Padmaji, why not! See what all the internet throws up….

  6. Hey this is a very inspiring interview. Looking forward to more of it 🙂

  7. very interesting indeed
    i hope you dont mind me bookmarking this site

  8. hey
    so u hooked up with Deepa then! Cool! Mebbe we cud do her Filter Coffee tour when I visit what say?

  9. Hey Apu!

    This is indeed a very interesting series you’ve started. Am looking forward to reading more about entrepreneurs.
    Could you please include the ‘basic set-up’/capital/advertising expenses/market research related information in your next interviews?

    Thanks for the post:)!

  10. DG, Yes, I managed to as you see….the tour does sound like fun though the TA is prob newcomers to the city…

    Sparsh, thanks for th suggestion. Since this is the first one, I can add on more detail…

  11. Apu, this is awesome! I knew Deepa had these walks and I always thought I’d check em out next time I was in BBay but this sounds really great.

    Kudos to her for doing it, and you for the interview.

  12. hey
    dunno if u’d be interested but u remember my krupa clny mate Anand? well, he’s a big time VC now. Was with Bessemer, now has quit that and moved to Nalanda Capital. do u want to interview him?

    ps: totally off topic but where are the pix? am all agog!

  13. […] those who haven’t seen it, the first post in the Entrepreneur Watch series is here. And, if you see an interesting business that you think should be featured here, do write to me at […]

  14. […] coming up and here it is! In the previous instalments of the Entrepreneur Watch series, we met an off-beat travel firm and a mid-sized company in the business of editing and related solutions, catering mainly to the […]

  15. Thanks for this, great blog too.Will keep coming back here!

  16. Yeah! I agree with you, “With my interest in entrepreneurship and becoming one myself, selfishly, I thought it is a good way to feature upcoming small businesses here, and learn from them”

    what business have you run?

  17. i am a new entrepreneur who has started this business as I have always wanted to do something unique. Please visit my website, http://www.shopwithmemumbai.com which is offering a unique service to NRI tourists coming to India for wedding shopping.

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