Always be ready to seize the day, says serial entrepreneur and travel curator Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

The concepts of success and productive work change through one’s life stages and with every generation. For Bhavna Prasad Rastogi, an academic topper and resident of Delhi NCR, the idea of settling in one job and climbing the corporate ladder gave way to the adrenaline rush of being a serial entrepreneur, because that’s where life took her. Her career moves are now lateral rather than vertical, with two constants: always an eye on the bottom line, and always adapting to the changing needs of the market.

Entrepreneur Bhavna Prasad Rastogi, seen here at the war cemetery in Kohima, describes herself as a huge traveller, which is what gives her the knowhow to make her group tours special. Photo courtesy: Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

Rastogi has, for the past five years, been building her current venture: Carpe Diem, a brand that represents curated India-wide travel experiences, led by herself, for women who are empty-nesters and finally want to enjoy me-time on their vacations.

“Women-only travel groups have been around in India for some time now, but with my groups, their association with me and with each other doesn’t end when the trip ends. I continue to stay in touch with them, and devise activities through which we can keep the bond formed during the trip,” said Rastogi, in an interview with Connected to India. Also, every travel group — they are small groups of no more than 14 people per trip — is conducted by Rastogi herself, so that her clients also become her travel buddies.

The Carpe Diem group in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. Photo courtesy: Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

This strategy of a personal touch has paid rich dividends. Rastogi has sustained Carpe Diem through word-of-mouth alone for five years, and now with ‘revenge travel’ officially a thing after the pandemic, business is set to pick up more.

In the mountains of Nagaland, near a little village called Khonoma. The Carpe Diem group had a music session as the guide got his guitar. Photo courtesy: Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

Though the severity of the Indian summer and monsoon limits her trips to the cooler autumn-winter-spring season, she’s looking at ways to optimise this window to augment her revenue. She has the knowhow to add value to offbeat destinations and make it a richer experience.

“I’m a huge traveller myself. This business and all my other businesses before it are close to my heart,” she said.

That doesn’t mean Rastogi runs her businesses on the fumes of passion, with no thought of profit; quite the opposite. “I was born to monetise my ideas,” she said. An MBA programme from a private university in India and years of work in sales and marketing in two of the top Indian media houses helped her hone an innate talent of giving people what they want.

The Carpe Diem group in Sarnath, near Varanasi. Photo courtesy: Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

An entrepreneur for some 25 years now, she advises aspirants to stay agile and quickly change business models depending on customer preferences. “You can’t start something and think you’ll stick to only that. Flexi-time and flexi-mind — those are the two things an enterprise needs,” she said.

Her own change of tracks from employee to entrepreneur happened after Rastogi, a “Delhi girl”, moved to Mumbai when her husband was posted there and their baby was on the way. She left full-time work to become a parent, but continued to start businesses aligned with her stages in life. To begin with, there was a website tailored for the needs of Indian mothers. Then, a business that created hands-on learning programmes for young children. Finally, this curated travel brand for women who now have the spare cash and spare time after meeting all their family responsibilities. It’s literally a case of “one thing leads to another” for Rastogi.

At Keibul Lamjao National Park, Manipur. Photo courtesy: Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

Giving an example of how she has been quick to spot opportunities, she circles back to the point where business models have to pivot according to customer needs. “For Hands-On Learning, I rented a space at a playschool, and started with after-school activities. But as soon as we realised that some of the children were tired or had other classes after school, we changed the business to weekend workshops,” she said.

Her business acumen has meant that after putting in the initial seed money for each venture from her own savings, Rastogi has “never had to take money out of my own bank account to meet business expenses”. It’s a rare entrepreneur who can say that.

In Khonoma village, Nagaland, Rastogi had arranged for local young girls to sing for the Carpe Diem group. Photo courtesy: Bhavna Prasad Rastogi

For anyone who wants to go into the curated group travel business because of their own wanderlust, and still needs the work to pay for “bread, butter, and the rent”, Rastogi’s advice is that they should undertake at least one group trip every month and add the kind of experiences that a big-name package tour operator wouldn’t bother with. “For instance, I organised a music session with young local singers during a Nagaland trip with my group,” she said.

Also, being an entrepreneur means spotting the signs of when a venture has run its course and leaping on to the next opportunity. As the name of her travel business says, to succeed in life, always be ready to “seize the day!”