My Startup Story #11: India (Part 1)

We arrived in the middle of the night. After messaging our driver, we stepped out into the warm evening air and experienced the cacophony of vehicle horns for the first time. With a month’s worth of clothing, medicine, and camera gear, we waved to the full-sized BMW sedan that stuck out like a sore thumb. I was feeling a mix of culture shock, excitement, and exhaustion. Rob was more cheerful than ever.

Mammalz co-founder Rob and I arriving in Delhi.

Through the stop-and-go traffic of Delhi, our driver swerved with insane confidence past the buses, open trucks, rickshaws, and thousands of motorized scooters. I was more awake, now.

After about an hour, we arrived in Noida, one of the cities just on the outskirts of Delhi and the home of KiwiTech, our newly partnered development firm. They had organized a hotel stay for us just on the other side of the river, which — no offense to Noida — smelled more like an open sewage system. Inside the hotel, the thick stench from outside blended comedically with the strong floral perfume sprayed throughout the halls. As I’m writing this and reminding Rob of the hotel, he tells me that smell is being perfectly recreated by his memories. How wonderful.

Our view from the Noida hotel room. Off to the right were two cricket fields.

That evening, Rob and I struggled to sleep. It wasn’t just due to the fact that our room reservation was lost and we had to share a single full bed. We were too excited by the adventure that was about to unfold. Not only were we here to approve the final designs of Mammalz and establish a workflow for our teams, but we would also end the trip with a truly epic experience: a tiger safari in Ranthambhore National Park.

The next day was Sunday, the first day of our week with our new development team. Our project manager met us in the morning. We had already been chatting with him on video calls for about three months, so we were well acquainted. By the end of the day, we had seen most of the historical and religious sites throughout Delhi and tasted phenomenal food. So far, Rob and I were having exactly the experience we dreamed of.

Rob, our project manager, and I visiting the Red Fort.
The Lotus Temple of Delhi — the most visited building in the world.

Pro tip: there’s a preventative medication called Travelan that Rob and I took throughout our India travels. By taking one pill before each large meal, we were able to eat whatever we wanted with confidence. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to delve into the most authentic foods of any foreign destination. Just don’t drink the water.

One of the many delicious meals in central Delhi.

On Monday morning, we arrived at the KiwiTech headquarters and were greeted with chai tea. Every day at the office that week, Rob and I camped out in the main conference room and met with different departments of our dedicated 15-member development team. Between each meeting, we were routinely offered the same rotations of food and drink in this order: chai tea, more chai tea, a full spread of curries, chutneys, and breads for lunch, liters of Coke (I’ve never seen Rob have more of a sugar high), green tea, cookies, and then more green tea. We often winded down each evening with an executive team chat over some Jameson. Why Jameson? I have no idea, but I never want it again.

Rob with most of the KiwiTech development team in their Noida offices.

Despite the fears we had going into these meetings, we were very impressed with the work that was getting done on Mammalz. The user interface designs took the best of what we had drafted ourselves and made them feel professional. In fact, our team’s designer won a company-wide award that week for his design of the Mammalz iOS app. At every meeting, excessive notes were recorded and any requested changes were made immediately. We were definitely in good hands.

Celebrating the end of a successful week with a few special drinks alongside KiwiTech’s CTO.

Friday night, our Head of Marketing Pam arrived to join us on our journey down to Ranthambhore. High on the feeling of success after completing that week of meetings, Rob and I were ready to party. Considering Pam didn’t even arrive until close to midnight that evening, it was a long night of fun. All we had to do the next day was drive a few hours to Agra, so we figured we could sleep most of Saturday, right?

I very much regret that decision.

My attempts to sleep away the pain on our drive to Agra.

The three-hour drive from Noida to Agra was the longest drive of my life. I spent most of the time with my head against the window, blasting whatever EDM and death metal could distract me from intense nausea. What started as a typical hangover evolved into something else… something much angrier. The blow that lack of sleep and too many drinks had on my immune system weakened it just enough to let in whatever damaging bacteria was present in the previous evening’s gol gappas. By the time we checked into our hotel in Agra, I was pale as a ghost. Touring the Taj Mahal was going to have to wait a day.

When you arrive at your hotel and the whole staff wants to take a photo with you but you feel like death, you desperately hold onto your water bottle and smile.

It was around 9 pm that evening that one of the funniest and lowest points of my personal health ensued. Talk about having a bonding experience with your co-workers. Let’s save this one for the start of Part 2.

Gol gappas: delicious, but a little scary for the belly of a tourist.

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Alexander Finden

Co-founder of Mammalz, underwater cinematographer and Divemaster