Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Exploring the World. Investing in People

Exploring the World.  Investing in PeopleWe sat down with Chris Baker, founder of OneSeed Expeditions, a start-up social enterprise that made the jump from idea to implementation with the tiniest of budgets. Check out OneSeed Expeditions online at www.oneseedexpeditions.com.

Tell us a little bit about your venture.

OneSeed Expeditions was incorporated in 2010 after three years of planning and preparation. Founded by a group of former mountain guides, researchers, and microfinance nerds, OneSeed Expeditions uses the power of travel to fund creative solutions to poverty.

What is your product or service?

At its core, OneSeed is a mountain guiding service with initial operations in the Nepali Himalaya. We provide our clients with the highest quality guides to get them off the beaten path and into the communities we support.

Our expeditions range from 7 day hikes through the Langtang region to 15 day treks to Everest Base Camp. With our range of expeditions, we provide opportunities for anyone interested in getting outside and doing something good along the way.

Over the coming year, we plan to expand from Nepal to markets in Latin America and Africa.

Tell us a little more about your model. Where is the social impact?

We keep it pretty simple: We invest 10 cents of every incoming dollar directly into microfinance initiatives that provide capital to women entrepreneurs. You take an amazing trip to Everest Base Camp; a local woman launches or expands her business.

Our goal was to take an existing revenue stream—in this case, adventure travel—and channel that into projects that fund creativity and entrepreneurship. Having worked in microfinance and having seen its impact in Nepal in particular, we knew there was both incredible need (for capital) and amazing potential (in the entrepreneurs themselves).

In addition to our microfinance projects supported through the OneSeed Fund, we provide equitable employment to local guides and porters. Every single member of our team—from our porters to our directors—has a profit-sharing stake in the company. Our goal is to invest in the communities that make the places we explore great.

Tell us about your team.

Exploring the World.  Investing in PeopleThe idea and implementation really came the experiences of our start-up team.

Bishnu Thapa, our Director of Guiding Operations, brings with her nearly a decade of mountain guiding experience. Working her way up from he position of porter to lead guide, Bishnu eventually put herself through university where she completed her Master’s in anthropology.

Tek Bahadur Dong, who oversees our social performance objectives, also brings a background in guiding and social science research. Tek added to our team strong experience in hospitality management and field research.

I first met Bishnu while I was working in Kathmandu as a Kiva Fellow. As a student at Yale, I had been back and forth to Nepal several times over the previous four years. At the time, I was coordinating operations with Kiva’s local microfinance field partner while Bishnu was finishing up her thesis research. The conversations started there and with the addition of Tek in 2010, our team fully came together with the incorporation of OneSeed – US last year.

How have you secured start-up capital? What makes you a shoestring venture?

We truly started with nothing. I was working as a public school teacher full time while trying to get this idea off the ground. After college, I joined Teach for America and I spent two years working in low-incomes schools in the Denver area.

I knew we had a good idea and, in the spring of 2011, the business plan was ready to shop around. We launched a capital raise on the crowd-funding site ProFounder.com and we managed to raise half of our goal within the first day. In increments as small as $150, we raised the funds needed for the first year of operations and we set about building our site (crowd-sourced through 99Designs.com), drumming up press (lots of cold calls and emails), and booking our first trips for the spring of 2012.

It was fast. We went from launch to first revenue in just over 3 months.

What is the one thing that you did right?

We used the crowd. Mostly out of necessity and a keen eye for economy, we always look for ways to get the most heads on any project at the lowest possible expense. We’re a virtual company: I’m based in a start-up space in Denver, most of our team is in Nepal, our designers are in Indonesia and Scotland. We use freelancers and remote contractors to keep our overhead low.

We know that every penny saved in efficiency increases our ability to reach our social impact goals. We do things the smart way so that we can do good by our clients and partners. No cushy offices for us.

Do you tweet, facebook fan page, myspace friend or use any other social media to get the word out?

Absolutely. We have an engaged circle of supporters and investors that we always keep in the loop. Find on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/OneSeed-Expeditions/195789390455599#!/) or Twitter (@oneseedex).

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

I used to have a very regular schedule. I mean, I was a teacher. Wake up every morning, go to work, come home, sleep. Not so much anymore. When I’m stateside, I’m always connected. Whether its running our marketing operations, following sales leads, or building our partnerships, the hours are anything but regular. When I’m in Nepal—and I’ll be co-leading every one of our 2012 expeditions—I’m on the trail. No showers. Little electricity. Yak butter tea.

I love my job.

What can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference?

Exploring the World.  Investing in PeopleKnow your core product or service. All the good intentions in the world don’t make up for a lack of market need. Figure out a way to align an identified opportunity with a real need. The more you can work towards true alignment between your product and the good that you’re trying to achieve, the more likely you’ll make it happen. If the two don’t line up, pivot quickly; you’re off track.

What is the best advice you never got?

Don’t let your social goals blind you to the realities of entrepreneurship. To be truly sustainable and to effect real and enduring change, you’ve got to be sharp. Never compromise your principles, but don’t assume you get a free pass just because you’re out to do good. You’ve got to be good at what you do before you can do the good that drives you.

Do you have a video URL that you can share with us, and allow us to publish with your story?

Absolutely. Check us out at

OneSeed Expeditions | Exploring the world. Investing in People. from OneSeed Expeditions on Vimeo.

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