8 min 31 sec

Tennessean Meets Nepalese Sherpa on Lyft Ride, Sells Adventure Trips

A chance meeting inspires a couple to start a company that provides packaged treks to Nepal.
Adventure Niche Ideas Service Travel

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What It's About

A couple says "yes" to adventure and help others with their bucket lists.

Business Model
Skills Required
Organization & Coordination
Profit Potential

Words of Wisdom

How does one decide on pricing for such a huge package deal? Mark starts with Dawa’s pricing as a subcontractor. Mark and Holly then add their margins on top of that. They want to be known as a company that offers an amazing service with extra goodies and attention at a reasonable price.

Fun Fact

"Sherpa" is a word commonly used to describe a mountain guide or porter who works in the Everest region. However, Sherpa is the actual name of an ethnic group of people who live in the mountains of Nepal.

Notes from Chris

Episode 677
Do you believe in fate? Call it kismet, chance, or the stars aligning, Mark Johnson believes that without it, he never would have started his side hustle. This fortuitous experience all happened because his truck needed repairs.

Mark and his wife Holly founded and operate Hobnail Trekking Co. They provide full-service treks to majestic locales in Nepal, including Everest Base Camp.

So how did fate play a part in the start of this side hustle? Trek back to August 2016, when Mark was one day away from leaving his job as a communications director at a nonprofit organization. It was a hot and sticky afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee, and the air-conditioner in Mark’s truck had quit working. Needing a ride to pick up that truck after repairs at his mechanic’s garage, Mark summoned a Lyft driver.

This was a Lyft ride that would change the course of history…. Or at least, the next point in our story.

Mark struck up a pleasant conversation with the young driver, whose name is Dawa Jangbu Lama Sherpa. Dawa spoke fluent English, but with an accent Mark couldn’t pinpoint. When Mark discovered Dawa was from Nepal, he asked if he knew anything about the Everest Base Camp trek. The trek was something Mark and Holly had put on their bucket list years ago. Dawa grinned and answered, “I am an Everest Region Sherpa. I’ve guided that trip dozens of times. I own a small trekking company in Nepal.”

This was a defining moment for Mark—what was the chance that he would meet this man, an Everest Region Sherpa—on a Lyft ride in Nashville, Tennessee?!

They exchanged information, and a few days later, Mark and Holly met to learn more about making the Everest Base Camp trek in the spring of 2018. At the time they had no idea how they’d pay for it, or how to even manage the logistics with their three kids, but they committed to making it happen.

As Mark researched more on the Everest Base Camp trek, he began to notice there were no regional companies that offered this trek. In fact, as far as he could tell, there were no companies with headquarters east of Colorado. Mark’s next thought was—why not create their own trekking company?

In January 2017, Mark and Holly launched Hobnail Trekking Co. After creating a company website, the couple booked a local venue to hold an informational meeting about trekking in Nepal. By Mark’s own admission, Dawa was the key to their success. A huge difference in their business is the fact that Dawa actually lives in Nashville part of the year. This means that potential trekkers get to meet and socialize with Dawa at pre-trek social events. This builds trust in the company before heading to the other side of the world.

Over the next few months, Hobnail held numerous meetings in outdoor retail stores in the Southeastern US and was featured in several newspapers. They also developed some strategic partnerships with other like-minded businesses. By October 2017, they had booked a full trek—15 people—including Mark and Holly—to depart in March 2018. After returning from that first amazing trek, they booked another group for the Fall 2018 trekking season. They are expecting substantially more business in 2019.

Gross annual income for Hobnail in their first year was $54,000—with start-up costs almost that much. This was in part due to initially underpricing treks and some steep costs associated with the custom gear they provide trekkers. However, Mark feels the custom gear is important to inspire confidence and trust in the company. The family has been able to start this company while Mark works as a freelance writer and Holly works as a nonprofit administrator.

Hobnail Trekking Co. is taking a bucket list item to new heights!


  • Hobnail Trekking Co.: Cross Mt. Everest off your bucket list—head on over to Mark and Holly's website to get yourself on the fast track to base camp!


Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,


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Quote of the Day
"The biggest lesson I can impart? Learn to recognize opportunities and then ACT on them! Even things that seem nearly impossible. The bottom line is, even if we closed shop tomorrow, we found a way to fulfill a major bucket list dream AND help a bunch of other people do the same. It has been an amazing experience."
—Mark Johnson #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau