I Sell Ego at the Top of the World
How Lukas Furtenbach invented a luxury experience for adventurers climbing Mt. Everest.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Lukas Furtenbach and I am the founder of Furtenbach Adventures where I run premium expeditions to the summit of Everest, K2 and other outstanding places on this planet. I am the so-called “Maybach and enfant terrible of Everest.”
What inspired you to create this product? What was your "aha moment"?
With technology like hypoxic tents and new oxygen systems, we were able to cut the time needed to climb Everest from a traditional 9 weeks to a speedy 3 weeks. We provided unlimited oxygen, a luxury basecamp, infrastructure with office services, medical services, and internet which opened us up to a whole new market — a market where it is very much about ego. This is a highly competitive industry with declining prices for the last 20 years, so it was not the best timing to step into this market. I learned that what we sell is not adventure or unique experiences, but what we sell it is ego. From the beginning, I was told that I would fail with this idea and that it was never going to work. Now, a lot of our competitors are copying our style of climbing and our products.
From selling ego, which was our first intention, we went on to selling success. And with success, we don’t only mean a 100% success rate, but also a zero-accident record. My idea was to make climbing Everest as safe as a commercial flight from London to New York (which is comparable as it happens at about the same altitude). Of course, the voices started again immediately: I would fail with this idea, and that climbing Everest cannot be safe. But we started to like the idea of being the safest operator on Everest. We started with live monitoring of our clients’ vital data like Spo2 and HR. We improved oxygen logistics by delivering exactly the flow rate that the individual climber needs. We developed medical protocols and a medical monitoring program for our clients, even high up on the mountain.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you pivot to overcome it?
Like many others, we lost 100% of this year’s revenue and we still don’t know when we can start again in a regular operation. This is our status quo. But we are confident that we can run our Everest expedition in spring 2021, starting in 3 weeks! We utilized the lockdown to get in a better position for the time when business can start up again. We bought the most important oxygen supplier on Everest and are now supplying oxygen not only to our own expedition but also to other major expedition operators. We always use our time to prepare for the time after the crisis because there is one thing we know for sure; whenever we can be back on the mountain after this crisis, there will be more people than ever with the dream of climbing the highest mountain on this planet.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
In terms of pitching, if you are good at what you do or sell, are very deep inside the topic, know every aspect, and burn for the idea, it will be easy to convince others, no matter if it is a customer or an investor. However, you must know exactly what you are talking about to succeed.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Taking risks. Every single day.
What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don't?
I thought I would need a detailed business plan to stick to for my first three years in business. After two months in business, I could see that it was totally useless. The complexity of reality had nothing to do with the linearity and simplicity of my business plan. I ended up with a modern “fail forward” approach.