Suresh Krishnan started Desafio Adventure Company over 20 years ago after falling in love with the Arenal region’s many rivers. Here is an up-close look at his journey to owning one of the largest tour companies in Costa Rica.
What education and experiences have lead you to where you are now?
I was born in the Southern part of India in the State of Kerala and my father moved our family to Ohio in the United States when I was 7 years old to start a Montessori school. He then moved us out to Pasadena, California when I started high school. I barely finished high school and really wanted to pursue a running career at Stanford, but I didn’t have good enough grades to get into the university. The best option for me was to join the US military and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I loved the discipline and the leadership skills I acquired. I made it on the US Army boxing team and trained hard and was later sent to Panama for Jungle Warfare School. Because of my athletic abilities, I was placed on a US Army Relay Team to run the full distance of the Panama Canal from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. While I was in the US Army, they had me jumping out of airplanes, rappelling out of helicopters, hiking through dense forests and much more.
I was doing ROTC at UCLA and preparing myself to be an officer while attending classes on Anthropology at Long Beach State University. On the side, I taught sea kayaking lessons at a local kayak shop. One day a Costa Rican walked in to buy some rafting equipment to start up a rafting company on Costa Rica’s famous Pacuare River. He asked me if I wanted to be a raft guide in Costa Rica and that’s when my love affair with Costa Rica began – more than 20 years ago!
I started working on the Pacuare River, but the company I was working didn’t work out for me, so I thought I could start my own rafting company on the Pacuare based out of San Jose. But competition was very difficult and I wasn’t doing very well. I then met a Swedish girl who was living near the Arenal Volcano and she invited me to visit her. It took me over eight hours on public buses to get to the rain forests of the La Fortuna area and when I got here I said to myself “there’s got to be some amazing rivers around here!” I set out to do the first descents of all of the rivers within one hour of the Arenal Volcano.
But it wasn’t easy to start my business on my own. I had to ask my mom for money to fly back to California, but I was determined to make it back to Costa Rica, so I worked as many jobs as I could to save some money, buy some rafting equipment and go back to Costa Rica. I’ve ran out of working capital a few times and made some bad business decisions along the way, but I really wanted to keep my business going and here I am today after more than 20 years – still learning about Costa Rica and how to run a business!
What personal characteristics do you have that have made you so successful?
A lot of people call me a Serial Entrepreneur – I’m always dreaming up new business ideas. I’m also tenacious about my business culture based on honesty and loyalty – those are some of the most-important things I learned to appreciate in the military.
Why adventure tourism?
It seemed like the right thing for me – I used to think I would become a stock-broker and work on Wall Street – but nowadays I can’t imagine myself with a suit and tie sitting in a cubicle punching a time clock. I feel so lucky to have the lifestyle I have.
What is the best part about your job?
Coming up with new ideas and watching my team execute them even better than I could imagine. I love when that happens! We have a great team of people working for us and it makes me feel proud to come to work every day!
What is the most challenging part about running Desafio?
There is a reason why I chose the name “Desafio” for my company – the word “Desafio” means “Challenge” because I knew that if I were going to start a business in Costa Rica it was going to be a challenge for an American Indian with little to no Spanish! There is a lot of paperwork and government rules to follow and as a foreigner, I’ve had to learn the ropes pretty much all on my own. And even though we have great people working for us, managing our staff and keeping them happy all of the time is always a big challenge, too. Our Human Resources department is very important to me. I also try to come up with unique incentives for our staff and even offer them business opportunities to develop on their own because I want to show my appreciation for all that I have.
What sets Desafio apart from the other tour companies?
DesafiÂo is different because we can multi-task – we love to put together amazing vacations for our clients and make sure that all of the tours and transport we provide go smoothly – whether near the Arenal Volcano, up in the cloud forests of Monteverde, in Guanacaste with our operations center at Tenorio or on the beach at Playa Samara. We like to keep our company modern and provide the latest conveniences for our clients like FREE WiFi on all of our vans. It’s most important for us to make sure all of our operations exceed client expectations and that our company culture – based on safety and serious fun – shines through!
Where do you see Desafio 5 years from now?
In the next five years I hope we will be considered a leader in adventure tourism in Costa Rica and continue innovating and creating new and exciting adventures for our clients. Ideally, we? like to make sure all of our clients come away with the most-positive experience ever – memories that will last a lifetime!
What to you is a perfect day in Arenal?
Funny you should ask – in fact today I was mentioning to my wife Christine that today was a perfect day in Arenal – we had nice rains the past few days so our rivers are full with great, crystal-clear water, our waterfalls in the canyon are full and vibrant, the sun is shining and our big Arenal Volcano is peaking through the clouds. I am confident our clients also think today is a perfect day in Arenal!
I also love to meet with our clients and hear their comments and I am always open to suggestions on investment opportunities and new social entrepreneurial ideas. I think one of the biggest contributions I can make now is to try to mentor others on business ideas and growing companies in a sustainable, responsible way.