I chose to interview Aakash Chaturvedi because being an engineer + MBA, he is building a career with an award winning marketing agency (Advocacy) yet making serious music. When time permits, he revisits his old job at Raconteur Walks, which introduce interested customers to various aspects of old Mumbai. It takes courage and a certain level of grit to have the best of both the worlds, and thus we seek to understand what drives Aakash at the core.
What strikes you is the ease in his approach towards everything. We ordered mugs of black coffee without sugar, because he had put it so eloquently-
“Bitter is the way to go, man.”
Aakash is a voracious reader and in between the questions I asked, we debated on existentialism and individual decisions which have brought us where we are. It was a Mutual Admiration Club, where I complimented him for everything he is up to and he complimented me for starting up. I begged to differ, stating that starting up is the easiest thing to do, to stay put is the toughest thing and that applies to all careers- employer or not. He stressed his point-
“We have been blind, you have been blind enough.
That’s the difference.”
He represents the wild side on entrepreneurship, which adds beauty to a commercial transaction. He represents the freedom which helps us step out, create and build something so audacious, it’s often rejected by others when first shared.
You were excellent in academics during school, Aakash.
What changed things in college?
I was an excellent student in school, in the conventional sense, considering I used to be one of those ‘top rankers’ – of course, the motivation was usually my mom buying me a Westlife, U2 or some cassette if I studied hard. I loved history! My performance dipped (thankfully) during junior college and Engineering because I spent more time discovering music, and singing and exploring other arts and thinking about girls most of the time. Being curious, I was drawn towards the ideas of Carl Sagan, Hitchens, Joseph Heller and started appreciating poetry (if that’s the word) by listening to Pearl Jam, Zeppelin, Universal Hall Pass etc. I said ‘thankfully’ because by sidelining studies I have learnt a lot of interesting stuff, especially music.
I took a break after engineering under the pretext of preparing for MBA, but I just wanted to explore more, so I heard more music (discovered Massive Attack – great success!), questioned everything, became a tour guide and ended up in Welingkar’s business school.
“In MBA, I stopped lying to myself.”
I was convinced that I wasn’t interested in academics at all and just managed studying enough to see myself through the exam. I wasn’t interested in exams and would write enough to pass but hey- avoiding boredom is a great victory!
Describe your connection with music. How are songs different than poetry?
Music feeds my eccentricity, no questions asked. I love the respect you give by asking such a thing (as if I have won a Grammy lol) but music is focking awesome! I am growing up on a diet of different styles, and it has been the best thing to have happened to me! My cousin made me a mix tape when I was 15 and that is one of the few turning points of my life! The pop singers had style! It was like opening up a different world, and I wanted to sing that stuff, like them! I sang a lot, and kept singing and went from sounding like total crap to sounding better! Then I sang more, improved more – that’s what I am still doing – getting better, little by little. I learnt arrogance from Oasis, moves from Robert Plant, insanity from Thom Yorke, divine perfection from Melissa Kaplan, and I am in a process of putting them together and building something of my own.
“I am a mockingbird – I learn everything by imitation.”
For me, poetry is a result of something that comes by contemplation or a need to say something. However, when I am singing, I don’t try to say anything, but just sing. It may be other way round for people like you – who are poets. Maybe for you – poetry is instinctive and songs have a thought process and ability to say things. I am a crappy poet but an okay songwriter, and I make up everything on spot. If someone is playing a piano or a guitar or an electronic patch – words come to me – that’s how my neurons fire.
What is your choice of expression and why?
My choice of expression is humor – offensive or absurd, occasionally. I think guys like Joseph Heller, Ricky Gervais, Sacha Baron get more intense points across than a lot of so-called social commentators. Of course, it’s always been a secret desire to be as funny, but I guess that’s not going to happen.
I wanted to say singing is a choice but then I figured I almost always exclusively sung for myself and I don’t know what I end up expressing when I sing and dance like a maniac.
Tell us how Raconteur Walks happened. How did you end up initiating the Bandra Walk?
My bro Avrosh who is also my partner in crime in Little Boys Who (our band, yo! Check us out! lol) first introduced me to this idea. He went “Dude, we get to talk cool stuff to hopefully cool people by walking around the sea and get paid!” It looked like a plan to us – so we went for the job interview.
It was my break year after engineering, and getting introduced to Viraat, the guy who started it all was the beginning of the coolest time of my life – finally we were doing something not many people were doing. I remember people saying – so you’ll be guide after engineering and I went – screw you, yes!
After many fun walks and meeting many foreigners (who were only mildly interesting), Viraat asked if I wanted to do research on something new. I love history (and am sure I haven’t mentioned that before)! I said yes, and did many recces, met people, took help of an awesome guy and co-Raconteur Jahan and finished designing it. Unlike South Bombay, Bandra has very little written history, so most of our research was based on word of mouth, and other non official sources.
“Bandra-ites know the art of cool.”
I tell you this, Bandra is beautiful once you look beyond the pubs and clubs. Bandra-ites have figured their stuff out – most chilled out people I have met in Bombay err, Mumbai! (let me plug in “Jai Maharashtra” to be on the safer side)
Tell us about your current job at Advocacy. How does it excite you?
Advocacy is a dream job. The work, I daresay, is innovative. The culture, amazing. I got a chance to the interview through a friend who suggested I look at word-of-mouth marketing and I was really intrigued by what was going on in this sphere. I landed the job after two interviews with my COO.
“We believe that Marketing ‘with’ consumers and not ‘at’ them is the future.”
We are actually the most awarded WOM company in the world. Most companies just let go of their satisfied consumers -who can be their biggest resource of generating positive impact. We try to tap into this consumer base and encourage them to do actions for the brand. Now, you don’t want them to do boring stuff because that can be counterproductive! Hence Gamification of the actions they do! We take consumers through a gamified journey and get them to do fun stuff for themselves and the brand. We have worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, and I tell you this – the best companies across are quickly waking up to this concept! PS: I follow Hammer and Mop and the engagement you guys do is noteworthy!
*blush* Thank you.
And what do you mean when you say “abstract” defines you?
Non practical, maybe dreamy, maybe something that cannot be realized. This may not be a dictionary definition. My friend Sandeep introduced me to Salvador Dali and his surrealist works blew me away! I got interested and now the more I dive deeper into arts of any sort, abstract becomes more real and provides me with sense of great escape. I think our mind is a world in its own and every second is waiting to be explored. We needn’t always try to make sense of what we think of, what we draw, how we dance or how we sing. This is where abstract fits in. To me – it is the ability to consciously try and find meaning in things and put my own labels over where other labels pre existed.
“Being abstract frees me from fitting into frames.”
I read Ernest Becker – and got more aware of an inevitable death that awaits us all. It was an amazing discovery and I still cannot comprehend the real beauty of the fact that we will die. Our time is limited, so our primary intention should be to consciously pursue pleasure. I, sometimes in everyday life, just don’t find it necessary to make sense while talking, or giving opinions. Also, in a way I cannot explain – abstract thinking has also made me politically incorrect.
That’s heavy, and deep. Where are you headed from here?
To being a worn out cult leader at some point, a tired traveler at 40, an artiste hiding from a bunch of people he badly offended , a world class musician already dead of drug abuse, a homeless man begging for food on the streets of Kurla for making all the wrong choices in his 20s. All of those are possible – especially the last one. I have no clue of anything except, as long as I live- I will stay interesting and have a couple of tales up my sleeve 🙂
Key Takeaways from this conversation with Aakash:
- Pursue your passion. Build excellence & originality around it. Wrapper sells.
- Market ‘with’ your customers, not ‘at’ them.
- Shrug off social norms & boundaries. Create your own.
- Wear your identity on your sleeve, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
- Meet people. Build relationships.
Thanks a bunch, Aakash. Best wishes from the community!
About the Author: @sushrutmunje
I build Hammer and Mop – specializing in marketing, service and operations. I’m a published poet and a writer. Startups excite me. Have been a part of speaker panels and given guest lectures at business schools, been a speaker at Youth to Business Forums (powered by AIESEC) and I sit on Unltd India‘s selection board once in a while. Contributing as a business writer at TheRodinhoods – creating content, interviewing inspiring entrepreneurs / intrapreneurs / professionals and covering events.