Okay, Medium, that is exactly what I am going to do beginning today — writing every day. The truth is, you had me sold at the page title “Tell you story” set in Sentence case, done bold and treated grey.
Maybe you want this as much as I need it. You’re the canvas and I the brush and paint. But only less poetic. By writing every day, I’m embarking on a new and second journey.
Every day, one dedicated and focused hour, early in the morning. A challenge this is going to be. Oh boy! Shitting. In. Pants. Already. But I’m just, fucking, doing it. I’m not overcomplicating something I love — writing, reading too.
Hand me a dictionary, please.
What are you going to write? Frankly, I don’t know. Come to think of it; I haven’t cherry picked a topic. Experts have me believe one must narrow their focus, tunnel thy vision, grab a subject by the balls, tickle and play with it — drawing an imaginary boundary around a niche.
You should be THE guy people think of when they’re thinking about the topic. Become one with an eloquent pursuit — synonymous with a cause you care about, and believe in and can rally behind. I wouldn’t lie, but they could be onto something here.
Who the fuck are they?
Something I can own, champion a cause — they say. Hmmm… Okay. Tell you what; we’ll make this up as we go along. Building-a-parachute-as-I-fall-out-of-a-plane sort of analogy here. Get it?
No, no, no! I don’t care what your plans are Paul. I want my subjects fair and square. I’m here now, and my attention span isn’t giving you chance number two.
Make me an offer I can’t resist. Either tell me now or I am walking out this minute. I’m heading next door. Everything is perfectly sorted and stacked in boxes there. Pigeons are in holes getting watered out of their senses.
Geez! You’re pushy! Okay, fine. Here’s my offer. How about you come back tomorrow, and we’ll figure this out, together. Sound like a deal? Oh, yeah, one more thing — get some donuts.
Zara stole your designs. They did it. They’ve been doing it forever. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Try suing them and you’ll be silenced by their lawyer’s V10 Lamborghini.
A case of kleptomania—calling their inability to refrain from the urge to steal for reasons other than financial would be a naive detail overlooked. Lawyers, however, can prove anything. Harvey Spectre knows what I mean.
Speaking of which. Do I need to refresh your memory to Zara being Inditex Group’s main brand — the world’s largest apparel retailer — having over 2000 stores worldwide earning 12 billion in revenue?
Okay, but first lets see what the racket is and why artists are pissed-off and crying foul. The latest of Zara’s wrong doings is shamelessly copying an LA based artist, Tuesday Bassen’s work.
Spoiler alert: This is not a David and Goliath piece nor a helpless cry meant to drift into the digital black hole. My take on the matter has got to do with culture, vision and belief systems behind Zara’s kleptomaniac behaviour.
Why in the world does a billion dollar company—with the talent available to their disposal—feel the need to copy designs?
And, how is this behaviour—in a hyper-connected world—tolerated and where did it begin? A dive into Zara’s past reveal the signs and symptoms.
From the first store featuring lookalike products of luxury clothing fashion brands to the success of Zara we know of today — every day, all these years, leading up to 2000 stores, has been meticulously spent stealing, copying and ripping off designs.
For Zara copying means business—How Fast Fashion Retailers Built Billion-Dollar Businesses by Stealing Designs—with clothing being an uncopyrightable utilitarian item.
They are running around scot-free on a technicality.
They are what Bill Burr refers to Arnold Schwarzenegger case of screwing his maid as being in the zone—knowing he’s untouchable.
Like your average drug addict, Zara has been sniffing the next line. It’s the gateway theory on legalising marijuana.
Could this be where is Zara is coming from? A world where copyrighting designs is practically impossible. Was it only a matter of time when they tried to push the boundaries of where that sort of thinking could be applied.
Were the Zara execs pondering, “How much can we get away with today?” while shortlisting Tom Ford’s latest collection. Sorry Tom.
Maybe the folks at Zara have taken Picasso’s words ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’ to their literal meaning in practice.
If the fine line between stealing and copying is appropriation, Zara is putting a whole new twist on it’s next collection. Be sure to rub off your name before walking out the door.
The number one trait that makes designers and pick up artists siblings from different mothers is their ability to instigate, favourable behaviour, emotions in the end user (which can be a girl they just met or the end customer they want in their sales funnel). Wait, what? That’s possible? But Paul, not all designers are extroverted or have the necessary social calibration to approach girls on the street.
Designers do it through their work- an arresting poster, a book jacket cover, interactions embedded into an app on your phone, provocative evening dress made for the gala, a piece of furniture or architecture and so on. Pick up artists do it through sub communications, while opening and engaging with the opposite sex.
“Hey! You’re hot! But looks are commodity! I’m hoping there’s something more to you and you’re not boring?”
Translate to branding or the design industry at large, echoes of “lipstick on the gorilla” or “lipstick on a pig” reverberate when design has only cosmetic impact. The ensuing argument suggest that design be meaningful and built on true insights- which comes from research, fact-finding, discovery, interviews, user tests and so on.
While designers use typography, colours, images, materials and visuals to make even the most mundane subject exciting, pick up artists use voice modulation, body language and vibe to spike a conversation.
The next thing which good pickup artists and designers have in common is their ability to convey intent. Clarity in communication is key to a successful design work and pick up. Why you need this product or service? What do I want from you?
Guiding users through a complex task on a website with seamless interactions is good user experience design. Leading the conversation, passing shit tests and moving the girl one step closer towards a date or phone number close is good game.
Lastly, good pickup artists and design leaders are equipped with emotional intelligence. They are not only able to guide thinking by listening and being aware of their surroundings and constantly reading/catching a user/girl/customer’s true emotions but being self-aware and congruent in approach.
In conclusion, designers and pick up artists are designing and driving the human experience.
Last month I crossed 500 days of training milestone, while raising my one rep deadlift max to an all-new 300lb. To set the record straight and avoid the ire of fitness elite, I do Crossfit on alternate days of the week.
(Spoiler: Completing x-days has never been and never was the objective. It happens to be a point of reflection.)
Only on retrospection, I realised the life-changing impact my coach (personal trainer) had made, which got me typing up this essay in an effort to share my journey of messy to sassy.
By any stretch of imagination — if — in the process, this 1000 word circuit motivates one more person, triggering a domino effect, I would brandish it a victory.
With that said, I believe you can’t convince someone into habitual training and fitness. Motivation for choosing a healthier path has to come from a voice within. For others, like myself, who can’t take a hint, having one’s body punch them in the face is reason enough.
The calling card came early 2015 disguised in shoulder and neck pain. A consequence of long hours at my desk doing client work I no longer enjoyed and the lack of inertia-destabilising physical activity.
Knowing I had let the problem drift beyond my steering capacity, it was time to seek help.
The world conspired and I found myself standing face-to-face with Sagar (my Coach/PT).
At first, Sagar ignored my offer reading my laid-back disposition for lack of motivation.
Only after constant begging, pleading and requests did Sagar give me a chance, taking the helm of my wavering ship.
And you’ll see why this detail is relevant in lesson four.
What happened next can only be put in the realm of stratosphere shattering.
—Except we’re talking about getting my ass handed to me and there’s no sign of stratosphere or an inspiring visual of SpaceX rocket levitating into space, only balls and their shattering.
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→1. Embrace Shortcomings Not Shortcuts
On day one, instead of lifting weights or having me crank into a Jean-Claud Van Damme epic splits (Watch clip), Sagar put me through his “try-out” routine.
By undergoing a series of tests aimed at understanding my physical limitations, strength, stamina, mobility, and pain points, Sagar, like a patient physics professor, calibrated to my state.
The trial reacquainted me with what being “normal” should feel like.
Post initial assessment, we talked fitness goals, objectives, and the bigger picture. Did I want to be a powerlifter, bodybuilder, athlete or just stay in shape?
With being fit and healthy on priority, in the absence of aesthetics, Sagar drew a roadmap for the year ahead geared towards my fitness goals. This programme entailed rebuilding from the ground up.
Little had I known what Sagar had in mind.
We spent the first six months in the studio without ever touching a machine, working only on technique, form, breathing, posture and strengthening the core. Correct walking and running movements using the body’s natural elastic were introduced. Who knew?
Throughout, there was focus on process and wellness as a way of life. And over time, conversations shifted from rehabilitation to how can this became a way of life?
We did it by reframing the role and place fitness should have in one’s life, banishing an afterthought approach.
I learned to look my weaknesses square in the eye and turn them into strengths. Pull-ups anyone?
→2. Show Up No Matter What
Each class would begin by Sagar conversing and gauging my mental state. Knowing my lack of discipline and inherit lazy nature, Sagar got inventive and reframed my goals.
“Just show up to the gym and leave the rest to me,” or being the reassuring voice over my shoulder, “do your-today’s-best”.
Not realising, at the time, Sagar had disciplined me by breaking down a fitness mountain into a habit-inducing five-pound dumbbell.
“80 percent of success is showing up”―Woody Allen
I wouldn’t be lying if I told you the first few months were tough and sometimes boring simply because I was performing repetitive movements, training muscle memory.
I learned, the hard way, fitness isn’t just lifting weights and sweating it out running aimlessly.
By putting in the work and showing up day by day I had not only inched my way physically but become mentally stronger and habitual to the newfangled practice.
In your face fight-or-flight response.
→3. Aim Higher But Celebrate Small Wins
Without sounding like a squat rack, six months in, biomechanics, kinesthetics, mobility, nutrition, hydration, cross-functional, mobility and grunts became familiar sounds. As a rule of thumb, I refrain from speaking in mind-numbing fitness code.
How would “Joey” say this?
Underpinned by wellness as the cause and effect we had gone from doing basic movements, correct warm up and cool down, single exercises to completing a circuit. Cardiovascular and overall muscular strength and stamina had seen tremendous progress. Insert Zen-master proportions of epic patience here.
Finishing a workout for the first time was a big deal.
On these rare occasions Sagar would pull out his notes and walk me through progress made, reaffirming my belief system by celebrating different stages on the progress bar.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once the belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen”―Muhammed Ali
→4. Respect People’s Time And Your Own
“I don’t get/have time to workout” or “Next week is when I start” or “I’m busy with work all day” or “I’m asexual” or “(insert reason for not taking action here)” and so on with the time excuse parade.
“Action expresses priorities.”―Mahatma Gandhi
If you don’t respect your own time no-one else will. Flake one too many times and find yourself chopped from Sagar’s training calendar. He’d do it without flinching irrespective of your bank balance, popularity or place in government.
Let’s take a moment and address the “busy” right now.
We’re often caught up doing things we don’t like, dropping a yes when it should be a steer-clear no or “busy” exercising people-pleasing. Of the finite time we all have on earth, every second, minute and hour spent doing shit you don’t want is a slice of what you could have been doing instead.
“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”―John Wooden
Kissing that cute girl from yoga class at the party is what your night would have entailed had you not signed up for “How to Pet Your Lonely Cat” the previous evening to help save your friend’s depleting relationship with the cat lady. You don’t even have a cat.
Watching obscure Eastern European television depicting cats in dresses on failing to fetch the remote at arm’s length ring a bell? Thinking too far ahead being the nagging cousin.
The world of Product Design thrives on lazy. Designers dumb down the steps taken by a user to get the job done. Effortlessly push a Facebook or Twitter button on signup (*seen next on SQUAD) or buy something using Apple Pay or a Paypal checkout on Pornhub.
Coming back now.
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried…” ―Theodore Roosevelt
Pushing past your comfort zone has to be the most important lesson to come out of training. The regret of not doing anything, for years, knowing my body craved the attention will always be motivation to keep pushing.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to sit across the table, at a conference, with a man who turned around a 3 million company (Rediff DY&R) into a 100 million powerhouse, almost overnight.
Sporting a ponytail, and alive with experience, Mr. Sandeep Goyal, Chairman, Dentsu Advertising (the biggest agency in the world — holds the official account for Toyota, Honda, all major sporting events of the world, including the Olympics and much much more…), is a veteran of the advertising world. He’s gone from the A-list to jobless, and back, in one roller-coster ride.
What made this encounter interesting and heuristic was the fact that Mr. Goyal’s journey began from Chandigarh (I went to college and started a company here) — a small town boy who’s dream was to reach the moon. And, the fact that he shared, with us, his theory of ‘The Big Game Mentality,’ which separates small businesses from larger ones.
Simply put, it’s about how a batsman can go into a stadium, packed with thousands of fans, remain focused on the ball and hit a sixer.
He also talked about how most individuals overlook the very basics. These would include business cards (which is for immediate representation), being punctual, putting in that extra bit, rewarding your team visibly and building an online presence (simply because people want to Google you).
This brings me to an argument of: 1. Why branding yourself is important, 2. How developing an online presence can help one generate more business and come across as a company of today and, 3. Why staying focused and planning for the long term can keep you sailing higher.
Branding is one of the most underrated industry today (didn’t add too much context there but on especially holds true for Digital Product space). Usually, business plans revolve around infrastructure, people and annual projections etc. — leaving the idea of creating a professional looking identity far behind. And, in most cases, businesses hire unprofessional folks to design their logo (in a hurry, and with peanut budgets), and later tend to stagnate, simply because they lack in presentation.
Because your brand identity is not just visual designs but answering the strategic why we exist (and not the what and how), impact intended and defining True North (Read products with an opinion). Branding is going to leave an impression on your customer/user, I suggest you give it the due importance it deserves — involving a brand strategist in the initial conversation can make all the difference.
In today’s date, we’re littered with technology i.e. handhelds that access your mail, broadband internet and — primarily because of these — the advent of social media, we’re expected to be Google ready. People are constantly accessing this new media for all sorts of information. Lets not leave behind the large corporates that access the Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter accounts of prospective and existing employees. By building an online profile, you get the benefits of being available to the whole world and also access networks of like-minded people.
And lastly, staying focused on a long term goal is one of the most difficult as well as essential requirements of growth (think thirsty crow, one pebble at a time). With a clear strategy in mind, all the activities undertaken lead and build towards one single point — increasing the chances of hitting the target. Therefore, in conclusion, grow your brand like a seed — with its roots deep-seated in the ground, and with a single-minded proposition.
A guy in his early thirties sporting bald head. He’s shy, at first, but talkative and witty at provocation. People mistake him for being an extrovert. Honestly, at best, he’s a closet ambivert. Comfortable in his five-foot-seven-inch frame, Paul rarely drinks tea or wears heels.
He’s genuinely curious and constantly looking for a better way. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a likable guy but constantly questioning and challenging ways of thinking and having an opinion isn’t exactly textbook crowd-puller.
I’m convinced had it not been for branding and design, he’d be an investigative journalist or in a garage experimenting with energy like Professor Philip Brainard.
I can recall the time he wired his car stereo with two four channel amplifiers and twelve-inch subs without ever having to call nine one one or watching a Youtube tutorial.
Paul’s no engineer by any token but he just observes shit- imagine Batman eyeing bandits from a dark alleyway. He oversaw the technician retrofit some parts of a stereo in a friend’s car and was like, “I got this.” All he had on him was a soldering arm, a wire cutter, and sip of mom’s homemade lemonade the afternoon he took apart the car.
Unlike many people, Paul hated school and was repeatedly thrown out of classrooms, at first, and, later, schools for drawing while Mrs. Younge was busy teaching algebra. He just never quite fit in, especially growing up.
Not believing in the education system was a reason.
What, did, make Paul happy was drawing. He loved doodling and, on the recommendation of his parents, enrolled in the College of Art. There he discovered advertising and graphic design.
Only four years later, left unimpressed by the college faculty’s imagination, Paul went on to pursue branding, advertising and design in Mumbai, India (the New York of India).
Roll with me on the analogy here. No offence, Mumbai.
Walking through the doors at Lowe was Paul’s homecoming. Years of being misunderstood were over like bell bottoms, casette tapes and “Five Finger Discounts.” Paul was surrounded by a bunch of guys and girls in shorts and flip-flops alongside people in suits.
Neil French meets Peter Saville was born. (Ok, one day, you’ll be like he told us so and we totally didn’t believe him.)
Paul found belonging in being a part of the creative department. He finally came into his own. Those guys nurtured the fuck out of him. He spent most of his time listening and absorbing what Creative Directors, Art Directors, Account Planners, Media Planners, and Strategists did.
Paul would always surround himself with really talented and smart people, and that guy from accounting.
That’s Paul, high on life and the client brief, a nerd dressed in Brad Pitt. His favorite thing being as close as possible to the action and learning from the best.
As a designer doing branding, Paul involved himself in strategy, copywriting, planning, briefing, research, art direction and execution on airlines, banks, insurance, condoms, trucks, hotels, restaurants, music festivals, real estate, and schools.
Not that he’s an expert or trying to step on toes at all of those dimensions. The process enticed him and he’s always been agnostic to mediums and forms.
Paul pursues the why, the dialogue of impact over input and why are we doing this in the first place. To this day, he draws a blank when someone drops the “it’s not my job” bomb. Smell you later.
I’ll never forget the time when a client walked into the office asking for a print ad and he got them to rebrand their entire company or when a restaurant was looking for a menu design and he got them into the business of inspiration- doing music festivals, book launches and art exhibitions.
According to 70 nomads on NomadList, India is probably one of the worst places to work scoring poorly on almost all categories. Internet, gays and women have it so bad you can’t help but cringe. Quartz chimes in.
This is fucking insane!
Having lived and worked in Chandigarh, New Delhi, Mumbai and New York I can’t seem to wrap my head around this data. I owe this self-inflicted-debate a fair trial.
Firstly, calling Mumbai’s nightlife “okay” by any stretch is teetotalism two point zero. But fucking partying right up there with London, Toronto and New York is the least of my worries for this essay.
Secondly, in Mumbai, everyone speaks English. It’s the one and only place, in India, where English is the most natural and acceptable way to communicate, with everyone. Everyone.
This data feeds into this perceived “generalised” notion of what is happening in India.
“We saw cows and people pooping on the street and beggars everywhere. It smells bad too.”
Have you seen the world’s most expensive house?
Antilia #365 on paulsyng.com/365
A Mumbai only erection. Case in point.
There is wealth and poverty everywhere, including North America and Europe. The US owes Trillions of dollars. But that’s not indicative of ground realities in entirety.
Data is not equal to the truth. Get over it.
I can’t speak on the behalf of women and gay but how can internet get a bad name in India? Airtel! Are you listening? India practically survives on it. Isn’t India one of the biggest outsourcing hubs in the world? I’ve experienced the days of dial-up and 4G on my iPhone 6 Plus and never did I have issues with internet speed.
I think I’ve pointed out several holes in what appears to be fairly simple user-generated-data which reminds me of a similar story over at Zomato. I don’t want to be the teetotaller or shout negative about something positive these aggregators-of-opinion are trying to do.
The point I wish to drive home is, as products (or brands), they have to be better curators. Amassing quantity is fine. Quality control is important too.
The bright side being Indian cities score highly on the “Cheapest” list but if that’s the only category you’re attracting I would be a little worried.
The notorious flag glooming over most airline ticketing portals is hanging on a price pole. Commissions are held back like a receding hairline. I’d rather shave it than wax nostalgic sporting a comb over.
Hemmed on that flag are the letters “FUCK” in big bold letters, underlined, enclosed in a starburst, catching a welfare fluff.
“It’s got to be fucking cheap bro! Fucking cheap as fuck,” the users or travellers have you believe. Like, calm your tits mate.
There are experts, who’ve swam the seven seas doing only what I can imagine to be a cocktail of playing cabin tease and conveyor belt burlesque, while navigating the broken and hidden treasures of depleting hairlines.
(No, seriously… respect bro.)
Past the barrage of crappy and overwhelming experiences I found comfort, trust and connection in the following four places. Clear indicator of commitment issues, however, doesn’t stop me from having a lover.
The first two examples are my favourite followed by two I have recently discovered and found to have an instant infatuation for because, let’s be honest, everything else is visually and functionally haemorrhoid-inducing.
I intend to focus on the experiences and not the cheapest fucking fare. Although all of the shortlists do that very well. In this blog we will explore the first two. I will spend some time on the following two and come back with my observations and two fucking cents in part two.
“Hey Paul! They have shareholders, people, bills, product strategy and there’s an audience for what they are selling. And they seem to be doing well,” you say.
They aren’t bad people. You know what, good on them for trying. But, guess what, it’s my party so let’s dive into an adolescent-pee-free pool for a change.
The best user experience hands down. Form meets function rests here. The website, iPhone app and Apple Watch app work so beautifully every-single-time. Platform agnostic 101. UX and UI gods have spoken.
Everything is intuitive and where I want it to be. No crappy banner ads punching you square in the chin, anywhere.
A log of your trips is available from an icon at the bottom of the screen, the Expressway feature makes booking Uber-like easy and the Passbook entry one gets on making a booking.
Every little ding dang whoosh is a tease. Ok, maybe I got carried away there but I can balance it out by cracking a whip on the logo dressed in To Do List overalls. Visit Cleartrip.
2. Virgin America
The only (which I’m aware of) brand-and-user-led (not just user-led but bringing the brand voice into context is so fucking rare) non-template design comes from approaching the entire experience from scratch. Kind of like Tesla’s approach to building electric cars ground up and not trying to retro fit electric motors into a chassis meant for gas engines but for websites.
Same level of epic cool.
Work & Co (a digital company) approached the design with the following framework focusing on the purchase path.
You can watch the clip here and read the case study here.
They also talk about experimenting with their agency model and working collaboratively by setting up an outpost at the client’s office. And no presentations. In another article Joe talked about exploring Pentagram’s model where Partners lead projects. Another elaborate discussion on why the current agency model is broken for a future blog.
Did you catch that? Let me just pause you here for a second. These two products are great examples of the former when design is user-function-led and the later doing all the above but also bringing brand (Virgin) into context.
That is fucking key. The brand voice is not an aesthetic layer but deep-seated- a part of the function and behaviour- a compelling story for the user to experience.
The lack of brand in the digital universe is cringe worthy. More on that in a future blog.
Adioso and Kiwi reviews and impressions coming in part two. We request all passengers to fasten their seat belts and hang tight.
Read part one and two first. While I stood in one corner of the room, by the balcony, overlooking Thane, my friend lay lazy in bed. We were brainstorming ideas to get me a foot in the door at an advertising agency. He was hosting me for the weekend while I was in-between places. He worked full-time, as a copywriter.
By midnight we had zeroed in on a unique email address. One catch-all destination for my job-hunting adventures. Wait for it. Ready? Pen is my dear at Gmail dot com. Yep! That was going to be my address for correspondence. No matter the reaction I would hold a deadpan frame reassuring folks it was “Pen. Is. My. Dear. At. Gmail. Dot. Com.” ensuring awkwardness.
Inspired by Neil French and David Ogilvy, that week, I began working on my elevator pitch. The intended impact I had in mind was “copy” nerd. I scripted several iterations and put together my first prototype. I shared it with my friends and they felt it was silly and funny.
It’s the reaction I was hoping for and the only push I needed to go all in.
After spending an afternoon, manually cutting cards, at a local print shop the copywriter’s business card was born. Armed with a new email address and business card I began to approach agencies.
Here’s what I did differently this time around. Instead of sending emails and cold calling companies, I showed up to the agency’s door and requested receptionists to hand deliver the card to the Creative Director.
I got noticed and heard for the first time. Thus began a meaningful dialogue with the agency world. I ended up joining Wunderman to work as a junior copywriter on the airline account only to quit months later to start my own agency.
More on that soon.
Note: I made minor alterations to the artwork: Updated the email and phone no.I don’t use email@example.com now.
Read part one first. Before the one bedroom hall kitchen there was a room. Not just any room. It was a classroom at the end of a hallway on the third floor of a school. Yeah, thats right. You heard me right.
The room was divided into three parts, appropriated with a bed without sheets, a temporary bathroom the size of a port-a-potty and a bucket for bathing, a little kitchenette and common area littered with plastic furniture.
There were two windows, the one in my room looked into the corridor and the one in the common area overlooked a terrace with trees for pubic hair. On days when the moon took centerstage that terrace begged to be used for dating.
This makeshift arrangement was meant for temporary guests of the school. But, by any stretch of imagination, this wasn’t anything more than a roof over my head. There were no kitchen supplies either so I’d eat “pure” vegan food and champion a glass of watermelon juice down a neighbouring restaurant.
“Bathing twice in the night to stay cool under the breath of an aged ceiling fan was my version of a wet dream. It was fucking hot. I slept topless, knickers torn.”
I’d be woken up to the incessant chatter of pubescent kids in the hallway and classroom inches from my door. On occasions, when I slept in, I’d be greeted by stares and giggles through the corridor window. With the staircase on the other end of the hallway I’d have to walk across all the classrooms on the third floor every morning.
A stretch best described to walking across a railway platform with bogeys stuffed with kids- preparing for departure. Little had they known, for some of us, the next station was beside science class.
“Did I mention schools smell funny? And it was hot and humid in Mumbai at the time. Most of my batchmates felt I was a princess and borderline pretentious. Don’t fucking think so. Pretentious one hundred percent. Back to the story.”
While I was struggling to stay afloat, my friends (who were, also like me, struggling to find work) and I had decided to keep spirits high and not lose sight of our goals. Every other evening we’d gather at The Queen’s Necklace (Marine Drive for those virgin to Mumbai) to share each other’s stories. We’d laugh the hardest by the sea. It was medicative. Unperturbed by agency rejections, we’d keep our pencils sharpened at all times.
Our evening theatrics entailed fantasies of conquering the agency world, earning accolades and awards, and driving BMWs. We were a bunch of pompous kids with only chewing gum in our pockets. Those days ended at Crystal, a Punjabi food restaurant, before boarding a local from Churchgate station. I think it was Punjabi.
Kindly note only I wanted a BMW. The other guy wanted a Porsche. Trust me, you don’t want to know what the third guy had in mind. A horse. He wanted a fucking horse. Told you so.
Every night I’d show up to a deserted school with a security guard perched at the gate. We’d become accustomed to crossing paths at such odd hours. With all the kids gone there was only deafening silence. I’d walk up a flight of stairs to the third floor and walk down the hallway towards the end of my path. Spooky as fuck. I knew I had to stay strong and not let the weight of my backpack get to me.
The bell to our one bedroom hall kitchen rang. We were expecting burgers and fries from McDonald’s this afternoon. But, this wasn’t your regular delivery.
There was a catch.
My roommate and me were jobless and broke as fuck. No advertising agency was willing to hire virgin copywriters. I was told repeatedly that I lacked creativity. During this period of financial adversity we began to creatively approach our cash. We had struck a deal with the delivery guy from McD.
Here’s the opportunity we saw, on a casual visit to a local McD, by observing the staff and operations. All the food (burgers, wraps and fries) that was prepared could only stay on the shelves (right behind the cashier, acting a divider to the kitchen) for a certain number of minutes- which was/is deemed fit for humanly consumption. Beyond the stipulated time, the food was discarded and replenished with a fresh stock.
On seeing this we couldn’t bear the thought of all this perfectly edible food being dumped into the bin- all while we were hungry and broke.
Btw. Hats off to McD for only serving customers “fresh” food.
On our way out we struck up a conversation with one of the staff members preparing to deliver food. He became our hook-up. On receiving a coded text message, he would bring us the discarded food (burgers, wraps and fries) in lieu of a decent tip.
A win-win for everyone, if you ask me. McD didn’t want anything to do with the wasted product (which was technically discarded because of time alone) and we were too high and broke to miss the opportunity.
As this routine continued we had put on several pounds. Only months into our hustle, it had become quite apparent health hazard so we had to fire our hook up.
It was hard to let go.
We made several phone calls, contacted everyone we could find in our combined network and sent our resume to every possible agency to no avail. But one fine day, my roommate got hired, scoring a job at an agency doing healthcare client work, leaving me to stare into the emptiness of our flat.
Bored and with nothing to do, I decided to revisit my resume. Long empty stare later I came to a conclusion. Clearly it wasn’t effectively conveying who I was and how passionate I was about copy. There had to be a way I could get the attention of Creative Directors so they would, at the least, meet me.
Being on their radar became my first, self imposed, creative assignment. I began to explore different ideas and constantly found myself going back to Neil French for inspiration and ideas.
I was a fan of long copy. I dreamt of doing long copy for several brands and winning awards. Naive is what I was. But that’s the one thing that worked in my favour.
There we were, at the end of long day, huddled together at a pizza place, debating the intentions of “circular-pizza-sliced-perforations” on the top of a pizza box.
Let’s quickly add context to “we” here. There’s the founder, the designer and me. Back to that evening.
“It’s meant to keep the pizza fresh,” prompted the founder, to which the designer agreed without hesitation. Not satisfied with the logic I interrupted, held up the pizza box and pointed it towards the cashier from across the store. “What are these perforations for?” I asked to which the cashier replied…
“Dip! It’s for our dip!”
That was our moment of epiphany and the cause of this blog.
Allow me to explain.
Prior to our whole-wheat, tandoori chicken pizza perforation debacle, the founder and me were at a cafe ideating over a startup name. Most parts involved fleshing out a brand persona, characteristics, value and belief systems and zeroing on a vision.
We had spent nearly 2 hours debating, discussing and collecting our thoughts (which if you ask me, having worked and conducted strategy workshops for over 10 years) being unfair to the process and a complete disregard for everything we know about creating successful, transformative brands. Essentially, not allowing time for research, perspectives, insight and fact finding and so on.
In walked the designer friend who glanced over our shoulders, heard our banter and dropped the lean bomb. No, it’s not a type of fart. He was referring to Lean Startup or Running Lean, books which talk about validating your idea and focusing on the customer or user.
Having customers become a part of your product development cycle and being cash-positive from day one can be a source of encouragement and learning real insights. These books champion a great idea which should be a part of your toolkit but at the same time I wouldn’t get carried away.
If you knew anything about the art of talking to people in public or read any books on subjects related to influencing people or winning them etc. etc. they’d draw upon a similar landscape. Approach first, calibrate after. Make it about them and be genuinely interested. Assumptions and fears of how the other person may react before triggering a conversation is where shit goes down.
In all fairness, the founder just wanted a name. Sound familiar? But we just want a name right now… or we just want a logo or we just need a website with all the functions of Airbnb and Uber… and so on. Get the drift? It’s so easy to fall in this hole right of the gate when you’re trying to start a business or company.
And it comes from a simple place. We look at successful brands around us and see the cosmetics and connect those symbols with success. It’s what goes on behind the stage that makes them great. Ever imagined the hours Audi puts into perfecting the sound of car door closing. Yea, exactly. To the untrained eye, the four circles are what the brand is but look closely and there’s engineering, people, logistics, design, art and so much more.
Having assumptions about your product and the customer? Well, what do we know about the aforementioned assumptions? In my terms, assumptions is when you speak out of your ass and assume the shit to be true. Looking like an ass for winging it has it’s own perks. Don’t judge, we’ve all been there. But we’re not here to debate the perks of assimilating naive fantasies. That’s a lot of ass right there.
Great brand and product strategy are based on real insights and understating of the customer/user needs, and not fucking assumptions. It’s where most of us fail. Focusing entirely on the cosmetics. This quickly turns into a conversation of lack of money, poor talent and immature market being the root cause of failure. This is when the client wants to make the logo bigger or the button more yellow.
It’s cause and effect.
Successful brands and products are not only different but relevant, credible and sustainable over time. Let me add here, we should factor in what your objectives and goals are. Are you trying to scale an idea, find investors with an exit strategy or aiming to be cash-positive from day one with intentions of running the company. Again, there’s no sure shot way to success but a school of thought you adopt. It’s the underlying pattern that helps manage and steer a project.
More on that in a future blog.
For now let’s keep the focus on what you should do before anything else. Start with a great product and your customer. “Building 100 loyal customers who love you over 100000 who kind of like you,” is the most appropriate nugget some important person said that one time. Again, roll with me here on the analogy.
The name, logo and website, like the Lean Startup and Running Lean methodologies are tools to convey, engage, differentiate and drive your brand and not the lipstick on a gorilla.