I am in a five-storey office in the skinny bylanes of Delhi’s Hauz Khas village. The artwork on the wall of Aman Gupta’s cabin says it all: “Hustle”. It’s a word that reflects his reputation as a sales and marketing-oriented entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and the chief marketing office of boAt. It’s a fast-growing electronics brand, started in 2015 by Gupta and Sameer Mehta. The company has expanded to ₹1,547 crore revenue for the first half of FY 2021-22 from ₹225 crore in 2019-20.
The illustration depicts a life-cycle of a typical boAt product, from product development, on to manufacturing, and then to marketing and sales, says Gupta, 41. It was designed by Aditi Garg, the company’s creative head. There are specific references to recent developments in the company, such as a shark, depicting Gupta’s role as an investor in the popular Web series, Shark Tank India.
The “Hustle” illustration is accompanied by real-life hustling in the workplace. The compact office is buzzing with energy, as employees navigate its steep stairs and small floorplates to come together for meetings, to work on their laptops or take calls. Catchy slogans, creative branding and graphic design animate the space.
“It’s not the best place for deep work. It’s a place designed for what I call ‘constructive friction’. People can’t avoid anyone, you have to meet and interact people. We tried to create openness from a culture perspective because so much of our learning happens on the job, keeping in mind our young millennial and Gen X target group,” says Vivek Gambhir, 53, the chief executive officer of boAt and a well-known consumer goods and strategy professional who joined the company in February 2021.
And then there’s the balcony overlooking the Haus Khaz lake. Soothing and calm, the still waters of the lake visibly contrast with the hectic energies inside the office, and provide an open-air respite.
Together, the artwork, the office and the lake serve as a metaphor for the partnership between Aman Gupta and Vivek Gambhir: youthful energy and seasoned calm coming together to steer a dynamic enterprise.
The building blocks
To blend energy and calm, Gupta and Gambhir make space for each other in their evolving partnership, in several ways. For example, Gambhir says he has adopted some of Gupta’s work practices.
“I’ve learned from Aman the importance of accessibility, post lockdown. I was used to keeping my calendar choc-a-bloc, meeting after meeting. But post lockdown, people just need to build deeper connections. Aman has windows of free time available, where people can just come in, chit chat and have those informal discussions. Given the kind of creative person he is, a lot of his creative energy gets fuelled that way. I’ve tried to learn a little bit to blend formal meeting time with time for informal discussions,” says Gambhir.
Knowing what to keep and what not to change is part of adapting to a new company. Gambhir’s stated mandate is to introduce robust and scalable structures and processes into a company that has progressed from being a challenger brand to a sizable consumer goods company, soon headed for an IPO. Yet one of its most important customer service tools remains a simple startup hack, a WhatsApp group called “Keeping boAt heads happy”.
“Maintaining a challenger mindset is about an obsession towards consumers and products. We have a WhatsApp group called ‘Keeping boAt heads happy’, where we exchange messages 24 hours a day. Any small consumer complaint, such as ‘Why wasn’t the order delivered on time? Please fix it, and then post your learnings on it as well’. Even at this scale, I think that’s probably the most important group within the company. Whether it’s 11 at night or five in the morning, if somebody will put a message on it, somebody will respond immediately to it,” explains Gambhir.
“We make sure that the brand stays alive after the consumer has bought it, and the post-purchase experience is very important. There are 38 people in the group, people from marketing, the leadership team, customer service, sales; it’s core to us,” adds Gupta. It is interesting to note that the group hasn’t been replaced by more bureaucratic processes as the company grows.
Lastly, Gupta cedes to Gambhir, and for a larger part, lets him do most of the talking, except on topics directly related to sales, marketing and branding. Business strategy, strategic expansion and manufacturing in India are areas where Gambhir takes the lead in the conversation.
Gupta describes the relationship as “circular”: “Sameer and I report to Vivek as product and marketing heads as line managers, he’s a CEO. But as a board, we still control the board given our shareholding and he reports into the board.” Fusing energy and calm is clearly about understanding the differing roles of a line manager and a co-founder.
For Gambhir, regular feedback and communication makes the partnership flourish.
“The three of us talk 10 times a day. Every Monday, we spend a couple of hours figuring out whether we are working in the right direction. And once a quarter, we spend the whole day together. We spent a day together in Mumbai recently, and half the day was spent giving feedback to each other. To me, that openness is so important to be vulnerable, to be able to say I need help. What I enjoyed the most is that within a short amount of time, the level of trust is so much that I’m actually very open. But we have to create these forums where people can be vulnerable to each other.”
It remains to be seen whether after the IPO, the company will eventually move to a more efficient and scalable corporate office in Gurugram, like many of its tech peers have done. But it would definitely do well to hold on to its infusion of energy and calm.
Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations every month to investigate the connections between their workspace design and working styles.