At 37, Shashank Mehta has already burned out once, had two stints with Hindustan Unilever (HUL) on either side of the burnout and also launched his own start-up. After completing his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow in 2009, Mehta joined HUL as an account manager for Food Bazaar before the start-up excitement consumed him in 2012, and he joined Rebel Foods as their first non-founder managerial recruit. The thrill was great but it came at a cost. “I burned out in just 2 years there. So, I went back to HUL in 2014,” recalls Mehta.
It was during this second stint with HUL that he started his fitness blog fitshit.in where he tried to understand why he gained up to 40 kg more than once and also how he lost those undesired pounds. “It was among the most popular health blogs in HUL at one point in time,” says Mehta, who enjoys copy-writing. And it was a combination of this blog, a new-found interest in understanding ingredients of the food he bought from stores and his love of copy-writing that led to his health food and nutrition start-up, The Whole Truth, in 2019.
The Delhi-born Mehta, who is now very much a Mumbai man, remains enthusiastic about start-ups having learned from his burnout. “I have never been busier or happier,” he says. “Though I am usually in office from 10 am to 8 pm, I no longer define work as time I spend in office. As a founder I am always working… the definition of work and work timings has evolved. The boundary between work and life has faded," he elaborates. “One has to be happy in one to be happy in the other. If I feel like waking up late one day I don’t beat myself up or feel guilty about it and it’s the same when I spend a couple of extra hours in a meeting or office.”
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Mehta, who writes the copy for all his product packaging, tells Lounge about why being a mentor means sharing perspectives, not answers, and how he has dedicated his life to getting everyone to read ingredients. Edited excerpts:
For almost a decade I worked at HUL, where I had the good fortune of working with some great bosses who continue to be mentors to me, long after our work relationship ended. Shashwat Sharma (director, consumer business, Airtel) and Samir Singh (CMO, personal care, Unilever) have great skills that I learn from and they live very balanced personal lives, which I take inspiration from.
As a young leader, I used to think that if you wish to drive your team towards excellence, you can't get too close or friendly with them. Working with Samir taught me that it's possible to be best friends with your team while also holding them to the highest work standards. In fact, that's the perfect mix and the best folks enjoy it.
Being a mentor means sharing perspective, not answers. I mentor by sharing incidents from my own journey when I faced challenges similar to what they face today. Some stories ended in success, some in failure. My job is to share the story; the mentee's job is to derive the learning and find the answer.
I wake up at 6.30 am. First thing I do is make coffee and read the news on my iPad.
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I take breaks between meetings. During the pandemic I had started doing back-to-back calls and I realised that my productivity had dropped. I function much better with 10-minute breaks between meetings.
My favourite podcast is The Knowledge Project by Shane Parish. He has many great episodes with some of the world's best leaders and coaches.
I used to dabble in writing and stand-up comedy. In fact, The Whole Truth brand was born out of my fitness blog fitshit.in. Even today, writing is my escape, although I do most of it for the brand now.
Everything starts with good sleep. I don't sleep less than 7 hours. Next is physical health. I try and workout at least four days a week. I find that the days on which I do these two, my mind works so well that it figures out the productivity piece brilliantly.
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Haha… yes, I do. I kind of started a brand and dedicated my life to getting everyone to read ingredients. It's the simplest hack that will change how you see food, especially packaged food. We're being cheated by false marketing. That's why I wrote fitshit, and started The Whole Truth. Most consumers don't read ingredients, hence marketeers get away with their trickery. It's also true that more and more people are beginning to read labels. The tide is turning. And we're here to make sure it does.
Among the top 5%, living in the leading cities, absolutely yes.