Ekalavya Bhattacharya is the head of Digital at MTV – which is one the most established digital brands in India. Ekalavya has had a superlative career with stints at Pagalguy.com , WATConsult, Contests2win, Zapak and Viacom18 dotted with multiple awards and appreciation.
Ekalavya, please take us through your life and career so far.
My parents were in the Indian Army. So, we moved around a lot – I have lived in Pune, Barrackpore, London, Delhi, Halwara (Ludhiana) and then made my way back to Pune. Since my parents settled down in Pune, my final schooling years were spent at The Bishop’s School, Pune.
Right from a young age, I was interested in computers and the Internet. Yes, we had a computer with an Internet connection unlike most other homes at that time. Ekalavya’s father was a computer engineer with the Indian army.
In 1996, I built my first website – a Tazos (plastic discs which accompanied a packet of Lays!) collection/exchange site. There was an immense craze for Tazos at the time. I managed to sell my entire collection to another Indian lad in Australia for 18,000 rupees! That was a huge amount for someone in 7th grade! I was thrilled! At that time, we would have to use MS Word for making websites, by saving them in .html format.
I remember designing a website on the day before my 10th standard board exams. It was my Geography exam the next day and I was actually building a travel website!
Bio-tech was the most talked about field when I was finishing Junior College, so I pursued an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology. When I look back now, I believe that Biotech probably taught me a lot about viral marketing. By the time I reached the final year of college, I couldn’t envision a career in bio-technology as I was unsure of the future of bio-tech research in India.
MBA became the next plan and the CAT needed to be belled!
As any other Indian MBA aspirant, I was on Pagalguy.com (A website+forum primarily for MBA aspirants). I performed decently in CAT, but my score wasn’t good enough for the IIMs. So in spite of making it to the other schools, I decided to drop off the MBA bandwagon. He eventually did complete an Executive Program in Sales and Marketing successfully from IIM-Calcutta in 2012!
It was 2006. Pagalguy was hiring. Allwin Agnel (The 25 year old rockstar who founded Pagalguy, realized that there was enough traffic on pagalguy to make a business out of it!). I sent them an email, without a CV, which explained my journey on the Internet. The next thing I knew, I was in Mumbai for a12-hour interview. Another interview later, I joined the Pagalguy team as one of their first employees.
Pagalguy was a vibrant start-up. Right from making coffee, community moderation, marketing, business development, college partnerships, design – I did them all! I truly believe that everyone should work with a start-up at one point in the career!
I believe, it was weird for my parents to tell their friends and relatives that their son worked for a company named ‘Pagalguy’. My dad finally took my job seriously when he heard about me giving a talk at IIT Bombay about Web 2.0! I worked with pagalguy for around a year.
I became an avid follower of the start-up scene in India. Web 2.0 was the buzz everywhere. My favourite blog back then was WATblog.com. I met the founder of WATBlog (Rajiv Dingra) at a conference. Back then, most of us used to love conferences for their open bars! A couple of drinks led to a conversation about the future. I remember expressing my dream of building a digital consulting company. He asked if I wanted to start working on my dream right then! Overnight we were in another startup – WATConsult. We did some great work there!
Another website which I admired in the late 90’s was contests2win.com. Alok Kejriwal (founder of contests2win and games2win) liked my ideas and I joined them as Product head. I was 23 then. It felt good to be part of a company I had so passionately admired. There we built a community that not only consumed content but also created content. Probably one of the few communities which actually managed to tap into UGC (user generated content) and also monetized it. Alok is one of the most awesome entrepreneurs out there. He’s always open to new ideas and is someone who appreciates passion and skill far more than college degrees and experience. He even convinced Alok to start blogging. Rodinhood his personal blog has now evolved into a community (www.therodinhoods.com) which fosters entrepreneurship.
Sometime in 2009, I was called for an interview at Zapak.com. At the risk of sounding immodest let me tell you about the filmy interview. I didn’t really want the job, so I had nothing to lose. I’d never made a CV till now and of course being a digital evangelist, I’d assumed a LinkedIN profile was enough. The only piece of paper I walked into the meeting with was titled ‘7 things which I don’t like about Zapak’. For 3 hours, we spoke only about these 7 things and by the end I was convinced to become part of Zapak to address those very issues!
At Zapak the job, primarily, was to making gaming more social, but social media was evolving at a rapid pace. Soon Zapak started operating as a Social Media agency too and by the end of the year we had some of the coolest youth brands as clients. This is when the admiration of MTV came about. The only brand which was doing better than the brands being handled by Zapak was MTV. The vibe for creativity and experimentation at Viacom 18 is something which really attracted me. The shift eventually happened and the last 3 years at Viacom18 have been epic.
MTV was the first Indian brand to cross a million fans on Facebook, they now reach out to 20M+ fans across their various pages. They are the leading Youth Brand on Twitter with more than a million followers there, the top brand in India on Instagram and also the first ones to have a 6-sec-per-video show on Vine! All this topped with a highly trafficked website and multiple web-shows. A team which has won more than 50 digital awards in the last 3 years across various events.
What do you love about what you do?
I love being in a place where I am free to experiment. Where not every decision needs to be backed by data, intuition is trusted as well. If the experiment fails, it becomes a learning. If it succeeds, we can experiment some more, this time backed with data.
What have been some of the challenges in your career so far?
In the initial days of my career, it wasn’t easy to explain to my parents about the work I do. It’s no longer the same now. My parents are themselves comfortable users of most social networks and can comprehend what impact my work creates.
Work wise – To convince someone about a new idea is always a challenge. The amount of innovation and crazy new stuff you can do on the web is unthinkable. So to find people to sponsor such ideas is quite a crafty task. Often there a no benchmarks to follow and convincing a brand to be the one to set the benchmark does become a challenge.
What are the skills important for someone in the digital space?
You have to be restless. You have to be connected. You have to constantly learn, be aware, become adaptable and have the power to convince everyone around you about the idea you feel strongly about!
What are your dreams for the future?
I don’t quite know how to answer this. WhatsApp didn’t exist 4 years back and it was now sold for an astronomical amount. Facebook itself didn’t exist in India when I started working. Digital itself is evolving at such a crazy pace. Smartphones didn’t exist before 2007 and now most of the content consumption has shifted to smartphones. To be at the helm of this rapid change is the professional dream.
Who or what are your inspirations?
My parents have been really awesome. They were patient with me and let me experiment and create my career.
But I’d like to quote Ayrton Senna here.
“I have no idols. I admire work, dedication and competence.”
What career advice would you like to give?
Don’t go after money very early in life, go after the role, a good role is far more important than a fat salary. Learning in that role is what will ensure you can command a lot more money later on your career path. Consider working for a start-up. You needn’t always be a rock star everywhere in life, there will be always be some people smarter than you around you, learn from them.
As far as digital goes, you are sure to fall if you think you know it all! Be open to learning every day.
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