Monday Mentor: Shajesh Menon, Younion
Shajesh Menon, Founder & Managing Director, The Younion.
Passion, Big Picture, Strategy, Empathy, Understanding – these are some of the words that you would associate easily with Shajesh. I have had the good fortune of working across the years with him and with The Younion and I can truly say that his creative thinking combined with the excellent team that he has built are instrumental in some of the best marketing initiatives that me and some of Younion’s clients have executed.
I got to pick his brains over his journey and his thoughts.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – about your life before you became an entrepreneur.
I started very early, from door-to-door sales to field surveys and selling credit cards. Every single sales call is etched so strongly that applying the heat to current work life comes naturally. I was fortunate to have met some inspiring people along the course. Some believed in me completely, gave me all the opportunities to work on my weaknesses and some, taught hard lessons with perspectives and possibilities. A good part of my academic life comprised of evening tutorials but, the constant balancing act between sales pressures and books made every moment worth it.
I grew up to space selling with renowned media houses. My foray into threadbare marketing was in 1997 when I moved to Bangalore, I joined a “start-up” where we unknowingly set up best practices and processes that in all modesty, defined the industry standards. My stint of almost a decade and a half with this small giant was squarely instrumental in seeding the entrepreneurial instinct.
Here again, managing a team of 100+ people, multiple offices, a long illustrious list of clients and partners fueled the ‘uncompromising’ , ‘unabashed’ and ‘relentless’ drive to entrepreneurship.
What prompted you to become an entrepreneur? Take us through some of your thoughts as you contemplated the jump into the exciting world of entrepreneurship.
I figured very early that I draw my energies from conversations and story telling. My deepest and most compelling desire has always been sharing all that I have learnt from personal experiences, my exposure and countless inspiring moments with people around. So when I moved on from my previous organization, no offer or position seemed appealing. In hindsight, guess this desire completely took over my sensibilities and entrepreneurship was just the right platform. It is only when you are unbound, uncontained and free willing to exercise your thoughts, you start moving the needle your way exactly the way you want! In the process, if you build a purposeful organization, you create a ‘fertile’ playground for people to contribute, collaborate and create meaningful moments. This goes back to to doing all that you always wanted to as employees and how an organization need not just be a ‘money spinner’ playing by the rule book.
Tell us something about your company. And why did you decide to start the company with this particular idea.
Marketing at the core, is possibly a powerful tool that not just influences behaviour but moves thoughts and souls. Somewhere in the whole chaos and clutter of one up-manship, the essence in new age marketing has taken a back seat. The key driver to my plunge with The Younion was this challenge of bringing back the essence to the centre through meaningful conversations, engaging experiences and immersive engagements.
The purpose was clear right from the start to build an organization that strives to create compelling and impactful campaigns not just from a brand to a consumer point of view but with every single instance, understands the audience, keeps a tab on the response and behavioural patterns and uses insights to help marketers connect deeper and better with their communities. In an industry (specifically B2B) that has conveniently switched from ‘why’ to ‘how and what’, we bring our collective experiences and sensibilities to balance the emotion with execution.
As the head of the organisation, your people look towards you for direction, guidance and values. What are some of the key organisation values that you want your people to imbibe and form the cultural base of your company. What are the key things you believe in?
Without sounding cliched – I truly believe unflinching honesty, undying passion and an uncompromising attitude is way more clear than the sight of goals and targets.
Numbers do matter but that is just a quantitative proof-check of your values. You need not win always but why not be known as someone who genuinely and seemingly attempts to make a difference to someone, somewhere at all times.
Entrepreneurial life is a series of ups and downs. Can you share with us some of your biggest UP and DOWN moments and what did you learn from them?
The biggest UP moment will always be the first project brief especially when all that I could passionately demonstrate was our purpose and beliefs. I remember distinctly, the customer turned around after hearing me patiently and said “you are probably mirroring what most of us marketeers feel and want to change – your proposition couldn’t have been any more articulate and perfect”.
A series of DOWN moments were mostly to do with ethics. We lost projects and businesses, rather we took some tough positions and walked away when we were asked (or forced) to compromise on our values and open doors to corruption.
However, most of my personal DOWN moments at The Younion have been when I had to let go some key team members.
Who do you consider a role model and why?
There have been many in the industry whom I look up to as role models…for the manner in which they conduct themselves as professionals and as leaders. More importantly, all of them have shaped and influenced my thoughts, have provided immense confidence and are always willing to go the added mile in my entrepreneurial journey.
As an entrepreneur, I greatly align to Richard Branson’s people-centric and maverick philosophy. The insane level of madness with carefully woven methods is quite influencing. And Apple as an organization with it’s values, approach and differentiators towers as the most inspiring institution.
They say that the life of an entrepreneur is 24/7. How do you strike a balance between the strenuous work and the personal life that is so essential to maintain sanity.
Time with my wife (who has selflessly taken a backseat to help me find my calling) and my two doting kids is unexplainably soothing, bring the much needed calm and helps the balance. The most liberating part is to witness my son grow into a handsome, confident teen and the ‘serious’ baby language I exchange with my little one year old daughter.
What keeps you excited? Makes sure you get out of bed in the morning?
Technology, digital possibilities, the younger generation & their energy, their ideas, their zest to be different.
The most exciting part however are the opportunities coming our way – the confidence of remarkable people (clients and partners), the inherent willingness to try out new things and importantly, the team at The Younion. I owe everything to the fabulous bunch of people here – they have stuck around, chugged along through highs and lows. In all humility, concern for their growth keeps us on the toes.
I, personally look forward to the day when the team takes on complete responsibility to shape this dream called The Younion. I would happily want to play the role of a catalyst, a mentor and get the team to realize our ambition – an amazing enterprise that everyone would want to belong to & a beautiful reason to come back to everyday.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
There are zillion reasons to not to but, the chance of ‘why not’ is absolutely worth it. Dream…don’t leave them behind on the bed…follow the golden rule of ‘why should you exist, how would you work towards your purpose and what, therefore are you going to create’. The world is full of fabulous people, amazing possibilities and the power of conversations is as good as faith.
Marketing has been an ever evolving function across the years. In today’s world of digital marketing, do you see the traditional marketing route vanishing over a period of time? What are your thoughts on today’s marketing realities?
Players who are romanticizing and stuck in the yore will have to learn to keep pace, take some hard calls, invest in resources for tomorrow and importantly, shirk the ‘wait and watch’ attitude. The decisive factor will be the volume-value mix. While volume assignments will come in due to the scale and bandwidth, these are bound to be short-term.
Customers will move on unless value is not brought onto the table consistently. ROI focused opportunities will increasingly be at the fore – this would mean, category players will have to shed the flab, wear the innovation hat and get smarter. The ones who will make the mark will be ‘partners’ to marketing and not vendors.
Technology, innovation and digital creativity will be the bedrock of need for speed and need for scale.
Let’s do a quick rapid fire round.
- Your favourite holiday destination?
- Your favourite food?
- Sea food, Maharashtrian dishes
- Your comfort movie and/or book?
- Movies – Guide, Lakshya, Andaz Apna Apna, In Pursuit of Happyness, Amitabh movies of 70s and 80s, Adam Sandler movies, Bruce Almighty, Good Morning Vietnam
- Books – biographies and inspirational journeys
- Your most prized possession?
- A custom designed photo-frame on a birthday…handed over by my son when he was 1 year old. The frame was more of a ‘heartfelt’ conversation that he was trying to have with me.
- The most adventurous thing you have done?
- Getting married…nothing comes close as an adventure 🙂
- A word or a phrase that defines your core life philosophy?
- You never know…the win is just round the corner.