Episode 129 / August 9, 2021

Power of Storytelling ft. Roshan Abbas, Invstor | Entrepreneur | Actor | Director | Producer

50 min

Episode 129 / August 9, 2021

Power of Storytelling ft. Roshan Abbas, Invstor | Entrepreneur | Actor | Director | Producer

50 min
Listen on

Today most companies around us follow two approaches to presenting their user data via Ads –

# Company A – We have 60% of our users coming from Tier-I cities with greater than Rs.50,000 monthly income.

# Companies like Uber – Rahul & Rashmi, a couple from Gurgaon take an Uber to their office everyday and get a background verified driver, with a well-sanitized car, at an affordable price.

# Companies like Meesho – Sarah, a housewife from Lucknow wanted to support her family, she started her online store with Meesho and now earns Rs.25000 from home.

Now which of these companies will you feel more attracted towards? Very like towards Uber & Meesho right, because they showcase real people instead of just numbers.

Well, this is exactly what the guest of our today’s episode, Roshan Abbas also tries to emphasize upon.

Throughout his career he has focused on being best at storytelling for various brands. As per him, in order to be a good storyteller, you need to wrap your data with a real person’s journey & life experiences, rather than making it less life-like and treating people like Cohort A, B & C.

Roshan has been a radio jockey, theatre actor, TV anchor, writer, director, angel investor & entrepreneur over his career.

He credits this to his attitude to – “Listen, Assimilate & Action”.

During the podcast, he shares with us how he kept successfully surfing across multiple roles throughout his career, how he picks the companies he wants to invest in, and how he enjoys life along with constantly achieving his goals.

Notes –

03:23 – Mastering multiple skills; Creators are curious people

05:37 – Scale & opportunities from Radio to Television

06:10 – Identifying the next step

11:21 – “You can’t have every skill, then you hire for the right skill.”

13:17 – Importance of accountability in creativity

17:53 – Being a seller of dreams

22:34 – Be interesting or be interested

26:46 – Building Kommune for young creators

28:56 – Being militant with removing distractions

42:15 – Future & the change in media consumption

48:12 – Importance of having a great hook in storytelling


Read the full transcript here:




Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x entrepreneur podcast. Today’s guest needs no introduction. one of India’s finest orators and storytellers Roshan Abbas is an actor, TV and radio host, producer, Event Manager, creative film and theater director, lyricist, CEO, angel investor, serial entrepreneur, author, public speaking coach, welcome, Roshan to the podcast.


Roshan Abbas 00:30

Thank you, I’ve already taken one and a half minutes of your podcast, I mean just the number of things that I’ve done. I often get very embarrassed with people read that i am like many of these things I’ve done a lot to be and, but yeah, they sort of all, they all add some aspect to my life. So thank you, I’m glad to be here. I’ve been hearing the podcast; I enjoy a lot of the episodes. And in fact, you know, I’ve, I’ve, in fact started reaching out to one or two of the people via that podcast as well, because it’s great to get some wonderful insights from your podcast. So, I’m glad to be here.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:05

So, Roshan, since you mentioned, you know, so many, there are many aspects of you and people recognized by with you know, as an actor, director, entrepreneur, CEO, so, let’s start with how did you go about, you know, mastering so many skills.


Roshan Abbas 01:24

So, what I, what I ended up doing was that, I think, you know, creators are naturally curious people, and I’m extremely curious, but with that curiosity, I came from a small city like Lucknow, and when I had finished off from school, and I was moving to Delhi, I was this, you know, PCB kind of student who wanted to be a doctor, but also enjoyed theatre and writing and debating dramatics, everything. So I managed to convince my parents that I’m going to start doing, you know, I’m going to try, and I’m talking 1988, when there was nothing called mass media as such, which existed, so I had to convince my parents to allow me to do something but genuinely didn’t exist. And they were extremely fine giving you the opportunity. But when I, when I came to Delhi, I think Ever since then, in my mind, there has been this, this ticking clock that tells me, you know, I have a limited amount of time. So initially, I had three years and I wanted to pick up as much as I could in three years. And that’s where there’s a simple philosophy of just saying yes and jumping in, I say no to very few things, I genuinely like to spend time with people I like to learn from them. And, you know, I don’t just have conversations, I normally take those conversations, and then in my mind has spent some time actually taking notes from conversation. So, I have a, I’m in my phone, directory, and notes are filled with things that I have picked up. Sometimes I look back at notes, which would be from 1995-97. I’ve got diaries in school, which have got small little things. So, so I think just this thing of assimilating what you come across, and not just going across the surface, and skimming across the surface, is something that I did when I have, when I have sort of assimilated these things, I then maybe compartmentalize them somewhere in my inside me of saying, I will put this to use. My parents are both teachers. And my father used to always say that, you know, experience is the key that life gives you that you don’t know when you might use. So, I keep a lot of these learnings with me. And again, as a creator, the other journey I had was that I kept looking at larger platforms. So see, when I started in Lucknow, I had a very small audience, the audience was the 200 people used to fit into the Spence Hall in my school. And then I went to Ravinder Alia, where there were 1000-seater. And then I came to Delhi where I started getting, you know, Siri fort for which was 2000-seater. But then I get on to radio when I’m talking to a city, when I get onto television, when I’m talking to a country, you know, and so I think every time that scale of content, opportunity in terms of audience kept increasing, and for that I had to acquire new skills, because each of these requires a very different skill. But it’s not a it’s a complementary skill, right? I mean, on radio, you learn how to be able to speak well engage an audience, but there is no visual so you start telling stories in visuals a lot more. The minute you switch from that and you go on to television, you suddenly have to do a lot more about the persona about what you are as a person. And therefore, you start building a different skill. In fact, I think storytelling on television is a skill that I built over a period of time. And, and then when I had to convert these ideas into the businesses that I was building, honestly, I believe I did an MBA on the job. I did an MBA while conducting events for the best CEOs and CMOS in the world. And again, I put back that same habit, listen, assimilate, and then put into action.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 05:02

And if you can go through your journey, right, how did you identify? What’s the next step for you?


Roshan Abbas 05:10

Yeah, good question. Because you know, very often what happens is, I think I think there are two things to it one. One was the fact that sometimes I jokingly tell people that the passion economy has parallelly, you know, been created while I was on my journey. So, when I came out in 93-94, was a time when I was still experimenting after mass communication. But when I came out, I put on the radio one day, and I heard somebody talking on FM. Now this person had a good voice, but wasn’t engaging as a communicator. So, I often tell people that you know, you end up having the problem, but do you do anything to solve it, I have this thing if I if I address if I find a gap, and I find a solution for it, I must implement it. So, the very next morning, I went to All India Radio, and I found a way to get inside meet the station head and convinced him to give me a slot. And this thing about saying, you know, take a chance on me. I just turned around, I said, you know, listen, I love FM. I think it’s a great medium to communicate with the youth, but the people you have on it are too old to be able to speak the language of the youth. So, can I get that opportunity? And when he threw the gauntlet at me and said, okay, can you do a show in two days? Now here is where most people creatively will say, you know, that we think about it, I’ll come back. No, for me it is, you know, it’s the, it’s that Richard Branson thing, you know, screw it, let’s do it. So, I just I genuinely just jumped in. I was I was like; I’ll do it. And in two days, I produced the show and put it out. Now, the minute FM happened, and I was now becoming the voice for Delhi at that point in time. Television had just started and TV 18 with Raghav Bahl, and Sanjay Chaudhary was also starting, they were receivers, couple of batches, my senior in mass communication. And they were launching new age television in India. So unlike doordarshan, they were launching these shows, which were like public demand, they were launching toofan mail, they were launching, game shows you name it. And again, the minute they reached out to me and said, you know, will you be a part of this, I felt that if I want a larger audience, I must move from radio to television. But I didn’t leave. I didn’t abandon radio, I continued doing radio, I just limited the number of hours I was doing. And then I started doing time on radio, on television. Television, because it made me a household face, I suddenly became the in-demand anchor who people would reach out and say, you know, can you anchor our event? Again, many of my contemporaries were still very dear friends of mine on television, they were they were very busy building a showcase of their life, right? What’s the car i drive? Right, right? What’s the house I live in? What do I wear? I’m not concerned with all of these things. I am just concerned about how big is the canvas on which I can play. And so, when I was to go and host events, I used to constantly see this gap between what was promised by an event manager and what was delivered. And as the host in between, I would be the guy saving this. So again, I could just continue with the same opportunity because it pays really, really well and you don’t hold I mean, you you walk in without any baggage you leave without any baggage. But I had now found a problem to address. And I felt that a lot of live event communication was theater done with a strictly business objective, right? I mean, the objective was to launch a product, the objective was to maybe have an IPO, the objective was to do a press event or whatever. So, if you understand the business outcome that was required, then it is a matter of what were the ingredients required to deliver it. And I knew these ingredients. So frankly, we put together and compass as an agency in the early days, purely because we knew people in theater, in film in radio, actors, writers, producers, singers, and I would get all of them together and be able to come up with a brand-new solution, which nobody had. Now, this started leading to us having you know, stupendous growth. I remember I think within two years we were about you know, I didn’t even know how many zeros there were in crores when I first tell you, you know, so when we paid somebody said you’ve, you know, my god 10 million somebody said, oh my god, you done a crore like what, you know, it was as crazy as that. Now, again, you can’t have every skill, then you just hire for the right skill. My first CEO was actually a lady are one of my best friend’s now she’s in Hong Kong. But she had worked in Saatchi and Saatchi and she knew what it was like to run an agency. And so, I quickly turned and said this is a skill set you have my skill set is created my skill set is connecting with artists etc. Let me do that. Sukrit who was my partner at that point in time in the business and who was a great creative director. He also being a partner in the firm took a step back and said no, we need a professional CEO and many creative firm’s run on, you know, a little bit of spirit and a lot of bhaichaara. But what we did was that we bought in systems. And these systems then made people a little more accountable. And, you know, again, creativity that is accountable is something that I think is very important. I often tell people that, you know, don’t just be dreamers, be doers to some degree. So, I think I think, you know, this event agency was a brilliant decision to take, because while it required a lot of investment of time, many risks that one had to take, I had very often to put my own reputation, and even my money on the line, if required. But this actually led us to become a company that was a highly creative, but was also recognized for a great culture. We built a great creative culture in encompass, and this started making us now become highly noticed. Because in our work in the creative line, very often, you know, the culture leads to great content, great content leads to leads to great rewards and awards, which leads to great reputation. And then everybody seeks out that reputation. And that reputation started leading to greater revenue. And by 2007, I knew that we were now poised for great things. And, you know, my partner turned and said, Listen, how long are we going to do this? And I said, Listen, I do this part time, because I was still doing radio, I was still doing television. But he was a full time CEO of this business. And I said, what do you want, and he said, you know, might be want to leave a legacy behind. We want this company not just to run for us, but to run for everybody who’s here. And we had been, people started approaching us for partnerships or for investment or for buying some of our equity. So, for seven and eight, actually, we went through this whole cycle of, you know, being courted by the biggest agencies in India. One day, we would be in Russia having meetings, the next we would be getting calls from London, the next we would be sitting with Calvin Harris, or JWT. And frankly, that was a, that was a fun time, because we were the first professional event agency that ended up doing an alignment with a great advertising major. That’s what happened in 2008. So, I think, I think suddenly converting this personal journey into building an enterprise and that enterprise very, again, even today, I do the same thing, I will identify a problem, and then I will find a bunch of people saying let’s solve this, you know, and I think that’s what entrepreneurs do very often, you know, will be the something that pains as something because of which we can’t sleep at night. And then you’re thinking how can I solve this and, and that’s what I did. 2008 after selling encompass, yourself, suddenly there was this money that I was sitting on, and again, it doesn’t make me any difference what car I keep, I used to always joke and say that how well dressed is your mind? Right? That’s more important to me. You know, what, what do you what is what does that Where does your brain hang out is more critical to me as a person. And so, I started seeking new things to do when new, you know, people to meet. Rajesh Sawhney was a very old friend of mine. And he was in radio in the early days when I was on radio, he was in sales, and I was the jockey. And we were good friends. Rajesh reached out to me at around this time and said, Listen, I’m getting a bunch of investors from Europe, who run something called founders first, and I don’t know how to do an event will your company put together the event? And I said, you know, say no more, I’ll get it done. When I went to attend the conference, I did the same thing. I listened, I assimilated. And then I said, My God, I got to put this into action. So I turned to Rajesh and I said, you know, this sounds very interesting. How does one do this kind of startup investments? And Rajesh said, you know, would you like to be involved and that’s when I jumped in. And, and frankly, it has been one of the richest experiences of my life because A, I get to work with some fabulous angels. B, I get to meet some incredible ideas and people, young people with great ideas, etc. And, you know, the portfolio’s done well, which have obviously one doesn’t mind. A lot of what I learned at gsf I started applying to the other things that I was doing so this investing into people or investing into their ideas, is something that then followed me because I actually took a break in 2009 and 2010 to make a movie. So, I was their big goal Bollywood. You know, Shahrukh Khan was my producer. I was having a lot of fun. I you know, I’m working again with young fresh talent. Even there, I think I had a startup mentality I wanted to work with freshers. So, all the four actors in my film were freshers they were first timers, there was Ali Fazal, there was a Satyajit Dubey, there was Giselli Monteiro and there was Zoa Morani, and you know I am working with these young people and the young crew was so exciting while I was doing the film, I suddenly realized that the film I was making for a production house like red chilies, it was an experiment they were doing because this was a six seven crore movie. Now imagine, counter, you know, juxtapose that with a Ravan which Shahrukh was making, which was 100 crores plus almost at that time. So, I mean, I could make 12 of those film that I was making. So, it was a small film, we were experimenting. And at the end of the film, I ended up meeting two people. Because I had I frankly, no money left to do the titles of my film. And I was like, I want a particular kind of title for my film. And these two young boys, Varun and Rohit were running an agency called the glitch. And I called them over, I’m also a good seller of dreams, you know, so I actually turned to these two boys and said, how would you like to see your name in the credits of a film? That’s how I started. But they were like, oh, that sounds really good. We’ve never been in a movie credit. I said, I said, but you know, my problem is, I need a great set of titles. I don’t have the money. What I can offer you is I can offer you beer biryani and business advice for six months to a year as much as you want. And they laughed and said, you know, we’ll just do this with you. And I remember going to them one room little, they had an apartment out of which, which they were working and one iMac from which we were looking at film titles. And it just looked really beautiful. And the film got made it released, Varun and Rohit started meeting me very regularly. And, you know, after a couple of months, I realized that they were onto something really big because then they were digital creators at a time in 2011, where there was nothing called a digital creator. So, I actually started going to JWT and WPP and everybody I knew said guys, these are people you should invest in today. And when they said that, listen, we would love to but we want to invest in mature businesses. I picked up all that I had learned from Rajesh at gsf, and said, maybe I can become a part of this. And you know, I was about to do that when actually Varun and Rohit reached out and said, hey, we really like working with you. It’s fun, because you’re giving us thoughts that we didn’t have before. And again, I was more a mentor partner to them, I wasn’t investors were and I came in and I invested I invested a very small amount of money, I understood that one of their problems was that they needed a cash flow that would keep flowing. So, I came in and I invested money in the glitch and I gave them a little bit of a credit line. We got them out of one or two businesses that sounded very sexy, but they weren’t making enough money. I didn’t think they were big revenue lines for us for the future. And over 2011 to 2018 you know, they built one of the best digital agencies in India. And 2018 we again sold this to WPP and each time you do this kind of journey so and also like again, I have so many parallel journeys going on. So here is a glitch that is running here is encompass that is running, both have been sold to wpp, 2015. I met this guy again through Rohit called Pranay, and you know Pranay came to me with an idea where he wanted to run an influencer marketing agency. Now again, in 2015 influencer marketing was too early, but I somehow many people say that, you know, I have an ability to be able to put a telescope and look into the future. So again, I said no influencer marketing is going to be big, and I invested in this company. And we sold that, like I mean, we’ve just done a deal with the, you know, QU, which is a Canadian group, dealing with that same thing across the US. So, I think spotting the right people, not trying to do everything yourself, again, serial entrepreneurs, see either you can do it all yourself or you can invest in people who will do it. I keep saying that everything that I do in the investment sphere, I actually do to stay young in my mind. I mean, I I stay young because I’m able to find new ideas that excite me tremendously. Talk to people understand the hypothesis, see how I can help them. And I mean, I wrote this the other day saying that, you know, your job as an entrepreneur is to roll up your sleeves and say how can I help? Don’t think of your investment as a position of privilege. You know, you’ve been given membership of someone else’s dreams help build that dream. So, I think I think that actually a very, very long answer to your question, but I mean, I again, I just get stuck saying which part of the journey do I speak of?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 19:31

people look at hindsight and say that Roshan is able to spot trends, but if I look at your journey, is actually you are just curious. You’re talking to new people; you are experimenting with ideas. And you have happened to jump on to something which nobody else has done. It may work and most of them might not work, but it just keeps you know, energized. It just you Gives you a shot at solving good problems which have, which are happening for the first or the second time. And that’s how I think, you know, leads to seven-to-eight-year journey, which then people call hey Roshan Abbas is able so, right.


Roshan Abbas 20:15

you know, you know, also, I think there are two parts to it. One is obviously that See, I am deeply invested in this whole media and content and creative space. But, but again, as you rightly said, I listen, I pay attention and, and, you know, I, I keep saying that be interesting or be interested. Now, being interested is all about sitting down and listening to someone else’s idea. And, and I will go to conferences, I will travel to South by Southwest with a little backpack and just go from room to room. Because I want to know, when oml started this wonderful conference called the coalition, I used to go there, I used to hang there, almost saying, hey, what can I help with? I don’t want to walk into a room ever with this demeanor of you know, oh, and this and I built this and I made this, I want to be as curious and as at sometimes even, you know, just almost as naive as the person sitting next to me and say, hey, let’s explore things and let’s do things together. Because I think that’s the joy of the journey. And the other thing, like for example, in GSF, there are there are such wonderful people who are having conversations or whatever. Now sometimes when you look at saying okay, when this is the guy who bet India Mart and here is Rajesh, here is somebody you know, who’s a serial entrepreneur from the valley. I take a backseat and I listen to I’ll jump in on the things that I know Well, I know how to market your brand. I know how to tell your story better. I know, what are the trends in terms of stuff that is happening in terms of media? Should you be putting ads on Instagram or Facebook or tik tok? Or where is it going? These are areas of interest for me and I will jump in and advice. But other things that I don’t know, I stay back, and I let the group decide. And you know, that that’s it. And I think Rajesh is a great friend to have, of course, along with Sanjeev and everybody else who are there in the group. And it’s just great learning.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 22:11

at any point in time, right? Because of what reputation you have built the success that you have, you might be getting pitched 10 ideas, right to partner with to invest with? How do you choose one or two? Because as I see in your journeys, there have been two or three parallel streams which you worked on. But they were not like 15 to 20 streams, right? Which you worked on to three parallel. So how do you choose these three parallel streams? I see what you’re working on right now.


Roshan Abbas 22:39

up so I think See, what happens is that, again, as a curious creator, there are problems that I am constantly in my head trying to solve. For example, right now, we are spending so much time doing virtual communication? How will we solve for the human need of socializing? Now, I know this is a problem that somewhere I keep thinking about. So, if anybody approaches me with a solution to this, I know that I will find that to be interesting. The future of live entertainment is something that is an area of concern. So, I think the this is one bucket that I’m interested in. The second is on most virtual communication, I see that people’s attention drops. I am very interested in seeing how people will keep people engaged, and therefore what are the tools they are building? What is the technology they are building? I deeply believe in the creator economy. And I believe that every creator has the circle of intimacy. So, I know what they used to talk about is the 1000 true fans. But I think, you know, it’s not about the 1000 true fans. I also know that there are people who are monetizing, you know, 100 people. But if you can monetize those 100 people for 10,000 rupees each back to is a great income, right? I mean, I’m seeing people do things like that on a monthly kind of basis. So, when I noticed this, and I still feel that that same person is doing one sub stack newsletter, one podcasting workshop, one podcast on the side, also, you know, writing a book now, what is a technology solution for this who is going to help build the tech stack for the creator. deeply interested. So, when I find these as areas Personally, I engage with this. commune which I have been building over the last couple of years is a platform for young creators and it’s it just tries to say, how can we empower creators to be their best self? So, community building tools is something that again, are of deep interest to me. So, these are just one set of area of interests for me. The other thing, of course, is that when I see trends that are happening, okay, right, for example, I think young people’s way of investment is completely changing. So, when I see a lot of FinTech startups, I look at what their narrative is. I obviously one is looking at what is the problem they’re trying to solve. But I’m also concerned about the fact of what’s the interface they’re building? Because I mean, I think I have a slightly more of an eye for saying, so what is that soft tissue of connectivity that you’re building? Is that the interface is the language is the design is that UI UX? And these things really, you know, engage me personally. Somebody approached me just a day or two back with something saying nobody is creating content for three- to six-year-olds. And I said, yes, definitely. I mean, you know, so. So, I do believe that deep inside there is the circle, which is content led that excites me and whatever other various ramifications if there’s something else it is that as an idea intrigues me, I immediately put it on to Rajesh and other people saying, hey, listen, this sounds interesting to me. I find it interesting for the following reason, would you like to have a look? Frankly, sometimes I may miss out on a couple of good deals that land up in my inbox, because if you can’t engage me in an email, somehow, I’m not I would I lose a little bit of interest, I, I’ve now started getting one or two other people to have a look at them as well. But if you can’t engage me, I think my bias as a communicator comes out saying, you know what, I love to spend an evening with this person otherwise, beyond the thing, what if it feels? Would I still like to spend an evening with you? Would I sit and have a drink with you and chat about life? Because I think that’s the important aspect as well.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:36

Now coming back again, to your process, right? You said, you have been very active note taker, right? That’s one part of your process, right? How do you assimilate idea from many streams? And then combine them together? What are the other processes that help you in your life as a creator, as a businessman, and now as an angel investor?


Roshan Abbas 27:01

I think one process is that I that I deeply believe in is that I keep hiring my own replacement and everything. You know, I’m always trying to groom new leaders, and I then let them go on their path. Many people when they say you are running six businesses, I said, no, I’m not running. I had a vision for some of them, some of them I partnered in someone else’s vision, I will provide what I can and get out of the way, you know, you’ve got to get out of the way. That’s a very important thing. So, I think I think, trying to inspire the team and say, this is what our big vision is, this is what our moonshot is going to be. That’s one thing that I like to do with my teams, I like to check in with all my teams, you know, on a constant kind of basis. That’s one thing that I definitely do. The other thing as a creator, is I go down rabbit holes, often I give myself actually about two hours every day to just explore. I will listen to the Vegas podcast, and then I will go to someone sub stack newsletter, and then I will go into one investment hypothesis and someone’s tweet. And all of this, this is again, you know, I keep saying, what do you feed your mind? Because, you know, if that plant needs to grow, what is in its roots, what is nurturing the roots is so important. So, I think that is a very important thing. I just put out some hacks of productivity for people, because somebody will say, how do you do so many things together, and I said, Guys, while I remain deeply curious, I also am almost, you know, militant in getting rid of things that could actually be distractions. So, you know, notifications, WhatsApp groups, emails, which you need to unsubscribe from all of these things, I just do this so that I can keep clearing up time. There is a process I actually learned many years ago, there are two things that I like to do. One is that you know, while people talk for work life balance I came across. And this was one online course that I did from some universities that simply learn, I think, was the website I did it from. And in that leadership course, there was a very interesting thing that they said that, you know, don’t just think of your life is a work life balance, think of four quadrants the quadrants are family and friends, there is work there is self and then there is community at large. And I try to find time for each of these. And I keep telling people that me time is very, very critical. In order to then there is a quote, which I think is the Bruce Lee quote somewhere which says that, you know, if you want to fill your cup of tea, you must first empty it. So, it’s very important to distill empty and therefore I spend a little bit of time just clearing up things. You know, otherwise we get into this model where there’s too much going on. these are these are a couple of the things that I do I do when I’m investing. I have learned again Something from my friends, which is I look for answers to a couple of questions. One is, you know, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? How big is the problem you’re trying to solve? Why are you the right person to solve it? If you can answer these three questions for me first, I’m genuinely interested. And then after that, of course, one starts looking at what your team is, and what you want to build, and what’s the kind of culture and the more you spend time with a person you understand what that person is doing. So, these are a couple of the things that I do. I also like to, you know, like, for example, now, there’s this whole thing about crypto and Ethereum, etc., I have identified one or two people who I’m currently just following to understand it better. And I’d like to do this, I’d like to spend some quiet time, learn, again, you know, pick up whatever, you can assimilate it, build your own hypothesis, and then follow it through for a little while. Frankly, I was not much of a risk taker early, but the more money you end up making, I have this middle-class habit of putting things aside. So, you know, if you put up put aside enough for a rainy day, I believe that somewhere you will, you reach something called an escape velocity. That escape velocity is when you’re not, you know, when why do is achieve escape velocity, because gravity doesn’t hold you back. And frankly, this gravity that I talk of, is the day-to-day troubles of Oh my god, where’s my next paycheck coming from? Where is this coming from? What if I lose everything, etc., etc. So, I think if you build that little nest egg and leave it aside, ultimately, what do you need? I mean, I think with age, you end up getting a little more philosophic. So frankly, you need, you need a little bit of food for your body, a little bit for your soul, some people you can share these things with. And I guess we’re all somewhere obsessed with a little bit of live wanting to leave a mark behind, which I, which I do believe is something that some sometimes comes up in my head occasionally. But apart from this, you know, really, money is a means to live so many dreams, and so many other people’s dreams. And that’s what I keep doing.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 32:07

We talked about things, you know, that worked? Can you share the things that didn’t work? The initiatives?


Roshan Abbas 32:15

I must tell you so and in fact, it’s a very good thing that you’ve asked me because, you know, what happens is that sometimes people get into this whole place of, oh, my God, you know, one success after the other? No, I think, I think it’s very important talk of failures. I, I invested in a news company where somebody had worked in another company and said, you know, this is a great app. And, and the one question I fought while i realize the problem the person was solving, you know, that you just, I just forgot to say, what’s your source of news going to be? You know, and oh, we’ll just pick it off from websites or whatever, etc. And I said, you know, work on that, because you just can’t pick up stuff from there. And it just went so you know, didn’t tested deep. And I’ve just got so excited by the idea initially, that I didn’t dig deep enough. And sometimes not digging deep enough can lead you into digging a hole for yourself. So that is one thing. The other thing that in fact, which didn’t go well is that in the film business, sometimes you’re not dealing with rational thought you’re dealing with egos. I was when I’d finished my film, I was working with a company that was making designs for films and I said, Oh my god, this is a, this is a niche area, because each film spends nowadays a good 20 to 30 crores on marketing, a small film will spend 5 to 10 crores bigger films, I spend a lot more. And I was like, Oh my god, nobody targets just this. They’re only two, three agencies. Let’s work on this as an idea. And I got two three friends together. And we started working on it. And I realized this that, you know, if you really want to be in this industry, the reason there are such few companies is because, you know, superstars want to do a review of a creative at four in the morning. And I don’t want to be the person doing that I’m, I, you know, I, I value my time I value my piece. So. So I think sometimes if you realize that an area has been left alone, and it’s only being serviced by two, three people or whatever, maybe there’s a good reason that everybody else is not chasing that. So those are things that I mean, these are one or two things that haven’t worked. A couple of the things that we did at gsf in the early days, I think in the first two, three years, even Raj action the entire team and all of us, we were all a little should I say naive or I mean, we were just well meaning and I think a little naive. And therefore, we invested in a couple of things, but it was really early days. And now when I look at those same things, I realized that there are oh you should have asked them this, you should have done this, you could have helped in the following manner. Even today, I think that our startup ecosystem is riddled with so many things from you know, Angel tax and what’s going to happen on this and should you build a company here or should you, you know, shift it and go abroad and who’s going to be your series A who’s going to come in and support You, I think all of these questions, of course, to keep coming. But I think over a period of time, even those mistakes are great teachers. So, yes, one is made a couple of these mistakes. I mean, enthusiasm sometimes lands you on the just pure enthusiasm lands you in the wrong time, but some right alongside but, you know, that’s also part of like,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:24

it’s okay. It’s not a problem. But you also got so many opportunities, because as you said earlier, in the podcast, you were a yes, person. You were the first person to say I’m ready to jump in?


Roshan Abbas 35:36

No, absolutely not. What happens is, again, character and personality of the founders is a big thing for me simply because, as I like, and I keep telling people this, will you, on a bad day, be able to spend an hour with this person without thinking that they make you go wrong? It’s very important. And the other thing is, does your value system and that person’s value system work together? I think I’ve been brought up with a lot of these things about values. And that’s very important to me. So, I keep looking out for you know, how can one solve that one of the people who worked with me the other day, said, we were looking at as a way of doing creative learning online, and there was a good hack that they were giving, saying, you know, we can do it this way. And you know, we can, you know, we’ll do the first thing free, and then people will come and then they will buy the master product and stuff. And I said, no, yeah, this sounds a little unethical. So, this person to understand, I want to make sure billion here and you were to run an NGO, you know, I said, you know, it’s fine. It’s not everything is not about money. It’s a lot about you know, that again, quotable quotes keep coming to me if too often on these things. But there is this line that I always remember which says, do not mistake your net worth with your self-worth. And it means a lot to me as an individual, you know, because it’s, it’s what people will say, when you’re not in the room, that really will matter. And if that is that is built on your self-worth, and there’s nothing like.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 37:09

And if I may ask, let’s say if we take a week of yours these days, how will you divide your week in various segments, like,


Roshan Abbas 37:19

so, I’ll tell you what I do, I, I do a couple of I almost do a weekly call with my team at encompass with my CEO, I spend the time, I now have a good Chief of Staff who’s just joined me recently. So, sorting my life out a lot, because I was sort of getting a little bit into this model. I have spent a lot of time about 30% of my time I spend with the commune team, I spend another about 20% of my time just exploring. So, you know, I go out to see comedy shows, attend a seminar, go into a webinar, all of this, etc. And I mean, I keep doing this regularly. All of the other things that I work in, whether it is so I think once a fortnight we have a gsf call that goes on for about two to four hours, which we know will be updated on new ventures that we’re investing in, I do try to meet at least one or two new companies a week. So, some time goes in that. And for all the other companies, I think I circling with them about once a fortnight or once a week, the rest of the time, frankly, my time is just going in thinking up creative ideas. Sometimes I’m writing sometimes I’m just consuming stuff. And of course, I I’m an amateur chef, I occasionally love to rustle up things. I like to spend time with the family. I really like meeting up with people. And because right now I’m in Dubai at the moment and I can step out and meet people, I’m making the best use of it because this pandemic has gone to virtual for all of us, I guess, at some stage


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 38:53

you have seen the media evolve over the last 25 years, either very few people who have seen it as closely as you. The other person I can think of is, you know, Raghav Bahal. You’ve seen radio, you’ve seen TV. And now you’re seeing online Ott media, you’re also one show with prime and Ott is there then other platform like share chat is there, Pratilipi is there? Right? How do you make sense of it? Right? Where is the future going? So that those entrepreneurs who want to latch on to the new wave, right, can draw insights from this conversation?


Roshan Abbas 39:32

up so see, see the space of what is any medium is again delivering that go back to the same thing that I said, so what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? What did Ott solve? it is solved the problem of saying I want my content anywhere, anytime any type. Now, all three things were not being solved by cable. Right? Everything was appointment viewing. Everything was dictated by a certain set of rules. guidelines or this is what India wants to watch, which is rubbish. You don’t niche exists, why are there so many regional channel channels because people wanted content in their regional languages. But it’s not just languages, it is also genres. And if you will start looking at the number of genres, this is the long tail where there will be hundreds of small genres. You know, you don’t need just that, you know, thing that everybody watches, you can also have the thing that just 10 people watch, but are they willing to pay enough for it. So, I think there are still many niches that exist. The other thing that’s happened is, when there is too much visual fatigue, audio picks up, audio is picked up, because there are certain places where you could not be distracted visually. So, in your car, when you were driving, why was most audio consumed as drive time, and that was a big suffering that happened. But when we started spending seven to eight hours on a screen, our mind said, oh, my God, I need to shut my eyes and just listen, which is why podcast consumption went up. Now, all of these trends are going to continue. But you know, when I look at it, sometimes I was telling somebody the other day saying that, what is clubhouse? clubhouse is audio being done in a conversational live manner, right. So, this is like the live radio show that used to happen in FM. What is podcast, it is the recorded show we used to do on FM, but it is available to you at any given point in time, any length you want. I mean, I listened to Amit Varma, three and a half hours, and I will listen to your show, which is roughly less than an hour and I listened to something in just three minutes. Also, it’s a matter of that, are tools which are constantly changing. So therefore, attention spans are getting reduced attention spans were always low. It’s not that it is a new phenomenon. It’s just that people have started making good use of the fact that, Oh, you don’t want to watch something long, watch it for 10 seconds on Tik tock, watch it for 30 seconds Takatak or anything which is available there. And I think there is a huge craving from tier two and tier three to say, give me the tools. And let me show you what I can do. You know, some of the most amazing clips that I get to see every day are those of somebody sitting in a small village and cracking jokes with friends and doing something etc. Or somebody giving you, you know, simple tips on how to farm better or whatever, which is coming from somewhere or a language day or a dance. I mean, it’s so crazy. I think that, you know, the gig economy will continue, but so will the creator economy. And my real big belief is that if you create enough tools, people who can build themselves, people will build themselves, you know, audiences which can be 1000 or a million, and they can monetize of both. So, build frictionless ways for people to consume and discover, and you will really reap rich rewards for this. Plus, I think there is a huge gap of finding good tools that exist in the languages that people speak. What is Alexa or Siri or, you know, okay, Google done for us, for a whole generation, it is no longer important to learn how to write. Today, a person can turn and say 2 kg aata bhej dena, it will come you can turn news bta dena, it will be there. So writing is disappearing. So, you know there are there are such dramatic changes that are taking place in all of this. The only warning that I give people is often all mediums end up at some time becoming a little bit of a well in which you hear your own echo. Therefore, don’t get stuck in just one place. Travel often. I mean, you know mediums and books and websites and blogs and newsletters are all trapped doors that lead you into new worlds. Make sure that you go exist in at least a couple of them. Otherwise, you know this thing of Oh, you just keep listening to your own voice in one place is going to become a terrible problem for us.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 44:26

storytelling has been a very important part of your life. That’s why you became a radio jockey, a TV host, even a director because you wanted to tell stories. And you have also written a book about it. is also told in the startup world that if you are not a good storyteller, it’s very difficult for you to raise money because the other investor is listening to 10 pitches a day. If you can summarize right storytelling for entrepreneurs, three or five things which they can start working on, on how to improve their storytelling.


Roshan Abbas 45:07

So, so remember, you know, I often tell people that a very critical thing is what’s the hook each of your episodes you begin with but something which was really catchy in the episode, right? That’s how you do it because you want to hook the listener in. Entrepreneurs should always have that hook, which they know is going to catch people. I remember guneet monga, one saying that she had made a film that wasn’t working, but she went to college principals and sold it to schools to view where she used to enter every place and said this film will change your life. Right. So, you’re so having a great hook is important. People like to hear stories of people. So, try to make your business problem personify a business problem into the life of a problem. You know, I want to hear of Raju, I want to hear of Kavita, I want to hear of Mr. Shastri. I want to hear of, you know, Colonel Singh, or whatever, rather than hear of a man who’s 63 demographic C, D. Right? So, humanizing your stories is a critical thing to do. Business stories are different from stories because business stories have goals and objectives. Be clear with what your goal and your objective with your stories, test your narrative on five friends and check what landed with them. And I keep saying learn to meta tag your stories. This is a story that talks about entrepreneurship. This is a story that talks about my risk-taking ability. This is a story that talks about how good my team is, this is a story that talks about how sharp I am in terms of finding things, this story tells that I’m a crisis solver, I keep saying that every person must know an origin story, a turning point story, a failure story and a success story. Because if you don’t have enough of these stories in your arsenal, then you’re not going to be interesting. Always remember that you’re carrying multiple billboards around with you, your billboard is your social media profile. And make that interesting, because that is perhaps the first place after I receive a mail from you, after I hear you. Most people, most smart people will go and try and find you. And if everything you put up there, you know, sinks into the sea of sameness, as I call it, you won’t stand out. So, learn to do all of these things. Also, respect the person who you are going to be telling your story to know their story. You know, you build this connectivity by respecting the person in front of you, there is a line again, I use in my workshops, often saying show me that you know me, you know, it’s so important. Don’t just start telling your own story. Can you link your story with the other person? Right. And that’s, that’s what works really, really well. Stories should always, you know, as I said, have this thing about being linked to an outcome. Are you seeking investment at the end of the story? Are you seeking a follow up meeting? Are you seeking, you know, the person to join, you know, know these objectives? I often give an example. Which is something that I keep turning and saying that, you know, I show a visual in my workshop that is a person holding up a sign which turns and says, can you give me a ride to Texas? And on the other side is the same man holding the same sign returns and says, you know, can you give me a lift so I can go home for Christmas? You know, it’s just that stories are data wrapped, when you know, given meaning by wrapping them in the right context. So, these are just a few things that I tell people in my workshops, and if you ever have the time attend one, it’s great fun. I mean, I’ve now built quite a thing around it over the year. It’s another problem that I was trying to solve because as you said, many people don’t know how to tell their story and that is to pain me and I’m like, come on, you’ve got such a great product have a great story around it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 49:09

Thank you so much, Roshan, I learned so much here to this podcast.


Roshan Abbas 49:14

I hope so because you know I was actually having listened to everything else I know that people keep talking about you know, market and they said whatever I said you know I’ve got that person but I do believe that all this equally matters you know when you’re building your ventures, etc. So, I hope Siddhartha it was of some help to you.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 49:33

Thank you so much, Roshan, it’s a pleasure to host you on the podcast.


Roshan Abbas 49:38

Thank you. Thank you and all the best

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