Five Creative Indian Companies That Are Redefining Work Culture And Spaces

Five Creative Indian Companies That Are Redefining Work Culture And Spaces

[This article is part of a series exploring entrepreneurship, creativity and evolving work culture in India. It is brought to you in collaboration with Beam & Words and WeWork.]

Getting the opportunity to be your own boss is perhaps one of the most coveted and aspirational positions that we can strive for. What we often don’t hear about, though, is the many little failures that cement the way there though, or the courage that it really takes to take that leap. Because contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurship is not for everybody. And it requires true stamina to see something through beyond the initial phases of establishing an idea in the market (not an easy job in itself) beyond thoughts on paper to the point that it attains any semblance of stability from where it can keep scaling. In those early years, it takes grit to fight against the obstacles and an all-powering faith even when nobody else agrees.

India has grown to be a hub of innovation and creativity which has given birth to mavericks across fields that are thinking outside the box, or even discarding it completely. Unsurprising when you consider necessity really does breed innovation, while few would deny that a trait that seems to bind the subcontinent is a never-say-die attitude of ‘jugaad’. But those early years are behind us and it’s fair to say that we’ve moved beyond just establishing a thriving startup eco-system. Thinking has become both bolder and more refined all at once, and entrepreneurs are considering parameters they wouldn’t have before.

Take work-spaces and work culture for instance. Once looked upon as mere buzzwords more befitting of the west, many path-breakers from creative industries are beginning to value the importance of defining their own spaces and cultures within the status quo that go against the grain of a lot of what we’ve been taught. Whether it’s free-wheeling open spaces that allow all members of a team to share thoughts and ideas without barriers between them or a shared commitment to similar ideals, these elements become an essential part of how companies think, and play a huge role in deciding where they will go.

In that vein, today, we take a look at the entrepreneurial journeys of five such creative companies and the maverick minds behind them. These are people who did more than just expect a brilliant idea to do the talking, and put their blood, sweat and tears into building something of lasting value. They’ve broken the mould of cookie-cutter work culture, so to speak, redefining the boundaries of their industry and how it ‘should work.’ Here’s a peek behind the scene into their worlds that prove what they have built is more than just a business.

I. Anjali Batra and Shuchir Suri | Food Talk India

Our ceaseless want for food can never be satiated. The experience is only enriched further by the feeling of community – a group that feels the same love for food, shares exciting gastronomical experiences and recommendations of hidden hole-in-the-wall food gems. Pictures of sizzling culinary escapades and descriptions of adventurous eats brought together people like never before. This was made possible by the dynamic partnership of Anjali Batra and Shuchir Suri, united by their passion for food.

They kicked off in 2014, setting up Food Talk India (FTI) as a small invite-only community on Facebook with a simple motto – ‘Good food before everything else.’ Initially, they thought it was a crazy idea, they tell us, but also an ideal opportunity to shake things up as people were becoming more conscious of, what and where they were eating and spending their money. The culinary scene was transitioning and dining outside was not just an average outing with an ordinary meal, but it had become an experience of its own. Batra and Suri, with a vision to capture this experience and build a community of food lovers, founded FTI as a digital platform to share and spread the love for all gastronomic delights.

Their emphasis lies on quality, and they strive for good and memorable food. Four years down the line, this hasn’t changed and they have been incredibly successful in building a reputation for themselves with immense credibility. As we reminisce further, they talk about how they have persevered through these four years despite many ups and downs. Failures and struggles are an inherent part of any venture and gains don’t always follow from passion, but the vigour to bounce back and focus on their goal with sheer diligence is what has driven them, and has been the force behind their success.

Anjali Batra and Shuchir Suri photographed by Vindhya Singh

Their workspace ethos is imperative, they say, as it is the fuel for their creativity. “Especially for a company like ours - where we work in the experiential marketing space and are always constantly looking for inspiration in everything we see. We spend a considerable time out and about meeting new people, visiting new places, travelling the country – it comes with the work territory.” The entire team sits at one table – across from each other, working off and with each other’s energies and ideas. “There is no hierarchy in our company – a flat structure and we have always kept it that way. Being a lean team we feel that has always worked amazingly well for us. We’ve also been fortunate to find an amazing team that is more like family than colleagues,” they add.

‘Never sell a brand, sell an experience’ – their core principle has defined their work culture as well and it’s pretty simple; live, eat, sleep and be the Brand. “We are each an extension of our Brand- and our Brand is an extension of us. We believe in doing things that leave an impact - be it a meal, a product and spirit. Every time we work with a client, we take it upon ourselves to show people the lifestyle of the brand through experiences.​”

FTI has evolved over the years and become much greater than a Facebook group, a digital platform and a business. It is what connects thousands of individuals that find collective joy in eating, discovering and sharing a variety of cuisines. Batra and Suri celebrate the joy that comes from being a part of this platform with influence, going beyond food and being to building meaningful friendships and relationships across the board. For them, FTI is a feeling, an emotion, and a lifestyle, and it’s only going to grow stronger from here.

II. Arman Sood , Ajai Thandi and Ashwajeet Singh | Sleepy Owl

Single origin Arabica beans that are grown in Chikmagalur, roasted in extremely small batches, brewed on order and then packed in a brew box (and now packs) so you can enjoy it anywhere you are – sounds heavenly, right? This was made possible by Delhi-based startup Sleepy Owl founded by three friends brought together by their collective love for good coffee.

Brewing a great cup of coffee can be a complicated and tedious process, more so for a novice caffeine enthusiast. Leaving behind their day jobs as lawyers and bankers, Sood, Thandi and Singh used their innovative genius to create a convenient way people can consume high-quality brews on a regular basis, that too without doing all the work that goes into it. “To do this, we had to get past the obstacle of roasting, grinding and brewing fresh coffee every morning. Clearly, that takes too long. So we brewed, tasted, refined and brewed again—till we achieved the perfect cold brew coffee, and combined it with a convenient bag-in-a-box packaging and shipped the first box on 16th June 2016! And it worked!” they share with us.

Armaan Sood, Ajai Thandi and Ashwajeet Singh. Source: Sleepy Owl website

Convenient, consistent and clear communication – the Sleepy Owl team is extremely mission driven with their main aim being to reinvent the in-home coffee experience for consumers across the board. “To get the best quality as convenient as possible and consume it at its best.”

Camaraderie holds the team together with the principle of radical transparency at the core of their work culture. This transparency is ingrained in employees from day one of their training and translates into all customer interactions from then on. They emphasis that training is the most essential part of great customer service, and this is driven by them from the very top of the organization. Everyone is introduced to coffee, their product and the need to be open to customer feedback, critique and grievances.

They share that to achieve this level of honesty and clarity they opted for an open workspace, encouraging interaction and collaboration with the team, in turn leading to an overall increase in team productivity.

III. Dhruv Khurana and Kobi Walsh | Almost Gods

Almost Gods was built out of shared perspective that streetwear should consistently be the driving factor in pushing the boundaries and expectations of the fashion industry. The Almost Gods’ ‘The Garden of Earthly Desires’ was created to challenge common expectations of cut, design, and material innovation, while highlighting the eccentric yet approachable designs of our urban streetwear. The Almost Gods uniform highlights the inextricable link between streetwear and art, aiming to strike a balance between a maximalist minimalism that has yet to be explored on this scale in India.

Uninhibited, contemporary, fluid – Almost Gods was founded by Kobi Walsh and Dhruv Khurana at a time when streetwear was becoming more mainstream, losing its identity of a counterculture that connected people through stories and pushed the boundaries of the fashion industry. “Brands began to follow trends and rely too heavily on competitor’s designs, creating a disconnect between the streetwear movement we grew up with and the streetwear movement of today,” said Walsh.

Walsh and Khurana wanted to preserve the foundational roots of streetwear that made people fall in love with the movement while creating something that hadn’t been seen before in the modern market. They’re putting Indian streetwear on the global map with Almost Gods’ bold and modern aesthetic as well as being globally relatable. “People’s image of India is so askew from where we currently are – we want to make some noise and say hey, you know what, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye. We feel a responsibility to make people see us as more than a country of cows and spirituality,” they add.

Dhruv Khurana and Kobi Walsh. Source: Almost Gods

Designed with the intention of being unisex, challenging normative gender stereotypes in India and abroad, work culture for the team is centred around four themes – creativity, adaptability, trust and respect. Whether it’s designing, strategising, or implementing, something that they pride themselves on is being able to take a step back and look at the situation from a different perspective.

“Creativity and the ability to think differently is central to everything that we do and is a key factor we look at when hiring new people to the Almost Gods team,” said Walsh. In the founders’ opinion, being ready to grow with changing environments is key when it comes to the growth of the brand. Open-mindedness, trust and mutual respect are imperative when it comes to team cohesion and increased productivity.

The space we work in is essential when it comes to how we think, create and collaborate, and for the Almost Gods team, their New Delhi creative office is a clear reflection of their overall ethos. Open and interspersed with pieces to inspire – “such as the EP for Kanye West’s Magnum Opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or an old reformed IKEA package we found on the streets of Varanasi that had been made into a backpack) along with ample toys, Lego’s et al. to make sure we never stop playing.”

Coincidentally, the Almost Gods Chicago office is based out of WeWork, and with the frequent travelling, having a dedicated workspace that moves with them has been extremely beneficial, they share. “It has also been a great place to meet like-minded creative professionals who are working on the next generation of world-changing ideas,” Walsh signs off.

IV. Tejasvi Chandela and Kuhu Kochar | All Things Chocolates

Is there a greater love, than a love for chocolate? It can uplift your spirits, give you a boost of energy, enhance your mood, and also, inspire you. With a shared romance for the bean, childhood friends Kuhu Kochar and Tejasvi Chandela founded All Things Chocolates – premium chocolates for the true connoisseurs, enveloped by a beautiful design.

To put it simply, All Things Chocolates is a haven for milk, white and dark chocolate that boasts of the finest cocoa beans and ingredients that give you a tasteful experience like none other.

Kochar and Chandela reminisce how a common boredom with their lives made them embark on this journey. The ability to experiment with new ingredients, materials and techniques – for Chandela in the kitchen and for Kochar the package design – was more stimulating and exhilarating than anything they’d done before. And the results were even better. Designed by Kochar, the wrapping on these bars are truly a delight to behold. Quirky paisley prints, vibrant patterns, comical cats and other motifs reflect her eclectic aesthetic. Each bar reflects a theme, story or experience through its flawless cover and comes alive through the flavours that Chandela creates.

Kuhu Kochar and Tejasvi Chandela. Source: All Things Chocolate

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men,” Kochar recalls the words of Roald Dahl. The duo looks to travel tales, childhood memories and occurrences, phrases and sayings scattered across the years and bring them together to create inspired bars of divine chocolate, enriched by the personalisation and connection with of each of them.

Their work is “celebration of art in the everyday” and working in sync with each other, Chandela and Kochar are a force to be reckoned with; Kochar, determined and passionate, putting her heart and soul into everything she does, and Chandela, on the other hand, spreads positivity all around, loves unconditionally and the ability to take criticism and feedback constructively has enriched their working relationship and compatibility – something we can all learn from.

They stress the importance of a carefully curated workspace, conducive to the creative process and reflecting their ethos. “We’re still designing and putting together our chocolate factory, and there are so many aspects, from sustainability to community building that goes into a space,” they said.

For them, there is more to chocolate than just eating. It is an expressive medium they use to transport consumers with the vision and passion with which their bars are made. It is beautiful and versatile and the more one interacts with it, the more they understand its subtle complexities and the love continues to grow, with the brand and with its immensely talented creators.

V. Sasha and Kaabia Grewal | Outhouse

Sisters Kaabia and Sasha Grewal were always fascinated with jewellery from an early age. Watching their mother dress up and adorn herself, combined with small trips to the jeweller increased their fondness for fashion and all things sparkly. Little did they know that this love affair would lead to the inception of a leading jewellery brand, Outhouse, in 2012. Today, they’ve made a mark for themselves in the field of fashion jewellery and are recognized for their fine quality and pure sophisticated design.

With degrees in gemstones and diamond grading in their pockets, they finally ventured into the design world. Their internship in New York City at Edie Borgo not only gave them hands-on experience but also allowed them to be creative and experimental with their passion. What started as a hobby for friends and family with infrequent exhibitions blossomed into a full-time business and a stellar debut at Lakme Fashion Week.

Pioneered by Sasha and Kaabia, Outhouse handcrafts exquisite jewellery, packaged with extreme love and care. A strong vision for the company and active involvement in all departments is what led to the duo developing a real understanding of their team and working relentlessly towards their mission. Their motto, ‘the bigger the dream, the more important is the right team’, illuminates their go-getter attitude and exceptional motivation. The cherry on top of this passion project is being sisters as well as business partners. Boredom never strikes and there is a continuous, conscious effort to ensure that the team feels the same way by organizing weekly team lunches among other exciting activities.

Sasha and Kaabia Grewal. Source: Outhouse

The sisters have a very positive outlook of always believing in themselves; they are determined to ‘always dream BIG’. Driven by passion, they put in the extra hours and took the risk they needed to, and that is what defines them today and separates them from others. Their success story is incomplete without the special mention of their father, whom they credit as the backbone of their life and career. They share that he never stopped believing in their vision and constantly pushed them after every hiccup, reminding them that a bigger achievement is waiting at the finish line.

Thinking back to their proudest moments, the girls point to the display of their collection at the Autumn/Winter Lakme Fashion Week back in 2012. While they were under immense pressure they also knew that now their journey would only go upwards, and then it was one leap after another. From their first flagship boutique in Delhi to their second store in Bangalore, followed by Mumbai, it only got bigger. Being passionate about their work has helped them grow and evolve through each collection, year after year until Outhouse became a major contender in the industry.

WeWork is a global network of workspaces where companies and people grow together. We transform buildings into dynamic environments for creativity, focus, and connection. More than just the best place to work, though, this is a movement toward humanising work – we create spaces across the world that move beyond an ‘office.’

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