People Skills — I hoped college would have taught me that in practical life, 80% is about communicating with people. Skills is an assumed aspect. So, when you have 10 people working on different projects leading to the same business goal — the challenge starts from there and the challenge is breaking away from silos. I strongly believe colleges should have a chapter on ‘how to not work in silos’.
We are starting a new interview series about the world of entrepreneurship beyond the classroom — a realm where theory meets grit, and education meets real-world challenges. We want to hear about critical business wisdom that often goes unspoken in academic settings. I had the honor of interviewing Ankoor Dasguupta, CMO, Shisham Digital.
Trained from Dale Carnegie in Mentoring, a CMO Council Member, Ankoor is a marketing practitioner, a knowledge manager, a thought leader, and an avid writer with more than 50 published articles and multiple guest columns, one of which is Reputation Today. Ankoor is an established speaker and jury member for multiple esteemed forums including reputed B-Schools in India. Ankoor is also on the Advisory Board -Marketing Department at ISBR Business School. Recognized by DMA Asia as a marketing Ace, Ankoor is an advocate of social impact, driven by kaizen, he believes in the power of Energy and energizing while bringing to the table a pedigree of 23 years with a rare combination of experience across the spectrum of media — print, digital, mobile, event productions & successful pilot projects. Worked across functions — ad operations, business operations & strategy, content, brand strategy, sales, events, media planning & buying, and spearheading P&Ls. Ankoor has been part of six Sigma projects and worked in cross-functional roles with — MNCs, media conglomerates, and start-ups. A process expert, Ankoor has been part of the core pilot team of launching and scaling International IPs such as ad: tech, iMedia Summits, Modern Marketing Summit, and TechCrunch events in India. Ankoor has directed and enabled the winning of multiple pitches while actively involved in overall and tactical strategy. Ankoor is also on the Screening Council for MMA APAC and MMA Global for Smarties Awards. Ankoor is POSH Certified and has been selected to be part of core Committee for POSH at two organizations during his work tenure till now. Ankoor is your non-status quo leader.
Thanks for being part of this series. Let’s jump in and focus on your early years. Can you share who was your biggest influence when you were young and provide specific examples of what you learned from them that helped shape who you’ve become and how you live your life today?
Thank you for the opportunity. My biggest influence during my early years was my grandfather. He used to work with the government. What I am today, a big part of it I attribute to him. Be it imbibing values such as respect, knowing more about our heritage & culture, having an effective listening ear and a great storyteller. Apart from that I used to closely sit with him when he used to write letters as he had the most beautiful handwriting I ever know. I did have a good rub off effect as people tell me that I have an awesome handwriting as well 😊
He imbibed certain valuable habits in me, without even asking me to form that habit. For example, constantly telling me the importance and beauty of watching the sunrise (while never telling me to wake up early) as he wanted me to to start forming the habit by inspiration and curiosity rather than by force. So, I have been an early riser since my school days and I tell you, it has been the best habit that I have. Apart from that I learnt how to be a leen observer of human nature, how to listen effectively and how to focus on improving one’s self by being curious and acting upon my curiousness. I also learnt how to find ‘play’ in regular life.
Staying on the topic of influence, who has been your biggest catalyst more recently and what can you share that you’ve learned from them that led you to making changes in your life?
First — my 5-year-old daughter and my wife who are an inspiration for me daily and who have helped me become a better version of myself. What I prefer calling ‘serious play’ that I learn from my child, which is essentially finding the play in seriousness as it leads to better creative thinking at my work.
Second- the Universe. I am a firm believer in the power of the universe as I have seen magic happen with sheer belief, faith, and the right kind of practice.
Third — I have myself been my biggest catalyst in recent years as certain habits I pushed myself to practice and of course, credit also goes to my coach who helped me to channel my energies better and helped me to ask better questions to myself. For example- the first is developing a regime to eating healthy nutritious food, having food on time exercising, and not succumbing to cravings. Second is voracious reading and writing along with revisiting my learnings, more importantly, what I need to unlearn. Third is choosing my immediate circle of people that I spend the most time with and ensuring to have fruitful discussions at least 80% of the time.
Mistakes are invaluable. Can you name one specific mistake that you made early on, and learned the most from, but wish you’d been forewarned about?
Excellent question. One of the key learnings that I am grateful to have imbibed when I started my career was ‘under-commit and overdeliver’. So, when there was a key business decision for a client that I was spearheading that was needed, I committed too soon although we had more time. It was of course a predicament as I am known for keeping my commitments, which I was not able to do in this case.
When I analyzed it later, I learned that there are three things –
- I needed to think about all possible aspects before making the decision. like we do in chess.
- I was not able to unlearn and took a decision that was not customized to that particular situation.
- I could have consulted someone which I did not at that time, maybe because I was overconfident.
Is there a leadership myth you believed early on that you’ve since debunked through your real-world experience?
Yes, vulnerability. This air around how strong leaders must be is a big myth. In my initial years, I put on a strong mask so that people were not aware of my vulnerable side. However, gradually I realized that this was unnecessary. It is human to be both strong and vulnerable in situations and admit it. Actually, when the people that you work with see your vulnerable side, trust builds further as a unique currency and that is a feeling when I started experiencing, I knew that it is absolutely okay to show your vulnerable side. It fosters genuineness and authenticity and helps with better and more democratic decision-making.
What’s the key operational insight you’ve gained since running your business that was never mentioned in any classroom?
Research is underrated. Most people take the word research just as a hygiene unless you are a professional research company. I call it ‘homework’. The thing is homework is quite intrinsic and I have seen people and even myself procrastinate on it. Consistent research and actionable insights from research are the pedestal on which any business will sustain and scale. And yes, even if someone mentions this in the classroom, usually they don’t talk about ‘why’ and ‘how’.
Well, preparation may be subjective. Let me state 4 bullet points that are usually missing-
- Importance of unlearning and how to unlearn — I always go back to this question. If I did start a business today (that I had launched say 10 years back) will I follow the same steps? The answer is hidden in this question itself.
- How to build a better memory (how to train your brain)?
- The real ‘how’ of how to scale and sustain, is going beyond the basics.
- How to handle different kinds of crisis situations?
Any unexpected challenges in team dynamics that your academic experience didn’t prepare you for? How did you handle it?
Well, building the most appropriate team needs constant effort and flows top-down. No one ever told me that even if someone is average in the required skills but excellent in team spirit and behavioral attributes, we should go for it. Apart from no one teaches how to practice values such as empathy in the workplace. No one teaches how to work with difficult people in the workplace. These are all extremely crucial and academics may need to have a deeper focus on these aspects as well.
Have you had to unlearn any widely accepted business ‘wisdom’ in your journey? What was it and how did it affect your strategy?
Yes, it’s rather funny. It was like — ‘If no one is with you, do it alone’. I mean, it may sound motivating and all but not practical. Building a strong core team is the starting point after an idea is given shape to germinate. There was a short period where I was over-optimistic, where I used to work when most of my team members were on their way out and that was one time that I saw how ‘impractical’ looks like.
What’s your advice for new entrepreneurs? What are your “5 Things You Won’t Learn in College But Must Know to Succeed in Business”?
1. Don’t be Fearless — It’s okay to be afraid because it’s human. However, the fear becomes less if knowledge becomes more. So read daily, preferably non-fiction and about your domain. So, when someone says -be fearless’ they never tell you how to be fearless. This is because the fact is everyone is scared at some point, and we need to normalize that. College may be telling you some motivational stuff, but they don’t tell you how.
2. Unlearning fast. This is because unlearning acts like a bodyguard. Whenever you have a chance to make a bad decision, the practice of unlearning ‘I will do it how I did it the last time’ will go away and that is required. Because approaching new situations differently in today’s dynamic ecosystem is needed. Past experiences and decisions help us gauge the approach better. Unlearning helps us stay relevant. College only tells you to learn.
3. People Skills — I hope college told me that in practical life, 80% is about communicating with people. Skills are an assumed aspect. So, when you have 10 people working on different projects leading to the same business goal — the challenge starts from there and the challenge is breaking away from silos. I strongly believe colleges should have a chapter on ‘how to not work in silos’.
4. Wearing a minimum of two hats — another suggestion to new-age entrepreneurs is that initially, it is crucial to understand 3 things quite well before even hiring someone. First- of course your core domain expertise, second — know how finance works (wear the CFO hat) and third- have no ego getting coffee for colleagues. As a founding leader, it is important to have immense knowledge of a minimum of two areas. With all due respect, colleges don’t tell you need to wear hats, or when to wear which hat.
5. Hiring the core team- take some time to get not only the best but people who have both participative and charismatic leadership styles. The best way to do this is also a psychometric test which must be at least an hour-long objective style paper. I can say this because I have appeared for it and it actually helps companies to onboard the right people. The first five people that you onboard will be extremely important. And, last but not least, colleges don’t tell you to have fun on the way. It is equally important to enjoy the journey be it failures or small wins.
How do you ensure your team not just understands but embodies your business principles? Any techniques you wish you’d known earlier?
My approach may be a bit different. I love to simplify. It is futile to ask someone to embody my principles of any kind. My job is to put on the table — a Just Cause and foster the ‘solver’ spirit. Along with those certain non-negotiables such as integrity and respect for people. That’s all and I wish someone told me earlier “Ankoor, focus on people and diversity, build the DNA of trust, look at the basic skills, and start doing what you need to do.”
If we were sitting together two years from now, looking back at the past 24 months, what specifically has to happen for you personally and professionally, for you to be happy with your results?
Well, personally, I would have (should have written a book by then)
Professionally, I would be helping more people get better at getting better in becoming better version leaders.
Looking back over the last two years, what key accomplishments make you satisfied with your progress?
A lot of speaking and jury engagements and deeper networking.
As someone with significant influence, what’s the one change you’d like to inspire that would benefit the most people?
I urge people to work on their Emotional Quotient as in practical life, EQ is the backbone for running any business, and again, this is something I have not learned in college.
Rest everything — business numbers, sales, metrics etc. will happen. People will need to be made to happen as the right people with the right spirit will make it happen anyway. Reading, applying, upgrading, and taking care of health is as important. And yes, have the spirit to have fun on the way.
How can our readers keep up with your work?
Thank you so much for joining us! We wish you only success.
Gratitude, you are very kind. Privilege is mine.