The Adventures of an Unsuspecting Entrepreneur: Kiran Khalap, chlorophyll
Guest Column: If we value lifelong partnerships, why not the same in business? asks Khalap, MD and Co-Founder of chlorophyll
In August 2018, chlorophyll entered its 20th year, having created and redefined over 200 brands over the 19 years of its existence. When asked to take stock of the journey, I realised how difficult it is to articulate all the learning that has been internalised and has become part of the metabolism of chlorophyll!
For example, very early on, I learnt from anthropology and folkloristic the two concepts of emic and etic: etic is how a social group looks at itself and emic is how observers look at the same group. A group of millennials may look at themselves as ‘too clever to be fooled by ideas of old people’, older people may look at them as ‘spoilt brats surviving on entitlement’.
So only very recently did I realise I was an entrepreneur in the eyes of some people.
In my own eyes I was just a professional looking to live a life of quiet self-respect, also ensuring that my entire team lived that way too. Which is how over the years we ended up ending relationships with big brands like Unilever and Aditya Birla Group, when the relationship compromised that very virtue.
The second realisation came in 2016 when chlorophyll joined ‘thenetworkone’, a network of 1200 independent agencies in 109 countries. I realised chlorophyll was an ‘Indie’ (Independent), and Indies around the world have similar issues to resolve as compared to agencies belonging to a large existing network.
So here I am: an unsuspecting Indie Entrepreneur, trying to put into words what I learnt as both: an Indie and an Entrepreneur.
Lesson One: There is no such thing as a business learning, there is only learning.
In the 1960s, my father, by then one of the finest commercial artists in India, with only Class Seven Marathi-medium municipal schooling, would pay my mother a monthly honorarium, to be used as she deemed fit. To me, that was a lesson in respecting your partners, and respecting them for a lifetime.
If we value lifelong partnerships in life, why not in business?
Nalesh Patil, one of the co-founders of chlorophyll, a genius by any standards, had worked in over 17 ad agencies before chlorophyll…and then continued in chlorophyll for 17 years, creating the maximum number of brand ideantities™ of any designer (http://www.brandideantity.com/).
The whole idea of a different persona in professional life and another in private life is to me a division that can only lead to pain and sorrow for me personally and for my colleagues in chlorophyll. Which is why we encourage chlorophyllites to pursue more than one career, with the same passion that they bring to bear on brand planning and brand management and innovation.
Lesson Two: There is no such thing as creativity in communication, there is only creativity.
An artist or a poet employs creativity for self-expression, those working in applied arts like advertising and design use it to solve communication problems.
But when we go to the root of what creativity means (“To create is to unite” said Pere Teilhard de Chardin, the most influential philosopher of the 19th century) we know it is suboptimal to restrict creativity to just self-expression or problem solution.
It must extend to uniting people, uniting ideas, uniting communities…and that is difficult when everything our culture does is to encourage us to divide. My meditation technique versus yours, my atheism versus your theism, my belief in Political Party A versus your belief in Political Party B; the divisions provide us an identity but they also sow the seeds of conflict.
Meditation is part of the Standard Operating Procedure in chlorophyll. So is humour, described as ‘taking one’s job seriously, not taking oneself seriously’. These twin practices will hopefully break down divisions of me versus you, opening doors to empathy, encouraging creativity in its widest and deepest sense.
For all of the 19 years of chlorophyll’s existence, we have rarely studied “competitors”. Today management consultants are entering all spaces, whether branding, advertising or digital communication…so you can’t even identify competitors…which is why being obsessed with competition kills creativity, denying you your special place in the larger scheme of business.
Lesson Three: There is no such thing as independence from anything, there is only independence.
When we started in 1999, my co-founder, Anand Halve, pioneer of account planning in India and the second genius in chlorophyll, and I, used to compare chlorophyll’s proposition with an ad agency or a marketing services agency.
We were declaring our independence from (remember, we were born on August 15, 1999) the multinational ad agency structure.
Soon, we realised we were independent in thought, not just independent from earlier structures.
We had invented our own brand models (despite our respect for Aaker and Kapferer), different models for product and service and corporate brands. We had invented our own processes, our own way of conducting brand research (as opposed to ad concept research), our own way of changing organisational behaviour or auditing it (litmosi™), our own idea of an ideantity™ instead of a logo. Today, chlorophyll has its own innovation lab, with its own innovations in process and products.
We continue to be fierce learners: like all entrepreneurs we know it’s ok to ‘fail fast’. In 2000, we laid the foundation of e-chlorophyll, an online brand university but quickly learnt it wasn’t the right time. We tried retail specialisation, but gave that up too. It’s ok to fail.
A journey becomes a pilgrimage, when the destination is not clouded in selfish reasons.
(The author is MD and Co-Founder at chlorophyll)
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