In every adversity, there is an opportunity: Raj Nayak

In today’s edition of ‘Beating All Odds’, Raj Nayak, Founder and Managing Director, House Of Cheer, speaks with Naziya Alvi Rahman, Editor of exchange4media

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: May 18, 2020 9:33 AM
Beating All Odds

In this series ‘Beating All Odds’, we are honouring leaders who despite so many challenges thrown at them by COVID-19 are still standing tall.

The leader, we have today, is a special one. He is a media maverick, a creative thinker, a trend-setter and the most cheerful leader the media and entertainment industry has ever had. A 10-minute conversation with him, and life suddenly looks very good. So, in these times of despair and anxiety, he’s someone one must go to - Raj Nayak, Founder and Managing Director, House of Cheer. 

How will this crisis change broader dynamics of the entertainment industry?

I don't think the future is going to be the same, at least not the near future. The long term future, I don't know. But, it will leave a psychological impact on everybody's mind in some way or the other in the long term. If we're speaking about our industry, in particular, the advertising, marketing and entertainment industry, the dynamics of the business is going to change. We have seen today a new movie ‘Gulabo Sitabo’, going directly on Amazon. I also read in some publication that broadcasters are already asking production houses to cut costs. Uday Shankar mentioned in an interview that he just needs to find people who have access to mobile phones. Therefore, I think the whole setup is going to change. One of the things advertisers have realized is that, they can make do by producing content locally, in lower costs, and they don't need to go to overseas for the same. Cash is a big problem today and because of which people will be a little averse to opening their purse strings, effective immediately. They'll be a little tight fisted.

For the entertainment industry, content consumption is going to go up tremendously. But at the same time, the economics and dynamics of it, in terms of monetization is a challenge. I know some broadcasters who mentioned to some production houses who have been in touch with me that they are not going to commission much, as they don't know what will happen to the revenue. They are keeping an exit open. I'm an eternal optimist at heart, and would like to believe that things will come back to some kind of a normal, but it will take time.

Would smaller production houses gain from the situation?

One of the things COVID-19 has done is - it has even converted a tech dinosaur like me into a tech savvy person. I'm learning something every day. I'm a guy who doesn't know how to put together a PPT on a computer, and I started this live chat all on my own. I know older generations are now getting on their mobile phones, doing FaceTime, Zoom calls, playing Ludo King with one another, etc.

I think people who are digitally savvy, and are able to produce great quality stuff at an economical cost, have a huge future. One of the things that I had been thinking is, how can I leverage this situation? People with such skills need a bridge to reach the brand managers or marketing directors of companies, and I can be that bridge. One of the marketing heads of a broadcasting company told me that somebody reached out to her and said, "I made this film, would you like to look at it", and she bought it for Rs 50,000, and branded it by putting their logo on it. They had earlier commissioned a film to an agency for Rs 4,50,000, which turned out to be crap. I believe that is a kind of opportunity for talented individuals, who by sitting at home, can churn up stuff. If they have the right bridge to be able to find the right buyer, I think there's a huge opportunity.

You recently ventured into the world of production. As a producer, what kind of content would you be looking into?

I started 'House of Cheer' with a specific intention of doing something in the business of happiness. I actually built something, but now I'll have to probably redesign it. The current timing may not be right for the launch. I was planning to launch it on my mother's birthday on March 22, but then everything has gone into lockdown.

In content, I had strategically taken a decision that I don't want to be a production house, because that's not my skill set. l wanted to be curator of good content. I outsource the line production and take some good projects to some great big OTT platforms. I had put it on hold because I was focusing on something else. Content business has a lot of gestation period. It just doesn't happen overnight. I was very clear that I wanted to have some business which gave me a stable cash flow on a regular basis, and then I would focus on content.

Currently, we are living in a gloomy time and coming out of it, everyone would need some kind of happiness product. Do you think 'House of Cheers' is ahead of its time?

I totally agree with you. My only challenge is going to be that lots of companies will want my buy my product but may not want to spend that money. Before that, I need to redesign the product a little bit. The way I look at it - in every adversity, there is an opportunity. I am a firm believer that every cloud has a silver lining. I'm not saying that things won't happen. I may launch it in two months from now, or I may wait for another six months. I am not in a hurry. I'm here to stay.

In these difficult times, how are you keeping yourself motivated and how are you keeping your team motivated?

I don't have a very large team. That's a good thing. I have a very large team outside of the people who are currently working with me. All my ex-colleagues or the people with whom I have worked in different organizations, keep me entertained. They keep telling me about what's happening and what's not happening. I'm getting a lot of feedback like this. I'm connected with a lot of people with whom I had not been in touch for many years.

Other than that, I've been busy. These days there is no demarcation between personal and professional. We are working even harder than we used to. I've been doing a bit of reading and watching shows. Now that I'm doing my live chat, I'm doing a little bit of research on my guests. I've been exercising too. Earlier, I was not prompt with it, but I'm being extremely prompt now. I'm also spending a lot of time with my dog, Meredith. Other than that, I play Ludo with my sisters in Bangalore. And of course, there's a lot of cooking and eating.

Tell us a little more about your new show. Where did the idea come from?

For that, I should actually give credit to my dear friend Anurag Batra. His colleague Abhinav called me one day and said that he wants to do a zoom call with me and Anurag will be joining it as well. I agreed to do that call. After the call when I watched it I felt good with myself.

I thought why don't I do something like this myself? I mentioned this to a colleague of mine, Mandy Kulkarni. Mandy went ahead and made a poster and sent to me. I liked the poster. Then I spoke to a friend of mine, Jill Majeski, and I told her about my idea. She encouraged me to go ahead with it, and I coaxed her into being my first guest. This is how the show started. It all happened within a week. The idea came to me on a Saturday, and by Sunday evening, I had the poster. I made the announcement on Monday, and went live on Friday. For the next episode, I called another friend and he agreed immediately. Now, I have two weeks lined up. I wanted to have people from different walks of life. I do not want only Bollywood or political guests. I do the show on Friday, because no matter how much people love you, they will not be able to watch it live. But, they can catch up on it during the weekend. And I announce my new guest on Monday, so there's something to look forward to.

A year back you were the COO of Viacom18. What are the first few things you would have done after this lockdown?

I believe most of them are already doing what is necessary. But, according to me, the first and foremost thing to do should be establishment of clarity in communication. Half the time people assume things. I'm working with a partner in London, and they're doing a lot of work with corporates there. He was telling me, some of the key problems that are coming out are - anxiety, fear, not knowing what is going on and people are scared. Also, there is a problem of fatigue, because people are overworking, with no boundary of time.

I think the first thing any leader should do is establish clarity in communication and call for instant feedback. You don't know who is going through what, who lives in what circumstances, and what their personal problems are. These are the times when being empathetic for a leader is the most important thing. You can't assume everybody's living condition is like yours. That person who is an excellent employee in office, in today's situation, maybe managing a small baby without any help. Therefore, you have to take into consideration these things. You have to assume that everybody is going through hardships.

I think the first thing is being empathetic, second is clarity in communication and getting feedback. Feedback is a very important thing. It is also important to create groups with leaders, who are there to take care of each other's problems and find out if the employees are facing any problems? Corporates should be there for people when they need them the most.

Some things are going to happen whether we like it or not. One of the things is cost-cutting. But as long as you're being fair, you’ll be fine. Compassion and empathy are the most important things for people at this stage.

From the business perspective, what are some of the key measures that a leader should take in the media industry right now?

I think this is a big learning for corporates. Somebody told me that COVID can be renamed as CTO, because what CTOs never managed to do for organizations this pandemic has done. It has made corporate go digital. My partner in London, who has a team of 40-60 people, told me that none of his colleagues want to come back to work after this. Therefore, as an organization and as a leader, you have a responsibility towards the society. If you can make sure that your people don't have to travel and can get the work done, why have cars on the road and people travelling by trains? Give them the option to work from home, because you've done it now and your work is going on smoothly. For people who have to come to work, you can't help it but you can ask people to come three days a week to office on rotation.

Leaders have to be more innovative. They have to think differently. One of the things not happening today is that there are no water cooler conversations that happened in office. Because of that, people are feeling lonely. Leaders can organise something where people can come together on a weekly basis, digitally. Leaders have to be innovative and think differently. And once again, I would repeat that leaders have to communicate, get feedback and be empathetic.

Any advice for young people who has just started their business?

It is very scary. I would be lying if I said it's not. But be optimistic because you don't have a choice. You have to be hopeful, but you also have to be very business-like. You have to cut your losses. Shut the office down and work from home. You can always get another office. Cash is king. Conserve whatever you can. It is better to cut your losses and still be focused in what you're doing. Never give up on hope.

I don't call anything a failure. People don't fail. People have setbacks. So you need to be able to say, it's a setback, I will take a step back, and then I will move forward at the right time. When a tsunami is coming at you, you can't stand there and be brave. You have to sidestep and let the tsunami pass and then go on. Just don't lose hope, because that is the only thing that keeps us going.

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