Please Meet a Marketing Wizard — Shankar Maruwada #JeenaIsiKaNaamHain

For this edition of #JeenaIsiKaNaamZindagi we have a very special human being — Shankar Maruwada. Those who may have joined late: I have started this new series in which I will talk about exceptional individuals who I have met during my career. Why they will feature here is because of their resilence, exceptional abilities but most importantly, their willingness to play for the long haul by always sticking to their chosen path and not letting their principles dilute. In a fast-tracked world with people remaining perpetually ravenous about instant success, such people are rare and we must celebrate their success. It must call for special qualities to not fall prey to the lure.

It was during my early days at iSPIRT that I met Shankar. I was at Ashish Gupta’s office, Helion Ventures. Ashish recommended that I do the playbook with Shankar Maruwada which he thought would be of great value to the startup community. Shankar at that time was playing an important role in shaping Aadhaar along with Nandan Nilekani and brought immense expertise in marketing, an area which is often neglected. Within a matter of days, we had a roundtable with 15 participants at the Helion office.

From the 1st Roundtable that we did at iSPIRT.

Shankar introduced himself and requested others to do the same. After doing the rounds, he went back and asked the participants what they understood. Unfortunately, the recall factor was poor and that’s when he introduced the concept — The Curse of Knowledge. He explained that highly skilled or educated people often fell prey to this. During a conversation, most people mention ideas, names, topics presuming that the person across would also be acquainted. But in life, that’s seldom the case and there’s a saying, the mother of most fu#4 ups is that we assume too much. Pardon me for the unparliamentary word but you will appreciate that there are times when this word cannot be substituted to bring out the exact emotion as intended.

So, here we are. During a conversation, never assume that what you know the other person also knows equally well. Especially the jargon and short-forms. These can critically impede free-flowing thoughts. During the session, he also recommended a book that we should all read — Made To Stick.

In the marketing roundtable, Shankar was one of those rare people who asked first-principle questions to each company, on what the company “actually” does, beyond the jargons. And then he went on to help them translate it to human emotions to better connect to the audience. His ability to see through the struggle of each entrepreneur in this process, but yet empathise with them, and keep pushing each one to find their “why” was contagious. He really enjoyed this process of helping other people through the frameworks and knowledge that he has gained over years.

Each interaction with him on various topics, beyond just startups, was just so engaging and such a learning experience for me, given his refreshing and interesting points of view.

Pallav Nadhani — Founder & CEO — Charts.com

This pitch session was lapped up by the participants, so much so, that we replicated it in 4 other cities with equal fanfare. Shankar, most graciously, agreed to travel despite his hectic schedule. As I engaged with him deeper, I realized what a fine marketing brain he carried and it was no wonder the kind of path-breaking work he was doing at Aadhaar. Before this, he co-founded ran a marketing analytics company — Marketics which he subsequently sold off. From the very beginning, I realized that he was a hands-on guy and not the kind who conceptualized things sitting within the confines of an air-conditioned office. He would stand in the line with 50 others in smaller towns, trying to fathom the benefits of unique identification in the lives of common people. He would talk to them to draw insights which he later took back to the drawing board.

The roundtable in Chennai. You can see some folks like Krish, Srikrisha from RocketLane who were in their early days of their startup

Then the years passed by and I had done about 3.5 years at iSPIRT. He had moved out of Aadhaar and co-founded Ekstep Foundation along with Nandan Nilekani and Rohini Nilekani. The process of disrupting the education sector and reaching out to underprivileged children had started. Once again, we connected very deeply and decided to do a 3-day program for entrepreneurs. Pallav Nadhani & Phanindra Sama also joined us and we were able to roll out ProductNation’s Growth program called PNGrowth. This was in the year 2016. What struck me was the extraordinary character of the man, his humility, and the ability to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, instantaneously.

Many years have gone by and Shankar continues to move from strength to strength. I have often met him in Bangalore where he stays. I would be invited over for breakfast and we would engage in deep conversations. He is a terrific host and a very large-hearted individual who is continuously striving to make a big difference in the social sector. He is extremely focused and playing for the long haul. I can tell you that he is a Marketing Wizard. No less.

Once again, it’s people like him who will always have a special place in my heart.

This was after the most impactful program called PNGrowth that Shankar helped us with…

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