Economy, Millennials and Indian education with Abhishek Agarwal

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The world is in a bit of a shock since it has COVID-19; it has the infected and the dead ones and has significant wave effects on our economy. Social media is going crazy after this devastating pandemic, creating useless chaos and online commentary. 

Lockdowns are a joke now since there is no solution to the rising numbers for the infected ones, except social distancing and proper sanitation systems. Legitimately, most shops are now open, and we have a lockdown of 9 pm to 6 am, which generally is okay but, at the same time, does not help much in reducing the number of cases, as most of us usually go out with semi-protection in the day time.

Simultaneously, the economy took a significant hit when the lockdown started. Right now, I will be talking about some annoying but surprising statistics, so brace yourself. Figures produced by national analysts toward the finish of May clarify what turned out so badly. Indeed, even before the pandemic appropriately hit India, in this fiscal year, we were finishing off with March, GDP just developed at 4.2%. The succession of quarterly GDP development numbers paving the way to that point recounts a reasonable story: 7% development contracted to 6.2%, at that point to 5.6%, 5.7%, 4.4% lastly 3.1% in the quarter that finished with the lockdown, and that is just sad.

Obviously, how can we ignore the stagnancy it creates for all of us. Whether it’s daily important outdoor tasks or something related to our educational environment. Though, education is becoming possible through more enabled technologies and remote learning, providing students a tight bubble of total focus and peace from their classmates, but simultaneously, making them miss their friends as well. 

So, in my personal opinion, I was looking for some advice from experts and professionals, and then it reminded me of Abhishek. I met Abhishek Agarwal in 2017 while I was looking for a job in the industry of digital marketing and social media, I was right out of college. I worked for him for a year, and honestly, I learned skills that nobody could have taught me better, not even some top-notch digital marketing institute. And Abhishek is somebody one of the smartest people in my circle that I know. And what’s better than getting a few suggestions from somebody who is actually living and breathing in India’s silicon valley? He is an IIT-Delhi & IIM-Ahmedabad alumni and an experienced professional in the crispy world of startups. So, I had a few questions lined up, that might help other young professionals. I hope the answers will help us or direct us to live our lives in a better way. 

What was your first instinct over the ongoing pandemic?

Candidly, I was too caught up in other things going to have a distinct first reaction.

But the first conscious reaction I remember is going ‘Well, fuck! This is going to be a hard and interesting few months.

How has everything changed while you are living away from your family?

I’ve honestly been away from family for the most part since I turned 16 and went to college. I’ve often lived in proximity but never really with them again. 

It’s a mixed bag honestly. Having them close brings a sense of comfort and a home to always go back to when things aren’t great, and also the comfort of knowing you’re right there – for the everyday life, and in case something should happen and you’re needed.

At the same time – being far away forces you to step up, be more independent, and work through life, with a lesser of a crutch.

As you live in the silicon valley of India, how is Bangalore taking steps to minimize the infections?

Honestly – not enough. When Bangalore was opened up – we had too many of us (self not included) going to cafés, working from there, disregarding social distancing norms entirely and what not. And here we are with a rapidly climbing number of daily cases. 

How was your experience while running Bold Kiln?

It’s a deeply cherished experience. It was definitely not all good and rosy, but those four- five years have helped me grow a lot as an individual, a professional, and a leader. I’ve forged some relationships with my team and other folks in the startup world which are the rock that holds me steady when most needed.

I always look back with misty eyes, and a sense of longing almost.

How is going from a founder of a company to a strategic director in a top-notch startup worked for you?

It was an interesting switch. What was great was coming into the new role with a strong sense of ownership and not a sense of failure or defeat from the previous startup journey. 

And then being able to work on a diverse set of aspects and drive tangible results was definitely fulfilling. What I did have to build comfort with, and also found comfort in was having a larger team and resources one could leverage to do more.

When you got into IIT Delhi, how did you feel?

It’s so far back, I doubt how much of what I think I felt like is what I actually did vs. retro-fitting to the narrative. But more than the college itself – getting a double digit JEE rank was fulfilling. I hadn’t done as well in the first screening JEE paper – but was quite confident after the mains that I’d done well. To see a few years of effort culminate into a solid achievement – definitely priceless.

IIM Ahmedabad is known for its top-class education and delivering professionals that can change the world, how much of that is actually true?

Inherently, it is one of the best because it has one of the highest quality of input in terms of students coming in. It definitely added a lot of value to me and my life, and I think it will continue to in the near future. 

A lot of education, access and networks that schools like this enabled is now more open – which while not diminishing the value these schools add, do reduce their monopoly on being the gateway for them.

Engineering is an old gold stream that most of the youth has followed and are still following. Are there any suggestions for the young youth out there that are approaching the same?

I don’t think it’s as relevant now as it was a decade ago. The world is opening up, learning tools and resources are a lot more accessible, as are employment opportunities if you’ve spent your time truly learning and honing your skills. 

Whether or not you pick up engineering – it is critical you keep exploring multiple facets of yourself and build and hone skills. Developing learnability and the skill to learn is way more valuable than the learning itself.

Do you believe that Indian startups are making a difference and making the world a better place?

There are all kinds of startups. To make a comment generically about all, one way or another would be unfair. Ultimately – you can build a business only if it is truly adding value to someone. In that sense – it’s likely a move towards making the world a better place – for those users and motivations at least. 

Arguably – are some doing a much better job at this than others? Yes. 

What do you think about the foundation of Indian education?

It will soon be turned on its head. 

What would be your advice to the upcoming generation?

Work. Hard. Learn. Anything and everything. Don’t worry too much about short term results and benefits. Help people. 

Is technology a boon to centennials and millennials, or do you believe that it has ruined them?

I (like a lot of others, admittedly) believe technology is but a tool – and its use is what helps one walk towards good or bad – however you choose to define good and bad.

I’ve seen this with myself as well – the same platforms used well, have been extremely helpful to me over the years, but when abused – have also been huge time sinks and black holes of productivity. It really is a lot more about leveraging the technology you can, and building the discipline to control it, and not the other way around. 

Money v/s passion, what are you most driven by?

A blend. Money is definitely a motivator – but money earned doing something soul sucking can unlikely give me joy. It has to equally if not more, be about what one is doing and just how passionate you are about it. What gets you through the worst days isn’t the paycheck, but how much you love what you’re doing in general.

I also think this equation changes with age as the importance and requirement of money increases as you grow older. 

Who are your favorite comics in India?

  I don’t end up watching too much of Indian comedy anymore, to be honest. That said – I do like Rohan, Aditi, Varun and the work they put out.

Have you met someone from Bollywood?

Most notably I’ve been on a flight sitting next to Anil Kapoor. One of the reasons this is most remarkably etched in my mind is because I was stunned at just how young he looks in person. Outside of that, I’ve sort of bumped into Juhi Chawla, again at an airport lounge. 

Oh! And my family had dinner with Diana Hayden when she won her Miss. World title in Seychelles. I think I was like, 10 years old. 

Is twitter any better than other social media platforms, or is it just another pill of dopamine?

It most definitely is just another dopamine source. That said – I find it to be one of the only platforms to throw away degrees of separation, and truly find and engage with people globally, whom you want to. I value that, deeply. 

What do you think about the declining global economy, and how can we bring it back to life?

Built. Stop thinking about the economy and bringing it back to life – that becomes too daunting a task almost. Busy yourself with creating things of value for yourself and others. 

Would you like to tell your struggles in life that very few people go through?

I think the point about struggles one needs to realise is that 

  1. It’s not happening to us. It’s happening.
  2. And there’s always people going or having gone through similar struggles. It helps to reach out, to talk about them, and to take support. Always helps to navigate them better.

Are you taking steps in order to rectify the polluted environment?

Oh! Absolutely. I’ve been on a journey of reducing my carbon footprint, and an attempt towards a more sustainable lifestyle since a while now. 

I use bamboo toothbrushes, and handmade soap (both are zero-waste) from Bare Necessities. I go for months on end (has been a year also, on at least one occasion) without buying any apparel or shoes or anything of the sort. 

I actively use a cycle to get myself around in Bangalore – to work, on errands, to the liquor shop, to the pool – what have you.

I truly feel that while we may individually believe these steps are too small – what we need is not 100 people doing everything they can, but 1 billion people doing the 2-3 things they can.

I would like to thank Abhishek for answering my weird though helpful line of questioning in the most logical way possible. I hope you guys find something meaningful and relatable suggestions. In case if you have any queries, let’s meet in the comment section.

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