EP 174 – Upasna Dash – Founder & CEO of Jajabor Brand Consultancy – I Fell In Love With the Chaos

by | Jan 26, 2022

The Asia Tech Podcast had so much fun talking to Upasna Dash, the Founder, and CEO of Jajabor Brand Consultancy and the VP of Startup India Advisory Services.
Some of the topics that Upasna covered:
  • Bringing out stories and having an impact
  • Employing stories and storytelling to help founders meet their business needs
  • Great ideas and innovations are not epiphanies
  • The name of her company was inspired by her grandfather’s favorite song
  • Born into a non-English speaking city, struggled to keep up at school
  • Her grandfather inspired her to learn English by reading her Shakespeare
  • Remembers specifically the day she fell in love with startups
  • Following the audience and story wherever it takes you
  • Why authenticity matters
  • From idea to execution, so much can change
  • The similarities between great founders and great athletes
  • Understanding the value of great teams
  • The intensely competitive nature of the Indian startup space
Other titles we considered for this episode:
  1. I Am a Storyteller at Heart
  2. I Sang About It and Transported You There
  3. I Grew Up with the Startup Ecosystem in India
  4. You Can’t Put India In a Box
  5. The Journey Is as Enjoyable as the Destination
  6. Small Micro-habits Actually Make a Huge Difference
  7. We Should Meet In Immigration Lines More Often

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:02
Michael Waitze Media. Telling Asia’s Stories.

Michael Waitze 0:11
Hi, this is Michael Waitze, and welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we are joined by Upasna Dash, Founder and CEO of Jajabor Brand Consultancy…you’re already laughing at me, Upasna thank you for thank you so much for coming on the show and for making me smile. It is so great to have you here. How are you doing, by the way?

Upasna Dash 0:31
I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having me, Michael, and I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing with you. I am suepr excited to have this conversation. And I think your pronunciations pretty good.

Michael Waitze 0:42
But again, it took a little bit of remediation as usual. I appreciate it. Before we get into the main part of the conversation, maybe you can give our listeners a little bit of your background for some context.

Upasna Dash 0:54
Absolutely, Michael, my name is Upasna. And I run this company called Jajabor Brand Consultancy, we’re based out of India, the second largest startup ecosystem in the world. But I think before I tell you about my company, I think there’s just one way to describe who I am. I’m a storyteller at heart. I believe each one of us, every one of you who’s listening, you guys have a story, which is as unique as a, you know, a fingerprint, right. And my life’s purpose is to bring out these stories. And because I do that by working with brands, I do that by working with startup founders. I do that from working with, you know, large corporates, but my pure passion lies and helping startups and VC specifically in the Indian ecosystem, use the stories within their companies use the stories of their founders to really meet their business goals. That’s what algebra does, in essence,

Michael Waitze 1:41
and tell me Jajabor has a meaning as well, doesn’t it?

Upasna Dash 1:45
Yes,absolutely. And the meaning is very, very close to my heart. You know, I believe Michael, that, you know, great ideas and innovation is not a lightbulb. I think ideas are in your head brewing for years and decades, some time and I think Jajabor to me was that it’s actually inspired by my grandfather’s favorite song, which by the way, listeners, you should check out it’s called Giorgio Borges go on YouTube. It’s a beautiful Indian song. It’s an a language called Assamese, which is native to India. And Jabbar actually translates into the word nomad. So when you hear the song, the singer says, you know, hey, I’ve traveled to Australia and, and the UK and America and I’ve you know, had wine by this river, and you believe that, okay, this, this person is talking about people traveling. But at the end of the song, you realize that he said that he you know, what actually didn’t go anywhere I sang about it, and I transported you there. And to me, that is the power of storytelling. You know, like Michael, if I if I tell you a story about you know, sipping champagne at the banks of some beautiful Reverend France, I can transport you there by just telling your story. Or, you know, when a founder talks to his investors about building something that does not exist today, he’s essentially telling them a story or a vision that changes lives. Our minds are nomadic. And that’s why we’re all nomadic, right? You can basically get your mind to travel anywhere with the power of stories. And hence, my company is called Jaguar.

Michael Waitze 3:13
When did you realize you were interested in storytelling? Because and let me give you some context. I didn’t get this for the longest time, right. I mean, I had this long kind of banking career. And even when I was in high school, and in college, and I was good at math, I was good at science and stuff like that. And the idea always was, if you were good at math and science, you couldn’t be creative, which meant you couldn’t tell the right stories, right? Or you couldn’t play great music. And I realized later on, that’s just not true. And I think there’s a whole generation maybe it’s my generation, maybe even the next one that’s been told, if you’re good at a you can’t be good at B. But I believe what you believe, actually, you say everyone has a great story. I frame it like this. I think everyone has a great movie in them. Oh, absolutely. You don’t I mean, so when did you realize that this was important to you or that you were good at it? Or that was impactful?

Upasna Dash 4:01
Yes. You know, interestingly, it happened when I was very young, actually. So again, to give you this context, you know, India, by the way, at least the urban areas is a largely English speaking community, like our education system for urban audiences is actually English speaking. I was born into a non English speaking city. My parents, of course, spoke English, but I really struggled to just catch up in school. So you know, my teacher strike. Yeah, I really couldn’t speak anything beyond my native tongue. So I was really, kids really just made fun of me in school because I just could not understand what my teachers were saying. And I could not understand by the way, the English language and till I was about six or seven years old, I just struggled. And my teachers tried everything. My parents tried everything and then one day my grandfather who by the way you will see is a big inspiration in my life. He was a lawyer, by the way self taught. He lured me by reading out from this Shakespeare book right man on the cover of that book was just and I still remember I think it was called The Tempest. Yeah, He started reading it on this beautiful baritone voice. And I did not understand anything you were saying I was just excited by like the pronunciation and like the cover of the book, right? And I’m being that I’m te nemesis of you know, don’t judge a book by its cover, I did judge it. And my grandfather basically said, Hey, listen, if you want to truly understand what I’m saying, You got to learn the language. And he gave me my first book, it was called Little Women, classic English book. And I remember his reading, just looking at the cover. Like I said, I don’t understand a single letter in English. I just saw these women. And I said, Hey, I really want to understand what is the story for these women. So I actually again, learned English on my own outside of school just to be able to read that book. I was not incentivized by doing well in school, I just wanted to read that book. And Michael, when I read that book, as I think seven year old, I was just mind blown. I was, I was in this tiny town in India. And I was suddenly transported to like the Victorian era, and I was going through the struggles of the characters, and I was like, mentally in like, a countryside. And I was, I was really invested. And I looked into my hands, and I said, Hey, it’s just, you know, the alphabet rearranged on a piece of paper. And I’m transported, that is the power of storytelling. And then it just kept, it just kept exploding inside my head, I would just walk around, like, amazed at libraries, right? I was like, Oh, my God, the amount of stories, and I read Harry Potter and all of these books. And that’s when I realized that, listen, storytelling is the most powerful tool anybody can have. And if you start to think about this, Michael, you’ll start seeing the pattern, whether it’s religion, whether it’s finance, whether it’s institutions, right, you’re technically all either telling a story or buying into a story, it’s part of that story, right? Part of that story, right? Human beings are inherently communicative in nature, right? You have to speak to each other and invite each other into a vision, a mission, etc. It’s all stories. So honestly, that’s when I started as an eight year old trying to just, you know, get into school and understand English language. That’s when I knew that this is it. I want to get into storytelling.

Michael Waitze 7:05
That in itself is such a great story. And I there’s a part of me that looks back on schooling and things. Like it’s not the students fault, in a way, right. In other words, if they made it more interesting, in other words, your grandfather had to do that thing in his great voice, and get you excited about it. The profession should be able to do that for you, if there’s some excitement, and everything is interesting to learn, you know this, right? Like you said, you walk around the library, look inside a library and just think, filled with things I don’t know, and stories that I haven’t read yet. And all you want to do is consume it. And yet, when you go to school, it’s like, today, we’re going to talk about this. There’s a test on Thursday, and you’re just like this boring thing in the world, even for the same information, right?

Upasna Dash 7:49
Oh, absolutely. Michael, and you know, I’m a kid who grew up in the 90s, before the internet and Facebook and all of that, right. And I realized that when we were growing up in the early 90s, right, we didn’t have that many avenues to express ourselves, right? Our expression was really very limited. I’m so excited with the amount of expression people can have today. We didn’t have that. But you know, to your earlier point, Michael, the reason why I talk about expression is that I think it’s also important to the education system, and for, you know, the job market also to recognize individual and different talent, right. I don’t think everybody’s supposed to have the same skill set. That’s what makes a great sports team, a sports team, or a great company, a company, everybody inherently has some talent. Everybody inherently has some skill, the education system, and the job market just needs to address that and give them what they deserve. I don’t think it’s a one size fits all solution. And I think that’s the that’s the genesis of this.

Michael Waitze 8:45
What got you interested in the startup world to begin with?

Upasna Dash 8:49
Oh, man, so fascinating. You know, like you said, Michael, I imagine one day and Aaron Sorkin replaying on for the startup because, and we hopefully having a teeny tiny role in it. But I think it’s interesting, you know, when I was studying in Singapore as a student, I think the government there was amazing. It had so many amazing initiatives for young college students. I think I got my first taste of what the startup ecosystem was like back then, when I came to India, and I think this was in 2015. I specifically remember the day I fell in love with startups. It was with this founder called Ritesh Agarwal, who runs all your rooms, or which now is one of the world’s best biggest startups, one of India’s biggest startups, and he was a young 18 year old guy, you know, I just gotten into that account. And I remember sitting in a coffee shop, just listening to what he was going to do with the hospitality industry. And it was a piece of paper. And I realized that, you know what, he doesn’t need a presentation. He doesn’t need like, you know, Board approval and all of that he has this mad idea and he’s going to go do it and nothing’s going to stop him. And I and I love the chaos of that process. So the day I walked into the office, I think I just fell in love with book oddly enough. I’m with startups. And this was in 2015. In India, Michael, where it was really exciting, I think, is such a large market. Right? Like right now it is the second largest startup ecosystem back in 2015, you had even then a billion plus people who were potential customers, incredibly talented people. And very few people had started to take that step. So I basically I think, I grew up with the startup ecosystem. And in there, I think we used to sit and had to, like, open a Wikipedia page to explain what a startup was in 2015 startups are not mainstream. And oil was, oh, absolutely not. And we had to like really, like, you know, double down and explain. So I think that’s the day when I realize I’m in love with just what startups stand for. Because, again, right, it’s so empowering to know that you can have a great idea. And you can innovate, and you can build things that don’t exist. And you can do it in the in the most awesome chaotic way actually fell in love with the chaos, to be honest, I know most people aren’t comfortable with it. Neither was I. But I don’t think I can live without it anymore.

Michael Waitze 10:56
So I like to say that I’m unemployable by like a big company anymore, because I do like to operate like you do inside that chaos. Because I think, and I say this about Bangkok a lot. So tell me if you understand this point, people from the outside look at Bangkok and just think, Oh, my God, it’s so chaotic. How does anybody live there? But I always say there’s order inside that chaos. Oh, absolutely. And if you can figure out what that order is, then it doesn’t seem chaotic at all. Is that fair?

Upasna Dash 11:23
So true, Michael, and you know what the beautiful thing is, that’s the beauty about India, India is large, chaotic, dynamic, every 100 miles, the language, the people, the infrastructure changes, you can’t put India in a box. And I love that thing about it, though, right? It is the best thing about it. And you can’t put a startup in a box. You can’t put a founder in a box, there’s no, you know, there’s no straight line. Every day is like a new challenge. But that’s what makes the journey exciting. Right? The journey is as enjoyable as the destination.

Michael Waitze 11:56
Is there a destination?

Upasna Dash 11:59
You know, I think about that a lot. Now, Michael, but I’m not sure. I don’t know what that is. I don’t think the destination has been created there. I think there’s a destination that you and I haven’t even thought about

Michael Waitze 12:09
yet. Yeah, no way. I mean, look, if you love storytelling, you love the startup world. We talked earlier about movies? I mean, I would ask you, I don’t think there is a destination, I would ask you like, Where does your storytelling stop, like, why not make a movie, you have all these great stories, you have all these great startup relationships, you have all these characters, think about it. One of the things that I like to do, and why I love doing this is I get to tell the story of you. Right in the context of what you do, because we couldn’t, we don’t have to talk about Judge Gabor at all. But everything that it does is going to come out in this energy that you have, right. So imagine doing that in kind of a big screen movie format with just like three of the founders that you know, that were amazing, and kind of making this store where they are somehow they’re intertwined. And you’re shaping that story along with them. And at the end, the story doesn’t really end but it just portends a future for all three of the founders. And all three of those companies. Like that’s kind of a cool thing. No,

Upasna Dash 13:07
Absolutely Michael. Let me let me ask you this. You know, five years ago, Michael, if I told you that you’d be talking to an Indian founder in another time zone, on a virtual meet on a podcast, it would be like, what? Right, and I think that’s the power is reading. You know, one thing I realized about storytelling is that you you don’t know where your audience is going to go. You don’t know what format they’re going to consume this end. I think you just have to be true to the fact that you’re gonna be a storyteller. Like five years ago, I would have, you know, done this over an email. Today, we’re doing a podcast Three years later, maybe Michael, you’re in a hologram right in front of me, you know. So I will follow the audience and the story wherever it takes me. And I believe the greatest stories are those that are not told by the writer. They are told by the readers, like the great mythologies, you know, the great pieces of literature across the world, the stories that you and I tell, you know, the truly the greatest story of all is, it’s your own story. It’s your own story. And I think the destination at some point would be somewhere down the line a couple of decades down. Maybe some young girl is telling the story of the startup ecosystem, and I fit in somewhere, or maybe not, but I don’t know. Let’s see. Like I said, Michael, I’ll be waiting for your hologram in front of me in the next couple years.

Michael Waitze 14:23
I’m waiting for a face to face tea. That’s a different story, though. But here’s the thing. You’re right. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that, you know, we had listeners in 150 countries. I wanted it but there was no way I could control it. And there was no way I was ever going to be able to get on a call with you and do this. But this is also the beauty of being in the startup world. Right. And that is you don’t know what’s gonna happen. And you have to be comfortable with it. Is that fair? Oh,

Upasna Dash 14:53
absolutely. And I think see there’s a balance right? Yeah. You don’t know what’s gonna happen in terms of technology for sure. But I think what’s also important is we take a step back, Michael, that human beings actually haven’t really changed that much this era, inherent human behavior has stayed the same for like, millennias

Michael Waitze 15:10
Millennia, right? Yeah, millennias. Exactly Go ahead.

Upasna Dash 15:14
Today, you and I are communicating, like I said, using technology. But I mean, cave, people have been communicating about their civilization and caves, there was nothing with storytelling. So I think it’s also important, I think the finest founders are those that realize that, hey, let’s, let’s be open to things like technology and the way things are consumed. But let’s also be clear, are certain things that definitely will not change, the inherent human psyche will not change or has not changed. So the magic happens when you balance both, I guess.

Michael Waitze 15:45
So I think there is a through line from, I’m leaving the cave, to go out and do something different so that I can feed my family and come back in enough time to light the fire, as there is to an 18 year old who’s going to go out into the hotel industry, and start Oh, yo, and just do something different. So I can come back home and feed my dog. I don’t think it’s that much different. And frankly, I don’t think the storytelling arc is different at all,

Upasna Dash 16:16
at all. Absolutely. And that’s the beauty of something like storytelling or anything institutional right? Human beings will want to tell stories, human beings will want to interact with each other human beings will need food and water to survive, this has not changed, this will not change the way you do it is gonna change. That’s it?

Michael Waitze 16:34
Yeah. And this is why I always tell people that like you, when when we go through these big technological transitions. There may be some people that are out of work, right? If you go back to when we had an agrarian society, in the West, you had all these farmers and then you know, mechanization of farms came along, and the farmers work. Now what do I do? That took a long time to figure out and then you had the Industrial Revolution, and all this stuff. But that took a long time to figure out as well. But I’m convinced that humans are super adaptable. And I’m also convinced that things are just moving so much faster today than they were even just like 25 years ago. So if we have to go through a transition, it may be hard to be tight.

Upasna Dash 17:11
Oh, absolutely. And you know, Michael, again, the beauty here is that everything in life is cyclic,

Michael Waitze 17:16
completely, completely.

Upasna Dash 17:18
I think a lot of people pay attention, of course, the future, and what’s the future gonna hold? And I’m excited by that, too. But I also believe that a lot of answers also lie in the past the line history, you know, so if you go back and see, I think the same patterns keep repeating themselves over and over in different forms. I think all the answers are there, you just have to be curious and mad enough to go chase after it and look for it.

Michael Waitze 17:40
What do you think makes a great startup story?

Upasna Dash 17:45
Ironically, people who are not trying to tell a story,

Michael Waitze 17:48
yeah, so this is what I was gonna ask you, right? Your job is storytelling. So you are deeply steeped in like how to tell a story, right? But a founder is sitting there just grinding it out day by day, again, it looks super sexy, we make it look sexy from the outside, but on the inside. It’s just like pounding rocks every day, you know what I mean? And trying to make a lot more, move them around. But when you go and tell them? Look, I have the ability to make what you’re doing look different. If you can sit with me and help me construct that story. Right? So I guess I’m really curious what that’s like that back and forth human interaction for people that don’t think about storytelling, and then creating a great story for them.

Upasna Dash 18:27
Absolutely. You know, Michael, my favorite founders are those that don’t realize the the power of their own story, right? I think the best stories, or the best PR that we’ve ever done is with founders and companies that are deeply authentic, you know, they don’t try to fit into somebody else’s idea what a founders story should be, they know who they are in their own DNA. They know what the company culture and ethos is. And then what we do is we basically go take that and we just sort of mold it a little bit so that becomes palatable, or it becomes exciting to people outside their own circle of influence, like the one answer that I always seek when I talk to founders and founders who are listening, if you’re truly trying to take make a story happen, you just need to ask yourself, why should somebody outside my circle of influence care? How do I make somebody on the street care about what I’m doing? That is the fundamental of storytelling. So what we do and what we try to do is we actually don’t try to mold and change the founders too much because they’re incredible people doing incredible stuff. We just try to take their authentic self and expand it or evolve it so that you know it comes down to distribution platforms. So I think that is the essence and just finding different ways to showcase Why should somebody for example, why should somebody care today you care about you know all your rooms in detail about you care about Airbnb, because of the scale but if you go look at you know, the Airbnb founders, early interviews, we passionately talks about solving for just, you know, family spending time together, it hits home, it’s emotional. You start caring because it solves for something personal in your life. I think that’s what we try to do with every founder. So, yeah, asking yourself, why should someone care?

Michael Waitze 20:06
My belief is that the authenticity is the most important thing. And that people can and that people can tell. So if you and I had, like, scripted out a conversation, and like you said, if you’d kept it out something deeply with a founder to tell their story, it sounds mechanical. And you can smell it from a mile away. Right? And that is why, again, like you I like doing it a different way. Right? I want to know what the overall framework is. And within that, yeah, I feel like, the conversation is so much better. And the storytelling is so much better, because you have the freedom to do stuff that you couldn’t do in something that was super structured. It’s not there’s no structure, but super structured, and really rigid, right? Because that doesn’t work at all. No,

Upasna Dash 20:49
at all. Absolutely. Think about it like this, Michael, it’s like, you know, I tell my team this way, often that all founders are like artists, the art is within them. They know how to hold a paintbrush, what we need to do is give them the inspiration to bring whatever is inside outside and put it on a canvas. And then we got to take that Canvas and go put it out in the world. That’s what dashboard does.

Michael Waitze 21:11
I published an episode today. That’s titled, I always saw startups as art. Oh, my God. I didn’t see it. But it’s okay. I mean, I don’t disagree with you don’t, I think this is the other thing too. So I have this have this philosophy about startups that are not dogmatic, that you can have all these fixed beliefs that have no backup, and try to build a company from zero. But the reality is that that doesn’t work either. And if there’s no dogma around building something from scratch, what it really means to me is that the story that evolves from trying to build that, like you see plenty of people who said, I’m going to build x, because x is the thing that everybody needs. At the end of the day, they’ve actually built z because x just didn’t work and nobody cared. And I want to get from x to z. That’s what really fascinates me.

Upasna Dash 22:03
That’s exciting. And you know, what happens is, so I think you’ll date I think I’ve lost count, but I think I’ve worked with almost 2000 founders, right? Yeah, 2000 founders, and I can tell you some common traits are that, like you said, right, the delta between x and z is then actually being on ground. That’s the other thing I think every founder will tell you, right? from idea to execution, so much can change because like, again, the art piece, right? You may have painted something thinking, hey, this is what I’m expressing myself. But when that painting goes to the public, the way the public reacts to, it is not in your control, not at all right? So similarly, with founders and products, you may have burned something to solve for x, but maybe the, you know, the market out there derives way out of it. So you have to be sort of flexible to keep that into account.

Michael Waitze 22:51
Do you see any equivalency between startup founders, and maybe athletes or sports stars? Because you work with both? Right?

Upasna Dash 22:58
Oh, yeah. You know, absolutely. And, you know, work with some amazing people, including my, I think my favorite cricketers in India, you know what I see a couple of common things. One is, man, the discipline, folks are so disciplined, so committed to themselves to their team. And the small things write, they’ll always show up on time, they’ll always be mindful of time, they will never miss deadlines, and small micro habits actually make a huge difference. Second, they are dreamers. Yes. Like, they’ll always try to go after that crazy goal. But they will work very, very, very hard to get it. It’s not an idea, unlike, you know, an Excel sheet somewhere, it is very, very well, they will live and breed that goal. There. I think they understand the value of great teams, I think some of the best founders and people that I worked with, we encourage and empower teams around them, they and that’s super. So it’s, it takes a village to build something and these guys are mindful of that,

Michael Waitze 23:56
I’d say you’ve just made three pretty amazing points. I want to get back to something you said earlier, because it just it just came back into my mind. And that is that the idea for anything, whether it’s a startup or a story is not an epiphany. No one’s ever just sitting around and get like a lightning strike in their head and says, Now I understand. And I think what reminded me was this idea of discipline, you just go bit by bit by bit, and every place along the way you’re learning something. And I think that great stories are, you know, basically happen that way they evolve in the same way that ideas evolve to, and they take time, they take time, right. So I said this this morning to someone like everyone’s an overnight success. 10 years later.

Upasna Dash 24:40
Yeah. Oh, for sure. And I think you know, that that it truly is the beauty of storytelling, right is that your ideas will evolve you as a human being will evolve the world around you the level and your reaction to the world around you will evolve right? There’s so many dynamic factors. As Michael like, three years ago, COVID didn’t exist, the pandemic didn’t exist, the way we looked at relationships, goals, personal health, very different. And, you know, 10 years down also, right, hopefully, of course, this pandemic is over you. And I will never be able to erase these last two and a half years from our life, it’s forever become embedded into our personalities and the way we accept information. And that’s going to be part of our story, too. So I think you’re so right, that these stories are being built and baked into your head. And it’s a combination of two things, one, what you think, and second, your conditioning, as a person in society, right? As someone who’s who’s born and brought up in India, I see that very explicitly, that you’re conditioned to think about certain things in a certain way. And that impacts pretty much every decision and every lens that you have. So

Michael Waitze 25:52
I feel like sometimes when I when we talk about COVID, I always have to think, what year it started. Do you understand what I mean? Because I feel like, I feel like it sometimes I think it was 2019. And then in 2020, things normalize. And I have this conversation a lot with people. And I don’t think I’m the only one that has this feeling. And yet it really started for me in March of 2020, and I feel like that whole year was kind of a blur. So I feel like from March 2020 Till today was just like a year. Oh, because because of so many restrictions. I don’t want to interrupt you. But because in a normal year, I would have been in India, I would have been in Singapore three times I would have been in Japan twice, I would have done all these things. And because I didn’t do any of them. I don’t have any date markers. Does that make sense?

Upasna Dash 26:45
It makes a lot of sense. I mean, in India, we were locked down for three months inside our home. Same here. You’re right, like I think time is why warp sometimes. We believe that so much time has passed, like, you know, like I feel like I’ve aged then with this pandemic. But for users who can’t see me right now, Michael will will not do what I’m saying.

Michael Waitze 27:07
I’m shaking my head the other way, basically, but anyway.

Upasna Dash 27:12
No, I’m joking. Indians get younger by the day.

Michael Waitze 27:17
You can see me. I’m only 95. So fair enough.

Upasna Dash 27:22
Yeah. So yeah, I think time is super warped. And, you know, I think what’s happened with this pandemic is that it’s just become such a big part of our personality that’s forever going to remain. We’re not going to get out of this ever. So yeah, that’s part of our story, too. And you know, the best part is no one saw this twist coming. This is like this cliffhanger season. And you know, just when you thought it was over, it comes back again. I often tell my friends, man, listen, this is a soap opera, and God’s just having some fun. I did not see that plot twist coming. I mean, you know, you you try to use humor to deal with things. But yeah, wouldn’t have thought of this twist.

Michael Waitze 28:05
You operate in seven countries? Is that right?

Upasna Dash 28:09

Michael Waitze 28:10
What was the impact of COVID? On that? Do you know what I mean? Because I presume I presume that before COVID, you were traveling, if not from city to city, but from country to country? You must have tons of friends in Singapore, you went to school there. I have to believe that you’re going back and forth to Singapore at least often. How do you another thing like Sorry, go ahead.

Upasna Dash 28:33
Michael, the funny thing that you just said right that how does this impact now? Interestingly, I actually think that we expanded a lot faster during the pandemic globally than we could have done if the pandemic was in there. Because like you said, right, you know, I used to travel to Singapore, I used to travel to a lot of startup events, and Hong Kong, you know, used to travel overseas, etc. But you know, like, logistically, it just wasn’t viable to do it very often. And, you know, you could only do these many offline meetings and events, and I went to Japan, etc. So, but it wouldn’t be more than two, three times a year. But what happened at the pandemic, where suddenly everybody was online, and, you know, if it took me say, an event and like three months of planning to catch up with an investor in their country, it now took me one zoom call and a couple of emails. So we were able to expand a lot faster, find partners a lot faster during the pandemics and before the pandemic, I think we were in about, we had tie ups or presence in about two to three countries and in the pandemic, it went from three to seven,

Michael Waitze 29:33
right? So I think the world moved, I’m gonna say in our direction. Yes. Part of the reason is because as communicators and as storytellers, the trips at some level, I think were a little bit I won’t say unnecessary. But they it made things take more time. Right now I can reach out to anybody in the world at any point in time and have that conversation immediately like you and I would not be doing this if I had to meet you to travel

Upasna Dash 30:00
Oh, absolutely true. But I think pros and cons, I remember like, for example, going to a startup event in Hong Kong and yes, I of course, it took me like a month or two of planning. And I did come up back with sort of, you know, some clients assumption but some intangible right learnings that you have when you travel, I think traveling is one of the best ways to really like evolve as a human being right, and this intangible learning, like Actually Actually, the funniest thing is one of my favorite founders and clients was somebody I met at the immigration line in Hong Kong while attending the startup ecosystem. We were just standing behind each other and we start up a conversation and by the time was done we like wow, let’s work together but I’ll never forget that moment. Right. And that found to happen to be our use of pesto so if you’re listening Irish we should meet an immigration lines

Michael Waitze 30:53
so Oh, my God. Yeah. And the immigration light in Hong Kong for people that don’t know at least the last time I was there was let’s just say it was long.

Upasna Dash 31:01
Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Michael Waitze 31:03
Yeah. Really, really long. Singapore best immigration in the whole world is never taken me more than 5 minutes. Hong Kong never take me less than 90.

Upasna Dash 31:10
Oh, you should come to India sometime, Michael, you’ll be able to record a couple of episodes standing in that line.

Michael Waitze 31:16
I’ve only been to India once. And I to be fair, I wasn’t really there. I’m putting that in quotes. And I’ll tell you why. I got out of the airport and I was met by somebody who was managing an event I was taken to a five star hotel in in Bombay or in Mumbai. And just left there and it was like the whole interiors all Western Western food, no India flavor at all. No, I know. It’s terrible. And, and I got picked up in the morning. And then went to the event got brought back. And then the people that were running the event, this was actually really interesting. He said to me, Hey, you don’t know the events over let’s go out to like a local place. We’ll take you out to local food or like we just go with our friends. And I’m like, This is awesome, because that’s why I’m here. Yeah. And they basically took me to like TGI Fridays, and I was like no no, it wasn’t it wasn’t a Fridays but it was that kind of thing where like they served like poppers, french fries and beer, none of which I eat or drink and I just thought I came all the way here

Upasna Dash 32:16
Michael You gotta come back to India. But that is the beauty of India right that you have so many little India’s in India you’ve got the TGI Fridays you’ve got I mean if you go to Bangalore which is in the south of India, it’s basically like Silicon Valley. Right like, like like between you getting a coffee and sitting in the car you would have passed at least like 20 founders it’s super exciting to be in Bangalore. Bombay has this gorgeous vibe and I’m by the way spent a lot of time in Bangalore which is like the Silicon Valley of India Bombay, which has this incredible resilience spirit, and then tell you of course, which is the capital and it’s got, you know, traditional businesses, startup ecosystem, etc. So that’s the beauty of India, which is why I have so much respect for founders in India because believe me, my uncle India is a very tough marketable for like I said, in literally 100 miles, your user preference, your language, your food, your taste, everything changes. Now imagine building unifying products for that width. By the way, competition from all across the world, every player in the world can enter India. So Indian founders are not just competing with each other, they’re competing with global giants. They’re competing with changing, you know, consumer tastes, they’re competing with infrastructure, there’s just there’s so many dynamic factors in play. So it’s I mean, no no business school can teach you what India can teach you. I can tell you that

Michael Waitze 33:34
it’s so interesting to me because every founder every participant, every venture capitalist to whom I speak that’s in India says the same thing. Literally like every 100 miles it’s almost like entering a different culture definitely a different language different food preferences. And what’s the right way to say this? It just means that like, you have to really be thinking in a way that nobody from outside the country could possibly be thinking because even the US right population size it’s a quarter let’s just say maybe a third depending on how you do your math right of India but literally in Boston and in California it’s pretty much the same Yeah, the Midwest is slightly different the South is slightly different but the insurance products are this like it’s all the same. It’s all the same language even though the words may be slightly different. It’s a really unique market in that respect, right but India and China is similar but not exact right? Because the country speaks Mandarin it’s like dictated from above but because of this Yeah, you said it before because of that energetic chaos. That’s an India Yeah, building for this city and that city are like two completely different worlds is Does that make sense?

Upasna Dash 34:44
Oh, absolutely. And Michael, it’s like, you know, you say that it you can drive in India, and if you can build in India, you can drive and build anywhere in the world. Exactly. Exactly. It’s like, you know, it’s like being in like those video games, the Mario video games where every 100 meters is gonna be thing that pops up, and then you have to solve for it and then go, and then you have to solve for it. And it’s amazing. A lot of fun, Michael, it’s a lot of fun. And it’s addictive get very

Michael Waitze 35:09
deep. So do you imagine that like when an Indian founder, takes their company and tries to move it to the US? And I’m gonna say in relative terms, because nothing’s easy, right? That it’s easier than the same business trying to come to India and replicate it there. You know what I mean? So Ubers, like the perfect example of this, right? Because everything’s different now. Yeah, you know,

Upasna Dash 35:33
so interestingly, I’ve had the opportunity to work with founders on both ends, I know, a bunch of founders who have taken their companies to the US, and, and vice versa. I think Indian founders who happen to take the companies outside India, they do have an advantage, because like I said, they work with all kinds of chaos. They work with a lot of dynamic factors. So I’m not saying us is an easier market, but they have like, the mental tenacity to deal with it. Yeah. And also, like they have, they have some advantages, right? If English speaking founder, you know, basically, the basic barriers are sort of taken care of. But on the other hand, US has, of course, super little products and technology wise, there’s so much more competition, so it’s not easy. But basically, the the starting point is sort of slightly better and easier. That’s one for American companies that come into India or for companies from overseas that we work with using the one thing that works is the smartest companies or the Chinese companies or, you know, Japanese coming, they understand that there needs to be a local nuance to this. So they will always try to co create with a local partner. And those are some beautiful synergies, because what happens is that you can the best learnings from evolved markets like the US and other countries, but at the same time, you’re you’re working with a team that understands these intangible nuances about India very well. And together that makes some very powerful things happen. And Indian talent is incredible. Of course, you would have seen all of this news about you know, Indian talent, leading some of the biggest technology companies, etc. So it’s a gorgeous combination, right? You understand technology, best practices from outside the country, add them to incredible Indian talent, and then, you know, things just evolve at a much better space. So don’t think anybody has it easy. But I think Indians going abroad, slightly better to start off with.

Michael Waitze 37:22
I want to say that’s a great way to end this conversation. And I want to thank you, Upasna Dash the founder and CEO of Jajabor Brand Consultancy. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me. This hopefully will not be the last time we do this. Thank you so much.

Upasna Dash 37:37
Absolutely. Michael, it’s been an absolute pleasure interacting with you. I think I’ve discovered so many things about myself while interacting with you. I think it’s so important for people like you to tell these stories. Thank you so much. And thank you for having me and I hope to see you sometime in person.


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