What’s brewing in Amit Haralalka’s mind: An exclusive interview

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‘The Fresh Brew: Chronicles of Business and Freedom’ contains inspiring life stories of twenty-five IIM Lucknow Alumni who followed their heart, their passion and chose the unconventional path to become entrepreneurs. “I am sure this book will inspire the creation of many such leaders who would emerge as employment generators for the nation.” This foreword by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam says it all.

One would expect Amit Haralalka, the co-author of this best- selling book to have a tough-to-deal-with attitude towards a newbie in the news publishing sector. But he turned out to be extremely humble and down to earth. In a candid chat with I See India, he tells us more about himself and his book.

Hi Amit! Congratulations for the success of your book.

Thanks Megha.

Tell us about your background.

I was born and brought up in Kolkata. I did my schooling from Don Bosco Kolkata. Thereafter I completed my engineering from BIT Mesra, Ranchi.  I worked as a software engineer at Cognizant for about two years.  However, I realized that I wanted to be involved in marketing and hence, I went to work for a startup called Quetzal.  As their COO I handled HR consulting, training and pre-hire background checks business.  I worked for a year before joining IIM Lucknow. Right now I am working in product marketing and brand management at the Lodha Group.

That’s a nice academic combination. How important role did that play in shaping your present?

I am very grateful to God for the kind of education I have received. I am very happy with the places of education I have been to. Don Bosco is a Christian Missionary school. It is a fabulous school with very value based education. We had a very diverse cosmopolitan kind of environment in school. What I liked most about Don Bosco was that a lot of stress was given to extracurricular activities. Back then in the 1990s most schools wanted students to be book worms. I am very lucky that our school focused on all round development of students. I used to be in the debate team and was a drummer in the school band.

About BIT.. The good thing about BIT is that it gives you character; it imbibes lot of values in you. It is a nice place which is cocooned away in an oasis. However, I feel as a community we need to come together and highlight the success stories of BITians so that successive batches can take inspiration and fly high.  There are lots of our alumni doing some great work. We need to highlight their work.

Drummer? Wow! Did you continue with it?

Oh yes. I was a drummer in BIT’s band as well. In IIM I was the drummer and lead vocalist too.

So, when did you start writing?

I started out as a blogger in 2007 when I was working with Cognizant. I realized that I wasn’t utilizing my creative skills and wasn’t doing justice to my creativity. While at Cognizant I wasn’t into music or any other creative activity. That’s when I got into blogging. Blogging was something that was coming up at that point of time and many good people were doing it. So, you can say that was the beginning of my writing career.

Your blog was a huge success. Tell us about your experiences as a blogger.

I had set up my first blog in 2005 when I was in college. But I found that its readership wasn’t as much as I would like it to be. So when I later took up blogging more seriously, I knew what changes I had to incorporate to reach a larger audience. I realized that when someone reads, it is because he is getting something he wants to hear. So, I started to write reviews on books, movies and travelogues. Lot of my experiences got translated into blog posts. People loved it. It has got over 3 lakh page views so far. I am still active on my blog.

So what prompted the transition from blogging to writing a book?

There are basically three reasons to this. Firstly, I wanted to expand my reader base. The scale I wanted to reach is difficult to achieve as a blogger. I wanted more people to read my content.

Second reason would be my experience with entrepreneurs.  While working with Quetzal, which is a start-up by a bunch of IIM A guys, I got an inside view of how entrepreneurs work. So when I went to B school and Mr. Amitabh Thakur ,the co-author proposed the idea of Fresh Brew, I thought it was coming together of both of these things.

In addition to this, I could experiment with marketing, something that I enjoy doing.  Here I had my own product and I had to market it. We didn’t have a big publisher who would organize elaborate marketing activities. So, I had an opportunity to put my marketing skills to use.

How was the journey of writing a book?

I wouldn’t call it a journey. You see it wasn’t a novel where you don’t know what the end will be like; where you keep thinking of your next twist and unfold the plot slowly. Fresh Brew is a collection of short stories where I was tracking real life stories. So we knew what the end would be. That is from the creative point of view. But otherwise, as an experience it was really awesome because it started from scratch; right from conceptualizing it, deciding how we were going to go about it, finalizing the 25 entrepreneurs we were going to feature in the book, getting approval from the institute, getting a foreword from Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, finalizing the paper quality… So it’s been a thoroughly enriching experience.

How did you pick the 25 people you were going to feature in the book?

I was part of the alumni committee. So I always had a fair idea of who were doing well in different sectors. We also consulted senior alumni, our director and also professors to come to the final 25. What we kept in mind was to keep the list of professions as diverse as possible. We wanted everyone to be able to connect to it. There is someone who has started a school for kids, someone who is into music, someone who started an IT firm… We have tried to cover as many sectors as we could.

Who is your personal favourite of the 25 entrepreneurs you covered in your book?

Each of the 25 people are fabulous people. They have done a great job. I have high respect for each of them.  But if I were to pick a personal favourite that would be Sudhanshu Sarronwala.( He created a company called SoundBuzz in Singapore, sold it eventually to Motorala and is now working with the World Wide Fund for Nature in Geneva.) He has done the same things that I would want to do. He worked with TV, entertainment and media. Then he started his own firm .Now he is working for the conservation of nature. So he is pretty much doing the same things that I would want to do.

So what are your future plans?

I never have a plan. I just want to keep doing what I enjoy. Right now I am working in product marketing and brand management in Lodha group. I enjoy my hobby in writing and publishing. I intend to continue all that. I am open. I don’t have a fixed goal in mind.

Was Fresh Brew inspired by Rashmi Bansal’s book, “Stay hungry Stay Foolish”?

Yes. The idea came from there. We have also duly acknowledged that in our book.

How was the IIM experience?

It was good. I met a lot of interesting people. What a place like IIM does to you is that you get to meet the smartest people from across sectors. You get to spend quality time with them. It somehow adds up to how you take decisions. It is a good 2 year social conditioning.

Who is your favourite author?

I read only non-fiction.  Recently I read “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka.  I read a lot of biographies. So no fav author as such.

Ok. So which is your favourite book?

That would be Steve Jobs’ biography.

One last question. What is your one funda for life?

To always find the time and money to do what you want to do in life.

That’s pretty interesting! It was really amazing talking to you Amit. Thank you for taking out time for us.

You are welcome.

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