Do you know the great thinkers behind Sideways’ signature logo?
Sideways is a one-of-a-kind agency in the true sense, founded by Abhijit Awasthi in 2015. Awasthi is firm about not letting Sideways become ‘just another agency’, which explains the uniqueness of this company. Ranging from branding and advertising to services like Technology solutions, Experience Design, Packaging/ Product design and Strategy Design, Sideways provides all kinds of solutions to clients across sectors. And the client roster is also as widespread as their services, including Disney, Google, ZEEL,Swiggy, Kia Motors, etc.
Also read: Abhijit Avasthi to launch Sideways
Sideways aims to be the ‘Birbal’ to businesses and organisations, which provides solutions no matter what the problem is.
The year 2020 marks the 5th anniversary of this unique agency. Adgully spoke to Abhijit Awasthi, Co-Founder, Sideways, not just about their five-year journey, but also what makes Sideways and its vision so unique. Avasthi also shares what keeps him so optimistic amid the pandemic and how the economy can look for revival.
When you started out with Sideways, you had called it an adventure. How has this adventure been over the last five years?
It’s been an absolutely thrilling ride for us. It’s been an adventurous and extremely satisfying journey for us.
Actually when we started off, on Day One we had a very vague inkling of what we wanted to do. Nothing like us existed then. The idea was to get people of different skillsets together, solve problems and explore opportunities across the spectrum and not just advertising and branding.
Five years back, when we would meet prospective clients and partners who would join us, I’d say “This is an adventure trip and I don’t know how it will pan out”. Now, I can say with absolute confidence that we’ve truly created a really unique and impactful company and something that just doesn’t exist.
The fact that we never derailed from our original objective and vision is another big achievement for us, because in the start-up community, this happens very often.
We’ve had a great learning curve and it’s been a tremendous and fulfilling journey.
What have been your 5 key takeaways/ learnings of turning entrepreneur after a long agency stint with Ogilvy?
The first thing would be realising that this is 24×7, without any downtime.
Second would be, there are ‘googlies’ awaiting you every hour. There’s no such thing as ‘It’s all set’ and you can take things for granted.
The positive discovery is that if you have a vision and you are sincere and honest in your intentions, you will find good partners, clients and colleagues who will join you in your journey.
The fourth learning I’ve had is the understanding that it takes a lot to put out something new. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. People’s resistance to change, especially on the client side, and their tendency to go back to tried and tested ways, I think, is huge. To gather courage and have a sense of vision to experiment with something new which could be impactful is very tough. I’ve witnessed this behaviour change first hand.
Lastly, I would say it is a huge responsibility on your head because there are people with you, but it is also satisfying because you are building a team and travelling together towards some destination, but the journey is fun!
You have been steadfast in not categorising Sideways as an agency. How challenging has it been explaining the concept of Sideways to clients? What is your strategy while partnering with clients?
In the initial years it was tough. Especially when there is no precedent, it is tough to explain it to clients and for them to understand the outcome. Our processes were evolving, the nature of solutions were also evolving. It did take a leap of faith from our client partners to give us a shot and I’m extremely thankful and grateful to those initial clients. They entrusted us with certain projects that I’d never done in my life.
Now after 5 years, I think we have multitudes of case studies and a proven track record across a variety of businesses. So, now it is a much easier sell. Now it very rarely happens that people sit through our case studies and refuse to collaborate with us.
Could you tell us about your marquee client roster built over these 5 years?
I recently found an old picture of mine in front of the white board on Day One. The white board had the 3 buckets of clients that we wanted to work with. There were big established corporates, start-ups and the social sector. The good thing is we stuck to this vision and developed a bouquet of clients across each of these. In terms of big corporates, we work with clients like Google, Flipkart, Marico, Citi Bank, Disney and Star to name a few.
In terms of start-ups we clients like Curefit, Urban Company, Swiggy, Great Learning, Noah, etc.
In the social sector, our first project was with Paani Foundation along with Aamir Khan, where we designed the physical training model to demonstrate the flow of water. After that, we worked with the Mumbai Police Anti-Narcotics department, Sesame Street, Break Through, etc.
We managed to attract some great clients, which allowed others to join in as well. We’ve had clients across businesses over the years. Amongst the initial clients we had, included Imagica, Citi Bank, Wildstone and Disney, who took the leap of faith for us.
There have been numerous reports/ views on the COVID-19 impact on the overall economy and the advertising industry. What is Sideways’ perspective on the current situation? What are the factors, according to you, that will trigger an economic revival?
For us, it has been a mixed bag. After 5 years, only half of our business is in advertising, branding and communication, while the other half spans other bits. While there was immediate slowdown on the advertising side in the initial months, but some of the long term product design projects, service design, long term strategy, etc., continued. This diversification sort of cushioned us and we weren’t solely dependent on advertising for survival.
The pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our life in such a drastic way that we also recognised that conventional thinking won’t help businesses bounce back. Very quickly we launched SRL – Smart Recovery Lab – where we asked many businesses to tell us their problem and not what solution they wanted for the problem. We will figure some way to solve it ourselves – whether it uses tech, product design or service journey intervention or good old advertising. We asked them to leave it to us and we’d do it quick.
This, too, attracted some attention and, in fact, we partnered with some businesses that got battered badly, and clients from the travel sector and F&B space and helped them move ahead.
I am very optimistic and believe that things will start bouncing back as we can already see signs of it. People will learn to live with it and understand that life has to move on. The government and companies are doing what they can.
My focus is on the long term haul, while the short term cushions my vision and doesn’t allow us to derail. As long as we are doing good work and our people are fine, I am optimistic.
Going forward, how do you see technology and digital taking forward Sideways’ vision for the future? What path do you see Sideways taking in the next 5 years?
From when we started Sideways, we knew that tech will be very pivotal to what we do. Therefore, when we started the company we also built a technology division. If we are offering our client solutions across various facets, then I need the technology to enable it across sales, HR, inventory management or communication. Tech and digital are the heart of what we do.
We really can’t talk about Sideways without its key campaigns. Which would you call the defining campaigns from Sideways and why?
Rather than just focussing on campaigns, we’ve done pieces of work that have helped us grow. I look at projects differently and hence, works like our product design project for Disney are important because they helped us push our product design portfolio. When we provided some tech solutions for Imagica and the model for Paani Foundation, they really pushed us forward.
One of the downsides of what we do is that a lot of what we do it isn’t exactly easy to show and for people to see compared to an everyday ad.
The tech and stat partnership with Google Pay was key for us, Disney Toy project was important and the launch of Kia Motors, too, was big for us.
On a parting note, could you explain the thought behind the curious Sideways logo – part scribble, part doodle? What’s the story behind that?
I think the logo captures the idea and essence of Sideways. The logo is like a tribute to the people who’s ‘sideways’ thinking inspires us and, therefore, it comprises of the actual handwriting of those people. The S is Salvador Dali, the I is Leonardo Da Vinci, D is Prasoon Pandey, E is Nek Chand who built the Rock Garden at Chandigarh, W is Walt Disney, A is Anant Pai who started the Amar Chitra Katha, Y is Piyush Pandey who’s my Guru, S is Albert Einstein and the flourish below is Picasso.
Because it’s so odd, it catches people’s attention and it also reminds us to stay inspired and do something big.