Alum Ventures: Candid Marketing – Atul Nath, PGP 1996

Sometimes you just meet people, who’s mere energy is enough to light up a room. They resonate with an infectious enthusiasm that both inspires and aspire. Atul Nath, Founder, and MD of Candid Marketing is certainly a befitting example of such zeal to excel. With two decades of experience, he has taken his venture Candid to new heights.

His company is a pioneer in its space and is one of the leading brand activation agency in the country.  Taking in stride both his success and failures, Atul has attained success on his terms and continues to explore and experiment in all facets of life coz that is what an entrepreneur, at heart, does.

In an exclusive interview with Atul Nath on his entrepreneurial journey and more..

Could you please tell us something about yourself.

I am a first-generation entrepreneur, something I didn’t really think I would be one – but once I got into it, there’s been no looking back. Being an entrepreneur is a life-choice, not just a career choice. That one decision that impacts every other facet of your life. I do try hard not to let my work define my life, although it’s not a very easy thing to do when you’re an entrepreneur. I have to say, my passions drive me – I have always enjoyed following and playing a sport, and have actively followed and supported Manchester United for almost 4 decades. I’ve played football regularly since school and college up till a few years ago. Football is hard to play as one gets older, so I’ve transitioned to running in the last 5 years. I’ve managed a few half-marathons and now I’m working on improving my time.

When and how did you start Candid Marketing? Was this your first entrepreneurial venture?

That was a long time ago…. I started Candid Marketing with a friend as my co-founder in 1996, as soon as I graduated from IIMB. Candid was my first venture and also what I have been doing for a large part of the past 20+ years. In the process, I’ve re-created the business many times over, sold the business and bought it back too!

Candid Marketing is one of the leading marketing & branding companies in the country, what makes it a pioneer in this space?

Three things have helped us be who we are as Team Candid. From day 1 we have always endeavoured to think differently – as founders we always believed in going against the grain. Very often while the rest of the industry zigged, we zagged – not always successfully! But we enjoyed it and that was the key to our passion and belief in our business. The second thing that has worked for us is keeping the client and their brand at the center of our business. This is easier said than done over 2 and a half decades. It was a lot simpler in the early days when just a few of us drove the business day-to-day. That brings me to the third element – I have always believed in developing our people and teams into outstanding leaders, and helping our clients build their brands, both of which are integral to my own growth. 

What are some of the other ventures that you are a part of?

For the past 5 years, we have been working on developing and incubating business ideas within Candid. We have tried and failed with over a dozen innovations. Born out of these efforts was an idea to create a platform for the business of experiential marketing and brand activation. That has taken shape into a new business – The startup has hit the skids a little bit because of the pandemic but I see strong potential for the platform in the medium to long term.

Covid has helped bring to fruition another idea of ours – Mojo Box.  Mojo Box is a D2C sampling and product experience business that we have created and launched in the last 5 months. It was an idea we have had for 5 years but the time just wasn’t quite right. With online shopping and tech adoption picking up pace rapidly, we are finding just the right environment for this venture. Discovery is going to be a challenge for both for the consumer and the marketer/brand owner and Mojo Box helps to address that pain point.

What persuaded you to take up the entrepreneurial path instead of a relatively cushiony corporate job?

I have been asked that question so many times….. I think it was the naivety of youth – the belief that I wanted to create something I could call my own. Add to that a sense of adventure I suppose.  And also, importantly – my parents’ support – they didn’t necessarily know enough to believe in what I was doing, but they believed in me and my decision. Remember, this was in 1996 and I was all of 24 years old, at a time when entrepreneurship wasn’t even a ‘known’ word in the Indian context.

What has been the highest and lowest point in your business journey?

In a journey of entrepreneurship of 25 years, there are bound to be many peaks and troughs, so it’s hard to pick out a few. A high point that comes to mind is buying back the Candid business in 2010 after selling a majority stake some years before. In terms of low points, I can think of a few where I have not come up to scratch on client expectations and let clients down. That always hurts. 

Decision making and constantly reinventing are some of the most crucial skills that an entrepreneur hones over time, how have you explored it?

Being an entrepreneur & a leader can be a lonely job. It takes a lot to be living the entrepreneurial life; very often it comes down to making a decision right rather than making the right decision. I have found that every big decision I make needs to be followed up with a series of smaller decisions and choices that lead to making the original big decision right. Sometimes, I relook at the alternative in the original decision and find that I could have made that right too by following up with smaller choices along the way. 

If you were making a recipe for entrepreneurial success, what ingredients would you definitely add?

That’s an easy one actually because I have thought about this a lot over the years.  I’ve articulated 9 elements – in no particular order of importance. Vision, Passion, Belief, Hard Work, Inspiring people, Risk-taking, Courage, Learning & Adapting to change. You could do with more of some and less of others of these elements but you definitely need a sizeable dollop of each to be a “happy” entrepreneur. 

The VISION to be able to see and visualise things around you as they could be, beyond as they are – “skating to where the puck is going, not where it is”. 

You need immense amounts of energy to be driven to be an entrepreneur and that can only be borne from immense PASSION.

An entrepreneurial journey is so volatile that having a strong BELIEF in what you’re doing and in your own ability to do it is tested repeatedly.

One of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite leaders ever, Sir Alex Ferguson, “HARD WORK will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough.”

Entrepreneurship is fundamentally about building organisations and teams who can deliver a vision and INSPIRING PEOPLE is at the very core of building teams.

I think of entrepreneurship often as this one step in the Prince of Persia PC game (those who’ve played it will know what I mean) – it’s like stepping into the abyss, not knowing if there is anything there – inherently RISK-TAKING.

As high as the peaks of building a business are, the depths of the troughs will test you, so often and so excruciatingly, only raw COURAGE can see you through.

No journey of entrepreneurship is short, it takes years and years to be an overnight success, and as you go along the environment changes, the challenge changes, the consumer changes, you yourself change. Having the ability to LEARN & ADAPT TO CHANGE is at the centre of being an entrepreneur.

A personality trait that can only be learnt at IIMB and nowhere else.

I don’t think I could tell you one – I learnt so much at IIMB, from my experiences in the 2 years there and more importantly from all my peers – who were smarter, sharper, more hard-working and driven than I was. You could say, a counter-intuitive learning from the hyper-competitive environment I got from IIMB was that “the race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself”.

A book you are currently reading

I like to read 2 or 3 books at the same time. I just finished reading “India after Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha and am now reading “The Trillion Dollar Coach” which is about the life of Bill Campbell & “Alex Ferguson’s Autobiography”.