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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Anand Verma

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Welcome Jazz Shapers; where the Shapers of Business meet the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. Our guest today is Anand Verma, Founder and CEO at Brilliant Basics, a global digital design and product studio; a self-professed family man, Bollywood fan, amateur cricketer and golfer, founded Brilliant Basics in 2012 after more than twenty years’ experience across the digital and technology industries, including Co-founding design, textile and marketing companies. “Design does not just mean a great looking Apple website”, he says, “it’s much more about solving real life problems.” Under his stewardship the Brilliant Basics team aim to disrupt traditional agency models with the focus on customer experience and a willingness to change. As Anand says, “I have always considered Brilliant Basics as a product which means it has got to iterate every year or two so we are market ready and market relevant.” We’ll talk to Anand in a couple of minutes about this, about working with start-ups and Universities and about the future of work itself. We’ve also got brilliant music today from amongst others, Abdullah Ibrahim, Esperanza Spalding and Stevie Wonder. That’s today’s Jazz Shapers. Here’s Herbie Hancock with Wiggle Waggle.

That was Herbie Hancock with Wiggle Waggle; I didn’t spot a brilliant break which has been used in all sorts of other places, I hope you did spot it. Anand Verma is my Business Shaper and here he is, he’s one of our first of the 2020 season; he’s the CEO and Founder of Brilliant Basics and as I said earlier, a global digital design and product studio. It’s great to have you here.

Anand Verma
Thanks so much for having me here.

Elliot Moss
Tell me what that actually means because lots of people who aren’t in the business will say ‘well that sounds fabulous’. What is it that Anand actually does when he goes to the office? which is often what aunties and uncles and parents say. ‘what is that you do, Anand?’ So, I am asking, what is that you do, Anand?

Anand Verma
Absolutely, and that’s the toughest question to kind of explain Brilliant Basics to my mum, right, who is not very techy, doesn’t have a phone. So, Brilliant Basics in a nutshell for a layman or woman is a design and innovation company which brings customers and users at the centre of any digital products or services that large enterprises are thinking about or a start-up that is thinking to kind of work on. And what was happening when I started the company – I came from a media and technology background – I saw the market is infiltrated with technology solutions but they were forgetting who is the solution for and there was a need for putting users at the centre of gravity in terms of the solution is for them, right? And that was getting missed out from large enterprises in a big way so what we said was that basics and brilliance need to come together and the brilliance comes from getting the basics right and for us, basics are user centricity, getting a product to market rapidly just like a start-up would do and making sure that the brand promise that brands are making comes out right in the product promise, basically. That’s what Brilliant Basics is all about. Hopefully that makes sense.

Elliot Moss
Makes perfect sense. Give me an example of some of the work. I have read a bit about some of the big brands, global brands that you work for. Just give me one that you go, ‘that makes the point really clearly’?

Anand Verma
Absolutely. So, we were very lucky when I started the company, HSBC was our founding client so we competed in a pitch process and we won HSBC as our client and HSBC’s chief marketing officer was a sponsor for this work that we were doing. One of the big issues with HSBC was, you know, a fragmented market, global bank and they are not focussing on the user centricity. An example that I always give is, you are banking with HSBC, they charge you £20 or £30 after you are overdrawn and you think ‘oh my god, this bank is actually not helping me, they didn’t tell me I was going overdrawn so why did they charge me a penalty?’ So what we did was through application, we got that insight and we said in the mobile application we’ll create a notification two weeks ahead of time and tell them that they are about to be overdrawn. That insight was so valuable for the user so they can do something about it and that brings the brand and the user closer together and that example… and then many of those features we created in the HSBC mobile banking solution that we did for HSBC in the first two years of working them and now 40 million people use that product globally from paying their bills to paying their school kids fees to what have you.

Elliot Moss
Only 40 million?

Anand Verma
Only 40 million.

Elliot Moss
Really Anand I think your work has only just begun. Let me ask you, you set this business up back in 2012…

Anand Verma
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
…it wasn’t the first business you set up but what’s interesting about you is, it strikes me you are a bit of a serial, give it a go guy, entrepreneur, but also you’ve held down really serious corporate jobs. Where does your real passion lie? Because you can obviously play both games?

Anand Verma
Absolutely. I am one of five kids, I am the youngest so I am the black sheep in the family so the risk taking starts from that because you know that your four siblings are going to protect you if you go wrong. I was very artistic growing up but in India, I grew up in India for the first nineteen years of my life, the only way to kind of move generations in India is to do good education and find a better job, that’s the only way out in India but I was the left field guy in the family and I got an opportunity to kind of move to the UK when I was nineteen to do my studies so I have got the Indian values but I have got the risk taking ability of an entrepreneur and I have done that both on the start-up side but also in corporates as well as an intrapreneur as they are called. So, you know, with regards to where my passion lies, it’s always start-ups but I have been very lucky the last few years, Infosys has allowed me to be an entrepreneur within a large enterprise construct and let me be a little bit rebellious about a few things but in a very respectable manner.

Elliot Moss
That’s perfect. What a brilliant articulation of exactly where you sit. Number five did you say?

Anand Verma
Yes.

Elliot Moss
The fifth child. There you go. So, if you are the fifth child and you are listening, you could do just what Anand Verma has done as well. Stay with me for much more from my excellent Business Shaper today, he is the Founder and CEO of Brilliant Basics and he is with me until 10.00 o’clock. Time for some more music right now, it’s Abdullah Ibrahim with Soweto.

That was Abdullah Ibrahim and that was really good too. That was called Soweto. This is Business Shapers, it’s Jazz FM, I am Elliot Moss and my Business Shaper, more importantly than any of that, is Anand Verma, Founder and CEO at Brilliant Basics; a very nice name. We were talking before about where you passion lied and some people don’t answer that question, actually, they just sort of start telling me what they have done which you didn’t do which is fabulous. You do have a Degree and I find this, I have all sorts of people that I have interviewed over the almost now nine years, people that are highly educated, people that are really street smart and some are in the middle. It’s clear that you have a very high level of education: Computer Science and Mathematics Degree, you’ve got a Masters, you even went and did some work at INSEAD. In the world that you inhabit, what do you draw on because you are in an interesting place where you are constantly going to have to be restless, you are constantly going ‘well the answer that was right eighteen months ago or even a year ago, is not right anymore’. What are you drawing on as you find and invent the future?

Anand Verma
Yeah, that’s a really good question and I think it’s true for, you know, me and my team as well and we see a lot about this kind of sentiment of an ability to learn new things constantly because the world is changing so fast that you’ve got… you can’t just sit still anymore, right, otherwise you will become irrelevant so the three things that matters to me in terms of learning; first of all learn to learn new things, second of all learn to unlearn the old things because new rules are being created and the third one is learn to re-learn the things that might come in the future. The reason I say that is ten years ago a lot of jobs that exist now weren’t existing because digital was non-existent, iPhone was just coming out which means that the world is moving at a pace right now where our ability to learn new things is absolutely paramount in transforming industries and humankind, in my belief. So, in terms of the Degrees, I think Degrees are a way to kind of get from A to B and academia hasn’t really changed if I may right? So that’s why I went to INSEAD and learnt something that helps me with my job at IPG but for me it’s a constant like reading a lot in the morning, sharing a lot, we invite a lot of people to speak at our offices, our studios as well, but it’s a constant mindset and attitude to learn is very, very important to me and hopefully my team as well.

Elliot Moss
And how do you instil that culture so, you know, now you are running a business, I think there is a hundred plus people in it?

Anand Verma
That’s right. Yeah.

Elliot Moss
How do you make them be like Anand but obviously true to themselves and that sense of… I love what you just said about learning to learn and learning to unlearn and learning to re-learn; I am going to write that on a sticky next to my own desk, seriously, it’s a very simple way of putting it but how do you ensure that they do that and instil that kind of culture?

Anand Verma
Right, so, you know, I think what has happened is because we operate like a start-up within a large enterprise, we work on a number of different kind of projects constantly, right? So, for example, we use design and design thinking to understand what is a user context and what is user problem or customer problem that we are trying to solve and that requires you to go and learn about other industries and do research and all those kind of stuff, that’s instilled in our process, for example. We also allow people to kind of go and spend time with academia, for example, so we have partnerships with King’s College and Goldsmiths and many others because we underestimate what academia are actually doing but bringing academia and enterprises together allows us to learn from both the worlds of R&D as well as enterprise realities. And thirdly I think, you know, giving people this mindset of, you know, look four/five hours in a week, that’s yours and you do what you want to do in the office, right? But the only challenge is that how do you bring it back into the culture of sharing that learning as well. So we try to kind of bring it into our procedures in the business but a bit of freedom and a bit of, you know, foundation of learning in terms of core values, is a big part of instilling that in our business.

Elliot Moss
And, art or science? If you had to vote?

Anand Verma
Both.

Elliot Moss
Equally?

Anand Verma
Equally. Without those two, humanities, sciences, maths, you know arts, there’s such importance of those two things right now in our industry right now that I would say they are equally as important compared to what they used to be ten years ago.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my very insightful guest, it’s Anand Verma; he’ll be back in a couple of minutes but first we are going to hear from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya with some advice for your business.

There’s an abundance of former Jazz Shapers for you to enjoy and, of course, you can hear this programme again by asking Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of my recent guests, or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform, the full archive of over 375 awaits. Anand is looking very excited. But back to him, right know, he’s the Founder and CEO of Brilliant Basics, a digital design and innovation company. I mentioned earlier on, and you’ve addressed it a little bit about where your passion lies. You’ve built business, you’ve worked in big businesses, one of the common themes in all of those things is team and we talked briefly then about instilling the values around learning and re-learning and so on through processes which was an interesting way of doing it. How have you done it again and again and what have you learnt about when it works versus when it hasn’t worked?

Anand Verma
That’s a good one, actually, and one of the hardest things to do is to align people on a vision they want to carry on with for five/ten/fifteen years and I have learnt from my mistakes, I can put my hand up and say, “hey I did it wrong” when I was in my twenties and that process of learning and how to build teams, aligning people to a vision for example, you’ve got have a vision, you’ve got to have a view in terms of where this, you know, big hairy audacious goal of the business is so the people can look forward to that. You might not achieve the vision but at least there is a direction of travel that you want people to go on. The second is what mission you want to operate the business with, right? And that’s where I think the core values of the company comes in, right? So, every time I worked in a company, be it enterprise or start-up, I will always set three or values that we want to be known for and that helps build the culture, right? And if you can get the culture built with five or six core people, the ripple effect of that to the next layer down or next tier up I should say, is huge, right? So, one of our core values is ‘Better Together’ so rather than working individually, having a diverse team from various backgrounds is absolutely imperative to our success because you get new ideas, you get various points of views and you bring it into the, you know, melting pot and you start to create some magical outcomes with the people. And the third one is rewarding people, you know, in a way they feel valued; that’s a big part of our equation so, for example, when the company was sold to Infosys we kept a large percentage of the sale proceeds for the people who contributed to the success of the company. So it was not just about Anand Verma and his core Founders, it’s about the whole team who are part of that journey. So those are the few things that I learnt over the years of working in corporate that allowed me to say these two or three things are absolutely imperative for carrying a team forward which allows us to make a company bigger rather than just be Founder led.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the diversity point, obviously, as you mentioned earlier, first nineteen years of your life you grew up in a completely different world and I mentioned to you off line that I lived in India for a couple of years; it is a completely different world for a foreigner like me but obviously it’s your home then. That cross-cultural thing and the fact that you have lived in two worlds essentially, how beneficial has that been and in what ways to you as a person that’s gone through life and business?

Anand Verma
Hugely I would say, I grew up in a really modest circumstances, you know, my dad would work for Tata Motors at that point, he was an engineer, he would leave at 6.00 in the morning, come home 3.00pm in the afternoon and spoke with us to kind of get the best education to the kids and that sense of middleclass values, you know, being there for each other, not having all the answers but together, you know, discussing about the issues and challenges was a big part of making me what I have become right now but having the modesty and humility is a big part of my core values, I would say. Even today my wife said ‘hey, you know, you’ve done this and you’ve done that. Why aren’t you happy?’ right and I am happy but I feel that today is my day to do better than what I did yesterday and it’s because I feel l am scared that I will go back to how I grew up, right? So, there is a sense of fear which is about if I don’t do my best today then I won’t be better than I was yesterday, right? And I think it’s less about the financial outcome but it’s more about my ability to make an impact for me and my family and my teams. It’s a mix of, you know, Western opportunities have given me what I have today but the Eastern values have given me the grounding of what I have become.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today; it’s Anand Verma talking eloquently about Western opportunities and Eastern values. Time for some more music right know, it’s Esperanza Spalding with I Know You Know.

That was Esperanza Spalding, lovely too, it was I Know You Know. Brilliant Basics CEO and Founder, Anand Verma is with me and we’ve been talking about all sorts of things, about values and about opportunity. In terms of the different businesses you have set up, some have done really well, some have not done so well. What is that has at that moment in time that you created them inspired you to create them? Is it simply that, as you mentioned before, your antennae are out is it something more strategic than that? Honestly.

Anand Verma
Honestly…

Elliot Moss
Because I know you are strategic guy but there is also the arty side to you which I imagine there is some spontaneity there as well.

Anand Verma
Yeah, I think you are right. You already understood me. I think, you know, I am constantly looking for new ideas or maybe I see it, look at ideas and say ‘yeah, I can do this’ and sometimes my eyes are bigger than my ability to kind of get them done as well and I think it’s a bit of a realisation I have had over the years says the focus is so important on one or two things rather than going after everything and as you age, like I have, you start to kind of learn from those things.

Elliot Moss
You are not the only one that’s aged, Anand, I’ll let you into a little secret. We’re all… it’s happening. It’s really annoying but it is happening but there are good things that come with this, right?

Anand Verma
That’s right. I’m not Benjamin Button. So, I think, you know, I think the ability to focus is big and what I’ve realised is that 80% of my time can focus on something like Brilliant Basics and it has been hugely successful but the other 20% I can help share my learning from Brilliant Basics to other entrepreneurs and Founders and that’s what we have done so, since the foundation of starting up Brilliant Basics, we have supported twelve start-ups, one of them is called HeadBox which is now employing more than seventy people in Shoreditch and they were actually incubated in our studio in Shoreditch as well and so the idea is that, look you know I can’t start everything but I can certainly share the learning, the team dynamics, the knowledge to other start-ups to kind of create this entrepreneurial culture so I am kind of doing the best of my entrepreneurial mindsight while also helping other entrepreneurs kind of build their businesses.

Elliot Moss
And let me ask you, when you look at these entrepreneurs that you kind of back whether with your time or your team or money or whatever, is it instinctive as to whether you think they are going to succeed or not if it’s not that, what is it? What are you looking for in the same way that when you look, and I noticed today when I was researching for this interview, I noticed that you work with big companies like ATP and Sainsbury’s, you are going to see suggestions from the team about the user experience, about the UX. How do you, again, with that instinct know if it is going to work or not because data is data and it’s critical to get to the point about understanding the problem that solutions are creative and how do you again know whether it’s going to really fly or not?

Anand Verma
Yeah, spot on. I think, you know, the big thing I look for is who is running that business, right? So HeadBox is run by a fantastic kind of entrepreneur, he is committed to it and he is going to give it three or four years of his time to kind of make it a success or maybe more. And I think the person who is running is absolutely imperative for me to invest in, my time, money or my company’s kind of capabilities. At the same time, you know, I believe that, you know, it needs to be an idea that not just solves one problem right now but it has the vision of solving other problems on the back of it, right. And the third one, can it operate in an ecosystem of other start-ups or other enterprises as well. So those are three things that I normally look for and, you know, the twelve start-ups like I said we have supported, at least eight of them haven’t made it and it’s okay, right, because you learn from that and, you know, kind of pass that knowledge to the next one. But the four which have made it are employing more than 200/300 people in the UK which is a fantastic story as well so…

Elliot Moss
But on the eight that didn’t, because often we learn more from what doesn’t work than what does, did you kind of secretly instinctively again in the bottom of the pit of your stomach know, there’s just something not quite working for me, truthfully now looking back?

Anand Verma
A small percentage of ATS but also I think, you know, timing of those ideas wasn’t right, it had already been done, sometimes it feels like repetition of the idea from one country to another and sometimes it’s the person who is running it, they think they are the Founder but actually they don’t have the grit or the focus to kind of give it all to make that business successful. But it always comes down to the person who is running it, in my view.

Elliot Moss
Interesting. Stay with me for my final chat with Anand. Plus we will be playing a track from Stevie Wonder. That’s all coming up in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

That was the brilliant Stevie Wonder with As. I am now talking just for a few more minutes with Anand Verma here on Jazz Shapers, episode two of 2020, and we’ve been talking about a lot of things. You keep coming back to leaders which I find interesting and you know, at the end of the day you said it boils down to that person. I am talking to the leader of your business, it’s you and since 2012 when you set this up and then you’ve taken through a sale to Infosys and you’ve talked about the freedom you have and so on. Founders and their skills are different to people who then scale up a business in the general sense, some people can do it all, some people are really good at the first bit, some people are much better when they inherit. Where are you on this spectrum? What would your team say about Anand the Founder and now Anand the guy leading this business as it grows?

Anand Verma
It’s a really good one and maybe controversial one but I will be honest, right. I think I know what I am really good at and I realise that in the last three years having sold the company, I am good at rallying the troops, I am good at you know selling the vision and kind of, you know, being true and a hardworking kind of leader that I am. I am not good at operations and financials and those things so what I have realised is I need to fill that gap by hiring a leadership team who can keep the business running, that’s an important quality to have. So where I have made an impact within Infosys is trying to work with their business folks and their clients to say this is where we are going in terms of our journey and Brilliant Basics is not just kind of doing Brilliant Basics stuff, it’s also trying to kind of transform Infosys as a company to become more agile and design led and all the kind of good stuff that they bought us for. So, in terms of a leader, Founder and a CEO I would say I have realised that, you know, in terms of vision, marketing, strategy, that’s where my focus is and meeting clients, I love meeting clients. In terms of the operation, financials and some of the HR and other items, I have created a team whose job is to do that but they also believe in the vision of, you know, the company. Before, I had to be everything rightly or wrongly because there was not enough resource but now I feel that that realisation of what I am good at has allowed me to kind of prosper in the company.

Elliot Moss
And talking of prospering, you had your sale and here you are now growing. How does the money work for you? We talked about your modest background, we talked about the fact that you don’t want to go back to that – not to be negative about your childhood because we all have, we’ve all had different childhoods, right? And you, we respect our parents immensely for the things they did and the sacrifices they made, as you said, but now that you have this money, what does that make you feel? Is there any sense of connection to money beyond it’s useful to have? I mean, are you looking for the next big bucks?

Anand Verma
No. Because, you know, I have lived on one pound a week in University and I have got some more money now and money is for me a means to an end. Of course, you know lifestyle and going to nice restaurants and enjoying good food and company is, you know, important for me and my family but money, and luckily the same thing for our kids as well as you know our family of my wife included, is for us it’s a means to an end. As long as, you know, school fees are paid for and as long as we have a good, you know, lifestyle I think, you know, money has hardly any meaning for us. Also, we are thinking about in our business but also in our personal life, you know it’s about people, community, society and this decade is going to be so exciting for all of us where it’s not just about us and our business and our profit, it’s about what do we do for the humankind, environment and all the other aspects so I have been thinking a lot about how do you bring people, planet and profit together, in our business but also in my actions, right, in my family’s actions. So for me, if money can help us drive a better outcome for those kind of stuff, I will be delighted but it’s about, for me, it’s a means to an end.

Elliot Moss
Thank you so much for talking to me today.

Anand Verma
Thank you for having me.

Elliot Moss
It’s been a real pleasure. I hope in ten years, five years maybe, we will get you back and you can talk about people, planet and profit and we’ll see what you have been doing because I think it is, you are right, it’s coming to a head, it’s no longer okay just to say we are going to focus on the money, I am pretty sure that’s finished.

Anand Verma
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
Otherwise we are finished. Just before I let you go, before you rush off back, I can see he is so focussed, he’s off back to the office. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Anand Verma
So the song is, a bit of a sentiment attached to this, I was in Montrose Jazz Festival in 2001 and in the background was playing Cry Me a River and I loved this song and there is so much emotion and so much positivity in a way attached to this song. I am really excited about this one.

Elliot Moss
That was Ella Fitzgerald, Cry Me a River, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Anand Verma. He talked about learning to learn, learning to unlearn and learning to re-learn. He talked about the importance of modesty and humility and that lovely phrase he said all about for him ‘Western opportunity fused with Eastern values’. Really great stuff. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a super week.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Anand Verma is the Founder and CEO of Brilliant Basics – a global customer-centric digital transformation studio.

Consistently delivering innovative digital products and services that help clients maximise their digital investment, under Anand’s leadership the Brilliant Basics team have come together to create a studio that disrupts traditional agency projects models, with the belief that “brilliance comes from getting the basics right.” Since the studio’s creation, the business has gone on to employ over 160 members of staff across the globe and what started as an office in London, has since led to teams in Norwich, Berlin, Bangalore and Stockholm.

Prior to starting Brilliant Basics, Anand was the youngest President and CEO at Interpublic Group (IPG) leading IPG Mediabrands Ventures in EMEA, a global media conglomerate where he led their digital Operations, Incubation and Acquisitions.

Anand also advises start-ups and universities, mentoring budding entrepreneurs and supporting the internship and apprenticeship scheme in the EMEA.

Interview highlight

I saw the market was infiltrated with technology solutions but they were forgetting who the solution was for.

Brilliance comes from getting the basics right.

There are three things that matter to me in terms of learning: first is to learn new things, second is to unlearn the old things because new rules are being created, and the third is to re-learn the things that might come in the future.

The world is changing so fast that you can’t just sit still anymore.

We allow our people to go and spend time with academia.

One of the hardest things to do is to align people on a vision.

Having a diverse team from various backgrounds is absolutely imperative to our success.

I feel that today is my day to do better than what I did yesterday.

Having modesty and humility is a big part of my core values.

It’s not just about us and our business and our profit, it’s about what do we do for the humankind and the environment.

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