"We want to show that it’s possible to do great work & scale while doing things differently"

Shamita Islur
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As Talented celebrates its first anniversary, Co-founders Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya, divulge the story behind what makes their agency at its core - a team full of ‘Talented’ people and the learnings gained since its inception.

The core of the agency 'Talented', began with Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya, the Monday after their last week at Dentsu Webchutney.

As the agency completes a year, reflecting back, Gautam said, “Talented was born because we had some ideas for the agency business that we couldn’t wait to execute without any baggage. Ideas that were embarrassingly simple, but those that we believed could dramatically change what our business means – first for those working in it and then therefore for our clients.”

Aditiya mentioned that they moved on from Webchutney amidst excellent momentum around its founding team and their ideas, their swan song at Webchutney – the Unfiltered History Tour, and a set of clients were willing to bet on them. With it, came the realisation that they couldn’t afford to switch off and on between jobs.

“So ‘Year One’ had to prove that our familiarity with each other would only help our agency, not hold it back. Glad to confess that for the most part - it has,” said Aditiya. 

Also Read: Swiggy’s short film shows how wrong addresses can sometimes lead to the right places

Challenges on the way

But with leaving a large network agency, came the challenge of starting their own from scratch. Gautam recalls the mindset shift that was required after being responsible for over 300 colleagues, to the very next week, starting over with a team of five. 

While the founders had very clear ideas of what they wanted to do differently - especially on how to manage an organisation staffed with creative people, the main focus was to make the talent thrive without wasting the potential and resources. 

Gautam said, “We need to find a way to do things more efficiently to make our model really work in a industry with constantly reducing margins. That’s the real challenge. So, once we got down to building, our early vision for this exciting new model played the guiding force.”

In line with this strategy, the agency has strengthened relationships with long-time external partners like Rooted Films, Superfly Films, First December, DO Creative Labs, and Kalpit Dwivedi and forged relationships with newer partners like Lucifer Circus, Young Guns and StudioFry.

They have also invested in a few companies, one of them being the coffee brand - VS Mani, which got featured on Shark Tank recently. 

Creating an Employee-first Approach

Hustle culture has left employees feeling drained, undervalued, and lacking any semblance of work-life balance. Reports suggest that 36% working professionals in India are suffering from declining mental health.

Gautam believes that despite the reputation for being creative, the agency business is strangely conservative. How the agency professionals work and deal with one another hasn’t really changed in decades. 

Having built a company that’s hardly traditional for the industry, Gautam and Aditiya talked about their modus operandi focusing on finding better and efficient ways to work internally. 

“We’re a company that’s literally named after our talent. Our first 10, 20, 40 hires will end up being magnets for our next 100, 150, 200 colleagues so every single early hire determines what our long-term culture is,” said Gautam.


Courtesy: Team Talented

A significant part of their focus has been on improving the work culture, pay structures, inequity, long work hours, and the lack of attention given to its own brand which leads to ineffective work. 

What we’re trying to build is a working culture that’s comfortable with a little vulnerability.

Gautam Reghunath

Talented has a significantly large Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) pool, employee representation for their Executive Committee, and the starting salaries for fresh talent is double that of the average agency. 

The agency also doesn't have traditional set up of hierarchies. 

“We’re experimenting with the sameness of designation - everyone regardless of level is designated ‘creative’, for example. We’re actively remote-first. We’re loudly collaborative with external partners and share credit generously. We proactively court projects over retainers. Some of these experiments will work well in the long term and some may not,” said Gautam. 

Ultimately, it has been an experimental approach on their part, which has fared out quite well for the agency so far. 

The Creative Process 

The agency has created some quirky yet hard-hitting campaigns for brands like Swiggy, Tanishq, RazorpayX, and more. Their latest Valentine’s Day campaign for Swiggy named ‘Wrong Address’ showed how wrong addresses can sometimes lead to the right path. Campaigns like these have managed to get their unique voice out there, according to Aditiya. 

"Asking ourselves ‘How do I care about this campaign more?’ is probably the question we all try to answer when we’re turning ideas on paper into real work."

PG Aditiya 

The duo shares that loving the work they do is more important because better creative work helps steer profits for their clients and in turn, helps price themselves higher. 

Aditiya shared, “‘Make the idea proud’ is a phrase we repeat to each other often, internally. Make it proud by caring more about it, by getting it its deserved budgets, by giving it the time it needs and helping it land all the impact it can. Make it proud to be executed by Talented, over anywhere else.”

Better explaining how important focusing on creation is to Talented, Aditiya referred to a joke. “Art critics discuss modernism, cubism and surrealism. Artists discuss where to buy cheap turpentine.”

This is why, he said, agencies should spend as much time as possible on creation.

Fostering Growth at Talented

One of the key factors the co-founders kept in mind was to move at the same speed that modern brands and start-ups are moving at. Gautam highlighted that over the last few decades the industry has built a reputation of being lethargic, especially since agencies fail to retain clients that want to move ahead quicker.

He continued, “The biggest risk to growth is no longer making a mistake or losing consistency; it’s becoming irrelevant, it's failing to attract quality talent, to invent, to change direction quickly. We’re trying to keep our eyes sharply on the ball on all these factors.” 

With a hope to inspire a whole new generation of indie shops in India, they are trying to build a creative shop like the international ones they have looked up to over the years. The one-year-old agency is following the footsteps of Droga5, Crispin & 72, Uncommon, Mother, Gut, and the likes.

I hope that we can show that it’s possible to do great work and scale in the long term while doing things differently.

Gautam Reghunath 

Following their erstwhile award-winning strikes at Cannes Lions with Dentsu, Aditiya mentioned that they plan to send in their new campaigns created by Talented for Swiggy - ‘Why Is This A Swiggy Ad?’ and a couple more to advertising festivals in 2023. 

The Way Forward

Staying true to the name, the duo envisions this year’s focus to be its talent’s growth. Aditiya shared that both of them have worked in a culture where voicing one’s opinions or proving one’s boss wrong weren’t treated as bugs, but as positive aspects to exponential growth. 

Aditiya commented, “We’re seeing bosses’ feedback being disagreed with, we’re seeing teams not backing off from approaches they believe in, we’re seeing more decision-makers across levels, across disciplines. Parallely, a lot of us in the leadership are trying to hone our craft and technical capabilities. All the signs for a good year two.” 

He concluded the interview by giving a sneak peek into what the team might remember 2023 as - the one where they got their first office space! 

Talented founders Talented creative agency Talented agency Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya Talented Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya