Before starting Chronicle, you had worked with presentations for around a decade as a freelance UI/UX designer, at BCG and when running personal workshops. How did you get interested in and become good at design?
I very much stumbled into design serendipitously, maybe from going to the library and walking past some classes. When I went to university, there wasn't much of a design culture or awareness. There was only a Master's design course within the university at the time, even though it was one of the premier design institutes in the country. So I started practising design as a hobby. I couldn’t pinpoint what I was most interested in at first - whether it was visual design, motion design, information design or UI. I just started doing whatever I liked - I picked up Photoshop and went from there.
It found its application in a few real things where I started doing product design for up and coming startups. I don’t think I ever became good at it since there was no theory behind my work. Everything was based on intuition. I got a large volume of work through the startup world, and used it as practice. I never made a portfolio or advertised myself, but there was a constant influx of work since clients would come back and tell their friends about me. There was also a huge demand with no one else doing this kind of work. By the time I graduated, the scene had completely changed. The university had introduced a Bachelors course for design and there was an avid design club with hundreds of members in it.
Since I’ve never had theoretical training, I never felt confident enough to call myself a designer. I stopped design for 2 years when I went to BCG, and afterwards I started applying to places for design roles, with the work that I had previously done. In the end, I was able to land a design role at BCG DV which validated the design work that I had done in the past. To be honest I still don't feel like I'm good at design because it's such a wide field.
There are definitely a couple of things that do make someone a better designer, but it’s just an educated guess. The first is exposure to what good design is - which in itself is hard to define. It’s important to be constantly exposed to your definition of what good design is, whether its aesthetic, design principles or ways of thinking. It helps in allowing you to execute in the way you want to. The second is constant practice. In the two years that I didn’t work as a designer the world and software had completely changed. For example Figma had come out and started dominating the field. It’s a fast-moving field like any other and requires constant practice. Thirdly it’s important to surround yourself with people who are motivated and have complementary skills. My best friend at university could code, and so we would always work together on projects and push each other to learn more. There's a very thin line between that and surrounding yourself with people who think exactly like you, which I think is detrimental to learning.
You realised you were passionate about design very early on in your life and career. What advice do you have for people who are still trying to figure out their passions?
Exposure - there's no other way. I think I'm incredibly lucky to have been introduced to design from second year university. Ever since I got introduced to design and started practising it I always knew I would pursue it in some form or another, which is a huge luxury.
It’s worthwhile to take a year or two years to get exposed to as much as possible. Find out what you like, and just as importantly, find out what you don’t like. I think once you find a few areas of interest - which can be as broad as information design - then you can powerfully channel your interest in a way that feels effortless. For me, practising design didn’t feel like an effort. I remember I used to sleep 4-5 hours and take on 1-3 projects at a time and I absolutely loved it. The only parts that I didn’t love about freelancing were anything related to admin and negotiations. It was just so clear to me that I thrived whenever I worked in anything design related.
The second piece of advice is to be open to your interests changing in between the years. You are always growing more into who you are and I don't think that ever stops - at least in terms of the interests. For me, I've developed a deep interest in reading about history over the last two years which has helped me as a designer. Being open to change and not pushing against that is super important. I admit, this ability to experiment itself is a privilege that not everyone has the luxury or even the willingness for.
What part of founding Chronicle do you most enjoy?
Ultimately, Chronicle is inventing a new consumption format and I’ve enjoyed solving this problem in a very puristic approach. I've been able to go much deeper in this topic that I'm very passionate about. We’re definitely in the process of creating something really new and interesting. Whether it’s something that will change the world or not, and be successful, will require many stars to line up.
But the journey of trying to categorically figure out the right consumption experience for the world is one that I'm very faithful to. It combines these two fields of behavioral change and design, to come up with a new way to show information. People's behaviours have changed very dramatically over the past 10-15 years. We live in a world of constant distraction so attention spans have eroded and are so precious now.
Figuring out how to change storytelling from this long form model to something else has been a very satisfying journey so far, but frustrating too since it's so hard to bring this product to life. Small things can really affect how well it can be adopted or have a huge impact.
Areas like building the company, hiring people, raising capital and bringing onboard investors has been fun and a great learning experience, but I’m most passionate about obsessing over the topic and shaping the product.
Do you feel a pressure to build faster given how competitive the market is?
There is always some level of pressure to build faster or get the product to market since we are playing in such a competitive market, and we knew this was the case going in.
I’m not worried about the existing big players such as Google and Microsoft which often end up getting into these spaces quite late, when they’re more mature. Although I will acknowledge, Microsoft always gets into anything 15 years later, but somehow wins. What does keep me up at night is the influx of small players, which I personally believe hasn't even started yet. There are a number of players in the market right now who have their own approach to this product. It’s a $40-50 billion market that you can easily share with two or three companies with different approaches for different archetypes of people. But when one of them resonates, the copycats will come immediately.
Defensibility in this space is not as straightforward as one might think. Take Notion for example. Their product has been done really well, but their defensibility has been their strong community which they’ve clearly put a lot of effort behind, but I don't think they knew that the community is why people would stick with their product. Building this defensibility is important, but we still don't know what it’s going to be for us.
I do believe that the way we’re building Chronicle is still very different in terms of its approach and therefore output, compared to a lot of other companies.Other companies are fundamentally trying to solve for a better presentation. We are trying to solve for, eliminating bad information design. I think those are two fundamentally different journeys that lead to very different outputs.
The former is trying to give you a faster way of creating presentations, but the latter is trying to give you a tool in which you cannot even design bad presentations. It's a different journey and I feel comfortable about that difference.
Another reason why I'm not completely panicking is because I feel like there is no way to build this product quickly. There's also no loyalty in this space. People are extremely likely to jump from one product to another because there’s minimal barrier to adoption. We need to create a product that people will stick to, and we need to invest the time into building that great product. Going to market quickly is not going to help, and you can see this happening for a competitor product. They experienced huge adoption in the beginning, but ultimately people went back to the traditional ways of working simply because they didn’t actually solve the problem. It was always a better PowerPoint, but people’s outputs were indistinguishable from PowerPoints’ outputs. At the end of the day, people were using a tool to create an output that looks and feels the same, and therefore has the same problems as PowerPoint.
So going to market fast is not going to help us. Instead, going to market with a product that genuinely changes something radically is going to help us. That’s what we're working towards. Whether we'll be successful or not is a different topic. I’m confident in our quality in insights, and the execution is something I’m learning for the first time as a founder.
You came to Australia after working in BCG India and obtaining your tertiary education at IIT Bombay, one of the best and most competitive universities in India and the world. Could you speak on the issues that skilled Indian immigrants and students face when they come to Australia for work?
Personally I think I’ve only faced microaggressions and small areas that have been inconveniences to me, but I’ve heard so many stories first hand to the point where I truly believe immigrants face such a structural and systemic problem when they come to Australia.
So I think the biggest problem that Indian immigrants, particularly international students, in Australia face is that right off the bat, their past experiences and entire resume in India is discounted. For me, when I was doing my skills assessment for my permanent residency, they discounted my BCG experience in India but took my BCG Digital Ventures experience in Sydney into consideration. It was completely bogus, especially since the work I did was essentially for the same company. Yet one experience was discounted because of the location I worked in.
Because of this, Indian immigrants are caught in this vicious circle where they jump into jobs that don't align with their education or past experience. Their Australian resume never gets built because they’re never offered internships or starting jobs, and then they’re forced to go into jobs that aren’t relevant just to survive each day and pay the bills - like doing Uber or food delivery. People who were born here, have citizenship or PR, or even European and American immigrants have a very different journey in finding a job. The number of times I’ve seen well meaning, hard working smart Indians end up in this situation is crazy. Anything related with visas is a hard problem to solve. But I do believe that there is systemic discrimination particularly against migrants from certain backgrounds. It’s worthwhile to figure out how to solve it, and also acknowledge this problem. This systemic discrimination also sets Indian migrants up for a larger form of discrimination in everyday life - when people look at you and see that you’re Indian, they’ll assume that you're never going to make enough money to be able to afford a nice lifestyle, or that you’re their Uber Eats driver. This is a byproduct of this systemic discrimination, which needs to be solved from a top-down level so that everyone gets equal opportunity first.
It’s important to note that this is a self-damaging system. Top Indian talent don’t want to come to Australia, when they don’t see many success stories here. They all go to the US. So now, Australia can’t attract any top Indian talent, even though this country is an amazing place to live. Ultimately, in the big picture, Australia is missing out. Australia will always have an intelligent labour problem, and the Australian ecosystem will continue to be hamstrung for talent growth if this problem isn’t solved.