YASHAS MITTA

Who: Yashas Mitta
What: Co-Founder and Creative Director Mukha
Field: Media
Where: Singapore and India
Website: mukha.co
Follow: @MukhaCo



HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN MEDIA COMPANY

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Introduce yourself and tell us your role
My name is Yashas, and I run a creative collective called Mukha. I am the Co-Founder and Creative Director of the company.


Where are you from originally?
I’m from Bangalore (India), grew and brought up there. I was raised really close to the jungle, the countryside.


What brought you to Singapore?
Singapore, somehow, has always been my 2nd home. After I graduated, I came here for a short project for a food based agency. But after that, I made some great friends – some of my best friends now live there. Every now and then I come here, and eventually I took up a job here last year.


So you’re currently the Creative Director of Iris in Singapore? How did you know you wanted to be in Creative while growing up?
I actually did not. I come from a very typically South Indian family. I was the only one not interested in PHD holders or scientists, but I was not interested in any of those. But I think I was always good at the arts a little bit, a bit of drawing, but that is kinda common for every child. I chose the arts because that was the only thing that was left, because I wasn’t good at anything else. I heard the word “Creative Director” when I was 17, and I was like “I wanna be that”. I didn’t know what it meant, but I wanted to be that since it sounded cool. And from there, I brought myself to be one. 

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How does one become a Creative Director?
It’s super tricky actually. I studied Psychology, but I wanted to become a Creative Director. But I think they are really interrelated since it’s about understanding people and their behaviours. Creativity is your expression, whether it’s creative direction or advertising or the arts, your expression of psychology. In the beginning, I did not know that they overlapped, but, as I started working, it was really obvious it was the same thing. But I started off very differently, as an account manager and did some translating in university for part time. Then I got into advertising. 


Tell us more about Mukha
I think to tell you about Mukha, we need to know where it started from. So when I turned 25, I was in Mumbai, I was already a Creative Director. I pushed myself really hard, and I was kind of maxed out – at 25 I was burnt out. I decided to quit, had no other offer and decided to leave advertising. I moved back to Bangalore and became a designer. While I was figuring out my finances and at a friend’s place. He told me he also quit his job and moved back to Bangalore – he hated it as well. So two jobless people just chilling around.

We realised we knew a lot of people around the world who were doing really interesting things, so we decided to talk to them and find out what they’re doing. I would like to think I’m an aspiring everything: aspiring designer, aspiring writer, and aspiring creative director. It came naturally to me cause I was in advertising before, so it was almost like second nature designing, making a logo, and an identity etc and called it Mukha.

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It’s really interesting how that came about – Mukha roots back to its sanskrit word that means a calming face. In context, it could mean identity and aura. I felt that was perfect and interesting. I wanted the portraits of the people we were interviewing to be really beautiful and that’s when the idea of really good photography came into the picture. So we interviewed a really dear friend of mine, who hitchhiked 35 countries with no money. I was just so fascinated by that. I just put my phone on a recorder and asked him everything I wanted to do. I was mostly curious because I wanted to live like that. After a three hour conversation, I went back home and transcribed the whole thing and my other co-founder, Shab, agreed to publish it. Interestingly, I was editing it and realized that it didn’t seem original. So I literally uploaded the entire transcription, 3500 words long, and, to this date, it is the most read interviews on Mukha. Funny right? You wouldn’t think so. It kinda broke those barriers cause usually editorial interviews are always edited, nicely written, and everything. It was a subconscious decision, and we weren’t good writers anyways. It had bad grammar and any writer would’ve said that this was shit, yet people were connecting to it. And what’s more important? The craft or people connecting to it? It’s a very difficult question to answer.

We did interviews at Shanghai, New Zealand, Dominica, and since I had an advertising background, I wanted to craft in the telling of the story, that I learned from advertising. Shab and I made sure that we had a photographer in that country or city to photograph that person. It was all collaborations, so it we didn’t make any money. People saw what we were trying to do in terms of a raw story, and, more or less, we were always trying to connect a photographer who we thought who would be interested in that kind of story. We would always end up becoming friends and so in that portion of interviews we made a lot of good friends. That’s how it started.

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Over time, it has transformed into a creative collective, which means that we use our network, friends, and capabilities to empower to tell stories we used to tell. 


Tell us more about the how the publicist spotted your talent and asked you to create a series
I think it’s proved that if you’re willing to take the risk, the universe will somehow make things happen to you. It’s incredible. When we started Mukha, 6 months later I think Grazia India features Mukha as one of the top three Indian magazines in India when we were just online. It was quite surprising for us. It was only online, but it was crafted well, designed well, and we were just having fun to be honest. When we were listed, people took notice and so we became a bit more popular than we expected. So we realised it’s a thing now. Until then, if you logged into Mukha, the first thing you would see was the interview with no “About” section. It was nothing else. It was very organic that way.

22feet, a digital agency in Bangalore, was in the transition of becoming DDB. I told them I don’t want to do advertising anymore, but they said they wanted to create something like Mukha. I told them I would do it only if they do it the way I want to. Props to them for a large networking scene to say yes and to have taken that risk. They let build a team together, four or five of us being writers and photographers, a very agile and small team. The plan was literally for a year to travel across India and tell stories on culture, art, adventure, and whatever it was. In fact, we didn’t have categories. I was 26 when I got that opportunity, which is unheard of. I’m completely aware of how fortunate of us to get that opportunity. We brought in so much things that we learned in advertising. For a shoe brand, for example, we would present it in a way where people would really want it. You would see these stories that are designed impeccable as if it was a fashion shoot almost. We took a lot of time to tell these stories. We spent 10-15 days with people in India and different parts of India. We put in a lot of craft in any story we would tell like we would do for any other product in advertising. It was very popular and quite a thing.

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After a year, 22feet and DDB wanted to know how to monetize it and create a business model out of it, but we didn’t want to lose the organic nature of it. But we didn’t know which brand would want stories from the tribal communities in India. But the great part about it (and it almost happened naturally) was that they were interested in our stories, yes, but they were even more interested in our storytelling abilities, which was interesting. So we made money in our ability to tell stories. It gave us a way to separate our editorial, where we continued to tell our stories, but we made money using our ability to tell stories, our production value basically. It was a half production company and half magazine on the front. It’s funny because the magazine became our stories, which was fantastic. There was one brand, Asian Paints (India’s largest paint company) and what we did was we traced back the colour pallets back to the traditions and crafts of India. We spent two months traveling around India to find crafts and stories that represent these stories and pallets. We created storytelling with 7 films, 300 photos, 7 photostories all in a month and a half with only six of us.

I would say the most enriching experience of my life, most meaningful work. It still remains as the top things that I am known for. It was interesting because we all had stable salaries, but we were on the road. That gives you an immense amount of power and comfort. A lot of people say “Oh, we can’t do that since you got the opportunity”, but I think people forget that that option wasn’t already there, you know?

It was created because of the risk we took. It was created because we started Mukha. 


How did you know your partner would be a right fit in Mukha?
I would say that the reason he’s a great business partner is because he hates most of my ideas. He always says this, “99% of your ideas are bullshit and one of them is okay.” I love that realism he brings in my life. He will tell you straight up. Currently we’re working on two projects that he doesn’t even believe that they’re no good at all, and he challenges me to show him that they’re good. In other partnerships I’ve seen, people argue whether this is right or wrong to do. But in this one, we’re throwing each other challenges. We’re proving to each other if it’s good.

I think it’s really important to have a partner who’s happy to have an inclination of what you do and you have an inclination of what that person does. So I would say that I am a creative person with an inclination of business, and he’s a business person inclined towards creativity, which is a good combination. He can spot great ideas, but he can’t necessarily see the future of it. I can see creative ideas, but I can’t see the future of the business. I don’t see how it could scale, but he does. I think that combination is a fantastic combination. It’s probably the reason why we haven’t broken apart yet.

That’s where you have to find your partner. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy to find that, but I definitely wasn’t looking for it. I was literally just winging it. 


How long have you been working with your business partner?
Five years now, since we started Mukha. We’ve known each other for ten years, since I came to Singapore. Funny thing is that our houses in Bangalore are five minutes from each other, and we have never met. 

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What advice do you have for looking for a provider?
Looking back, I gotta say the first thing is honesty. You gotta be honest of what you’re doing and what you want to do, and put it on the table. It’s a lot like relationships. First put out what you’re interested and how you want to do it. If that person sees the value in it and wants to go there with you then it might work. There’s really no right answer. I would say one thing I would say is that I have a lot of friends now who also started their company the time I did and also had success in their businesses and some of them being big companies back home. But they struggled really hard with partners. You have shares in the company, and it becomes complicated. I know friends who are in the middle of something and in the most ugliest battles at 29 who have equal partnership. I would say do it, but make sure your papers are in order cause you never know what happens after. Like make sure you know who’s getting the share, if it’s equal partnership etc because it’s really hard to correct it once you start. 


What are your thoughts on people being creative and business-minded?
If you look at the big guys, obviously there’s Steve Jobs, who are in both creative and business, he had an entrepreneurial ability to see how far it could go – he had a vision. That’s the Steve Jobs angle, but if you want to look into the more creative industry like the advertising industry, it would be Wieden and Kennedy. They are both incredibly creative folks. That’s why they are a creative company and then a business. They’ve not compromised at all on the creativity, and they’ve built their business around that. People go to them for that. Brands go to them to not compromise on the creativity, and that itself is a business. So it’s definitely possible. But if you get into the business sometimes you’re compromising the art of it (creativity). It’s always a struggle, but both (creativity and business) are possible, absolutely. I know for a fact, for example, that my co-founder used to never give a shit about typography and design. Now when we go into a restaurant, the first thing he recognizes is the font of the restaurant. He was taught that since he was hanging around with my all the time. 


How did you initially get funding?
There was no fund at all. Both of us didn’t have any money, and we were jobless. The only thing we bought was the squarespace subscription, a 1 year subscription. It was expensive for us (40 dollars per month). We were doing this for the fun-sake of it. There was no fund actually, and we’ve never taken any funding, which we are very proud of. We’d like to bootstrap as long as we can. If we do get funding, it will be from a source who believes in the same vision as ours and from the same industry. We got a lot of offers, but the thing is when they ask, “what’s your business model?” And I’m like, “I’ve haven’t finished telling you the vision of the company is”, which I find very problematic in today’s world because we want to find the business model before we know what we want to do. If you go down that path, you will never create anything of value. If you looked at the 10 or 20 years before, companies didn’t look at their businesses with a source of inspiration or vision – they wanted to make money and feed their families.

While that’s fantastic, I think that our generation has a lot more opportunity to be more meaningful. If you have to, your financials are not good, and you have to solve that by all means, please go after that money. If you come from any sort of remote privilege, you have the responsibility to create meaningful things. That’s one of the biggest problems I have in investors. I do not want you to talk about my business model – it’s not like I don’t have one – but listen first for what I want to create. I really appreciate DDB in the risk they took, without having a business model and investing money into a bunch of random people.

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“I think find investors who believe in what you want to do and not who believe in your business model. We need to be more mindful on what we’re creating.”

But if that big number is what you’re looking for, go for it. 


After you started the online publication, you’ve eventually expanded to video and film. When and how did you make this diversification?
I think the diversification actually I learned in my time running Untold, which is the property for DDB. We were given all the resources: we had a filmmaker, photography, etc. We were literally scientists trying to explore whatever happened. There are stories on Untold you will see that are incredibly beautiful but have taken six and a half months to build because it involves design, technology, photography, writing, animation, illustration, audio, everything. “Let’s try” was basically our philosophy. 

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Do you think video is the way forward for content creation?
I think good ideas are the way forward and good content is the way forward.

“No matter which format you’re working with, I think it’s really important to remember that it’s not the format that matters. Sure it could help you amplify your audience, but you could put the shittiest content in the world on the best platform and nothing’s going to happen. “

- Yashas Mitta


One of the most popular conceptions in creativity is that it has to do with art. I think that creativity has to do with imagination. How would you define creativity?
While it’s easy to see that creativity is everywhere and in every industry, I think it’s equally difficult in practice. It’s very difficult to see creativity in processes in like banks, but I think there is. So if you look beyond it, the very fact that you can move money and change the world in interesting ways that work seamlessly, that is absolutely creativity.

It becomes very hard to spot in a daily basis and especially working in the creative industry now, we have a tangible thing to show people. When we show art pieces, when we show films, when we show stories, they evoke a certain emotion – they move you in a certain way. That’s why people think creativity is all about the arts – it’s a painting, a film, a design – because that’s the only thing you can actually see. But I think it’s very important to see beyond it, actually. 


What advice would you give to the corporate world who want to be creative but don’t know how to?
I think we all struggle with that. I don’t think it’s only a corporate thing. The way I have dealt with it is through seeking inspiration. I use the word seeking very carefully because I’m not talking about finding but seeking. It’s there but it’s covered in a lot of bullshit – you need to unwrap it, but it’s always around you. It could be a restaurant you go to, maybe a holiday, your family, your mom, daughter, could be anybody or anything and it’s always around. If you’re constantly in the mode of seeking inspiration, you’ll never find anything boring. For example, we work in offices and how many times do we know where people come from? I don’t know most with hundreds and thousands of people. We don’t know their stories. We don’t know who they are.

No corporate system is stopping you from asking those questions like “where do you come from?”, “who are you?”

“While the system is designed against you finding creativity, you need to design yourself against the system. “


What is your top inspiring Instagram account?
NOWNESS, a video magazine. If I’m not wrong, it actually started off as a premium blog for Louis Vuitton. They relaunched last year to an artistic magazine, but the kind of content they curate and create is just mind blowing.


Who has been the inspiring individuals in your life?
The cheesy Indian answer would be my mum. The way she struggled and seen through difficulties, so I don’t think I’ve had a chance to be anybody else apart from being an image of her. I think she would be my first person. Finally, it would be my dad. Not because of the resilience but because of his sheer playfulness of “what if?” He’s had like 600 jobs or something, and he’s been everything: from a postman to a textile guy to everything. He would never be that guy who settles for one thing. I think that if he had the opportunity that I had now, he would be a very different person. I think when he was growing up, I don’t think the world was ready for him. It wasn’t designed to accept a wild man.

Apart from the cliche answer of mom and dad, there have been incredible influences of people who I have interviewed for Mukha, who have influenced on how I look at life and creation. Whether it was hitchhiking around the world, creating a fashion label, there were people who I already wanted to be. 

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Has there been any battles or challenges growing up that made you want to accomplish more?
Personally yes. I was born into a rather poor family. I’ve grown up looking at people and looking at my parents a certain way. Funnily, my parents are far more better off, far more liberal, far more independent, far more amazing people than all those people who look down upon me. I always wondered why is it that just because one has a PHD and a certain level of money, he/she is a better person. I’ve seen people pity my parents for some reason, and it’s really funny because even though we were poor, we didn’t have less.

We had more, in fact. It’s because no matter what you have, you need to be joyful in the house. So I never saw it that way, but everyone else did. Coming from Indian societies, we have this thing where we try to put down people when they try something different. And only accept them when they become successful. It’s not just Indian culture but also all of Asia. It’s funny that happens, but, with me, it was a little bit different. My parents believed in us, it was just that everyone else around us did not. I remember a certain incident where I did not know what to study basically after high school, so I went to one of my relatives who is a very big scientist, very notable and who creates a lot of medicine and research. I thought that they would have an answer and guide me on what to do since my parents did not know what to say.

So I went to them and asked them. They had an immense answer that kinda put me down. They said, “to study science you have to be intelligent, it’s difficult. To study commerce you have to be good at math, and you’re not. To study arts, you have to be talented, so I’m not really sure.” I remember I was 16 when I heard that, and it’s the most ridiculous thing. If that is what is means to be educated, then I did not want to be that person. Until then, I was a very shy quiet kid. After my parent’s episode and then seeing that happen to me, I said, “if I don’t pick up my shit, I’m not going to be anything I want to.” So I said fuck everything, and I went for whatever I went for that I thought would be right. I think that made me two things: one is not giving a shit about rules. Indians don’t follow rules. They hate rules. There is an innate rebellious spirit, but when it can be harnessed in a good way, it could be incredible. Also if it’s harnessed in a bad way, you end up with chaotic cities. Good and bad to both sides. 


If you had to name one asset or skill to get further in life, what would it be?
Fearless. You just don’t care. 


If you had to gift one book to someone, what would it be and why?
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It’s a book about being fearless. Today’s backpacking thing was founded by his way of traveling. 


What’s your philosophy on life?
Nobody knows what they’re doing in life, so just do it. The only thing that you should be doing is try to have fun, whether it’s your work or life or relationships. It should be fun. You have a limited time, so just have fun.

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