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Propelled by Curiosity

We all know that the grass is greener on the other side. But is it really so? How do we know? 

A lot of us would simply take the word of others who have said so. If you were Alice from Alice in Wonderland, you would follow the White Rabbit, and drink the portion so that you can go and explore the beautiful garden on the other side. If you are Mohit, you would just jump right over the other side,  to check for yourself if the grass is truly greener on the other side and in the process create an interesting and completely different career path within the realm of White-collar jobs.

Meet Mohit Bansal (MB). He describes himself as a PM who gets growth and an Ex-Founder. I would like to add here that he is also a thinker, a writer,  an idea-box, someone who gets excited about problems, and someone you should totally bounce off your solutions and strategies: especially if you want a unique perspective.

In this interview, I try to trace Mohit’s interesting career journey and how the problems he has solved in each stage of his professional life made him curious about the source of these problems, and hence jump to the other side of the fence to understand the source.


Some instructions to help you comprehend this piece better.

Text in: 

Bold: my questions/conversations with MB.

Italicized: his answers/thoughts

Orange: what I gleaned and some notes/links to his work


Let me start with a question, and may the conversation flow! You transitioned from being an engineer to consumer research to marketing to running your org to product growth. That’s a wide array of things you have dived into and done! Could you please walk me through the thoughts that prompted each transition? Also, what have been some learnings that you have carried with you throughout?

My career transitions have always been propelled by a single intersection: curiosity propelling me to explore if the grass is really greener on the other side. I can say that it has turned out to be true so far.  In the traditional sense, some would say that my transitions are perhaps career suicides, but I have no regrets and would not have it any other way. The multiple ways in which I can view and approach a problem today are all because of the non-stereotypical journey that I have had.  My biggest learning has been that continuously making efforts to know yourself and being authentic is important, regardless of your role, industry, or space. We tend to bury our true self into the conditioning that school or college gives but a deep dive into myself has helped me where I  should head next.

MB started as an engineer, worked in IT, and then moved to product marketing for software tech teams after his MBA- Those were the only two times, he did what he did because that’s what everyone he knew was doing, and he had let peer pressure influence him. 

Let’s talk briefly about your journey as a product marketer and your foray into the agency space.

When I started my career in product marketing, I had to work with agencies for campaigns. One of the things that caught my attention was how, as a marketer who understands what my product does, I still needed to lean on the creativity and innovation that agencies bring to the table to deliver on the vision I had for my campaigns. On the one hand, I knew I was creative, and on the other hand, the interactions always left me with some of the following questions: 

  • How do agencies get so innovative? 

  • As someone who understands my product and is creative, would I do better for myself and better than an agency,  if I had the environment that an agency provides?

As he said these, I was reminded of these lines from Alice in Wonderland, and imagine MB’s mind telling him something similar:

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)

I chime in: So, you were trying to understand if given your creative nature, nurture would propel you to combine the best of both worlds?

Yes, you could say so. That made me switch lines of work and move from product marketing to working in an agency, doing Martech and Strategy Consulting. I wanted to explore how my creativity, coupled with my understanding of Martech and the tech space, would evolve into a more fulfilling career. I understood how agencies work, and it was a completely different world to the ones I had known before. Burnout and working late hours were taken as a given in this industry. It took me a little time to adjust.

Did you like it? Did you never think of getting back to this side?

It did cross my mind: but I also wanted to prove that I belong in the agency world. There were many who told me that I did not belong to that world, and those detractors gave me enough firepower to find my way through. The Agency life also gave me the fire to not only start my own startup but also navigate life through the multiple episodes of life so far. Also, once I decided to wind up my startup. 

I was reminded of this quote:

“Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

― Walt Disney Company

What made you move out of the agency world and start your firm (Owned Labs)? Also, what made you wind up your venture?

During my stint through the Agency, I was forever anguished by how great talent comes to

 agencies because they want flexibility and want to produce great work at their own pace, but the Agency way of things did not always let them do it. 

My venture was trying to find an answer to the question:  can we have a case of art meets business where the agency has no full-time employees but only multiple collaborators?

(Of course, in hindsight, what could have been a webinar became a venture).

 Owned Labs was a design studio for building MVPS, which organically became an online marketplace (digital interface) that connected founders with talent to quickly iterate, test hypotheses, and ship out all kinds of designed assets. Owned Labs also owned the project management to ensure that the founders got what they wanted. We also took ownership of ensuring that our collaborators were paid on time- regardless of founders changing their thoughts on a project’s goalpost.

We were doing fine till June 2020, when we finally started feeling the pandemic’s impact. Founders were looking for more reassurances and there was a growing need for a client service layer on top of a self-serve layer that we were offering. So even while we did not want to be an agency, the circumstances were forcing us to turn into one, Owned Labs was at an inflection point where we had the choice to continue what we were doing and add a service layer on top by raising capital or take a conscious decision to wind down. I have always been a fan of the Basecamp way of doing things and hence we decided to close down Owned Labs. 

MB is a very reflective person. He also takes inspiration from the Basecamp way of doing things- taking a first-principles-driven approach and putting users/people at the forefront and center of growth. When he mentioned the reasons for closing Owned Labs, I was thinking of how he had put the creators/collaborators at the forefront. When what started as an effort to free creative folks from the time and other demands of an agency would eventually have to be turned into an agency with a tech layer- the choice was easy. To not burn people out and turn into yet another agency :).

We met at Xoxoday. Let’s talk about your stint at Xoxoday. How did it happen, and what have been your biggest takeaways from there?

The stint was accidental. I accidentally got in touch with one of the founders. Their journey of bootstrapping their way to $5 million (when I met them) and creating value while doing so was inspirational for me. I worked on multiple things, but two of my favorites have been: 

  • Branding and grappling with what brand means for a SaaS company. Of course, this then translated into establishing uniformity and consistency across the product portfolios

  • How working with a great team is extremely essential for growth (one that stretches for years)- working on an employee engagement product and working along with wonderful people was an everyday reinforcement of this truth for me.

He reminded me of the saying if you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, build a team.

Since Xoxoday was your last full-time stint before your self-induced career break, and as a fellow marketer, I have to ask you this :).  What have been some of your memorable campaigns?

I will name three that I hold very close to my heart.

GNC the supplement brand had entered the Indian markets and was looking for an agency to drive a memorable campaign. Vishal ( a friend and colleague from my agency), Srinidhi and I were brainstorming and he visualized the campaign that we were building: essentially about how GNC fills the nutrient gap that exists in food today (when compared to olden days). It was a fact-driven campaign but visually brilliant and conveyed GNC’s core value and tagline- Living well. 

In 2014, on-prem was huge, but the cloud shift was gaining a lot of momentum. We had an on-premi product worth $20 million and wanted to ensure that the customers for this product didn’t leave us. I worked with the VP of Product to run a campaign for IT admins - called reboot to restore– elaborating on the need for this product as it helped them keep a system and process in place, which moving to the cloud would remove and lead to costly repairs. We ran it for 6 months with much education and customer onboarding collaterals. We had also partnered with Gartner as a part of this campaign. The campaign was successful, and the product more than quadrupled its worth.

The PR announcing the funding of Xoxoday was also a memorable experience. I had a lot of fun ideating and creating the story that you and I did.

It was a valuable campaign for both of us- as we could not get newspaper placements on the print editions since the day of the announcement coincided with Russia invading Ukraine. There was pretty much nothing we could do about it- a lesson on how sometimes all contingency plans can go for a toss!

Okay, let’s move to your life and break in the last year. I noticed your note on Well Payout- what is it about? And what is the documentary that you have acted in about?

Someone once told me that I am an Ideabox, which is my strength and weakness. 

Well Payout is an idea for a startup. I am not jumping to go and build it though. It is a solution for startups that work with consultants. The payout system is broken. Typically, in a startup, the scope of work of a consultant keeps growing and changing, and measurements just by milestones are a poor way to work out compensation. Well Payout is about democratizing payments for consultants while at the same time enabling transparency about their work in real-time for founders. 

The documentary is called Key Sara Sara and is about a specific day in the life of a techie during the tech layoff. I met a mutual friend here, and we discussed his interest in non-fictional directing aspirations. QueSara Sara is the outcome of those discussions as I dabbled in theatre during college. The experience was different as on stage, it is about enhanced emotions and improv based on the audience’s live reactions. Before a camera, you are more naked and do not have the audience’s reactions to gauge and improve on.

I was reminded of this talk when I heard MB’s answers. Christina Wallace calls herself a Human Venn Diagram- someone who is an intersection of a multitude of interests, and each interest with the experience it begets adds valuable perspective to any role she takes.  While I was listening to the talk, I could resonate and connect with it. When I was listening to MB, it dawned on me that he is a similar kind of “multidimensional misfit” and hence we enjoy our conversations- even if we agree to disagree.

Strong opinions held loosely, if you will.

You have been a PMM/PM - what kind of tools would have helped you with your daily day or is there a tool that would have made your day nicer/more productive?

A run or some physical activity has always been my go-to to cut/mark the end of the work day- this ritual makes me productive the next day. I also love working from a busy place like a cafe or a mall. Observing people go about their business while I think and do my work, keeps my mind from getting distracted and makes me more productive. Setting up deadlines and removing notifications and other digital distractions such as multiple tabs open, and not carrying my laptop around help my productivity.

Our favorite topic of discussion- what's the future of work for you in Utopia?

I want to work like an artist and have the optionality of time while making an impact through work. The present employment system is a system from the past. I love how it's evolving now with the creator economy evolving.  I think breaking the stereotype of how employment ought to be is important for exciting and impactful things to happen. I live in the district where Insulin was discovered. What amazed me is how an orthopedic surgeon’s ideas and his collaboration with the chemistry skills of others helped them discover insulin. I know for the research world, such multi-disciplinary collaborations are normal, but for someone from the outside, it makes me reflect on how breaking a stereotype leads to discoveries. 

Read more about the story of Insulin discovery here. 

I interject: science and other worlds, such as art or businesses are replete with such instances. We end up calling them serendipity (I add with a wry smile).

MB continues, Oh, I have always reflected on this-  how easily we associate serendipity with meetings and collaborations that lead to monumental results, somehow attributing chance or luck to be the initiator. However, it’s actually not luck-driven but more of a preparation meeting opportunity. For example, if I bump into Bill Gates in a lift, I would not come out with a deal unless I had thought about what I would be talking to him if I ever got a chance to speak to him for five minutes!

Find his substack here.

Given the fact that curiosity is MB’s strongest fuel,  I am reminded of these lines from Trickster’s Choice

“Curiosity killed the cat,” Fesgao remarked, his dark eyes unreadable.

Aly rolled her eyes. Why did everyone say that to her? “People always forget the rest of the saying,” she complained. “‘And satisfaction brought it back.”

― Tamora Pierce , Trickster's Choice

Okay, last question: You have lived in multiple cities- one line about each of them?

Delhi: High on heart, but lacks trust 

Manipal: Don't tell anyone about this heaven where souls are made

Dubai: No limit is higher, keep going higher higher

Sydney: Knows how to live life with moderate ambitions

Pune:  A city I want to spend my old age in, it definitely is a love of my life

Mumbai- A good addition that comes with a cost

Bangalore: Earthy experiences in terms of food, adventure, and life

Toronto: I am in the process of discovering it, and so far it has been accepting and acceptable.

Thank you for your time and answers! You know that I have always loved my conversations with you, and this one was as delightful as ever!


“Somehow I can't believe that there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four Cs. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” ― Walt Disney

These words of Walt Disney aptly summarize my takeaways from this conversation with MB. While it does seem like curiosity has led him down a merry path, he has definitely taken the path with confidence, courage, and consistency.  What also stands out for me is MB’s first-principle-driven thinking not just in his work but also ethics and actions. I am sure that a few years down the line, if one were to plot all the fences that MB has jumped over, we would discover that he was exploring a jungle and not a single playground :).


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