Being a curious mix of a consulting and design firm, an advertising agency, a technology solutions provider and a product design outfit, Abhijit Avasthi’s Sideways has gotten more than 70 clients and dozens of case studies across domains in five years.
“The last five years have been one non-stop gush of excitement, hugely instructional in a myriad ways, and deeply satisfying. In August 2015, we set out with just a notion of what Sideways could be, hoping to put together the pieces as we moved along. I would then describe Sideways as an experiment, an adventure, because nothing like us existed then — actually even now, I would say so. But now I have stopped using the word experiment. I know we have managed to build a unique company that has a deep impact on businesses,” said Abhijit Avasthi, Co-Founder of Sideways.
The first three months of the Covid lockdown were a pure survival game for Sideways and then the uptick started, and it continues its upward journey with each passing month.
The fact that it does not rely only on advertising for all of its revenues helped the company. So when there was a blanket stop on advertising spends, other projects continued — long-term strategy projects, tech solutions projects, product design projects, digital work, etc.
Avasthi said the stellar team that has come together, its roster of clients, the range of problems and opportunities Sideways has solved for, and the nature of solutions it had created are sources of immense pride.
“We don't chase numbers but seek like-minded companies that want to solve problems innovatively, those who are courageous enough to look at life differently. Sideways is not a good fit for those who want to follow conventions and norms. Besides clients, this principle is equally applicable for talent that we look for. I am hoping that Sideways is sought after by talent for being the most interesting, creatively and intellectually satisfying place of work,” said Avasthi.
Sideways considers its growth in solving more complex problems innovatively, learning continuously and looking after people's well-being.
The company’s joint venture with Reliance Brands, under which it is designing and manufacturing innovative toys and games, is about to release the first editions. These were first showcased at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany in January 2020, and are being manufactured currently.
The company is very keen to partner with governments and policy-makers in doing something for the betterment of the country. “It would be a shame if an outfit like ours can't contribute in that arena,” Avasthi said.
According to Avasthi, to see something original and disruptive bear fruit takes perseverance, patience, fortitude and time. For this journey to be successful, one has to be extremely fortunate to find like-minded partners. “I have been lucky as hell to find many brilliant optimistic ones. I have received good guidance at various stages too.”
He said these values have helped the company grow from a five-member team on day one to a 40-member strong one today. It has enabled the communication company to build it on its own terms and do the things it sets out to do, weathering storms on the way.
In order to help other battered businesses, the company set up a smart recovery lab (SRL) in May 2020 that provides innovative solutions to companies. With that, the company has partnered with clients in categories such as travel, F&B, services, etc., and helped them recover.
“The unlocking gave impetus to almost all businesses, and that has helped in recoveries for service businesses like ours too. The IPL came in as a harbinger of hope and recovery for all. A couple of our clients used that opportunity to good effect,” Avasthi said.
The pandemic has also opened up several opportunities in areas of new-age businesses, tech solutions, new service experiences, newer forms of content. Sideways calls itself equipped to partner with companies across all these domains.
Avasthi said brands have needs and imperatives across many spheres now, from regaining confidence and maintaining trust for established brands to spreading awareness and generating trials for new products and brands. Building a new service experiences, offline and online, is another area with many opportunities.
“Pertinent to e-commerce, whilst performance marketing is getting brands, new customers, many are struggling with high customer churn and we are approached often to solve that. Solving this involves identifying the real cause of churn and then building platform-level interventions as well as insightful communications,” Avasthi said.
Avasthi said the focus area for the agency is to find client partners who have tricky problems to solve and are willing to be imaginative in their approach. And finding talent across domains, that sits well with the ethos of Sideways.
“Our competition comes from different quarters, but in another way, there is no competition either. Our methodologies of investigating issues, our practice of doing all immersions and diagnostics in-house and the frameworks that we have developed give us an edge over conventional agencies and consulting firms,” Avasthi said.
A lot of company's work is project-based. Like every year, this year too was a mixed bag of new and old relationships for the company. Some of the new partnerships it has forged are with P&G, ACC, Ashirvad Pipes, Bajaj Consumer Care, Ustraa, Havmor, Great Learning, Ganga Fashions, Sporjo, Industree and Enripe. And work continues for existing relationships such as Pidilite, Urban Company, Flipkart, Citibank, Suhana Masala, Kamasutra, Hamleys, Lubrizol, among others.
Avasthi said there is a healthy mix of new traditional and new-age tech-driven companies emerging. Regional brands are going national. Across industries, paradigm shifts are taking place in ways they have produced and distributed their wares. All these changes call for a range of offerings to partner businesses. “There will be space and need for all kinds of agencies. Hence there is no one model for the future I believe.”
He said that Sideways never tries to follow any global or emerging models.
“I am focussed on building Sideways as an impactful creative problem-solving company where people with different skills come together to collaborate and create magic while having fun.
“This approach has helped us do the diverse range of work over the past few years — from building payment apps to reimagining retail stores to developing innovative products for clients as well as our own IPs to solving complex business problems. And, of course, producing effective advertising and comms,” said Avasthi.