The Sliding Door Moments:

Andy Hedge is a close friend, an Executive Coach, and a leadership and OD consultant based out of London. We have run many programs together; but even when we don’t, we do call each other once-in-a-lazy-while to catch up on life. A casual ‘sliding door’ remark triggered this post.

Andy was speaking about a high-profile mentee of his based out of Shanghai in China. (Recall, China was impacted by Coronavirus the first, and hence was ahead of the entire world in imposing lockdown actions.) Just while the lady was signing off from one of her coaching-sessions with Andy, she remarked, “Wish we could have a lockdown again – I wasted the gift-of-time of nearly two months in the last lockdown. It was just social-media and Netflix.” She went on to lament, “Andy, you know I have always wanted to pursue calligraphy as my hobby but despite having so much of ‘me’ time, I could not.” Andy’s response to her was, “maybe it never was your passion but was just a perception in your mind.” 

And this set my story for Guts, Glory & Story, ticking. Two other ladies, all stymied by the lockdown; but each pursued their hobby converting it into their life passion. We have a hobbyist vocalist who now sings to her new-found, adoring and international audiences; a hobbyist baker, who needed to buy multi-stacks of ovens because her orders are flowing in and she just can’t stop baking around the clock! Two stories – both of pursuance and perseverance.

Corona has been a ‘sliding door’ moment for many; for some their long harbored passion has dissipated because they were unreal, for others they flowered into fruition, and for yet others, they pivoted into something that was more ‘real’.

Covid Playbook Rule #1: Geography is Dead

How a small yoga business from Bandra to Borivali now caters to Los Angeles, France and Pakistan.

“I think it should be ‘Soulful Delight’ and not ‘Sinful Delight’…” This profound sliding-door realization dawned upon Poonam moments before I had reached out to switch off my recorder – signaling yet another inspiring story on Guts, Glory & Story and Covid-Tales.

Poonam Grover’s story is yet another story of unbound resilience and a quest for finding true north for herself – all in the midst of the lockdown, when even time seemed to have gone still.

Poonam when at a multinational company and later running her own business of designing clothes for women – was missing one critical ingredient – the expression of her inner voice via her creativity and experimentation. “Clothes must fit a fixed frame and you have to design around this fixed frame. “Don’t misread this, though,” she said, “creativity and imagination are quite realizable here too but can never be allowed to run amok over this truth.” And then Corona lockdown happened –  a lot of friends were yearning to go out to eat. “Many knew I was a good baker – but even I did not know that I was this good” she exclaims! And so, driven by this self-expression, and a small window of opportunity during the lockdown, ‘Sinful Delights’ was born. ‘Sinful Delight’, rechristened now as ‘Soulful Delight’, is a gourmet patisserie that handcrafts cakes, desserts, cookies, energy-bars, almond rocks and even no-guilt chocolates but with a lot of differences! “The best part, Alok, is the unbound creativity that comes into play and people give me that liberty to use it. Sometimes it takes me 4-5 hours just to create a cake but it is the response that I love the most! People call me sometimes even at midnight to thank me!”

So, what is the secret of her success that she has achieved in such a short time? She says, “compassion, love and honesty.” For her it is as if baking for her family, her child, her parents or her friends. “If it is Almond Rock chocolates, then there are a lot of Almonds in it, with very fine quality of chocolates – no compromises anywhere!” And she takes inputs like the level of sweetness, type of chocolates or even sugar free chocolates – so mass personalization is what she follows. A friend actually gifted Almond rocks to the owners of a very reputed 5-Star, hotel chain and they have become her fans too! Poonam is now expressing her art through the pairing of multi-flavoured chocolates with fruits and dry fruits. She plans to offer this only as a subscription so that her customers taste the full variety of flavours!

The kitchen is now equipped with a lineup of ovens which are kept fired through the day. The orders keep flowing in, as if a strong affirmation of her uniqueness – she helps people craft the message of love and affection for their dear ones through the expression of her cakes and deserts. “If you want to show your parents how much it meant to celebrate their 60th anniversary or your daughter what turning 7 means, the cake will speak on your behalf!” But it a bit beyond that – I bake it as if I were the daughter or the mother baking the cake. My story is all about love and affection.” Simple, yet powerful!

So far she is not selling online. This is her next big step. Poonam also likes to bring smiles on the faces of the have nots, especially the kids. Her cakes have found their way to such children but she wants to connect with an NGO to do this formally. Since every cake or dessert has a story of its own, she has been documenting it with pictures and a short write-up. “At some point in time, I plan to publish a book with these special recipes and special stories – these are all fairy tales and remember fairy tales have happy endings,” she says! In fact, she wants to publish one every season.

And as we were winding up the conversation realization dawned upon Poonam, that it is not Sinful Delight but Soulful Delight! I could not agree more! What a powerful story of a restless soul who has finally found her space within Soulful Delight and in delighting souls! God bless you, Poonam Grover and Soulful Delight!

Covid Playbook Rule #2: Explore a new business model

How a COVID affected events business is trying to invent a new business model.

It was an innocuous invite from Rose Joshi to log in to her Friday evening singing show. I was a few minutes early, as usual, and a slave to this habit. Rose began belting her first song – Scorpions! And rave reviews started flowing in – people from the US, UK, Jordan, Dubai, India, Singapore, Australia; her listeners seemed to be from every corner of the world. Songs kept flowing in till the top of the hour – Skyfall, Salvatore, Killing Me Softly, Black Velvet… the list was riveting! That is the time I decided I had to find out how and when did this transformation occur! And her story is truly inspiring!

It had all begun a few years ago. A chance audition and performance at a society get together, saw audiences drooling over her voice. Rose then began taking vocal lessons but not with any intention of singing formally. And then Covid happened … that changed her life.

A time when most Netflixed their time away, Rose decided to pursue her hobby further – a sliding door moment that this truly was her calling and universe had somehow conspired giving her the time to pursue it. Three things fell in her favour. One, she switched with her tutor online and for more number of hours; two, her neighbor who himself is a professional musician-singer with some dazzling equipment was available 24×7, something impossible during pre-Covid times, and three, one evening she was invited to sing to a global audience, just for fun. In her own words, “I stood in the part of the room which was dark so that no one could see me and I sang my comfort songs that I knew would go well!” The rest they say was history. She had multiple thousands of views on her video that was later posted within an hour. “It was much more than what even the good ones would normally get.” Friday nights became the chosen slot for her from that day onwards.

I asked her as to how she selected her songs – “those that make me happy as well as my audience happy. I come in every week and it is a hard work. Although I love romantic songs, I know it is the audience that I am singing for and thus the variety disperses and the effort becomes multifold.” And how does she get global audiences? “Well you need to go live in the right time slot.” So, Fridays and Saturdays between 5 and 7 PM India time are the best times because it gets her viewers from Australia before they get to bed. “Which means that you truly sing well,” I chimed in, “because neither would you be able to compete for that coveted spot nor would you have live audiences listening to you…they would be on someone else’s show!” She humbly disagrees and wants to be subtle about her rapid achievement, “If you get the feeling of being the best in your head, you are dead!”

Between her family and her passion, she does get stretched because it is all about new songs every week and perfection is an ephemeral criterion. But she strives for this criterion each time and every time. It is no more about just singing, she understands more acoustics, setting up of equalizer levels and the audio apps! She is brushing her guitar skills too. I asked her, how do you think you will monetize this? Her view is at the moment the payback is just smiling faces but soon, maybe more!

Just as I was switching off my recorder, her last comments were, “I know 2021 to be great and that something good will come out for me.” Seeing her rapid rise in the circuit I know that this will be true. But I am also ready with my pen and the autograph book well in advance – she may not remember me soon! Just joking, but all the best Rose, in pursuance of your dreams! Yet another story of guts and glory – from being acutely camera-shy to becoming a singing sensation and an influencer with global audiences. Rose has truly found her Ikigai!

Hemal is a seasoned event industry professional. After a long stint in various Event marketing agencies including Percept, Hemal embarked on her own and launched Mercury Integrated – a boutique Events, Communications and Marketing services company. In 2012, She launched Weddings by Mercury – a specialized division of Mercury focusing on weddings. Everything was going very well and two international events were lined up for March this year. Little did anyone know that Covid was creeping in.

The nationwide lockdown sponsored by Covid gave a heart attack to a number of industries and the Events industry was one of the first to bear the brunt. Needless to say the two international events were cancelled and business and cash flows came to a complete standstill. Months went by but no solution seemed to be forthcoming. Everyone was cooped up in their homes. With the social scene slated to be absent for a long time, no events were going to be possible. Yet, Hemal observed that the need to celebrate hadn’t disappeared. She saw that people were still improvising. Housie was being played on Zoom. Birthday cakes were being cut and even Antakshari had made friends with Zoom. That’s when it struck her that if one can’t leave the safety of the home to go to the party, why not bring the party to the safety of the home. That’s when she thought of Maison by Mercury a home party solution. Maison – meaning Home in French was a solution to bring themed parties to the home. The solutions include pre-plated contact-free food, readymade easily installable decor themes and musicians and artists who can perform online. She is confident that even post Covid the home celebration trend will stay and home parties will be big. Some online components will move offline and become more intimate. Its early days, but a new business model could emerge from the limitations of the current crisis. She has already got her first event and is now learning digital marketing to scale up from there.

– Alok Sinha

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