Siddharth always surprised me. First with his drinking capacity, then his kindness and generosity, then with his story. Did you know that he founded his digital agency Webchutney in 1999? How many of us even knew the words 'digital agency' in 1999? Last year, his agency surprised the whole world by becoming 'best creative agency' at Cannes Lions. And just like that, he surprised me with the news of his sudden passing away last week.
I remember the first time I met Sidharth was at Anant Rangaswami's place, with their signature Old Monk and Coke in hand, and true to form we ended up at Toto's.
Anant brokered a strange kind of friendship between us. One where he said, don't be nice to each other. So every time I met Sidharth, it was a meeting for fearless mutual feedback. I gave him my cynical, old school nonsense while he always talked about the future and how I should take my agency there. The beauty of this friendship was that none of us took this criticism personally. Every time he f**ked my happiness, I just liked him more (to my suprise, of course)!
Till today, I don't know if Sidharth was a copy guy, art guy, servicing guy or tech guy. He was just a born entrepreneur and a big fan of creativity. He never met a creative idea that he didn't absolutely fall in love with! He was an introvert, so many people saw him as a serious guy. But, the man of many surprises had the wittiest sense of humour up his sleeve if you just got to know him better. Anant and Sidharth made a deal with me (which does seem kind of strange in hindsight) that everytime I met them, I had to tell them one joke. Well, I hope I did a good job and they're both laughing up there today.
Another surprise he gave me was when he finished his book, 'How I Almost Blew It' - where I discovered that he was a serial angel investor in so many companies from Ola to some blanket-making company. And he chronicled his experiences with dozens of other entrepreneurs. How he found the time to finish a book while running a fast-growing agency was a surprise to me. As was the person I saw on stage during the launch of the book. The way he handled all those million-dollar entrepreneurs, it was a different Sidharth that day.
But his admiration and kindness shone the most when it came to his own people. The first time we met, he held my hand tight and told me, he heard about me and he knows a lot of people from his agency are joining my agency, but I should promise him one thing that I will never poach his one person - Gautam Reghhunath. And it's that dedication to his people that ensured that those people stayed committed to his cause long after he left the agency.
In 2019, we went to Cannes together and he won six Lions that year. He surprised the entire industry with that. But he was only talking about one thing all night - he was upset that he didn't win Gold and didn't get to go to the stage. Even after winning six Cannes Lions, he was so hard on himself and I remember opening a bottle of champagne to cheer him up. When Webchutney won at Cannes the first time, lots of people thought it's a fluke. But then he did it every year for three-four years. Finally, last year, his agency won the best agency of the year and he was not there. With the win, yet again, he surprised me. Agency of the Year in Cannes is an unbelievable dream. Nobody in India or Asia has ever taken their agency even close to this. It's always a game of big network agencies, connections, money, politics, point system and your net worth. Only Sidharth Rao knows what he put into that agency to make this come true.
Sidharth never stopped demanding more of himself. And he wasn't afraid to walk away when he felt someone was unfair to his ambition and hard work. He would have re-entered the game in a much bigger way with his newest venture Punt, but I think Anant was just missing his friend too much up there. I don't think this is a goodbye, it's just a reunion of two best friends with an Old Monk and Coke in heaven's version of Toto's. I'm sure they're sitting together right now cooking up new ways to surprise us all.
(The author is founder and chief creative officer at Famous Innovations.)