Aditi Shrivastava: A Dynamic Leader Redefining Conventional Norms of Business with Innovation

Aditi Shrivastava: A Dynamic Leader Redefining Conventional Norms | The Enterprise World

Media is a challenging sector, and to thrive amidst such challenges, leaders need to harbor a powerful mindset that embraces innovation, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the rapidly evolving landscape. In media, where technological advancements and changing consumer behaviors reshape the industry, leaders must cultivate a mindset beyond traditional paradigms. 

Characterized by a blend of the attributes needed to thrive as a contemporary leader, Aditi Shrivastava (Co-Founder, MD, and CEO of Pocket Aces Pictures Pvt. Ltd) has emerged as a powerful persona of leadership in the media. With her astute expertise in the industry, Aditi is taking the company towards sustained success. 

The Beginning of an Illustrious Journey

Born in Bombay, Aditi Shrivastava moved to the Middle East with her parents when she was four, and was raised in Kuwait. She completed her undergraduate studies in electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA. After graduating during a thriving period on Wall Street, Aditi embarked on her career at Goldman Sachs in New York within their asset management group. She actively managed portfolios and traded for institutional clients, overseeing assets totaling $3 billion with her team.

While excelling in her financial career, Aditi developed a keen interest in philanthropy and became actively involved in the American India Foundation, connecting affluent Indians in the US with non-profit initiatives in India. During this time, she catered to vetting non-profits and presenting them to potential donors, contributing to funding these initiatives. 

Simultaneously, Aditi’s husband, Ashwin Suresh (Founder, Pocket Aces & Loco), delved into the world of film festivals in New York. Amid the 2008 economic slowdown, Aditi Shrivastava and Ashwin retained their jobs, but the reduced workload prompted them to contemplate their future. Uninterested in pursuing MBAs like many others at the time, they explored alternative paths. Aditi’s passion for development work intensified while Ashwin became more involved in film festivals, and participated in the South Asian Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. In 2011, after careful consideration, they relocated to India to pursue their distinct passions.

While Ashwin entered the media industry by joining Reliance Entertainment, Aditi continued her development work by joining Intellicap Avishkar, where she worked for four years, focusing on funding companies that operated for a social cause, such as low-cost education, healthcare, clean energy, and microfinance. She also established an Angel network, mirroring her previous efforts in New York, where high-net-worth individuals in India invested in these socially impactful businesses. During this period, Ashwin contributed to the establishment of Junglee Pictures, a production studio under Times of India. After realizing the business potential in the studio business, Ashwin, along with his college mate Anirudh Pandita, set up Pocket Aces.

What initially started as a studio, Pocket Aces pivoted to catering content after seeing the rise in digital viewership. Starting with short-form content, the company gradually expanded to long-form content and eventually ventured into OTT platforms, becoming one of the first to put content on these platforms. Aditi joined the organization circa 2016, and led the key vertical of revenue, which involved education of the digital content as a medium for advertisers to promote their brand/product. 

Broadening an Impactful Cause via Media

Earlier engaged in development work, Aditi Shrivastava found fulfillment yet noticed the challenge of scaling such initiatives. Despite successfully running low-cost healthcare clinics, the depth of impact seemed constrained compared to the desire for a broader reach. This realization dawned that the work was profound but not expensive, and as a result, striving for a wider impact became crucial for Aditi. 

Teaming up with Ashwin & Anirudh, Aditi Shrivastava embraced leveraging media to magnify their influence on the country. Acknowledging the substantial power of media in shaping mindsets, particularly among the youth, they aimed to create content that would resonate positively.

This realization sparked a motivation to reach millions and convey progressive messages, addressing women’s empowerment, fair skin bias, career guidance, education, and mental health. Essentially, Aditi perceived an opportunity to extend the impact she sought through development work on a much broader scale using media. Recognizing the potential to influence a wider audience through content creation for young people, she embraced the idea wholeheartedly.

With its significant development, the mission of Pocket Aces evolved into being a culture creator that positively influences people–summarizing the essence of their journey and emphasizing the subtle messaging and mindset that initially captivated Aditi’s interest in the business.

Highlighting how the evolution of the company’s mission statement marks a full circle, affirming its commitment to positively impacting society through media, Aditi Shrivastava says, “Early last year, we put out our new mission statement: to be a culture creator that influences people positively. The subtle message I had in my mind was why I got involved in this business. We have come full circle and made it a very mission statement for our company.”

Scaling Success Beyond the Growth Curve

The journey of Pocket Aces has been that of several ups and notable downs. Although the company has risen to one of India’s leading digital entertainment companies, it faced numerous challenges, especially during its inception while attempting to carve a mark in the industry. Reflecting on the company’s growth, In contrast to many who had advertising or directorial assistant experience, Aditi and her team faced disadvantages as outsiders, struggling to secure meetings initially.

However, the advantages of being outsiders—approaching things differently and fostering natural innovation due to their lack of preconceived notions–turned out beneficial for Aditi Shrivastava. Acknowledging the challenge of being dismissed early on, she recalls agencies questioning why they should meet with individuals outside the industry. Despite the initial skepticism, the success of their content prompted agencies to reach out, recognizing their potential.

Aditi recollects the learning curve in adapting to the creative sector’s unique dynamics, stressing the importance of being open to understanding the creative process and fostering a collaborative environment. Despite differences, Aditi and her team introduced some best practices that were appreciated by the creative side.

Essentially, Aditi ensured the implementation and inculcating of a unique career approach that allowed creative individuals to join as freshers, progress, engage in comprehensive appraisals, and contribute to the company’s distinctive position. Additionally, Pocket Aces transformed from a traditional cash-oriented process to a streamlined, digitized, and cashless approach.

In this pursuit, three key factors contributed significantly to the company’s success–namely, a strong organizational culture, prioritizing transparent business practices and high levels of services, and harboring a data-driven mindset, focusing on understanding what works efficiently and using data for content creation decisions, including short-form testing for long-form content. “We brought a unique culture to this industry, which is very meritocratic, gender and age agnostic. We introduced new and innovative ways of working,” adds Aditi Shrivastava. 

Multi-Faceted Leadership Approach

Being at the company’s forefront and spearheading at the helm, Aditi Shrivastava oversees multiple responsibilities while being dedicated to pivoting Pocket Aces consistently to the top. In her role, she oversees the formulation of the company’s strategy. Given the dynamic nature of the industry, marked by continual innovation and the influx of new players, Aditi emphasizes that adaptability and foresight are two necessary elements to succeed.

For instance, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pocket Aces successfully overcame the hurdles and experienced tremendous growth under her leadership. Aditi’s primary focus is ensuring the company remains agile and responsive to the market environment. This dynamic aspect, while exciting, presents its own set of challenges. This involves identifying suitable heads for each department, formulating annual plans, and strategizing for profitability and lean periods.

Pocket Aces’s clientele comprises Agencies, Advertisers and OTT platforms, with additional collaborations with prominent platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Hence, Aditi also dedicates much of her time to fostering long-term partnerships with these key clients. She believes building and nurturing these relationships contribute significantly to the company’s sustained success and growth. As a leader, Aditi also recognizes the importance of dedicating time to her team, focusing on their development and well-being. She further acknowledges the essential aspect of fundraising, a pursuit that every leader and founder in the startup ecosystem must engage in. 

Mapping Profitability and Scaling Success

While addressing the challenge of balancing innovation and risk-taking with profitability, Aditi Shrivastava emphasizes the company’s adaptability. Reflecting on the early years, she acknowledges the company’s fortunate start with substantial investments from arcade funds such as 3one4 Capital, Peak XV (Earlier Sequoia Capital), and DSP Group. During this phase, the focus was primarily on experimentation and innovation, aiming to discover products with potential market fit and scaling them once identified.

Unlike other leaders, Aditi emphasizes that monetization begins once product-market fit is achieved. For instance, FilterCopy has emerged as a highly profitable product, and the profits generated from it were channeled into research & development of new channels, exemplified by the investment in Nutshell.

She highly credits her financial background for navigating such challenges and acknowledging the need for financial acumen. Drawing a contrast with entrepreneurs specializing in specific industries, she highlights that the advantage of having a financial background, especially in structuring solutions for diverse business lines, is beneficial and offers an upper hand. With careful financial planning, Pocket Aces has steadily grown its revenue, leading to a prestigious and successful acquisition in the industry.

According to Aditi, the company emphasized the strategic decision to spin off Loco, the gaming app, recognizing the inherent differences between the lifecycles of the gaming industry and Pocket Aces. By doing so, it raised about $60 million from gaming investors worldwide. Overall, Aditi manages a balance between a revenue-starting business with a high burn rate and a profitable one, each kept distinctly separate for strategic reasons.

Nurturing Talent with a Growth Mindset

In influencer talent management, Aditi Shrivastava found it straightforward, given the popularity of their content and the emergence of actors like Dhruv and Mithila from shows like “Little Things” and “Adulting.” Recognizing the need for management, they initially signed actors from their content, such as Akashdeep Arora and Sukhan Goyal. Over time, the company’s talent management division, Clout’s roster expanded significantly, encompassing fashion, beauty, dance, music, fitness, food, comedy, and entertainment influencers.

Aditi highlights the importance of growing, nurturing, and proving their ability to secure better influencer opportunities. Pocket Aces leverages its status as a content producer to cast talent in its own content and utilize channels like FilterCopy, Dice Media, Nutshell, and others to build and enhance influencers’ social media presence.

Aditi Shrivastava emphasizes the company’s culture, which values high performance while providing a supportive environment for their in-house talent. Young professionals appreciate the ability to express their opinions and contribute to decision-making processes freely. Combining a positive culture, meaningful work, and beloved brands makes Pocket Aces an appealing workplace for today’s young talent.

Leading The Strategic Acquisition by Saregama

Post the spin-off of Loco, Aditi, who at that time got elevated to Chief Executive Officer, focused on guiding Pocket Aces to profitability. In that journey, she also had multiple conversations with strategics who wanted to partner and take Pocket Aces to the next level. While the company was able to sustain itself and didn’t require external investments, Aditi knew the value a strategic would bring in and doubled down the efforts of finding the right fit.

Those efforts culminated in 2023 when Pocket Aces announced that it was acquired by Saregama, India’s oldest music label company. Through this acquisition, Pocket Aces would help Saregama expand its digital footprint to the youth of the country, an audience on which the Pocket Aces team had significant knowledge.

Acing the Race with Consistency and Strategy

Presently, it is challenging for debut/new platforms to establish themselves despite the availability of many options. Although Dice Media and Filter Copy consistently deliver highly relatable content, many still find themselves returning to these platforms due to the comfort and familiarity their content provides. Aditi Shrivastava recalls Pocket Aces’s journey in short-form content, highlighting its success by consistently launching new channels.

Despite fierce competition with major players entering OTT platforms, the company successfully distinguished itself by targeting a young urban audience.

As per Aditi, Pocket Aces’s strategy is to play to its strengths and expand into diverse genres while adhering to timely content delivery; however, she anticipates shifts in the industry, with film producers returning to theaters and TV producers focusing on TV plus content. Nevertheless, Pocket Aces’ approach involves continuously producing quality work, collaborating with talented creators, and consistently executing, while others may adopt opportunistic perspectives. Notably, Aditi believes industry fluctuations are temporary, and it is important to execute their strategy consistently. 

Breaking Gender Norms with Influential Entrepreneurship

Being a woman leader in the media industry posed several challenges, especially gender stereotypes, for Aditi. She reflects on her comparatively fewer challenges as a woman founder, attributing it to her strong professional background, including roles at Goldman and assisting startups in raising capital. Having male co-founders added a practical dynamic, allowing her to focus on efficiency rather than gender dynamics in meetings. Aditi Shrivastava acknowledges discrimination but emphasizes the importance of not letting it affect her and addressing it when necessary.

In terms of fundraising, Aditi shares a positive experience, highlighting the cultural fit with investors and the significance of having a good filter in decision-making. Regarding women’s inclusion in her organization, Aditi acknowledges the need for more women in senior management and emphasizes meritocracy, valuing diversity while prioritizing the right person for the job. She sees the importance of diverse perspectives and advocates for a balanced approach to team composition.

Aditi’s journey as one of the top media leaders and an influential entrepreneur inspires many aspirants looking forward to joining the industry and establishing themselves as recognized players. As a seasoned leader in the media, she emphasizes the significance of hypothesis building and testing. She encourages founders to articulate their problem, define their hypothesis, determine the metrics for product-market fit, and outline a scaling plan. Aditi Shrivastava suggests considering market size and recommends bootstrapping instead of relying heavily on external funding.

In conclusion, Aditi Shrivastava highlights the challenges of entrepreneurship, cautioning against starting a business without a genuine passion for solving a specific problem. As one of the popular media leaders and a woman entrepreneur, Aditi actively advocates for smart people to join existing startups, promoting the growth of a few scaled-up, impactful ventures over numerous small businesses.

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