DR RITESH MALIK
…. After the cattle-truck incarceration of the commuting train, you arrive with some relief at your mini-fiefdom which, according to UK law, must occupy at least eleven cubic meters: the office desk and its environs. With the possible exception of our beds, many of us spend more of our lives here than anywhere else. But if work is a territory that is too familiar to be colonized by knowledge, as Primo Levi suggests, then the office desk is a true terra incognita. No un-intrepid explorer has yet planted his flag on its laminated top. Like much to do with modern office life, it is an American invention – and its design, contents, and location are a little primer in office politics.
Billy Wilder’s classic film The Apartment (1960) is, among other things, a narrative about the role of the desk in post-war office life. As the film begins, the camera pans across a huge office made up of serried rows of identical desks, all facing the same way and receding into apparent infinity. In America, this layout was known unflatteringly as the ‘bullpen’, to suggest either the stockyard or the sweaty, crowded area where baseball pitchers warm up. Somewhere in this endless sea of desks, the camera finds our hero, C. C. ‘Bud’ Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a lowly insurance clerk in a large corporation called Consolidated Life, working at desk number 861 on the nineteenth floor. Desk number 861 is, like all the others, a descendant of the Modern Efficiency Desk, first made in 1915 by Steelcase Inc. for the New York offices of Equitable Assurance. This desk, which was a simple, rectangular table with small drawers, replaced the cabinet-like desks, with their high backs made up of little drawers and cubby holes, which dominated office life before the First World War.
– Joe Moran, “Queuing for Beginners”, 2008, Profile Books Ltd.
As a noted author, columnist, and historian Joe Moran, who is a professor of Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University, traces and explores the history of offices in Europe and the US in the above-mentioned book, let’s take a look at what was the situation on India. Nachiketa Chakraborty, a famous contemporary Bengali lyricist, music composer, songwriter, music director, singer, and a self-proclaimed non conformist, has penned an amusing song on this (written in 1998, the original song is in Bengali, this is the Hindi transcreation by the lyricist himself and also sung by him, one can listen to this on any popular music streaming platform):
Daptar baara baje, do baje tiffin
Dhekha jo teen baje, signal green
Jutoh ko talasheh pao,
jivan hain dhup chao
Reh gayi kursi bechaari!
Yu’hi nazreh churateh,
maine kadam barateh
Char baje ghar ko sawari…
Mein mulazim hoon sarkari,
mein mulazim hoon sarkari
Office mein baitha baitha
film ki kahani padu
Tada seh chuth gaya Sanjay
Aur file’lo ki bhir dekho – kise choru kise padu
Dur se’hi lagti hain Himalaya!
Strike hain yiha dekho, har ghari, har pal
TA/DA leneh ki laadai
Kahih bhuleh se bhi kaam kar diya aek din
Boss mere deteh hain badhai
File lo’ko pass karu, kuch demand karu
Respectable bhikhari hum mein !
Mein mulazim hoon sarkari, mein mulazim hoon sarkari…
So, in essence, one can easily understand where was the problem? “Offices” in general used to be something to be panicked about! And from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century – the broad picture remained the same more or less in India at least. A place to be afraid of, to detest going, and given the choice not a single individual, say from a thousand or even a lac, would voluntarily go unless being compelled to! Indian offices, especially the Government offices remained a spot of great humiliation, joke, and public shame for the overall atmosphere totally under the air of an ominous, unprofessional, dirty, and stinking squalor of the interiors and which influenced most notoriously all the human being who inhabited them. Fast forward to 2016! One man dreamed to change this history of “Office shame” and dreamed to make offices one of the most loved places that every individual will long to go to!
This transition was not easy, let me tell you! From a place of dread, fear, and panicking phobia to make it into an amazing place that everyone would yearn andlong to go and spend the maximum time there! But Dr. Ritesh Malik dreamed and he dreamed it big! In 2016, when “Shared Economy” was gradually becoming the buzzword here, Ritesh started a co-working platform called Innov8. Ritesh Malik was born in a small city in Punjab called Khanna in 1989. His joint family consisted of 37 doctors; his father was a Paediatrician and his mother a Gynaecologist. Aspiring to be anything other than a doctor, as Ritesh himself confirms, would be like labeling yourself the ‘black sheep of the family. He attended the Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. During the final years of high school, he decided that he wanted to pursue Economics. However, when he conveyed this decision to his family they told him that it was an unnecessary risk to take and advised him (as expected and as he was destined to become, before he changes his very destiny!) to become a doctor instead.
Here, Ritesh contemplates (as he can take his own life till then) in retrospect – striving toward a safe and secure future is what leads to mediocrity and unhappiness in one’s life. He goes on to say that many Indian parents unknowingly make this disastrous error of judgment as far as their ward’s future career choices are concerned and they don’t even realize the devastating impact that this does on the impressionable mind of the teenage kid – hearing such words as a teenager led to selfdoubt, low self-esteem, and insecurity; the last years of high school can send anyone spiraling into an existential crisis. Therefore, it is not surprising that Ritesh decided to listen to the more experienced elderly in his family and took the All India Pre-Medical Test.
However, the fact that he secured his spot in the top 2,000 selected participants out of the 1000,000 that sat for the test was a feat that displayed his knowledge, dedication, and skill in whatever he sets his mind to and was an early indicator of his success to come. A few years later, after completing his MBBS from Dr. MGR Medical University, located in a village in TamilNadu in the Theni district, Ritesh found himself working and studying in the belt of Nilgiri forests in Veerappan. It was in these forests that he realized that India is not limited to just Delhi and Bombay. He says, “India is in those 7 lakh villages and rural areas where 67.5% of the country resides.” It is at this juncture that the bug of entrepreneurship bit him, and bit him deeply. He came to the humbling conclusion that as a doctor if he gave it everything he had, he could only reach around 100 people a day due to the physical limits of time and energy. However, by leveraging technology he could potentially reach out to millions of Indians. And so, he decided to take the path least trodden and pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions. His parents did not support this decision (though his dad helped him a lot during these tough times) and so he was forced to fight with the family and go solo. However, he wasn’t a confused high-schooler anymore, he was ready. Ritesh incorporated a company in the upand-coming sector of Augmented Reality in 2012, while he worked at the Sir Gangaram Hospital in Delhi as a house surgeon.
Ritesh is extremely passionate about building the startup ecosystem of India & believes that the only way to achieve our vision for a 5 trillion $ economy is to boost the software development & export from the national soil. For the same, he actively works with govt./non-govt institutions to build entrepreneurial endeavors by storytelling, encouragement of seed capital & building college entrepreneurial communities.
Ritesh’s leadership and contribution to the Indian startup ecosystem are widely recognized by the startup industry and media fraternity with recognitions like Forbes 30 under 30 Asia (2016), Fortune 40 under 40 India (2018), PWC & SPH 40 Influential Indians, Business World 40 Under 40 (2017), St. Gallen’s Leadership Award (Switzerland), Entrepreneur Magazine 35 Under 35 India (2017), Star of Delhi award by Hurun Report, CEO of the year by Economic Times, ‘The Coworking Wonder’ title by Entrepreneur Magazine to name a few. He has also been featured on the cover of the Elite Magazine for May 2019.
An extraordinary speaker that he is, Ritesh regularly comes on national & international media channels like AajTak, Al-Jazeera, CNBC, CNN, Zee News, NDTV, Moneycontrol, India TV, India News, Zee Business, ET Now, etc. on issues related to healthcare, technology, startups & economics. He has also spoken at Harvard extension school and the Harvard community and Babson College – to share his entire journey. A venture which started with Ritesh’s sheer love and thirst to promote entrepreneurship in the country is now one of the leading names in the co-working ecosystem of India. Innov8 was incubated & seed-funded by Y-Combinator, a San Francisco-based startup accelerator (Summer School 2016), with a vision to offer a platform to connect & build communities of freelancers, entrepreneurs, corporates, technology innovators, and investors under one roof and in a social environment.
Post the initial funding, the endeavor received the patronage and support of Vijay Shekhar Sharma (Paytm), Rajan Anandan (Google/Sequoia), Kunal Shah (Freecharge/Cred), Ambiga Subramanium (MuSigma) among others, and in just 3 years since initiation, Innov8 became one of the largest co-working companies of India. Innov8 was sold to Softbank-backed OYO in 2019. Today, with 22 campuses Innov8 is India’s secondlargest coworking space impacting thousands of entrepreneurs, freelancers & enterprises to achieve zenith productivity. Innov8 is now present in over 13 cities of India with an AUM of over a million sq feet. His first tryst with entrepreneurship was at the time when he formed a company called AdStuck. To quote the man himself, “ I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2012 with an augmented reality startup called Adstuck, which created a product called Alive App. This was eventually bought out by Bennet & Coleman. I remember when I was in school, there was a time I used to read the newspaper solely because of the alive app. It allowed me to scan a barcode in my Blackberry phone and see the news come to life in the virtual realm.” This was the beginning of his entrepreneurial career.
However, being from a medical background, Ritesh can’t help but diagnose people to help them. So, he coined the term APS— Asian Parents Syndrome— a disease that is rampant in India. The symptom of which is parents deciding the future of their children by projecting and forcing their dreams and ambitions onto them. He believes this to be detrimental not only to our children but to the economy as a whole, because “any work done without passion is not worth doing.” According to him, it is also a misallocation of resources and, therefore, decreases the efficiency and value one brings to the world. The second disease that Ritesh diagnosed was what he called the Garfield phenomenon. Its symptoms are a feeling of hatred towards Mondays and a generally negative outlook toward one’s work. Garfield resented Mondays in the same way that unhappy workers also dread Mondays. So if one starts feeling Sunday blues in the evening because of your work the next day, then you might also be suffering from the Garfield Phenomenon.
However, Ritesh assures us that this is not our fault and there is a reason for it: as we had already discussed this in detail in the beginning, there used to be a general paranoia about going to the office along with other practical putoffs like electricity fluctuations, AC hygiene, wifi problems, all of which add to the woe And as Ritesh had observed, 50% of awake hours are spent out of your home. For people that work in an office, most of this time is spent there. So Ritesh thought, “How do I solve this problem?” And the rest is history. He started Innov8, If one is still not sure about what does Innov8 do? Well, their website answers this question best— “Our culture is our brand and our design is our philosophy.” Innov8 Coworking offers beautifully crafted workspaces where people can create, connect, and grow their businesses at prime locations in multiple cities panIndia. Innov8 hosts people from diverse backgrounds such as digital nomads, entrepreneurs, freelancers, corporate employees, and startup enthusiasts. From personal experience, Ritesh knows how hard it is to start a business from scratch especially, without much support and a dearth of funding (at least in the initial stages).
I remember when I was in school, there was a time I used to read the newspaper solely because of the alive app. It allowed me to scan a barcode in my Blackberry phone and see the news come to life in the virtual realm.” This was the beginning of his entrepreneurial career.
To help others facing this exact problem and to give equal opportunities to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, he started Innov8. After all, access to grassroots entrepreneurs is an essential tool for a developing economy.- to help them in a stage where they need it the most, as he did. He decided to create a platform just for budding entrepreneurs. This platform is an ecosystem that enables people to launch and grow their ventures and is conducive to new ideas and creative solutions. Once the ecosystem is created, all that needs to be done is plug the entrepreneurs into the ecosystem and they will be ready to thrive.
With no background in business, Ritesh’s message is clear: you do not need an MBA to be a successful businessman. All you have to do is focus on industries you’re passionate about and solve problems that you find there. He says that the most important thing he looks for in people is their Ethics— simply put, how one behaves when no one is looking at them. He believes everything else can be taught, but ethics cannot be taught to an adult. Having your principles in order will reduce time spent on decision-making, increase efficiency, and make you trustworthy. It is essential to be successful in any field or industry.
His goal is to influence and transform millions of lives…..
After selling Innov8 to OYO Group, Ritesh has focussed on developing a philanthropic trust to support nonprofits close to his deep passion e.g. education, cybersecurity, startup policy regulations, village empowerment, etc. He’s the founding member & seed donor and Trustee at Plaksha University, which is a 50-acre campus under construction at Mohali. It is an upcoming charitable not-for-profit university for the future, being set up by a global community of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and academicians to reimagine technology education and research. The vision of the university is to nurture the next generation of fearless leaders who will solve the toughest challenges on our planet. As Ritesh explained,
the growth in technology is slower than the industry’s growth. So at Plaksha, he aspires to create engineers who can catch up and keep up with this disparity, for instance by focusing on AI/3D printing and guaranteeing access to students of Tier 1-3 cities, he aims to change as many lives as possible by covering them all.
He also presides on the board of AAH, which is India’s largest helpline for cybercrime & Muskaan Dreams, which empowers govt schools with technology. The Foundation was formed in 2017. It is an 80G-certified, non-profit organization in India that works for the education and empowerment of people by imparting the knowledge of cyber safety via its initiative Akancha Against Harassment. In 2020, Ritesh has co-founded a section 80G, not for profit company called ADIF (Architects of Digital India) Foundation to build policy regulations around technology companies operating in India for building a sustainable & truly holistic technology ecosystem in India & to ensure a level playing field for all players. As Ritesh explains, India’s startups are unique and have distinct needs, from fundraising to policy frameworks. The Aatmnirbhar Digital India Foundation – that is what the ADIF is now called – has been created specifically to best represent the aspirations and interests of India’s dynamic startup ecosystem.
To make India a world leader in the technology ecosystem by ensuring a level playing field for Indian organizations and to enable the flow of Indian and international investments to build products and services for Indian and global consumers. During 2020/21 Ritesh & his family-run hospital Radix have been on the frontline helping covid patients (IPD/OPD). Additionally, remote care through the free consultation & procurement of supply of vaccination, oxygen concentrators, essential medicines, etc. To end, what can be more apposite than the last stanza of Ritesh’s favorite poet Robert Frost:
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Well, these alone pretty much sum up this great man’s journey so far and for him, the sky is never the limit