Koval BhatiaPublished: 15 Sep 2019, 11:45 PM
Guest Article

The utopia and reality of shifting work to Goa...

I first visited Goa, around eight years ago, while shooting films for a luxury bike brand. As someone who was born and raised in Delhi, the Goan sunset took my breath away and left a vivid impression. The cheap beer probably didn’t hurt, either. I ended up returning year after year for work purposes with the same company, and as time progressed, my crew on these shoots kept getting bigger. After a point, I would fly out the rest of the team from Delhi and we would have our annual off-site in Goa.

We would often sit around and daydream about having an office here, working as a team here, and that idea stuck.

For the past nine years, I have been running A Little Anarky Films full-time. I founded when I was 23 years old, with no capital and no formal work experience. The company grew from just me to nearly 30 people. We have done amazing work for some of the biggest brands in the world, created some iconic videos and have had a really fun time doing it. It has, however, as much as I hate to admit it, taken a toll on me. I always wanted to be a director, but I also ended up doing a lot of administrative, accounting and management related work alongside the direction, and for the last few years I felt that my personal growth as a creative artist was painfully slow. I often felt that staying in the thick of things, though great for business development and networking, exhausted me and left me with very little space to write and develop my artistic side.

Koval Bhatia, founder of A Little Anarky
Koval Bhatia, founder of A Little Anarky

I started planning the move a few years ago. I struggled, like all small businesses, to set up processes and structures. I hired an HR consultancy, good legal and accounting counsel and other such things that my twenty-something self found horrifying to deal with. The hardest part in creative services businesses is that we tend to overlook these practicalities in favour of a laid-back, cool work environment.

I learnt quickly that long hours, romanticising the struggle of working 18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week is not the most conducive for great work or anyone’s mental health. I cut back our work days and timings, got people to commit to working more effectively and restructured my team over time.

It took me about two or three years to do this; to weed out people who weren’t a good fit, or weren’t motivated or committed enough. I turned some of my highest paid team members into consultants on retainer instead of letting them go, because somewhere I realised they wanted to earn more, grow more but also wanted to retain the working equation we had -- including the trust we'd built over the years.

Simultaneously, I worked the past year or so, to build a team that is more self-sufficient, more driven and takes ownership of their projects: this has allowed me more freedom and time to focus on shifting our business goals and imagining bigger ones for us all.

Bhatia in Goa
Bhatia in Goa

People ask me so many questions nearly every time they find out that I moved to Goa: those questions are often the same. Why did you move? How are you managing business? Don’t you worry about what’s going on back at the office? The answer is, not really. Business has been great. Being away from the constant stress and hustle of Delhi/Mumbai, having to focus more on what others are doing and constantly thinking about what is going on took so much of my mental space. Now I have more time to develop my business strategy.

Four months ago, after several months of shuttling between Goa and Delhi, I permanently moved to Goa. My team still operates out of the headquarters in Delhi. We work together using tools, tech and a lot of video calls. I fly down whenever needed. On most day, I work from 11 am to 6 pm and wind down just in time to catch the sunset filtering into my living room. Presently, I am working on expanding Bedlam, my event IP and community creation company to Goa.

My team members fly in when they need to work with me for extended periods. I am able to service Mumbai and Bangalore clients easily from here. After I set up a small studio in Goa, it will operate as a base for both my companies, and the other projects that I am developing. We stopped taking projects that felt like they’d keep the ball rolling (cash flows are every business-owner’s weakness) but would end up tiring us out and have terrible margins. We've expanded our work and portfolio to sectors that we have a natural inclination towards and team-wide expertise in. I have changed the pace and nature of work a little, so we can try to take on projects that allow us freedom and time, and deliver the best possible quality we can.

I was recently in Delhi to interview and add a couple of more people to our team. I have to admit, I miss my office, it is a space I lovingly built.

I think, while there is a right time for moves like these, there is always an element of risk involved. I was surrounded by many fears before I moved. The fear of missing out, of being forgotten by clients and peers, of not being able to concentrate in a place like Goa, of not being able to develop this business at a steady pace. But most of all, I was afraid that I was losing my ambition because I was choosing to move from a big city to a place like Goa.

So far, all of these fears have been unfounded. The move helped me unlearn the way I’ve been dealing with business, work, creativity and maintaining a sustainable pace. I now enjoy my work more, I find myself looking at the larger picture and not succumbing to stress or fatigue like I did for nearly a decade. And did I mention the cheap beer and sunsets?

A Goan sunset
A Goan sunset
Koval Bhatia

The guest author, Koval Bhatia, is the founder-director of A Little Anarky Films. It has been four since she moved to Goa.