When Shobhit Banga was 15, he left conventional schooling and moved to Bengaluru to become a world-class cyclist. “I lived in the servant quarter in the house of a government official and started training to become what I thought was my calling.” Success came his way. At the age of 16, he became the youngest person to qualify for one of the most prestigious cycling events in the world. He then went on to become the youngest member of India’s first professional cycling team sponsored by ‘Specialized’. Everything was going well for Shobhit. He was training for his cycling dream, studying well, and had a part time job in Bangalore until he had to move to Delhi in 2013 due to family problems.
After moving back to Delhi, he joined the GD Goenka World Institute for pursuing a bachelor’s degree. “I was used to working 10–15 hours a day and moving forward in life building something I was proud of. Here I was in a college with peers who were not motivated, had no clue about what they wanted to do with their lives.” Soon enough, Shobhit realised that this was a problem that plagued most of the student community. Inspired by Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford, a talk that Shobhit had listened to many times over and resonated, he believed that the student community had forgotten to love what they do. “I knew that these people had not found what they loved, something they felt strongly about, or a problem they wanted to solve,” says Shobhit.
Supriya Paul, a student at Sri Venkateshwara College, met Shobhit at a party. She noticed him standing alone in one corner of the room. “I went to speak to him and we just got talking. He had this idea about how to bring about a change in the way the student community thinks, broaden their horizons, and shake things up,” says Supriya. She had the same view about the students.
I decided to take up CA since most of my classmates opted for it, but it bothered me. I felt that there was so much more out there and we students were just stuck in a rut and a rat race. There was no outlet. Everyone felt it, it was just that I was now ready to do something about it.
After meeting each other at that fateful party and talking about it for several months, the duo founded ‘Josh Talks’, a platform that showcases India’s most inspiring stories, in 2014. They wanted was to create a platform where students and young professionals, and people from different walks of life could come and interact. A platform that would give a voice to some of the bravest and most unconventional stories of our times in the hope that it would spark something in the audience.
On April 6, 2014, the first edition of ‘JOSH Talks’ kicked off at the Air Force Auditorium in Dhaula Kuan, Delhi. Today, Supriya, 22, and Shobhit, 21, have hosted five ‘JOSH Talks’ and have told over 50 stories. Some of the stories that were most loved by their audiences were those of Anshu Gupta, Founder of Goonj; Vicky Roy, a ragpicker to a celebrity photographer; Soniya, an acid attack survivor; Akkai Padmashali, a transgender activist; Boman Irani, a waiter to an actor; Ankur Warikoo, CEO Groupon India; and Arunima Sinha, the first female amputee in the world to climb Mount Everest.
Our goal is to find and bring together the most inspiring stories of India and to lay emphasis on their struggle, pain, and hardship. Also to cover the journey of an individual to success in order to foster learning, inspiration and wonder – and provoke conversations that matter,
says the duo.
“Shobhit and I had to turn stalkers initially!” giggles Supriya, when she tells us about how they got some of their speakers on board. People would often give up being hounded by the duo and finally lend them an ear, and that’s all the duo wanted. She adds that it sometimes helped that people saw them as these driven 19-year-olds who weren’t ready to give up. Speaking of challenges, she says, “The biggest challenge was communicating our belief to the audiences. We wanted to be known as a platform that showcases stories of people who’ve followed their passion and surpassed all challenges and obstacles to achieve success.”
She quotes the example of a well-known comedian Papa CJ, who spoke at their first event. She says that they didn’t want to leverage him to get audiences to believe that this is where celebrities come and share their stories. “We wanted them to come for a day and make them realise their own potential and nudge them in the direction of building their own story and going out there and achieving something,” she says. She adds “All event promotions stressed on the concept, our vision and communication and so, it was a challenge to get audiences to come just on the basis of that and no speaker name dropping.”Things have changed in less than two years. Shobhit says that now ‘JOSH Talks’ has recall value of showing the most powerful stories – stories of passion, grit, and determination. He says that they are seldom asked about the speakers.
Supriya’s parents were appalled by the idea when she first told them about it back in 2014. Her father, a businessman by profession, couldn’t digest the language his daughter was speaking, especially giving up the dream of being a CA. He decided to let her indulge in what he thought was a whim and make a pit stop at the first event. “My father was in the front row and he stayed back for the entire event. I think he was shocked to see what Shobhit and I had achieved and he was extremely proud. My parents have now understood my choices and taken a keen liking to the idea of JOSH Talks.”
Shobhit sold his bicycle to put in the seed money. Being a professional cyclist, the bike was expensive but he didn’t flinch selling it. “I don’t consider it a sacrifice, it just felt like the best thing to do back then and I’m glad I did it.”
Supriya says that sponsorship is a tough nut, especially when convincing someone to put their money into two 20-year-olds. It can be an outlandish idea for some people. “There were times where I’d wait outside offices for hours and people wouldn’t show up. But things have changed with time.” She says, “It’s all about getting the first brand on board. And now with past events to show, and a lot of speakers backing us, sponsors do understand the potential in investing in us. We also try and make sure that we give them value equivalent to the amount through visibility, traffic, and sales, and so are asking prices are small and reasonable.”
We ask the duo if they’re going to get typecasted as another TED. Supriya responds, “TED stands for technology, entertainment, and design and speaks about ideas that can change the world. It caters to an older audience of people who have already achieved something in life, and are now excited by the thought of listening to and talking about new ideas.” She adds that as a platform, they focus on only sharing personal life experiences and stories that are relatable to every person present.
Their target group includes confused college students to young professionals, between the age group of 16 and 30, looking for reaffirmation and that one final push in their passion’s direction.
We curate our content in a way to be understood by younger audiences and also impact them on an emotional level urging them to do something. With the introduction of our new properties this year, the difference between TED and us would be clearly visible,
The duo are now focusing on community building in Tier 2 and 3 cities like Panipat, Mandi, Dharamshala, Chandigarh, etc., to foster the spirit of following your passion. They’re also planning on city meetups where smaller groups will be able to engage with each other and experts.
In the pipeline is ‘JOSH Youth’ – a license model for college students to independently organise an event in their own campus to not only listen to these talks but also work on organising them. JOSH Youth aims to help students get an exposure in the areas of marketing, public relations, sponsorship, team building, and more. They’re also looking to build an app that will bind the audience and the speakers seamlessly.
On a parting note, Shobhit says, “We believe that people with a passion can change the world. This belief in people made up startup and this is why we do what we do. We want to showcase to the world stories of people who have followed their passion, and inspire more people to take the leap of faith and follow their passion because these people can change the world.”