[Off The Beaten Path] Arun Antony: A former IT Professional who found his calling in UX design and is now the Director of UX at a startup
“If you want to be successful, you need to jump into it, be breathless until fear and failure stop moving into your direction.” This honest admission best encapsulates Arun’s journey of becoming a UX designer, and probably why he went on to become the Director of UX Design at Hush.
Currently living in Bangalore, Arun was born and raised in Kizhakkambalam village, Ernakulam district, Kerala. Arun’s father was an engineer who always added creativity to his creation. As Arun recalls, “My father was the one who used to decorate our home, prepare the crib for Christmas. He used to contribute to various magazines and newspapers, and he even started a library in our village. All through my childhood, he kept challenging me to do something new.”
Having been inspired by his father, Arun also started experimenting with new things. At 13, he made a figure of Christ, which could wave through motor control. Arun also remembers playing the game ‘Frogstreet’, he says, “Those days, having a computer at home was rare. I used to play the game at my friend’s place for hours! There are times when you cannot go out of your house and be with friends, therefore I made the game at home with the help of a cardboard, magnet and paper. I drew the elements like roads, the obstructions, and the frog. The frog could jump with the help of the magnet.”
Over a period of time, Arun’s creativity enhanced as his drawings and paintings were published in the ‘Youth Express’ newspaper. He developed a deep interest in drawing, as he says, “Even though my drawings were not out of the box, they were original.”
At the age of 16, things started changing for Arun. As his father lost his job, there was now parental pressure on Arun to focus on studies and this forced creativity to take a back seat. During his 12th grade years, Arun chose science as becoming an engineer was implanted in him. And also because most of his family members were from the engineering background. As a child, Arun was fascinated by seeing the project reports and drawings of his relatives, one of them was a mechanical engineer and another was an architect.
Run on the mill
Arun, then, went on to study mechanical engineering as he loved to draw, but in just six months, he had to change into electronics and communication. This is because he got a higher score in his first semester, therefore, he had a chance to move into Electronics and Communication engineering, which is considered a better and a more popular branch.
While he was studying this new stream, he says, “God only knows what I studied in those four years. I did it for the sake of it, and by the end, I got a job in Accenture, Mumbai, as a software engineer.”
In Mumbai, Arun was not interested in the work as he says, “The work didn’t seem interesting to me as it has nothing to do with creating software. Rather, it was related to fulfilling the requirement.”
It was after this that he moved to Chennai. There, he had a great manager who mentored Arun. He recalls, “My manager encouraged us, the junior ASE (Associate Software Engineers) to explore something new in a project.”
This lead Arun and one of his colleagues to build an internal repository internet technical file, in simpler words, an older version of Google Drive. Arun worked on the interface of the web with the IP list of files that were arranged in a manner, which was easily accessible to the user. This project won Arun an ACE achiever award for that year with a cash prize of Rs 30,000.
People around Arun advised him to move into a product based industry rather than staying in the service industry.
After which, Arun started picking up projects that had an element of product design. It was also the time when Arun started interacting with a lot of people in Chennai and on the weekend, he used to discuss with these groups about startup ideas, planning a project, prototype of products, user stories and the like.
In 2009, Arun moved from Chennai Accenture to Bangalore Accenture. This was the time in Bangalore when startups were coming up, Arun says, “The startup ecosystem had just started in Bangalore, I had a chance to interact with a lot of startup founders. Some of them wanted help regarding their product. I was open to collaborating with them. Meanwhile, I was also working on startup ideas and trying to pitch them.”
In this phase, Arun used to get back from work at 9 p.m. and used to work on different ideas until 2 a.m. He says,” I had a lot of energy to explore new ideas and one of the ideas lead to a side small project called ‘My edition’, which was a community of writers. It was inspired by the HuffingtonPost, the idea was to create a community of writers and readers. But ‘My edition’ failed to create traction. It was more of an experiment for me.”
Taking a step back
After working for almost 5 years in Accenture, Arun moved to Deloitte as a Senior Consultant in Technology. But at Deloitte, he did not have the time to work on anything new. Slowly, Arun became frustrated with his routine work, and he didn’t feel a connection with it and he decided to quit his job. His wife, Shweta Sahu, was very supportive to him.
Right after quitting his job in November 2013, he started a new startup called Zorsay, co-founded with Vineet Agarwal. Zorsay was a free informative platform for buyers to make better buying decisions while shopping online.
It helped buyers connect with other buyers to get unbiased insights about a Product or a Service. It also helped them connect with Online Sellers to get expert advice for their shopping needs.
At Zorsay, Arun was not just the Founder, he also worked as UI & UX Front End Designer and Developer. He also developed a business plan and sales strategy for the same.
But Zorsay had to shut down in just 10 months as the product could not gain enough traction.
When his company was shutting down he says, “I had one thing in my mind that was very clear. I didn’t want to go back and work as an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).”
The stay home dad
Meanwhile, Arun’s daughter was born and she was about 6 months of age at the time Zorsay shut down. His wife’s maternity leave was done. Therefore, Arun became a stay-home-dad and took care of their daughter.
When his daughter used to take her nap in the day, it was the time when Arun used to study and work on some freelancing projects.
“It was this time when I became very close to my daughter”, says Arun.
Arun and his wife, Shweta, did not tell all the family members about Arun’s sudden ‘job change’. After they had their second child, a boy, Arun opened up to his family members. “My family members were concerned with how we were managing. Some of my friends even thought that I have lost it since they could not draw a parallel. During the struggling times, my wife was very supportive, and now Shweta is an entrepreneur. I am working at Hush.”
Learning is the way out
He says, “ It was the time when UX design as a term was not even coined. All the things I was learning was off Google. Off Google, I learned about product design, market research and user research and connected all the dots, I claim myself to be a self-taught UX designer.”
“Working in this field for some time, finding my path one fine day, people started called me a UX designer and were ready to pay me for my work.”
In this period, Arun also met his mentors Paul Thomas and Joshua Newton. He says, “They are key people in my life. Paul Thompson is a renowned designer and illustrator, and has helped me build confidence in my creativity. And Joseph Newton, who is a journalist has been guiding me on the path of spirituality.”
For Arun, mentors are very important. He explains, “Mentors like the doors to the nursery school. They not only just give you guidance, they also make you question things, define the purpose of life for you. Mentors also helped me in finding the right answers without feeling guilty. Before meeting my mentors, I had no confidence to build something. But then things changed when Joshwa and Paul mentored me.”
It was with the confidence of Paul that Arun opened a small studio. He also started taking up a few small projects on design. Arun hungered to learn and says, “I only wanted to learn and therefore, I could do projects for free. I wanted to build a good website or app. There was a hunger to learn and also there was pure joy in the creative aspect of UX design. I am still fascinated by great products and how they are built and what goes behind making one good product. I know it is not easy to build a great product.”
In his small studio, Arun got various small and medium sized projects and some projects were from the US and Canada as well. But then for Arun, running a business was tough.
“Meeting the financial deadlines was becoming tough for me. I was doing projects for very less money. Therefore, he decided to shut his studio down.”
Just jump into it
Hush was Arun’s last client before shutting down his studio. Afterward, Arun got a job in Zynga, a gaming company, as a Senior UX designer. But he only stayed there for around six months as he says he didn’t like the work as it was not very challenging for him. Soon, he started looking out for other jobs. While he was working at Zynga, he used to consult with Hush. When Hush’s founder Umesh Joshi and Ashutosh Dabral found out that Arun was looking for a job, they asked him to join in.
Arun says, “I was very engaged with the concept of Hush. It is somewhere similar to my two startups, Zorsay and ‘My edition’, as all of them are related to content. And the value of content is like real estate in the web. In the online world, content is oil. Therefore, I was always interested in content generation platforms and hence, I chose Hush.”
Reflecting back on his journey, Arun believes,
“Anyone who makes a change in their life should believe in themselves and not worry about mistakes and failures. Rather, they should take these two as adventures and give more room for failure and adventure. Whenever you fail or make a mistake, you should always recall what the purpose of it is and again jump into it completely.”