By Sanne Breimer
His Instagram profile tells us he is a ‘designer, writer or whatever the story needs me to be’. Yashas Mitta is all about breaking boxes, because “we all come from our biases”, and about craftsmanship, because “the world needs more beauty”. It all comes together in Mukha.co, the storytelling platform that evolved into a magazine, to a business and now to a “storytelling creative collective. It grew organically, like we as co-founders grew as people”, Yashas tells me when we sit down in the loft of Tribe Theory Singapore. He and his co-founder came up with the idea in a time when both of them were jobless and the only attendants in an “absolute failure of a new years party. My friend organized the party at his house, close to the airport in Bangalore, which is very far from the city centre. I was the only person to turn up, with my guitar. So we thought lets at least get a drink together and we started talking about what to do next in life. So we thought we ask people who are doing interesting things in life how to do that and write about it. Mukha.co started off as a drunk conversation”.
Love for craftsmanship
They started travelling and met a Spanish hitchhiker who spent a year and a half without money, wrote down his story in a blog and people liked it. “Actually, it still is our best-read article. I just put the entire transcription online, I guess it resonated with people because it reads like a text message. It broke the barrier of a magazine.” A turning point was when Grazia India listed them as one of the ‘3 Indie Websites You Need To Know About’. The article writes ‘In a world where engagement is fleeting thriving solely on your likes, three websites are steering change one word at the time’. Coming from an advertisement background, Yasha’s love for craftsmanship came as a default, knowing the importance of packaging a story. He is not working fulltime for Mukha yet. “We could do that, investors are definitely interested, but we don’t want to be forced to do the number game. We really want to do what we want and build a brand that is respected for the craft. We have a business model, only not in the traditional content website way.”
“Starting the business and then scale, scale, scale and then sell it. And then what?”
To scale or not to scale
Most startups focus on scaling fast. “Starting the business and then scale, scale, scale and then sell it. And then what? I think we’re creating a culture of spam like this. I’m not saying you shouldn’t scale your business, by all means do. But that’s not the standard anymore. I’m not pro-exit culture, it’s not the path we want to take. If there’s no intent, only to be the first one, I feel it’s a futile exercise. Moving forward is not equal to progress. Everybody moves forward, but not everybody grows.” Yashas thinks it’s time to “reset the standards”. He makes a comparison between the New York Times and Buzzfeed. “I’m not saying one is better than the other, but the way The New York times creates content is just beautifully done, in a very skilful way. The Modern Love- series, for example, is a phenomenal read. If Buzzfeed had done that, it would be different, with less progressive impact. Let’s be honest: what do you remember from Buzzfeed?”.
So how do they make money with Mukha? “We offer a service while showcasing our product. The product is our online presence, so it’s Mukha.co, Ranger Ranger our project in collaboration with journalist Sonali Prasad, and other such upcoming ones. Our business model lies in our services of offering production capabilities based on storytelling and consulting on how not to fall into the trap of traffic. We produce branded content for big companies and so we work with designers from all over the world who at the same time help us with Mukha as well.” Asked if it makes life easier when not depending on the success of his startup, Yashas answers: “We are dependent on the success, we’re just not dependent on what that success typically means. For us, it doesn’t mean 5 million dollars. We don’t want investors dictating what to do. It comes from an artistic mentality I guess, I’m more obsessed with what we created instead of how much”. There is a plan to go full time for Mukha, maybe in two or three years, Yashas calls it “slow growth”, as they’re not aiming for reach.
“We are dependent on the success, we’re just not dependent on what that success typically means”
Stuff that people remember
He names multiple examples of brands and companies that inspire him in following this path of craftsmanship, like Pitchfork, The New Yorker and Sagmeister, a New York graphic designer who was one of the first in his profession to win a Grammy. “Sagmeister released the book ‘Beauty’, about how from the beginning of the 20th century, we started to give more importance to function over form. And he explains how form is also function. That sums up one of my guiding philosophies. They consist of only a small team of six/seven people, really focusing on collaboration. For them, creating impact is more important than to scale. With them, you never know what’s going to happen next. They make stuff that people remember.” When Yashas did his talk on a Tuesday night at Tribe Theory Singapore, a woman from the audience asked him about his biggest sacrifice in the startup journey so far. “Maybe the parties I’ve missed”, he answered. Four days later he explains to me that “most parties are kind of boring anyway. I also feel like both an extrovert and introvert. If I go to one big party, I feel like I need a break of two months to go to the next one”, he explains laughing.