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Global Expert: Kunal Sood, Founder & TED Resident

Welcome to the latest installment of Jus Agency Global Expert Interview Series. I’m honored to introduce Kunal Sood, an internationally renowned social impact strategist, investor, and entrepreneur, as our latest guest. With an incredible career and journey, Kunal earned five master’s degrees, is TED Resident and TEDx United Nations Organizer and the founder of We The Planet, NOVUS & X Impact Group. 

In this interview, we dive into Kunal’s biggest takeaways from his TED days, the importance of relationships, culture, strategy, the best advice he ever received and so much more. From his work in the slums of Mumbai to building global movements at the United Nations General Assembly in New York with Marc Benioff (co-founder, chairman and CEO of SalesForce) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kunal has dedicated his life to shifting the narrative around social impact and entrepreneurship, uniting world leaders and social entrepreneurs to positively disrupt the human experience.

As a recipient of numerous awards, including the World Innovation Award and a Tribeca Disruptor Foundation Honoree, Kunal is a true thought leader with a fascinating story, and an avid public speaker having presented at the United Nations, TED, SXSW, Aspen Institute, Forbes, and the White House. Join us as we explore Kunal’s insights and experiences in driving major impact in businesses.

Here at Jus Agency, we will continue to explore the intersection of growth marketing and brand building in our Global Expert Interview Series. To hear more from established global founders, industry leaders and investors sign up for updates.

Julia Ager, Jus Agency CEO

Hello Kunal! Thank you so much for joining us. Tell us a little bit about your background and what you’re excited to be working on now.

I was born in Madras in Chennai, India where I grew up with my parents. I was loved, and well taken care of. Early on I realised that with power comes a lot of responsibility and throughout my life journey, that has been my anchor as a curator strategist and impact entrepreneur.

I love impacting the world to make it a better place. Being the founder of We The Planet, Novus, and a director of many companies. I’m currently most excited about two projects I started, which are “Audacity” as well as “First Woman”. 

Can you tell me a little bit more about the projects?

First Woman was an idea I conceived in 2018 when I was on a flight while curating the 50th anniversary of a man landing on the moon. I was working on the United Nations SDG Summit. I thought about how many women have been to the moon, in The White House, or acting as U.S. Secretary General.  These three examples alone became the trifecta that inspired me to begin the project, to create impact. My team and I created an exciting short trailer that was about putting the first woman on the moon and quickly First Woman became a movement.  

The second one is my life’s journey and work. It’s my PhD dissertation called Audacity, a model for audacious leadership. I am decoding the inward journey because I believe that’s the most audacious journey and endeavour you can take. This is one of self-inequity, not just self-mastery. It’s answering the question “Who am I?” with a deep space of sacred vulnerability and then using that inner transformative process to have more meaningful outward impact in the real world. 

What’s your best advice for someone starting on their entrepreneurial journey?

Build your financial foundation first, get your legal right by making sure you have everything copyrighted and trademarked, and make sure that you have all of your systems in place.  

Investors care about the substance, your business model, and how they’re going to recover the costs of the investment.  A sustainable business model is the system that leads to the goal so that you have a perpetual cycle of income. That’s where you should focus your efforts, capital and resources. It’s building the appropriate systems and doing it one at a time, daily habits to create them and invest in them so that they become the one that serves the mission, vision and outcome of your business. 

In terms of client acquisition, what techniques do you think most startups overlook?

Find a deeply rooted narrative, sell your story well and then find a good partner.  Partner with a brand strategist who’s genius and understands your story, vision and mission and can perfectly market your brand so your audience buys into that story.

Get your narrative as well as your product or service keenly iterated to fit the needs of the market. For instance, Apple didn’t dictate the market in the beginning, it took years of iteration. The prototype rapidly iterates so that the product for the market is aligned and you won’t have a problem. You don’t have to spend a ton of money educating the customer because the customer wants what you’re offering.

Thinking back to your TEDx and conference days, what were some of your biggest takeaways that you’ve taken into your businesses and the startups that you’re working on now?

I focus on three things:

  1. Relationship: I was very lucky to be associated with some of the best of the best, but I never looked at people as a network, rather I see them as relationships that matter to me. It’s ok to build networks but relationships matter more than just what’s in it for me. I go into a meeting with the mindset of what’s in it for us, how we are going to capture, create and co-create better value and hold that at the centre, then, you’ll see magic perpetuate.  I was opportune to be a TED resident, when I was in the TED headquarters, I saw how they all came together for something larger than themselves. No one knows what TED is or who runs TED and I think that servant leadership and humility are at the core of being an extraordinary curator, strategist and entrepreneur. Peter Diamandis (international pioneer in the fields of innovation, incentive competitions and commercial space) is another man that’s served me and inspired my work life. My co-founder Laura Muranaka helped me frame and create what I created today.  The women in my life and my mother too are my heroes. These are unsung heroes that are always there. It’s about relationships. My work is people focused.  
  2. Goals, Culture and Strategy: Culture and strategy have to be in unison. With goals you can iterate once you start. For instance, “We The Planet”  came to me after a set of experiences that invited me to reconsider and rethink what it meant to be in a world where we are still divided, women and men, youth and elder,  young and old, black and white and what can we do to go beyond we the people. We the people have failed to a degree, that’s when the vision and the idea of “We The Planet” came to me. Hence, a small design thinking method will help find a bigger and more powerful way to manifest the vision. Make sure that you focus on the goal and then optimise – make it bigger and better.
  3. Inner Voice: Listen to what your inner voice tells you because there will be something there that gives you greater purpose. You’re needed when you see that you drive action towards making your purpose come true in the real world. Listen to your heart, don’t just stay in your head, allow your head to melt into your heart so that you start to get attuned to what’s most important to your journey, work and your life calling.

If you had $1,000, $10,000 and $150,000 to invest in your business with the goal of growth what would you invest in?

If your idea is phenomenal, copyright it immediately. I’ve had ideas stolen from me. The first thing to do is trademark your idea, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, that $1000 will save you $150,000 in the future.

For $10 000, if you’re in the service business, invest in marketing, hospitality and building relationships. You should spend a decent amount of money on your digital reputation because we don’t just have a physical reputation anymore we’re diving into the fourth quadrant which is digital so look at your online presence and leverage new exponential exciting tech and trends like web3.

If you have $150 000 keep at least 30% in the bank just in case there is a disruption.  Have the ability to save and spend only what you need and then keep a healthy amount in the bank for those emergency moments to expand and express your genius or your creativity. 

How do you dictate between a good opportunity vs bad?

You have to trust your gut and do your due diligence. Your gut knows it’s a super brain and it’s a super-powered source. It’s been time-tested.  An informed decision is when your gut and the data show a positive outcome.

When you have done the due diligence, tap back into the gut. There is something powerful about that instinctual trust especially if you have a strong sense of what you do or you’ve been doing this for a long time as I have,  you just know what’s right. Once your gut says yes, go for it, pull the trigger and make it happen.

What are some of the best pieces of advice that’s been given to you by mentors or business leaders? 

Embody values that you want to see in the world; if you don’t do that, you’re not going to attract the frequency of people that you want to create relationships with.  Working on your presence and your energy is very important. That’s when you attract the right business partner, associate, team, and the right audience. The book “The regrets of the dying” by Bonnie Ware talks about the greatest regret that we as people have in life is not to live a life that’s true to ourselves but to live one that’s expected of us. I’ve learned how to live a life that’s true to myself and in service of others.  

Build interaction and avoid being judgmental: If you meet someone important, foster a positive interaction and don’t judge based on others opinions or the media. You never know Donald Trump could be very good for you despite all that’s out there in the media about him. The greatest thing you can do is stay true to the interaction or relationship at that moment but if the person is not good to you, walk away.  If they’re good to you and you feel a good interaction and a good energy build on that good interaction and energy, create more of that resonance and then take away value from it so that you can capture and create more value together.

Finally, build relationships around the dinner table; it has been one of the most powerful ways to come together and break not just bread but the ice. The ability to sit across the table or side by side and enjoy a conversation.

Can you share a transformative book recommendation and TED Talk?

My recommendation is that you should not focus so much on the business, focus on yourself. There are two books that will help anyone in the world master the process of being able to be extraordinary entrepreneurs or business people; The Path of Self-knowledge” by Ramana Maharshi – the art of self-inequity and mastering what is it that matters to you. A smaller version of the book is Who Am I”  by Bhagavad-Gita. The book is a mythology of Arjuna who understands his Dharma which is his life’s calling and purpose and follows it in Divine Guidance with Krishna, the consciousness of the universe. Also,  “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries which helps people understand lean process manufacturing. “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis is one of the books that inspired me a lot in my journey- it’s a great model to get you thinking in the right direction

My favourite TED talk is “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor. She is one of the most extraordinary neuroscientists that had a stroke and tells the story of how she overcame and became whole again. The second one is “How Great Leaders Inspire” by Simon Sinex. He translated the Golden Circle of  “What”, “Why” and “How” and how why matters more than the what, how, when and where. The third one is  “Learning From a Barefoot Movement” by Bunker Roy. He has this quote that is personal to me because when I was in the slums of Mumbai. I worked with Barefoot researchers and the greatest gift they taught me was that it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from. You can come from Harvard or be the most powerful person in the world but what matters most is that your honour is cherished and certified by your community and the team you serve.

TED is an extraordinary resource that teaches you about courage, leadership and more but the ones that matter the most are the unsung heroes that you don’t hear about.

You can contact Kunal via LinkedIn.

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