11 April 2022 11:53:08 IST

How a marine engineer jumped ship to entrepreneurship

Rohit Uttamchandani, Founder, Tacheon

Rohit Uttamchandani has an uncommon resume for a digital marketer. No mention of an MBA or an entrepreneurship degree. Instead, he has spent a great deal of his 20s in the merchant navy out at sea. The Chennai-based digital marketer is now the founder of a digital consultancy firm Tacheon, set up in 2017, but the path he took to becoming an entrepreneur was no plain sailing.   

After finishing school from DAV Gopalapuram, Chennai, he joined the Naval Maritime Academy in Visakhapatnam in 2003, which was then run by the Indian Navy. The next four years of his life were the most transformative, says Rohit, as he went from a bookworm to a well-rounded person with immense mental and physical fitness.

Post-graduation, he joined a Hong Kong-based shipping company and travelled to over 40-plus countries, and set foot on every continent except Antarctica. He also rose through the ranks of the company in the span of six years and was well on his way to becoming a chief engineer.  

The next wave

But Rohit was never all at sea. He always knew deep down that entrepreneurship was his calling. Putting all the downtime during his non-sailing days to effective use, he started planning his next steps and reading and researching alternate options.   

A book he remembers to have steered him in the right direction is  Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter. After months of mulling over it, he realised that digital is the next big thing and businesses can sink or swim based on how well they can leverage it. In May 2013, he trimmed his sails and signed off on his last ship. 

To anyone looking to make a pivot, he says, “always focus on transferable skills that are job-agnostic.” In the merchant navy, while working with multinational crews, he honed his communication skills, learned to think on his feet, and creatively solve problems. These skills laid the foundation and prepared him for a career in digital marketing.  

Post-graduation from Naval Maritime Academy, Rohit Uttamchandani joined a Hong Kong-based shipping company and travelled to over 40-plus countries, and set foot on every continent except Antarctica. 

Drawing parallels, he says, “Every ship you go to is built differently with different machinery and you have to learn and acclimatise really quickly. Agility is key. Moreover, you will most likely never have the same boss for more than two-three months. So, you’re dealing with constant change around you all the time and working with so many different people. Which is pretty much what the world of digital is.”  

Soon after he made shore, he enrolled in a digital marketing course at Digital Vidya, a training company. He also pursued multiple internships simultaneously to learn by applying. “I was 27, had quit a well-paying job, was doing internships, and starting from scratch.”

Learning the ropes

In December 2013, through a mutual friend, he met Suneil and Vikas Chawla, the founder of Chennai-based digital marketing agency Social Beat, which was less than a year old. Despite Rohit’s minimal work experience in the field, Chawla saw promise and passion and recruited him, which helped him turn a corner in his journey. 

It was a rapid growth phase at Social Beat for Rohit. Joining an early-stage company and a small team allowed him to dabble in all aspects of digital marketing and learning happened at a dizzying pace.

“I got to do so many things. I could go beyond cut-out roles, unlike large organisations. I was heading digital advertising and content marketing at Social Beat. Huge exposure. In four years, the company went from less than a 10-member team to 100-plus people.”  

In January 2017, he lead the inaugural session of Digital Unlocked, a Google initiative to help SMBs leverage digital media for growth, and shared the stage with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, which he recalls as one of the milestones in his journey.

While working at Social Beat, he also began his journey as a trainer at Digital Vidya, the same institute he was a student at, as he felt compelled to give back and share knowledge in this fledgling industry. 

Rohit Uttamchandani, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai (from left to right) at the inaugural session of ‘Digital Unlocked,’ a Google initiative.

After having learned an incredible amount about how brands get built and communicated, Rohit knew that the time had come to build his own company as he had always envisioned. In 2017, he founded Tacheon, which primarily focuses on conducting consultative workshops, performing digital media audits, and providing strategy consulting, combining all his expertise.  

At the helm

As a founder who worked alongside other founders, here is what he has learned along the way that aspiring entrepreneurs should consider before starting their own business: “When you are already at a full-time job, be entrepreneurial, think of it as your own company and grow it. I built Social Beat like it was my own company for the first four formative years. So, there were no surprises for me when I was building Tacheon. Keep on nurturing your start-up vision.”  

Tacheon has worked with 20 brands including Canon, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Bayer, Lupin, Curatio Healthcare, Crompton, Lodha group, and Dr Vaidyas, so far. There are eight employees at the company. Along with his team, Rohit continues to consult with Social Beat on strategy for key clients as well as on using AI and automation to drive better ROI. 

Why didn’t he ever consider an MBA? “If I had to turn the clock back to 2013, I would have still joined Social Beat over a B-school. The industry is changing at a pace that has never been this fast and this slow at the same time. To anyone aspiring to get into this field, I suggest taking up small, bite-sized courses online to learn the ropes of it, doing internships, and learning on the job. That’s the best way to learn digital.”