Stoa Digest #54: Beer 🍺, Conversations 🗣 and Rock Music🤘
The Stoa Outsider Story
I don’t really care for business.
This post marks the graduation of my cohort from an intensive six-month business program. For twenty-six weeks, we ran through a universe of ideas – marketing, sales, product management, operations, finance – a comprehensive toolkit to understand the commercial world.
And yet, I don’t really care for business.
“What do you think of adding feature X to product Y?” my peers venture.
Another replies promptly: “I believe the target customer persona of Y is A, and adding X wouldn’t really help with their burgeoning customer acquisition costs.”
“Well, but that’s precisely why they should attempt vertical integration!” a third quips. “By a quick guesstimate, it could add another $ 5 billion to their total addressable market!”
And me? Well, I don’t really care for business.
It should have all been obvious to me.
I am a bleeding heart of jholawala pedigree, with none of the hard-nosed pragmatism, numbers thinking or slavish dedication to results that make a businessperson.
While my school friends intently worked on their engineering entrance tests in pursuit of a good, respectable life, I ran around aimlessly, doing whatever I could to escape the vile grip of trigonometry.
When my law school peers took to the pink papers, assiduously building their understanding of sectoral trends, corporate governance practices and foreign investment laws, I slacked off at the tea shanty outside, vomiting away 1,000-word essays on the legacy of The Beatles at anyone polite enough to listen.
And then, as my colleagues scaled the heights of elite law firms through superhuman feats of dedication, I played hooky, conjuring up increasingly contrived fantasies of overthrowing my bosses in a violent firm-wide coup.
I’m not sure why I thought Stoa would be different. Perhaps I imagined that it would finally awaken something deep in me. That my baniya ancestors would descend from the heavens and bestow me the golden weighing scales of entrepreneurship, helping me realize that I was The Business Man all along.
Nothing of the like happened, of course. I continue to drift aimlessly through life.
And yet, I’ve loved every moment.
This is the Stoa outsider story.
I started Stoa deeply unsure of myself.
In the days before the course, I would obsessively stalk my cohort on Discord. Half my batch ran their own start-ups. The other half worked in India’s hottest new-age companies. Many came from colleges with entrance tests more intense than the Hunger Games. There were musicians, artists and even a triathlete.
And amidst this remarkable bunch was me. A lawyer that hated the law and didn’t know what else to do. How would I ever survive?
On January 15, the course started. We were thrown into a series of breakout rooms. I made fidgety, awkward small talk, my nervousness robbing me of any eloquence I hoped to display. The others seemed less afflicted by my condition. These were serious people, with serious ambitions. They talked of their time in the start-up industry, of their love for designing products, and the places that Stoa would take them.
And then remarkably, gloriously, one participant declared that he was drunk. At 11:00 AM. On beer, he brewed the previous day.
There was something about that statement - its mixture of irreverence, absurdity and accomplishment - which cracked the course open. I realised, then, that I wasn’t amidst alien, incomprehensible people. My cohort-mates were odd, eccentric and phenomenally interesting.
It is a realisation I would have many times over in the coming months.
If there’s one thing you know about Stoa, it’s the strength of its community. If the classes were why one joins Stoa, the community is why one stays.
I would initially approach others tentatively, with a prepared networking speech. I would tell them about my background, my (lack of a) career trajectory, my goals and ambitions, and then hope that they would, pretty please, grant me a one-on-one.
They did, of course. But our conversations were icy. I would awkwardly interview them about their chosen line of work, and they, equally awkwardly, would ask a few courtesy questions about mine. Chop, chop. Half an hour done. We’d never speak again.
Eventually, though, it dawned on me that I was doing it all wrong.
The point wasn’t to just network or make contacts. Looking at the Stoa community instrumentally, for what it could give me, was to neglect what made it special. This was the first time since college that I had a selection of hundreds of people to vibe with.
And vibe I did.
The last few months have gifted me some absolutely brilliant conversations - from the best restaurants in town to the relative merits of political systems, from heated arguments about whether Kohli’s career has come to an end to truly spectacular discussions about what it would take to transport all human beings to Mars.
I’m not quite sure of how one does a discounted cash flow valuation, or how just-in-time production systems work. But the people I’ve met and the discussions we’ve shared have made this journey memorable.
There’s a little-known Leonard Cohen song I have always loved, with this gem of a line: “we’re ugly but we have the music”.
I don’t think Stoa is ugly, but man, does it have the music.
Ever since I got out of law school, more than six years ago, I’ve craved a community of people that listen to and appreciate good music. I’m not talking of the songs that everyone knows – over-produced dance numbers and sappy radio hits. I’m talking of the good stuff. The kind of music that takes effort to find. The kind that your YouTube algorithm decides, in its benevolence, to confer on you at 3:00 AM after a night of carefully curating the perfect playlist. The kind you find buried deep in the comments of a decade-old Reddit post. The kind that pops up after a two-hour Wikipedia rabbit hole into obscure 90s shoegazing bands.
It seemed to me that the adult world had turned its back on music, en masse. People “listened to music”, in theory, but would invariably limit themselves to the last three tracks Badshah had released.
And then, came Stoa. More specifically, the Music channel on its Discord server.
The Music channel, in its heyday, was the greatest corner of the Stoa Discord server. Every post was phenomenal. The greats were given their due. The new were given their place. Old, beloved songs would sit amidst unique, new sounds. Every day, one would be introduced to a band they never knew existed.
The channel may never reach its former glory, but it has left my playlist richer and my palate a little wider. As, I’m sure, is yours.
I don’t really care for business. And yet, for these six months, Stoa meant the god damned world to me.
Goodbye, C5. It’s been a wild ride.
- Pranav Agarwal, Alum C5
📣 Announcements 📣
This Thursday we’re bringing back quiz night this time hosted by Dashami Poonacha!
She’s a Speech-Language Pathologist by day and Quiz Host by the night. She’s been a part of the Ace of Pub’s quiz universe for over 2 years; Organising and hosting pub quizzes across Namma Bengaluru.
🥳 🎂Birthday Parttaaayy! 🥳 🎂
UPCOMING BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK
1st July: Kiran Rao
2nd July: Ayush Thakrar
🐝 Community Buzz 🐝
🥲 Meme Wars 🥲
This week’s shiny new winner of Best Meme goes to …………
Anshul Farkya encapsulates how everyone from C5 felt during their final assignment for the week before grad 😄
Chalo see you next week! We have a lot more to talk about C5 Grad Night with a few surprises from their end, until then 👋👋