Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Engaging Employees the "Never Grow Up" Way

My story is about Asif Upadhye, a first-generation entrepreneur, and the employee engagement firm that he founded when he was just 30 years old. As a concept, employee engagement is still pretty new in India. Other than the routine Human Resources formalities and a few basic training programs that most organizations have, there are no specific steps taken to motivate and engage employees.
I have known Asif since the time we went to college together (more than 15+ years and counting). Asif along with his wife, Dr. Shazia Upadhye, founded a company called Never Grow Up – an employee engagement firm – in January 2010. You may wonder at the strange name of the firm. Well, according to Asif, “When we are children, we are less inhibited but as and when we do actually grow up and become adults, we surround ourselves with layers of perception and prejudices that we carry with us at all times including our workplace. We pine for our childhood and miss those days. So I thought why not call our company that.”
You may wish to know Asif and Shazia’s background and credentials. Asif is an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune, and has also completed an Entrepreneurial course from S. P. Jain Institute of Management, Mumbai. Post-MBA, he worked with three financial institutions – HDFC Limited, HSBC and Barclays Bank which gave him good exposure to the banking industry in general and product specific knowledge in particular. He is the Chief Fun Officer at the company. His wife Shazia is a qualified dentist; she is the Chief Fun Advisor and Director.

While, in the corporate life, Asif observed that a lot of employees were unhappy at work; they had several suggestions on what their organization or the Human Resources department could do. Alas, these were never accepted or acted upon. Unlike the rest of us who only grumble and do nothing, Asif, who always wanted to do his own thing and become an entrepreneur, thought “employee engagement” would be a great business idea. As he was approaching 30 years old, one fine day, he turned around to his wife and said, “Hey, what do you think about this idea? Would you join me in the journey to create more focussed and productive employees?” Once he got her consent, he quit his job and plunged headlong into the world of entrepreneurship.

They say the grass is greener on the other side. In his case, it was actually true. As a working professional, one is occupied 12-14 hours 5-6 days a week; as an entrepreneur, one is occupied 24 hours 7 days a week. But Asif did not mind – he was doing what he loved and making a difference in the process. Well, when Asif started off, it was not all smooth sailing. It was almost 6 months before they got their first client. Similarly, their first workshop had only 8 members. But, that did not deter them. Their determination and perseverance paid off when Never Grow Up broke even in 18 months.

“What is it that Never Grow Up exactly does?” I can hear you ask? Well, Never Grow Up believes in making work and life a lot more creative, balanced and eventful. Their services range from consultancy to building communication, devising reward programs to customized workshops (But none of those boring lecture-type, powerpoint sessions which have us yawning throughout, mind you) and even designing workplaces and creating merchandise that will enhance organizational culture and make people feel like coming to work.

As adults, we miss out on the hobbies we pursued due to time constraints and lack of opportunities. Never Grow Up organizes unique weekend workshops for the same. Till date, they have organized writing workshops, mocktails making, photography sessions and drama classes. These have found a high level of acceptance across several people for the primary reason that people have the opportunity to meet like-minded people and pursue the activities they like. In fact, I have had the opportunity to attend two of his workshops – a creative writing workshop and an evening photography workshop around South Mumbai. These workshops in addition to enhancing my knowledge made me shed my inhibitions about actually going out there and meeting new people.

Fun Stuff:
The company has introduced a concept called Cube Farm – they have tied up with companies that manufacture and promote fun products such as Chumbak, Happily Unmarried, Pyjama Party, etc. The offerings include a host of fun and utilitarian products such as work magnets, stress balls, piggy banks and what have you. Can you imagine how it would be like if your workstation actually stands out from the rest of your colleagues?

A product/service is only great if it sells and makes money in the process. When I asked Asif about his client list, he smiled and said, “Well, I do not mean to brag and boast about us but if I do not then who will!” He told me that their 25+ clients include Shoppers Stop, Accenture and Group M.

Awards & Recognition:
Zee Business & Franchise India nominated it as one of the top Professional Service Businesses of 2011 at the Small Business Awards. Their work with a retail client also got a particular employee initiative in the Limca Book of Records in January 2013 and also won them the ET Now Talent & HR Leadership Award for Organization with Innovative HR Practices. They are regularly quoted in leading media such as The Economic Times, Business Standard and for their views on employee engagement ideas.

The End
Or rather, the beginning. Never Grow Up recently celebrated its third birthday. And, as any three-year-old, they are super active and excited about the time ahead.

Asif has inspired me in so many different ways. It is not like he was born with a silver spoon or into a business family. He had one clear idea which he stuck to and made an enriching business out of. He is passionate about his work and his passion shines through in what he does. He does not shy away from working hard or asking for help when needed. His networking is outstanding. At the same time, his company is changing employee and corporate mindsets bit by bit. I, too, hope that like Asif, I am able to find out what is it that makes me click (sooner rather than later) and do something about it.

Well, I hope you had as much fun reading about Asif’s adventure as much as I did bringing it to you. You can find out more about it at

I wish to get my story published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Entrepreneurs Soul in association with


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Richa Singh said...

its the whole never group part that i Love! great stuff!