It was a pleasure speaking with the founders of The HobNob Project – Aaroush Bhanot and Shivin Suri. They are both currently in their final year of secondary school (twelfth grade), studying in R. N. Podar School, Mumbai. The former is a science student, while the latter is a commerce student – two completely different fields. The HobNob Project is a shining example that proves that no matter what age you are, anything is possible if you are willing to work for it. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
So, tell me why you do what you do? Who (or what) inspired you to come up with this organization?
S: It all started over a phone call; we were discussing our inspiration for this project – his name is Ranveer Allahbadia, popularly known as BeerBiceps. He inspires us a lot daily – on how to be good gentlemen and make a difference in society. That’s how it motivated us to start something of our own. We wanted to bridge the gap between one’s dreams and abilities.
A: We wanted the teenagers to learn from the people around their age bracket because I think that is when you can relate more. I am talking about the initial push that somebody needs to start something. Our Gen Z mentors would come up for sessions, help these people by elaborating about their journeys, with their own experiences, what problems they faced, and on how you can initially start because everybody can have a different journey. But the initial push is significant; that’s what we believe at HobNob.
Tell me a little about how this project works?
A: Basically, we want to encourage the thought of listening to people’s experiences and learning from them. Apart from a particular field, life can be a lot of things. So, we want people to take back positive feelings and a motivated self.
S: We have two kinds of sessions, but for now, we are sticking to the session called HobWe. Now, we are trying to build a community with these sessions. We have already had four sessions. These sessions were with very enterprising Gen Z mentors: one, who was a social media influencer, a singer, an automobile engineer, and we also had an entrepreneur on board. We are trying to motivate the Gen Z by getting people from the Gen Z! For example, in the most recent session with an automobile engineer, Rishabh Suri, if someone who wants to pursue something in engineering finds that this is not of their interest, it will at least give them clarity that automobile is not something that they want to do. On the other hand, it could help someone who is interested in the same field.
And why the name ‘HobNob’?
S: There is a different story to that, but the name is what the purpose is. The name was given to us by my dad. He was listening to the idea, and he said, ”your purpose is this word.” The name HobNob is something you will definitely remember.
Since you guys are only in the twelfth grade, pretty young, tell me how you balance between studies and the organization?
A: I think the pandemic period has helped us a lot. We got a lot of time to think of what we can do with this and actually build a base so that even after we are in college, we can still handle this. We got that initial push, and we built the base, so we can now take it to greater heights. Apart from classes, we have a lot of time. We just wanted to use it productively, which we did. We give it equal importance; we also want to learn, this our way of learning through new people.
Coming back to that, since you guys are just in the twelfth grade, people must be talking a lot. So, how do you deal with any criticism?
S: Well, if I want to answer that very honestly, and in a sentence, I would say that we don’t let them ‘HobNob’ with us.
A: We got a lot of criticism when we first started; we were open to constructive criticism and took every opinion in a positive direction!
What are your views on expanding this project? Where do you think it is going to be in the next five years?
A: Initially, when we started, we thought that we could also go to schools and colleges to talk to teenagers. If not for the pandemic, we would be doing that right now. We want to go to NGOs and foster homes to instil this thought maybe that one should be open to learning from the world, and we are going to get that to you. We want to expand by getting new people and exploring more fields.
Tell me something about your team. How did you guys get together? How important is teamwork according to you?
S: Initially, we never thought we could have a team of more than three. It all started with that one call with Aaroush, and another friend, Aditya, who handles all the designs so beautifully. Now, it is a small family of 15 members who work with us. We hope this expands in the future. It is a family at the end of the day, and our work environment is semi-professional.
A: Teamwork is very important to us. We need to know how to handle the team, how to deal with people, how to get work done, and also have a personal relationship with every member. We believe that this personal connection could help them get committed to the project.
If I wanted to learn more about your organization, what are the best ways to learn more?
S: I would say you can check us out, especially on our website, where everything is crystal clear. We have explained what we do, how we started, the team, the sessions’ registrations as well. There is a fifty-second, dynamic video that explains what we do. If not the website, you can take a look at our Instagram handle.
A: So, these are the best ways to learn more. If you still have doubts, you can always message us personally; we are very active with our responses.
Is this how you keep your followers or supporters updated about your work?
S: Yes, this is one way. Apart from that, we have regular polls, interactive stories where we ask them their views. We also have trivia questions that are doing pretty well analytically. We have got a great amount of feedback that motivates us to do better. Testimonials are also crucial, people who attend our sessions send testimonials about their experience in the session, so this is how we keep our followers and supporters updated.
Is there anything you wish people knew more about your organization or the kind of issues you are addressing?
A: There is only one thing, and it is that we want people to be open to learning new things outside their comfort zone. We want them to explore new things. Unless you explore and try, you won’t be able to unleash your true self. We believe that you should be open to learning from anyone, whether it’s your watchman at the gate or your friend. Everybody has a different life, and they can teach you something or the other. So, we want to put that across as a thought.
Do you have plans for conducting events or collaborations to promote your organization?
S: As of now, Discord is the most popular way of communicating and HobNob is already working on a server to increase interaction and promote our organization. Secondly, we are also looking to promote our organization by conducting events like open mics so we can expand and get connected to more talented individuals. We are also looking to collaborate with fellow Gen Z members who have started their own organizations to get to know what inspired them. We are planning on conducting live videos with them, to get to know them better, and we will do this via Instagram. HobNob is looking to increase its reach in a way that we inspire the maximum number of people with various sessions and fields.
So, finally, with the kind of difference you have already made, how does it feel to be here?
A: It feels amazing! We never expected to start an organization and to work with a bunch of individuals who actually believe that all of us together can make a difference. So, that is something that keeps us going. Every day that we wake up, we know we need to make a change; we have to do something new that makes a difference. Even if one person out of the 1000 followers is happy and motivated, our work is done. That is all we want.
S: I absolutely agree with Aaroush! I mean nobody ever expected HobNob to reach this far. But, when we started working on it, and when people started appreciating our work and wanted to work with us, it’s when we realized that we need to take this forward. That’s when Aaroush and I knew that this would be a long term project. Our end goal is to motivate and inspire as many teenagers as we can.