Meet Ashish Merchant: Jigsaw Academy’s First Student

Sanchita Lobo


January 30th, 2015

This month as we celebrate Jigsaw Academy’s 4th anniversary, we have been re connecting with some of our first students. It has been fun catching up and finding out what they have been up to in the last four years. It has also been quite emotional, as we realize proudly, that all of them, have used what they learnt with us, to excel at what they do and go further and realize their career dreams.

Connecting with Ashish Merchant, our very first student was really a highlight. He was super excited about our fourth anniversary as well, and happily took the time to answer a few questions.

Let me first introduce you to Ashish. Ashish is the Co-founder and Partner of A & A Marketing Alliance LLP, Takato Dry Cleaners. A social worker, a marketing professional and an entrepreneur, his areas of specialization include loyalty programme design and management and CRM. His consulting and marketing efforts have served brands that include Western Union Money Transfer, Godrej, Raymond, Kodak, Metro Shoes, Ranbaxy, Nerolac Paints and Deutsche Bank. Besides his interests in entrepreneurship and marketing, Ashish has been an active volunteer leader with the Aga Khan Development Network for about 15 years. Ashish has a Bachelors degree in Commerce from Mumbai University, an MBA with specializations in marketing and computer information systems from the University of Rochester and has completed a programme in advanced business analytics from the SJMSM at IIT. He was also the very first student of Jigsaw Academy’s Foundation course in analytics in 2011.

Let’s hear what he has to tell us about Jigsaw and the way things were four years back and also find out what he is up to these days.

Ashish tell us about how and why you joined Jigsaw Academy four years ago.

I was Jigsaw Academy’s first student! 

In early 2011, when Gaurav was toying with the idea of starting his analytics training, he was exploring a brick-n-mortar model. I was based in Mumbai and had just completed my course in analytics at the IIT Bombay. The theoretical grounding was great!  But I needed hands-on experience and so I asked Gaurav if he would be willing to coach me remotely.

One thing led to another and Jigsaw Academy became an online offering with 4 or 5 of us who had just completed our course at IIT Bombay joining as the first batch for hands-on training.

Any anecdotes from that first course?

That course was outstanding! 

I remember once when I called Sarita for a query, she threw it right back at me saying, “In the real world, there will not be somebody to answer such questions.  So go to google and figure it out!”

Can’t tell you how valuable that advice has been. I’ve gotten used to “figuring out” stuff from google and it has helped me in so many aspects of my work.

As you moved on in your career, was what you learnt at Jigsaw relevant in your day to day job?

Yes.  A lot of basic techniques in Excel were directly relevant to what I did. Most importantly Jigsaw Academy had helped me realize that analytics is not about learning how to navigate a software like SAS or SPSS but more about understanding frameworks and approaches, and that even the humble Excel can be a great tool if I understand approaches.

A year later, I even sent one of my account managers, Yogesh, to Jigsaw to undergo the training as it was directly relevant to a food marketing company he was working with.

In fact the training at IIT- Bombay coupled with the skills I acquired with Jigsaw really came to life when as part of my voluntary efforts, I was designated as project lead to assess the quality of life of tens of thousands of families.  I led a team of a few dozen professionals and several hundred volunteers to plan, execute, analyse and report on the profile of several thousand families across 4 different states in India.

So yes, all in all I am still able to use the learning I imbibed during that first course even today.

Tell us about what you do now?

My career has taken a dramatic turn. When I studied at Jigsaw, I was a vice-president heading up two branches for a direct and loyalty marketing consultancy. I am now an entrepreneur – I run a direct to home phone commerce entity called Takato Dry Cleaners.

It’s fascinating because my earnings really now depend on my ability to analyse my customers – prioritize my high value / and promote to those most likely to respond!

You have seen analytics evolve over four years. Any insights?

Actually, I think while tools have become more and more sophisticated, a lot of people still miss out on the basics – probably because our formal education system only touches the surface.

Big data scares a lot of people who forget that it is important to first learn how to play with even a few hundred records before thinking about leveraging a few million.

My personal wish would be for more education in the basics of marketing, risk management and predictions, so that people understand how a tool can help them.

What next……Future plans?

Despite the very hectic schedule in nurturing my start-up, I definitely feel the need for a refresher course at Jigsaw. And when scaling the start-up, recruit perhaps a Jigsaw alum as my marketing analyst.

Advice for Jigsaw students

You can’t learn swimming with a manual. Use the training of Jigsaw to identify and solve your own problems.  And as Sarita would have advised.

If you don’t know, don’t worry… Just go to Google and figure it out!!”

Related Articles:

Let’s Meet a Data Scientist in the Making
Anniversary Wishes from one of our First Students- Meghna Govil
Sharing Testimonials that Spur our Confidence

Do you also want to begin a career in Analytics? Check out Jigsaw Academy’s array of Analytics Courses and take your career to a whole new level.


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