Vijay Solanki is the VP Brand & Comms at Sinorbis, and a highly experienced growth & innovation executive. Companies include Unilever, Philips, Castrol & BlackBerry in global roles.
Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?
Before university, I planned to take a year out. A friend persuaded me at age 18 to join a small startup producing a magazine for young professionals in my home city of York, England. I sold ads and got my first exposure to advertising as many clients had no brand or knowledge of advertising. Neither did I back then. I did it for 6 months and then headed to North America.
Two years into uni, I dropped out of med school and switched to a degree in Psychology. In my quest for a business career, I landed an internship at P&G.
My mentor told me that applied psychology in business is called marketing. That was my launch into marketing & innovation.
I cut my teeth at Unilever. After my training I got my first management role working on Dove. I did everything – from research, product development, promotions, pricing, retail and of course, the world of advertising and media. It was the first of 3 times I worked with Ogilvy over 20 years.
I also held European and Global roles at both Castrol and at Philips. At Castrol, I developed a digitally-led global football sponsorship strategy & plan. At Philips, we used startup methodologies to redesign digital product development. We worked globally on concepts like a smart toothbrush; a connected cooker and the first connected espresso machine. Working with teams around the world from Shanghai to Seattle.
My start-up experience came when I was the first senior marketing hire at Shazam. I ran the research to develop the brand and then launched the service in the UK and other countries in Europe & Asia. I also worked for the founders at lastminute.com after the IPO – building irreverent marketing programs to accelerate revenue & customer growth with a fraction of the spend of our competitors.
I began to learn digital marketing and loved the often guerilla-based brand building. Both Shazam and lastminute.com gave me first-hand experience of founder vision, enduring resilience/never giving up, always caring about the details and how strong diversity builds stronger teams.
I’ve also held some senior roles in media in both the UK and Australia.
The last 5 years have been steeped in startups as an investor, mentor and founder myself. I launched a family mental health app with two co-founders in 2020.
Right now, I do 3 things:
- work as VP of brand & comms for martech scaleup Sinorbis – we help higher ed recruit students from Asia
- coach & mentor startups and marketers – have been working with founders at Techstars and a Circular Economy cohort at Fishburners plus The Marketing Academy for over 10 years
- consult for start-ups and scale-up – especially in the area of research to build brand and/or product plus research to drive growth and how to put a customer culture at the heart of a business
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
Quick gym session most mornings – either yoga or weights – often testing a new health app or podcast guidance – very steeped in health 3.0
Cycle or ferry into the CBD – will always choose the bike if I can
Morning is hugely a scan through key insights into marketing, innovation and start-up before meetings begin
Then the mix of the day will depend on whether I’m focussed on Sinorbis, my current consulting for Formm, my marketing mentoring or my start-up coaching.
Two of my favourite projects currently are:
- working with a husband & wife founder team on a two-sided market place – I adore looking for early-stage insights – the quest to discover something about your customer that no-one else has quite figured out – I often call it the Shazam moment
- putting together and executing workshops especially for founders – recent ones have included Gen AI for founders at Fishburners, Pitch Perfect for Techstars and start-up marketing for the Circular Economy cohort at Fishburners.
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?
I’m at a life-stage where balance has never been so important. I struggled with my mental health after I lost my parents. The therapy truly helped my self-awareness of my mental health. I work on it daily.
Exercise, especially yoga, helps a lot. I also believe that balance comes from finding your tribe. Tribes change during different life stages. I feel energised most by some of the startups I get to interact with as there is nothing more inspiring than a good founder who has the drive to make real change through a business.
I will take time to find 15 mins every lunchtime to get air. I might try and practise a song. I help to run a pub-choir called Unchoir. Group singing is proven to have both physical and mental health benefits. Finally, and most importantly is the solace and real-life grounding I get from being part of a family. I find joy, peace and usually healthy challenges through my family.
Routine for me is key to finding balance. Saying No more often also helps. I find that hard.
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
My obsession with health 3.0 was inspired by Sinorbis CEO Nicolas Chu & our CTO, Dhruv. They triggered a deep interest in the work of people like David Sinclair, Peter Attia, and many more. I also signed up to a program led by Drop Bio Health (30+ biomarkers measured using 7 drops of blood) and exercise scientist Amelia Philips. So the big takeaways have been the value of intermittent fasting, the importance of sleep quality and the need to maintain muscle mass.
We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?
Oh gosh. All the above. Add in the great work of EQ Minds and Chelsea & Jay Pottinger. They are providing timely education on mental health and helping to smash the stigma around it. It should just be what you do. They keep it simple and help you make it part of your daily routine.
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Four things matter – what you eat (proper food – especially greens and nuts); sleep quality, daily exercise (you can mix it up) and mental health plus a little gratitude.
Find your tribe and finally enjoy working out who you are. I think it’s lifelong quest. Balance comes from what you do, what you don’t and the people you spend your time with, not to mention how you spend the time with yourself.