When Archana “Archie” Barathur-Chattha and Vijay Chattha met 20 years ago, their worlds collided.
After graduating from USC Annenberg in 1997, Archie began her career at Sony Music, where she quickly rose through the ranks to become vice president of brand marketing and development, while Vijay was immersed in helping startups and venture capital firms craft their communications strategy.
Archie was Vijay’s second client and they collaborated to create the Walk of Game, an exhibition honoring gaming icons in Sony’s Metreon center.
“Archie came from entertainment technology, and I came from entrepreneurship,” Vijay said. “We crossed paths in San Francisco, and it led to an incredible partnership in business and family. That’s the message we want to bring to the USC community: just like our lives these industries have basically melded now.”
Together, Archie and Vijay have built the communications agency VSC, whose work sits at the intersection of media, entertainment and technology, having established top brands across AI, automation, consumer platforms, fintech, enterprise software, health tech, mobile, and venture capital.
“We love USC Annenberg because we believe the school is really leading the way in recognizing this great confluence and helping students be prepared for it,” Vijay said.
This past Fall, Vijay guest lectured in Clinical Professor of Communication Christopher Smith’s COMM 454: Media, Money and Society course, sharing his professional journey and insider perspective. The class is an integral part of USC Annenberg's media economics and entrepreneurship minor. Last month, Archie joined fellow alumnae Caroline Leach ’95 and Adelaida Velasco Severson ’87, in leading a USC Women’s Conference panel discussion focused on how female leaders can advance their goals while empowering others.
In a conversation with USC Annenberg’s Associate Dean for Communication and Marketing, Emily Cavalcanti, the Chatthas share more valuable insights for aspiring brand strategists and storytellers.
Emily Cavalcanti: Why is the intersection of media, entertainment and tech such a critical space to be in right now, and how can students prepare for careers in such a space?
Archie and Vijay Chattha: Storytelling is more important than ever. We live in an attention economy. Whoever has our attention, wins. Competition for our time is fierce. There are many screens, many messages and many apps that aim to influence us every second.
The world operates on influence and ideas. The most effective ideas win and the battle for attention is global.
In the old days, there were three TV channels that gave us the news and national and local newspapers. Now we get our information on dozens of platforms, apps and from millions of people posting on social media. Influence has been decentralized and USC students need to prepare for this new world, understand how it works and to work within it.
EC: Archie, you spent a good part of your career in the entertainment world, so how did you adapt your storytelling skills at VSC? What inspired you to step into this new space?
AC: During my tenure at Sony, I was fortunate to work within an organization that held both media and technology assets ranging from film studios to hardware products and video game systems. I worked to bring major consumer technology to the masses with the massive reach of Sony.
Luckily by building programs in San Francisco, I was exposed to hundreds of fledgling startups and entrepreneurs that had emerged from the dot-com bust and needed distribution platforms that Sony could provide, which taught me more about their innovations.
We pioneered bluetooth, SMS and interactive content offerings powered by tiny startups and that trend continued as the tech ecosystem grew exponentially in Silicon Valley. While the world has become digital, it always needs a physical space to enable people to understand and interact and play, and that’s what I did.
EC: Vijay, in Professor Smith's COMM 454 class that you spoke to, they’ve been exploring “myths” about tech founders and how those myths measure up against reality. What do you believe is the most persistent myth about tech founders, and how might that myth be helpful or harmful to the next generation?
VC: Here are the facts about startups and founders.
- Most companies started in the U.S. won’t receive any venture capital. Only 0.05% do.
- The common rule of thumb is that of 10 start-ups, only three or four fail completely. Another three or four return the original investment, and one or two produce substantial returns.
- A founder’s life is mentally and physically wearing. You risk years of your life to build something and the experience is often extremely lonely.
The most important lesson I can share with USC students is to start a business early in your life, like I did, when I was in college, so you can take big risks before you have a family and other bigger life commitments. Build something that doesn’t require outside capital. Bootstrap a business or a service so you don’t waste your time having to pitch investors. Once you find a niche, keep slowly growing it. Focus on your customers and don't focus on what so-called experts say on Twitter.
EC: Why is it important for you that VSC’s investments and partnerships support social causes like climate and sustainability, health and biotech? How can aspiring professionals begin to make a path toward aligning their values with their work?
AC and VC: For the past 20 years, there’s been an intense priority placed on coding and software development, leading to the production of technology designed for efficiency, addiction and profit. Over the next 20 years, we’ll see the trend pendulum swing toward empathy, global understanding and political mobilization. As a result, the products and technology we’ll see cropping up will focus on the things we need: improving healthcare, the future of work and climate change.
At VSC, this sort of work has always been important to us. We’ve prioritized working with the brands and founders that place social issues at the fore of their mission (think Poshmark, Mammoth Biosciences, Ample, and Sesame Solar). To continue supporting their efforts, we’ve even developed practices specifically for climate (Climb) and healthcare (Adrenaline).
Young professionals today have no choice but to align their values with their work because their future depends on it. The individuals who prioritize building impact-driven products or work with the businesses driving change will feel the best about their work and see the payoff long term.
EC: What advice might you offer students who are interested in working in tech/innovation, but might be alarmed by the bear market cyclical downturn we are entering? How would you advise students on navigating the ebbs and flows of market sentiment?
AC and VC: We’ve weathered many economic storms, and bear markets repeatedly produce some of the best and biggest businesses. Few people will be willing to take the risks they took just last year. So, entrepreneurs who enter the market now will have to rely on the strength of their business fundamentals and get a head start with the diminished competition.
Remembering that this downturn is temporary is essential. Great businesses will survive any cycle. Focus on joining a company that you fully understand in terms of their business model and don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they drive profit, how much cash they have in the bank, and what is their long-term plan. As an employee, ask tough questions like an investor would.
EC: What skills and experiences matter most that can be learned on campus to best prepare students for the current world of technology and communications?
AC and VC: College is a time to find yourself. You may think you’re headed in one direction in life, but a chance encounter can change everything. Say “yes,” explore and wander, and pick up stories and learnings from every experience.
Participate in or start student clubs that revolve around your passions. Make friends and focus on experiences. Learn from others different from you. I learned more from peers than from professors. Your network is your net worth.
Study and live abroad. America is quite myopic. Living abroad gives you a fresh perspective on how the rest of the world operates and thinks. It’s a major cultural ‘level-up’ to live outside America and then come back flush with new ideas. Steve Jobs gained wisdom from his India trips and built the iPhone based on the smartphone innovations of Japan and the Nordics. Reality TV came from Europe and wellness trends seem to always come from other ancient countries’ rituals.