(April 22, 2023) Cinema was Samarth Bajaj’s first love and becoming an actor was his dream. And he had all it takes to become one. His parents supported his career choices too, but had one condition – he was to obtain a degree from a top university in the US before pursuing his acting career. That’s how this entrepreneur ended up graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, majoring in entrepreneurship and marketing from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC) and minoring in acting.
Destiny had a different plan for him. Gradually, the acting bug faded away and the Hyderabad-born, who went on to launch one company after another is now an entrepreneur of repute. “I realised that my passion lay in creating businesses that add genuine value to our society, through creativity and new culture,” says Samarth, in an exclusive chat with Global Indian.
At 25, Samarth founded his own real estate company, Trojan Realty, which focussed on premium boutique projects. At 30, he founded India’s first official Bollywood-based indoor experience museum, House of Stars with license partners like Dharma Productions, Fox Films, Mukta Arts, and Zee Music to name a few. “I was ecstatic about the possibility of having our own Tussaud’s type indoor entertainment centre. We have our own in-house 3D scanning and printing capabilities. So all the statues, sets, and costumes are exact replicas of the iconic scenes,” explains the entrepreneur, who currently owns five companies that dabble in jewellery, real estate, Indoor entertainment, and e-learning.
After growing and automating his other businesses, Samarth has now founded his latest venture — The Designer’s Class — a premium digital education platform focusing on various verticals in the design industry and Boheim, which is all about premium real estate. He says The Designer’s Class is a journey that spans over a decade and a half but has seen fruition only in the last couple of years. “I found the design education in India a little archaic, outdated, and expensive which led to the birth of this company,” he points out.
Design was always considered a field that required practical practice in real time, anything virtual hadn’t been attempted before. “We give direct access to our students to learn from stalwarts of the industry and make the content, relevant, engaging, affordable, and accessible,” explains the Co-founder and CEO of the company. A start in general keeps you on your toes, especially in the initial years, which is both exciting and exhausting, feels the entrepreneur. “Today, we are at a point where all systems are in place, and our different revenue streams have begun contributing in good measure, even as we continue to optimise our execution.”
Samarth went to three schools — Gitanjali, Chirec, and Hyderabad Public School, which he says contributed immensely to what he has achieved today. His father Suresh Bajaj runs Shiv Shakti Constructions, a real estate company while his mother Bunty Bajaj owns a Jewellery company – Krsala. “My father is my rock. He is the most patient, mentally strong, and resilient person I’ve ever known. My mother is an enigma, an exceptional woman, who challenged the patriarchal society most nonchalantly,” says the entrepreneur about his parents. His sister Miheeka is married to Tollywood actor Rana Daggubati. Samarth’s wife Sasha is from Mumbai.
At school, Samarth was every bit of a sportsman, indulging in almost every sport. He was part of the choir team too, who sang in the choir in concert with legends like Lata Mangeshkar and AR Rehman. One of his favourite school memories was when he played Prof. Higgins in the play Pygmalion by Tennessee Williams. “That moment I realised that I had the aptitude to become an actor,” recalls Samarth.
Bitten by the acting bug
Come 2005, Samarth left for the US after getting admission to USC. He had even applied for an Italian student visa but dropped the idea as the logistics seemed a bit hectic. “I hated my first few months in America. LA also wasn’t a commute-friendly city and to make matters worse, USC was in the heart of the Ghetto. You needed a car to move around, which I didn’t have in the beginning. It was a whole new world, which felt lonely and daunting,” says Samarth of his initial days in the US.
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It was only after he made a few close friends and got accustomed to life there that he started enjoying college, which eventually turned out to be the best four years of his life. Being at USC also was an experience like no other for this Hyderabadi. “It taught me to be responsible, make new friends, and interact with people from varied cultures. It made me a bit of a hustler,” smiles Samarth.
The young entrepreneur, along with other students, was once taken to Mexico to research the facilities and businesses on which they were doing a case study. “Our entrepreneurship class made us make comprehensive business plans, in which I came up with an entire serviced apartment business model before the concept had even existed in India,” says Samarth, who was the committee member of Southern California Indo Americans for two years and held the position of internal chair. He was also a part of the USC’s official Bollywood dance troop called Anjaane.
Names like Will Ferrell, George Lucas, and so many more prominent Hollywood personalities were a part of the USC alumni which got Samarth excited, as he was keen on becoming an actor. While the entrepreneur was at the university, American filmmaker George Lucas donated $300 million for setting up a new film school at USC. As soon as he graduated from USC in May 2009, Samarth flew straight to Mumbai, as he got a position as an Assistant Director in a Hindi film Aisha which had already gone into pre-production by the time he landed.
“I was supposed to stay back in LA for a little longer (after graduation) and attend the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, to train further in acting, but I did not want to miss this (Aisha) opportunity and returned,” he says.
Building an empire
However, it was just a short stint for Samarth as the film had taken a short break from pre-production as they were reworking a few things. “That’s when I started working in the family business, while also auditioning and attempting to make a career in acting simultaneously” informs Samarth, who also did a short stint with Indian theatre director Barry John in Mumbai.
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Auditioning was a humbling process for him. “You face rejection and failure constantly and you have no option but to just deal with it. It makes you pretty thick-skinned,” he smiles. The entrepreneur then realised that business interested him. “I liked coming up with new ideas and strategies and seeing them come to life,” he says.
Back then, Samarth’s business training was happening mostly in his mother’s Jewellery company, Krsala. Simultaneously, he was also learning the ropes of real estate from his father. But building a brand was something he learned with his mother.
Although the acting bug had fully loosened its grip on Samarth, he still decided to give it a year to it. He assisted one more film under Indian film director Farah Khan after which he went to New York for a short course in acting at Lee Strasberg, where he did shoot a few short films that gained a fair amount of critical acclaim in the New York college circles. “Shortly after returning to India though, I realised that I wasn’t cut out to pursue acting as a career choice anymore and immersed myself fully in business,” says the entrepreneur, who then started taking over the reins of the family businesses while endeavouring into my his ventures like Trojan Realty, House of Stars among others.
Real estate was one industry that always caught his fancy. “If I wasn’t so taken in by acting, I strongly believe that I would’ve pursued a degree in architecture. It’s creatively satisfying,” says Samarth, for whom Trojan Realty was his version of a boutique experiential living brand. Between House of Stars and Trojan Realty, Samarth had started a Jewellery e-commerce business called Jewellery Bazaar. But this venture failed to perform. “It made me a mature entrepreneur. I understood the mistakes I made,” informs Samarth.
The show must go on
Ask him about his future plans, and the entrepreneur quips, “Currently all my focus is on The Designers Class and Boheim, which is a culmination of everything that I wanted to do in real estate,” informs Samarth. Under Boheim, Samarth is currently executing three projects, one in Hyderabad and two in Goa. “We are actively looking to expand our presence in these two cities predominantly.”
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Samarth continues to be an avid cinema lover. “I follow the medium not just from a content consumption perspective, but also enthusiastically track the business that different films do across industries,” says Samarth, who likes to paint and write poetry whenever he gets time. He is also attempting to write a script of his own.