University to me was going like from the dark ages to a thousand years into the future.
This is how Ishaan describes his time spent at Brown University and recalls that period as the best days of his life. Growing up as a handsome athlete in school, Ishaan kept his sexual preference in the closet for the longest time, partly to fit into an environment of social acceptance by his peers and partly out of concerns of the consequences.
The 30-year-old founder of Delta app, India's first social media platform designed exclusively for the LGBTQIA+ community, has his share of great school memories but isn't overly fond of his yesteryears. His most challenging times had a profound effect on him, something that he'd be forced to deal with for over a decade to come. But his sportsmanship, intellect, and ability to withstand tremendous pressure would ultimately make him part of a group that influences the topography of startups in India.
When I came back to India from the US in 2014, it suddenly felt like... shit, what have I done!
This was Ishaan's initial thought on returning to Delhi. His days at Brown University, the culture of which he describes as being as open as it gets, had given him much-needed exposure to acceptability. An extremely determined person, Ishaan instinctively knew where he wanted to make a change when he returned to India. Recalling his life in Chelsea, New York, which he considers the "hub of all gays in the city," Ishaan shares how returning to Delhi left him in a daze. It was a different world around him now, and being a very cautious person when it comes to befriending people, he realized that most of his core group of friends had migrated out of the city.
He recalled how at that time, he found himself in a position where he knew no gay people personally in India. Naturally, he started looking for people on a popular dating app and realized that the application was useless to him. It was filled with young teenagers pretending to be older, some only there for sex work, and several others only talking about hard drugs. Ishaan quickly realized that he had no avenue to meet or speak to his people. The absence of gay friends he could talk to about topics that he knew only they could understand led him to create Delta, a digital safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community in India.
Ishaan acknowledged Sachin Bhatia, Co-founder of MakeMyTrip, for his contribution towards the idea for Delta. Ishaan said that Mr. Bhatia is one of the best examples of a perfect ally, who encouraged him to dive into creating a dating app to cater specifically to the queer community.
The LGBTQ community is so fragmented in India for so many reasons.
Ishaan speaks about divisions within the LGBTQIA+ community primarily because of the number of instances wherein he had to explain to people that coming from a privileged background does not make things any easier for him. He believes there are differences in what the lesbian community may think of the broader gay community or the gay opinion of queer women in the country. And then there was the angle of complex intersectionality as well. Differences stem from the distinct issues being faced by people due to their gender; however, everybody's struggles are real, and there is no easy way around it. But according to Ishaan, one of the most important things is:
Being gay is a small part of an individual's identity.
No person can be reduced down to their gender or sexual preferences, and neither do these preferences make up the whole identity of a person. Ishaan acknowledges that although he did face severe discrimination due to his sexuality, it did not determine his profession and career nor his achievements. While Ishaan entered the startup scene by launching Delta, he has moved on and is presently working with CRED, a members-only platform with perks for timely credit card bill payments.
Ishaan is an admirer of CRED founder Kunal Shah's work and says that Kunal is one person he looks up to. Unpacking what the future holds for startups post the pandemic, Ishaan recalls a conversation with Kunal, where they agreed that this time could be looked upon as being incredibly problematic or as a period providing an abundance of opportunities. And Ishaan, being a "cautiously optimistic" person, chooses to believe the latter.
Ishaan feels that the pandemic has forced society to think in new ways, and several business avenues are likely to expand through the digital ecosystem. In an abundance of negativity, Ishaan has chosen to live his life with optimism while maintaining caution.