Everybody has a story to tell, and I help make yours unforgettable. – Ramya Sriram.
While a good measure of the millennials keeps wondering if their life choices are right, one young entrepreneur took charge of her professional journey and found her passion. Meet the 29 year old founder of The Tap, Ramya Sriram. Ms. Sriram enjoys expressing life through comics, using visual vocabulary to break language barriers. This simple and enjoyable hobby led Ramya into starting up her own business.
However, becoming an entrepreneur was not her first career choice. Like every child, Ramya, was very sure about what she wanted to do in her life. The only problem was her career choice seemed to change every few weeks! When she was 15, Ramya started coaching for medical school. Two years later, she dropped that idea altogether and joined the Vellore Institute of Technology, to pursue engineering instead.
Just like the majority of engineers feel in India, after graduating from VIT, Ramya believed a MBA was the next logical step. However, after joining a reputed Business school, Ramya realized Management was not her cup of tea. A few days into her course, she decided to quit and join a publishing house instead. At the new job, Ramya spent her days editing, nights writing and drawing, for the next five straight years.
During our conversation with Ramya Sriram, she shared about her journey from working in a publishing house, to the leap into entrepreneurship and setting up her own company.
1. While you made the move from MBA to publishing, who was your inspiration and why?
I never really wanted to do an MBA. I was quite confused when I started the course itself, though I had voluntarily studied for the entrance exam! What bothered me was that I might be stuck in a field that I might not enjoy. A week into the MBA, I knew that the course wasn’t right for me, and I needed to first find what kind of career I “fit” into. It wasn’t inspiration as much as it was resistance really. The major issue with the MBA was the time. Two entire years seemed an enormous amount of time to spend on something I wasn’t convinced about. When I got a job in a publishing house, my decision was made.
2. What would you tell other potential entrepreneurs who still are unable to make that final jump?
I can only speak from my own experience of running a very tiny outfit as a freelancer/self-employed person.
I would say that if the circumstances are favorable, then just take the plunge. Don’t let fear hold you back. I get so many mails from people who are really unhappy in their jobs. Life is too short to feel trapped. If there are people financially dependent on you, or if your circumstances are such that you can’t quit your job without some planning, then I suggest taking up small steps towards what you want to do. Even a couple of hours a week can make a big difference. I think the great thing about having a 9 to 6 job is that it gives you some leeway to freely experiment outside of it, since your bread and butter isn’t dependent on the experiments.
Before taking the plunge, it helps immensely to expose yourself to a variety of audiences and get feedback/advice from mentors. And when you really want to do something, you will.
Ramya’s path, from making the move from engineering, to MBA, to working in a publishing house, to finally starting her own company, Ramya has written about her journey in a Linkedin post. She states, “You can’t always find your passion within you, you have to get out there and look for it. Make things happen. Unless you try a whole variety of things, you might never know what truly brings you joy or satisfaction. As Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
And so, The Tap was born! The Tap has now become “a storehouse for stories that originate from my wandering mind and pondering pencil.” What started off as a hobby brought in her first customer via Facebook when a friend asked her to run a comic strip for his magazine. Since then, Ramya has worked on a variety of projects that involve ideation and content creation.
3. What was the hardest part about deciding to start The Tap?
I have to admit that it wasn’t very hard, mostly because I knew what I wanted to do, and had a lot of support from my family. I had started The Tap as something on the side, along with a full-time job. By the time I decided to work solely on The Tap, I had a general idea of what kind of time, energy and effort it would involve.
I think I have to emphasize that I never really looked at The Tap as a big commercial venture or something that I wanted to grow into a big company. I wanted to focus on learning and doing good work for good clients. During the initial few months I was a little alarmed whether I could actually make it work. But there was only one way to find out.
4. What were some of the first milestones and major challenges of The Tap?
The first milestone was my first (very unexpected) commission. I was doodling for fun, and putting up my work on Facebook, when I received a request to create a custom comic. I was very surprised and happy, and that was what prompted me to start taking up paid work. Another huge milestone was Comic Con, in Bangalore. I went with some T-shirts, bags, pillow covers and coasters, and was thrilled with the response. Having your audience in flesh and blood in front of you makes such a huge difference, after an online following. The biggest thrills have come in the form of mails from readers online — lots of folks have sent me their own stick drawings — people aged 7 to 70!
The major challenge was being able to understand what the scope of The Tap was — there were so many things I wanted to do — make merchandise, take up commissions, work with social enterprises, create custom products, collaborate with other artists/writers AND continue to write. I finally decided to pick a couple of things every year.
5. What’s the next step for The Tap?
I would like to focus on social issues. I did a series with CRY India last year, and I’m hoping to work with more NGOs this year, so that people not only read the comic but there is some follow-up action. I would like to create stories that will drive people into taking positive, effective steps — though I’m not sure that can be achieved easily.
Here’s a comic I did on the International Day of the Girl Child last year.
6. What would your message be to other aspiring and confused entrepreneurs?
Well, I think the confusion is good, because it can be a great motivator. I think my advice would be to just do something which makes you wake up every day feeling excited and energetic (sic.) We are our own demons sometimes, so clearing your path of self doubt would be a good step in figuring out your next steps.
Like Ramya said, the future is all yours to grab with just a little bit of luck, a dose of courage and a whole lot of determination! We wish Ramya Sriram all the very best for her future with more projects, more milestones, more drawings and more stories!
Byju’s Joins India’s Unicorn Club
India’s elite billion dollar startup club just found it’s 11th member. Education technology based startup Byju’s quietly joined the Unicorn club with a valuation of Rs. 6,505 crores based on its latest capital infusion. According to filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Byju’s last funding round by China’s Tencent and BCCL attributed to this increase in valuation.
However, the biggest online education startup had a very humble beginning. While working in a UK based shipping firm, Byju Raveendran helped a few friends prepare and pass the Common Admission Test (CAT.) According to Raveendran, “They came to me for help in CAT because they knew me as someone who’s good in cheating in exams. They don’t use the word but they knew me as someone with short-cuts and exam hacks.”
The shortcuts and exam hacks seem to have served him well in the long run. What started off in a small room was moved into large halls, conference rooms and auditoriums and at one point even a stadium. By 2007, through word of mouth, Raveendran began teaching close to 1000 students. From teaching students in Bengaluru to traveling to 9 cities in a week to teach, Raveedran’s fame spread like wildfire. In 2009, he started using video formats for CAT training classes and other similar entrance exams.
Finally, in 2011, Raveendran formed the company called Think & Learn which would focus on the primary and secondary education for publicly supported school grades prior to college. The Byju’s learning application was then developed with the help of his students who graduated from the Indian Institutes Of Management (IIMs.) The fully formed Byju’s Learning App was launched in 2015 which included core learning products for students from standard 4 to standard 12. The basic aim of these products was to make education and learning effective as well as interesting.
Byju’s, which has already established its presence in the Middle East is also in plans to expand into the US, the UK, South Africa and other African and Commonwealth markets. With about 2,300 employees including about 800 in its product team, Byju’s has provided students an easily accessible platform for students to learn and not just study. Byju Raveendra calls himself an “entrepreneur by chance,” however, following the growth and success of Byju’s, I think it is safe to say that this teacher has truly found his calling in both academics and entrepreneurship.
How Ola Was Started
The Indian taxi hailing industry is valued to be close to $10 billion. A lucrative and relatively untapped market such as this is bound to attract a lot of attention from entrepreneurs in India and around the world. Capitalising on this opportunity, Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati launched India’s very own cab hailing startup, Ola.
The idea behind Ola came to Bhavish Aggarwal after he found himself stranded in the middle of the road on his way to Bandipur from Bangalore. Bhavish’s cab driver stopped the car in the middle of the journey and demanded a renegotiation of what Bhavish was paying and then proceeded to abandon him by the side of the road. Understanding the plight of travellers everywhere, he saw the amount of potential that an extraordinary cab booking service could have in this country. In 2010, he changed his business model from a holiday and tour planning company to a taxi hailing firm.
Joined by his co founder Ankit Bhati, Ola was launched in December 2010 as Ola Cabs. The taxi aggregator efficiently bridges the gap between cab owners and commuters adding a touch of technology to make lives and transportation easier. The company partners with drivers and cab owners to offer a variety of cab services to commuters across India. Leveraging the best of technology and building innovative solutions, the company expanded to reach 50+ cities by 2015. Serving 200,000 rides per day, which roughly translated to 6 million riders per month, the taxi hailing startup grew at a rate of over 40%.
However, the Ola journey was not as smooth as booking a cab on the app. In 2012, both the founders got a wake up call in the form of a website outage. Ankit Bhati, the Chief Technology Officer, who was in Bangalore at the time had to stay on call the entire night with the one man technology team in Mumbai to solve the issue. But that did not stop the duo. They shifted base from Mumbai to Bangalore and launched their mobile app, stepping up their game. The first version of the app, however, was a one touch destination for booking cabs.
Further, in 2015, the company also launched Ola Fleet, a cab lending arm, which operates as a subsidiary of ANI Technologies Pvt., Ltd., Ola’s parent company. By September 2015, the company was valued at $5 billion. In 2016, the company launched another flagship service Ola Play which became the world’s first connected car platform, transforming the commuting experiences and setting the tone for global innovation in this space. By the end of the year, started facing competition from Uber and another homegrown company TaxiForSure. Nevertheless, Ola persevered. The startup acquired TaxiForSure, launched another flagship service Ola Auto and continues to battle against Uber to become the majority shareholder of the market.
Currently, the company offers 11 services in over 106 cities and also launched its services in Australia. The company is backed by international venture capital firms like SoftBank, Tencent, Microsoft and eBay among others. According to latest reports, Ola is in talks with Singapore sovereign fund Temasek, to raise $1 billion in fresh funding. As of November last year, Ola is expected to be valued at close to Rs. 23,112 crores or $3.46 billion.
Bhavish Aggarwal’s journey from almost beginning a tourism company to establishing India’s biggest taxi hailing startup looks like a dream of every aspiring entrepreneur in the country. If anything, Ankit Bhati and Bhavish Aggarwal’s story is proof that anything is possible if you have the will and the determination to start your journey. Two IIT B-Tech graduates who started their careers in Microsoft and other startups have acquired 3 startups till date and raised more than $350 million from existing as well as new investors. The success story of Ola is the motivation everyone needs to book your next ride and start your own journey.
Arunachalam Muruganantham: India’s Social Entrepreneur And Menstruation Man
While a majority of men and women in many urban cities of India still consider the menstrual cycle a taboo, this man from Coimbatore changed the perspective of millions of women in rural India. Arunachalam Muruganantham, also know as PadMan, in an effort to impress his wife decided to produce sanitary napkins himself. Little did he know that a few years down the line, his whole world would be turned upside down, from almost getting a divorce to becoming the first man to wear a sanitary pad.
The initial idea seemed simple enough. Buy cotton, cut it in the size of a regular pad and wrap it using a thin layer of cotton. However, the feedback he received from his wife was devastating. His homemade pad was useless and she would rather continue using old rags. He did not stop there. He first enlisted his sisters to test his pads. When they refused, he visited a local medical school and asked the girls studying in those colleges. When they also eventually stopped helping, he created a makeshift uterus using a football bladder and goats blood to test the sanitary napkins himself.
When the neighbours started complaining about a foul smell and stained clothes, his wife left him and went to live with her mother. But, it was no longer about helping his wife anymore. Arunachalam was on a mission to produce low cost sanitary pads for all the girls and women in his country.
A school dropout from Coimbatore, Arunachalam challenged an age old taboo and changed a fiercely competitive industry with his cheap and affordable good quality sanitary napkins. After years of research, lots of sacrifices, a great deal of hard work and the willpower to succeed, he successfully created a low cost machine for the production of sanitary pads. His easy to use machines, priced at $ 950, created a revolution in India challenging the $ 500,000 imported machines. More than a decade later, his single product has helped employ more than 7000 women in rural India, selling 1,300 machines to 27 states in India and 6 countries.
However, the man behind the ‘Second White Revolution’ is still as humble as ever. Startup Stories had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Arunanchalam Muruganantham about his surreal journey. Speaking about his experiences and his journey, he says, “I feel grateful for what has happened so far it is what has made me what I’m today.” Despite changing the lives of over 3.5 million women in rural India, Arunachalam feels there’s still a long way to go. “Awareness is missing. But things do have changed compared to 2 decades before.. still a long way to go.” He further adds, “Menstrual hygiene is totally connected to a women’s health and lifestyle. Sanitary pad does play a role. We have over 80+% women not taking care of themselves. A lot of efforts needed to make them use hygienic practice.”
However, Arunachalam feels the Government can help boost this movement forward. “Tax has increased the price of pads. But still. Cost is one side of the coin. Government can make it tax free – the loss they might incur is not a loss at all as making pads affordable and accessible will make more women healthy – that is a greatest asset of the nation. Women strong – country strong.”
We could not agree with him more! India is a country that has seen some extremely powerful women in the leading roles. Nevertheless, like they say, there is strength in numbers and only when men and women work together, will this revolution be validated. It takes a lot of strength, courage and determination to take such a brave step forward. Startup Stories wishes Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham all the best for his dream of making all the women of India use sanitary napkins.
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