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!
Top Five Free Communication Tools For Startups
In one of our previous articles published recently, we broached the importance of communications both internal and external, for startups. Good communication needs to be nurtured and can become a powerful tool. While communication can be done across various mediums like social media, e-mails, blog posts, newsletters, press releases and advertisements there are certain tools which a majority of startups prefer to use. This is because, some of these tools offer a lot of features, a good user interface and experience combined with value for money.
We have explored and compiled a list of top five free communication tools which will be useful for startups. Some of these tools are easily recognisable as we use them to some degree or the other in our day to day lives.
Slack is a communications platform designed specifically for businesses. Slack is a simple interface which comes in the form of chat rooms. Each of these rooms are organised by topics and can be private or public. Slack also offers private messaging and is a good bet for startups which are just scaling up as they offer a free plan as well. The free plan however allows only the 10,000 most recent messages to be viewed and searched.
Trello is another communications tool which is highly preferred because it has a Kanban style approach towards communication. Kanban is a lean method to manage and improve work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of bottlenecks. A Kanban Board is used to implement Kanban management. Users can create task boards which have columns including task statuses such as ‘To Do,’ ‘In Progress,’ ‘Done.’ For startups Trello offers a free fourteen day trial which includes unlimited boards, automation and strong privacy.
3) Microsoft Teams
This communications tool is an offering from Microsoft and offers workspace chat and video conferencing, file storage, and application integration. Users can chat in groups or privately and even send files across the platform. It also includes video and voice calling over the internet. For the free version, Microsoft Teams offers users to host unlimited rooms for 60 minutes and hosting upto hundred participants. Moreover, users get ten gigabytes of free cloud storage and unlimited chat options.
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Zoom, a video conferencing tool which shot into the limelight in 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. This tool allowed businesses to move their work online and ensured workflow was not disturbed. Zoom stepped up to the challenge effortlessly taking on all the bandwidth and usage it is currently experiencing. Zoom has also removed time limits for the conference calls and made the entire suite free of cost for schools and businesses in the affected regions across the globe, thereby further increasing its popularity. The free trial allows users to host rooms with upto 100 participants and unlimited one on one meetings, as well as group minute meetings for upto 40 minutes.
Skype is another offering from Microsoft and is one of the oldest known online communications platforms. It supports text, audio, and video chat and integrates with Microsoft Office components like powerpoint. Skype is a free to use communications platform and can be used across a variety of platforms like mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.
This concludes the list of top five free communications platforms available in the market for startups and medium sized businesses. Let us know if you are already using any of these or plan on using them in the future in the comments below.
Importance Of Communications For A Startup
A startup usually prioritises its focus on the front end functions like marketing and sales, as well as the backend functions like finances and product development. While there is no denying these functions are very critical for the success of a startup, there is one more important aspect to it which often tends to be neglected because it may not seem important. Communications and information management is an often overlooked function a lot of companies ignore. The fallout from ignoring the criticality of good communication does not immediately make itself known but rather keeps on piling up until the problem becomes too big to ignore.
During the initial or idea stages of a startup when there are only a few members on the team, communication might not be a problem because all of the team would be together for most of the time. However, as the idea develops into a product and the startup begins rapid scaling up, the need for hiring more hands arises. This is when communication becomes a priority.
Communication for startups includes both internal and external. Good communication needs to be nurtured and can become a powerful tool. Some easy but highly effective ways to improve communication, both internal and external, are discussed as we progress through the article.
Internal communication is a powerful tool for enabling better decision making and for increasing business productivity. Open, clear, crisp communication from the top management level to all branches of the organization will serve to bring everyone together on to a common goal. This will also further keep executives informed, engaged and make them feel valued thereby leading to more productivity. Regular team meetings will ensure each team member is on the same page and will also boost employee morale. Google Hangouts, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Trello are some of the tools which can be used for internal communications.
Some of the ways to drive a healthy internal communication within startups are
- Promoting openness, honesty and transparency.
- Candid one on one sessions with leaders.
- Valuing every opinion.
- Sharing challenges, suggestions, progress and expectations.
- Welcoming team feedback.
- Create an environment of creative expression and non judgemental spaces.
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External communication also plays an important role in the growth of a startup. While internal communication is used to keep the teams on the same page, external communication plays a huge role in the brand awareness and value. External communications play an important role and a startup cannot ignore how it is perceived by job seekers, financial institutions and the public. Therefore a startup needs to put out its ideas, culture, vision and products in the purview of the public and this can be done through blogs, social media, newsletters, press briefings, advertisements and emails. A startup needs to realise the importance of managing external communications and the power of releasing information at the right time.
Some of the ways to drive a healthy external communication and which often tend to be overlooked are given below.
- Leverage the correct medium for communication. For example social media for branding, ads for lead generation, landing pages for call to action.
- Create a unique tonality suitable for the brand image of your startup.
- Ensure to stay in touch with your external public through all contextual means like emails, newsletters, publications and so on.
- Create high-quality content like opinion pieces, sales materials, research reports, annual reports, whitepapers, buyer’s guides, and product datasheets.
- Incase of any issues with the product on the technical side or manufacturing defects, startups need to immediately issue advisories. Good communication is also essential for firefighting and damage control
Startups should keep in mind that internal and external communications are mostly about being spontaneous, relevance and honesty. A healthy communication goes a long way to improve employee performance, team productivity, positive mindset, and above all business revenue.
What Are Series A, B And C Fundings?
Startups usually go through a tumultuous series of journeys during their lifecycle. As a startup is continuing to grow, the need for funds becomes more and more important. Funding offers startups the necessary influx of money at various stages to focus on different aspects like product building, scaling up, expansion, innovation, research and development. While only a handful of startups usually make it big without the need of much funding, the rest of the other startups engage in multiple efforts to raise enough capital through rounds of external funding.
In the previous article, we have explored seed funding and the various sources of seed funding. Once a startup completes a seed funding round, the next following rounds are called as series funding and are classified into Series A, B and C respectively.
These Series fundings usually have a timeline and Series A is the first of the three rounds of funding. Many startups often spend years in search of a Series A funding while some other startups easily get their foot in the door. The Series fundings are a stepping stone for a startup to eventually become a Unicorn or for filing for an Initial Public Offering (IPO.)
As is the case with seed funding, the Series A,B and C rounds of funding also see investors putting their money into a startup in exchange for equity. The success of a startup directly correlates to the amount of returns an investor gains.
Before any round of funding, a startup needs to be valued and a valuation is done based on multiple factors like management, track record, market size, risk and liabilities. Let us have a look at what Series A,B and C funding means below.
Series A funding
Once a startup gains a proven customer base and consistent revenue figure, the startup may opt for a Series A round of funding. This funding can be used by a startup in question to improve their customer base as well as taking opportunities to scale their product across different markets. A startup also usually prepares a long term business plan after receiving a Series A funding. Series A fundings range between $ 2 million and $ 15 million. Investors are not looking for a great idea but rather a plan to take the great idea and make it into a money making business.
Series B funding
Series B funding rounds are all about startups expanding and taking their business to the next level. Investors help startups get there by expanding market reach. Companies that have gone through seed and Series A funding rounds have already developed substantial user bases and have proven to investors that they are prepared for success on a larger scale. Series B fundings are usually used to scale a startup to meet the increasing demand levels. Series B fundings range between $ 30 million and $ 60 million with the average funding at $ 33 million.
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Series C funding
By the time startups arrive at Series C round of funding, they are usually quite successful. The idea behind the Series C round of funding is for startups to raise capital to develop new products and expand into newer markets or probably even acquire other businesses. Normally investors expect a 200% return on their investment during the Series C round of funding. Companies vying for a Series C funding are usually looking to go for an IPO or to expand on a global scale. Startups are usually valued at around $ 118 million when applying for a Series C funding.
This concludes the list of Series funding. Series fundings are an important milestone in any startup’s roadmap to success and this article hopes to break down the Series funds into simple terms.
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