Saturday, February 25, 2012

Entrepreneurs's Interview - Sen6

MandE: Good evening, today we have with us Smruti Parida. He is the founder of this company called Sen6 networks along with his batch mate from NITK Suratkal - Vinuth

Welcome Smruti to this interview. Could you please let us know your background and then tell us about your company?

Smruti: Hi, my name is Smruti; I am computer science graduate from NITK Suratkal, from 2005 batch. Immediately after my graduation, I was joined United Online.

United Online was a small 400 people company in Hyderabad which works in the area of email protection, spamming etc. For two years, it was a very good experience working on the basis of internet infrastructure; and definitely a high learning phase. I really experienced the potential of internet and its ability to bring convenience on a scale unthought-of.

After this, I moved on to Microsoft, where I worked for 3 year; I had the opportunity to work on “Bing” - the search engine. While working on this project I understood the way in which large projects are handled – how the efficient strategies could help achieve significant results. These learning were always happening.

I also began thinking – what does ambition mean for me? What would be my vision for life etc? After 5 years of working for these companies, and thanks to circumstances – I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

Along with my cofounders, I started Sen6. The idea of Sen6 has changed since the initial thoughts we had. All of us cofounders were technical people and with a background in internet technologies. We firmly believed that internet had the potential to break barriers and make people act smarter and more productive. Since one of the cofounders had an inclination towards arts, we decided to start working with this focus. Our objective then focused on empowering the artist so that the artists in remote areas can reach out to the rest of the world easily. We now envision ourselves as creating an e-bay like platform for Indian art.

Through this platform we would be democratizing the whole art scene in India and get to the forefront many talented artists and their original works which are inaccessible otherwise. The platform would attempt to put the middlemen and advisors, consultants etc – this could thus disrupt the existing structure and make the whole scene transparent.

MandE: You told your cofounder was instrumental in getting to operate in this domain, Could you just tell us about how you met your co-founder and how it started off?

Smruti: I didn’t do too much homework in choosing the cofounder – he was my batch-mate at my engineering college. Both of us joined United Online together and while there, we were also housemates.

We found that our frequencies matched. We tried doing things part time, however since our interest would quickly shift from one to another, we failed. That is when both of us came to the understanding that starting off something would be only possible when we are full time on it.

While there could be an analytical way to find a co-founder, for met it is the pre-established connections that helped. We used to complement each other well and that was something that helped find the right team for us.

MandE: Since you operate in the business that deals with Art Industry. Could you just brief tell us art and how the art work?

Smruti: I would be very frank that we do not understand art industry completely. The understanding we have got is by reading, meeting artist, and people who deals with architect, interior designs, art galleries etc. So we would like to say that our understanding could pretty much be wrong but I shall talk about the problem we address.

The consumers of art could be at any place, at your home, hotels, resorts, or art gallery – where you see paintings. It is generally the interior designers who really get these art pieces into these places. The kind of art that these interior designers get is called affordable art. But still art in general hasn’t been accessible to common people.

One of the reasons for this is that Artists are generally not the people who would like to market their work – they are happier exploring their skill. There are people who purchase art at a value which is much lesser than the market value of the art and make profits out of the deals. The price differential between the 2 is extremely broad.

There are lots of middle men who operate in this business, and generally art continues to remain accessible only to a small set of people. We want art to be accessible to common man – we do not want art to be considered as something that could decorate the walls of your home. There is lot of very talented artists whose work doesn’t get recognized – primarily due to the accessibility or lack of discovery platform. We want to be that discovery platform.

Reports say there are nearly 30,000 not so noted artists and trough the online platform we intend to give them a larger customer base to derive value for their art pieces.

MandE: In the last one and half year of operations, what has been the major learning? Do let us know some of the major mistakes you have done and how you overcome these?

Smruti: If I am to look back and think if the work that I have done this far – I feel I have taken longer than usual to accomplish this.

One of the initial mistakes was with us taking a long time to open up our minds – As said earlier, we were technical people and when starting off a business it requires a complete change in the thought process. It took us quite some time to get this realization. It would be of enormous help if this mindset shift occurs before you start your business.

As a business man, you would need to get to meet various people; understand their minds and only then will you realize that the way your consumers perceive your business. You need to be a salesman of sorts. In our case, we had to meet a lot of interior designers who are comfortable with the current way they do their business, then you go to them and talk about the platform which has features they might not need! You need to be persuasive, and not expect that things would happen naturally. It always helps if you can make a strict routine.

What we had done was building the product that we believed had to be the best in the world – but we now feel it would have been better if we began entering the market and showcasing the platform to people much earlier. Dividing the work and continuously being persuasive is what we learnt in this exercise. We are now smarter with this experience.

Having said that, as an entrepreneur, one is generally curious and wouldn’t follow the book; it is only when he has attempted and learnt from the mistake that he really learns it. It is really this characteristic that differentiates them.

MandE: Your business has 2 parts to bridge – one is the artist and the other is the purchaser of these art pieces. How did you go about bridging this?

Smruti: It wasn’t really a big problem for us, since our business was attempting to get a business model that had worked in the west, it was useful to learn from their experience and use it into the Indian context.

We found quite a few Indians who use these international websites to sell their work – we wrote to them and able to get them signed onto the platform. The appreciated our efforts to target the Indian Market. There are nearly 5 lakh other people across the world who also used the same platform and when we started sen6, they felt there could be a good recognition for their creations. 

Given our culture and traditions, only an Indian could understand and appreciate Indian Art, the larger western audience couldn’t appreciate this to a large extent. So this problem wasn’t a very difficult one.

MandE: How did you get through to the paying customer?

Smruti: Once the artists signed in, they asked their regular purchasers to use this platform to make the purchase of their art. So the initial set of our orders were received that way.

We did some online marketing through Google Ads, Facebook etc and these campaigns helped us get a few more orders.

We are currently working on building a B2B connect for the online portal.

MandE: How would Sen6 be in say three years time?

Smruti: Our study indicates that there are 30,000 artists in India who constantly generate new art, so we are targeting having around 15,000 of these artists on this platform.

We want to create a brand for our self in the home-buyer section of the business through the convenience that Sen6 intends to provide.

We also want the large B2B buyers using sen6 for their business and professional needs.

MandE: the customer of you platform could be anywhere across the world, how do you manage the logistic if you do manage it?

Smruti: Currently we operate only in the re-production print and fine art prints of original works business and not in the original painting sales. This is to keep our self in line with the affordability focus we have. In this model, the digital copy resides in our secure store and when a sale is concluded, we take care of printing and shipping the product. We accept the payment and then transfer the artist his share with a 15 day time period.

For original painting, the costs of these would be much higher and we would handle the logistics when we get into this segment of the market. Currently we are staying away from this.

MandE: What is your message for the aspiring entrepreneurs?

Smruti: If you are aspiring to be an entrepreneur, this is probably the best time for that in India. If you have a curious mind, you will find lots of problems in India, which need to be solved. Be patient and continue perusing – you will definitely make enough money – and in fact even more than what you could have earned otherwise in a job. It is all about taking the bold step of leaving your comfort zone and coming out. And then keep learning, be courageous, know your mistakes and adapt to the changes.

MandE: Thank you Smruti, for coming down to this interview

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