Studio 31 is a Chennai based startup founded by Pranesh Padmanabhan.
“I realized how much I loved photography. I started taking up photography with great avidity and united both my interests – photography and entrepreneurship”, says Pranesh.
We got an opportunity to talk with Pranesh, the founder of Studio 31. And I am sure; his story will inspire you. Let’s look at the journey and see how he and his team are working hard to help their clients.
Give a brief info about your startup?
I was passionate about photography and I really enjoyed capturing the emotions of people and the tenderness of each moment. I learnt that the market was in a jumble and realized the potential of setting up an organized wedding photography company. I researched and approached photographers from the most remote parts of Tamil Nadu. There are various skilled and talented photographers, editors, videographers and designers out there who do not know how to turn it into a career. I hired them full-time, trained them — And, there has been no looking back.
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
My start-up is an incarnation of my passion for photography and entrepreneurship. While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I realized that my passion was not engineering. I realized how much I loved photography. I started taking up photography with great avidity and united both my interests – photography and entrepreneurship. What conundrum that I think Studio 31 solves as an establishment is that we provide international quality services at an affordable rate. We charge comparatively low rates and we know how much clients appreciate that.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
I was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, but was raised in the United Arab Emirates until my schooling got over. I made the choice that every typical Indian teenager makes and chose to pursue a degree in electronic engineering. During my undergraduate it became clear that engineering is not where I wanted to stay, so I pursued a postgraduate certificate in marketing and advertising from Chennai Business School.
Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
Studio 31 is based out of Chennai. Why I think it’s the best place is because Chennai is home. Chennai is a metropolitan city which is one of the places where young entrepreneurs are emboldened to do what they are passionate about. The support and encouragement that you receive if you are diligent and hardworking is incredible.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
Being an unorganized business sector, it was hard to not have benchmarks and processes. But, the challenge was not seen as a hardship and we are more than happy to say that Studio 31 is now seen as an inspiration by hundreds of photographers and photography companies for its regulated processes. Another major challenge was convincing financial institution and banks for a loan. Despite the fact that taxes were paid and filed on time, it was next to impossible to persuade the bank, largely because ‘wedding photography’ was not seen as a valid potential business. It took me 5 years and 38 bank rejections to finally secure a loan. Today, the banks that rejected Studio 31’s loan applications are behind us offering collateral free loans. These are issues that any nascent photographer fears. We have gotten through the initial hard parts of our journey. Not every aspiring photographer should have to face these. Another issue that keeps me on my toes is the fact that consistency in service is extremely vital. We haven’t ever slipped or wavered and to maintaining that streak will be paramount of Studio 31. Understanding consumer behaviour and keeping up with trends in the market will also serve as a challenge as the market grows.
Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?
I don’t see other established and successful photographers out there as competition. It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and guts to dive into this sector which is looked down upon as unconventional in our country, especially Southern India. I do look up-to a lot of talented and successful photographers out there. I am not conceited enough to term Studio 31 better than everyone out there, but what makes us uniquely special is that in these eight years, we’ve built some great relationships with our customers. An exemplification for this statement is our records – they speak for themselves! More than 55% of our customers approach us via referrals constantly. All the above with zero capital and the company still doesn’t own a single camera or shooting gear! Another main principle in which we pride ourselves in, is that innovation isn’t restricted to creativity at Studio 31, as it usually is in the wedding photography industry. We expand our innovation and ideas to customer experience to provide superior quality of service to our consistently growing client database.
How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
I have always been very clear about how invested I am in the work I do. And I have blessed enough with a family that not only understands it but also appreciates it. So I wouldn’t say that it is extremely hard for me to balance my life.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
We started with zero capital and we have been profitable ever since. We are looking to raise funds from potential investors who could comprehend and appreciate the wedding industry well. The company sees an inherent ability in establishing future operations in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Coimbatore. In 2017, we have started investing on the right tech to keep simplifying processes and ease the workflow by at-least 50% further. This would increase our quality of service by enabling our team and customers to communicate better and resolve queries in a more considerably superior way. Conceptually, it would require us to have investments to climb up the operations drastically and also become a pioneer in developing technology in the wedding photography services industry.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
I have always been behind the scenes and people do not usually perceive wrong or untrue facts about me. But there are misconceptions about Studio 31 that I would like to clear up. We are not corporate. I understand why people assume that. We might at face value come across as one and people thus usually assume that we are expensive. We are not. The corporate disguise we have is only to increase the customer experience.
What gets you excited about this company?
What gets me the most excited is that our services have never been limited to only the elite crowd. Incredible wedding memories should not be restricted to only certain people. I wanted every couple to have memories that would last them forever. So, I did not set an expensive price tag and chose to shoot weddings in a higher volume. I wanted to provide high-quality wedding photography and films that are accessible to everyone at a nominal price, without compromising on quality and creativity. That’s what makes my heart race. I am providing services that people would never be able to forget, in a field that I am extremely passionate about while providing jobs for about 250 employees.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
I am an extremely organized and meticulously punctual person. I am an early bird. Every morning, I have a little self-care routine which is doing yoga and never skipping breakfast. I enjoy cooking, so if there isn’t anything for breakfast I can always whip up something real quick. As I mentioned about me being super organized, my day is usually planned well in advance. I think meetings are a waste of time and we have it only if it’s critical to have one. My work is generally 90 percent mental work – strategy, finance and right now focusing on the in-house CRM that we are designing. I mentor a lot of people. I have a mentee mostly every week and my training is not just restricted just to career or professional improvement, but also personal development. I enjoy writing and I have a personal blog, which will be public soon.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
Studio 31 is armed with the largest network of 200 talented photographers and cinematographers, a workforce of 30+ full-time employees and a powerful set of standardized procedures in place. I don’t believe in book smart. I have never looked for toppers or people who have succeeded all through their life. Not to take away from the importance of education, but book smart does not mean street smart, and I believe street smart trumps the academic knowledge we gain all our life up until the moment we take up a job. The team that I have, they have gone through their own set of complication and difficulties in life and understand the value of success however small it is. I have this analogy for people. People that come to me are extremely creative and artistic, basically like empty cups. They take in the information and knowledge you provide without any hesitation and are always excited to learn more. That’s the kind of people who have the potential to make significant changes to the industry, better yet the world!
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