Much of Samir Patil’s business takes place over the phone. Even before he reaches his office at nine in the morning, he would have already attended several calls. As co-founder and chief-executive officer of Mumbai-based ACK Media Pvt. Ltd., Patil admits he is addicted to his Blackberry. “I’ve been using it for the past 10 years now – I’m always signed into my email account,” he says.
At 40, he oversees the production and distribution of some of India’s iconic comic book series like Amar Chitra Katha (ACK), Tinkle and Karadi Tales, which he acquired in 2007 and 2008. “I’m reminded everyday of the legacy of these brands and I would like to continuously grow them,” he says. Before his hectic day begins, Patil enjoys a brisk walk. “I also play badminton but I’m not very regular,” he adds. After a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast and a chat with his wife who resides in Boston, Patil heads off to work through the Bandra – Worli sea link. “Once I reach office, I talk to the marketing and the content teams to get an update. And then I’m on the phone with Ashish Goel (chief operating officer and chief financial officer who oversees operations in Bengaluru) for awhile. The rest of the day pretty much revolves around a series of meetings that I have with new publishers or in discussions about new comic ideas, books or movies,” he says.
“Many keep referring to us as ‘comic company’ – we are not just that. We are in the business of children’s media and connecting with the next generation.”
For someone who grew up reading ACK, Patil’s interactions with Anant Pai, the late founder of ACK, were limited. “When we came onboard, he wasn’t very active. He was working on a book of oil paintings about India’s past glory and its heroes, so most of our communication was limited to that, but he was very market savvy. We are planning to publish his book soon,” shares Patil.
Time to bond
With a team of 450 people, most of them in distribution and spread out mainly in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, Patil says his organisation is “open and flat”. “We’ve a liberal mindset in our work place and our creative team mostly comprises young people. We hold formal meetings, but our bonding largely takes place during lunch when everyone sits together or steps out. In fact, there is a white board in the office on which the edit team usually writes something funny every day. Often, it is about me,” he laughs. Having set shop in October 2007, Patil does worry about retaining talent. “We offer flexible work time – there are some who work part time for us. We hire from the some of the top colleges in the country like the Indian Institute of Management and we make sure our workplace is dynamic.”
When Patil is not in office, he is usually travelling on work. “I travel every week. I don’t go by a rigid time frame for work. Sometimes, I attend calls at nine in the night which is fine, since I do take breaks during the day like go for a walk or catch up with a friend over lunch. So, I don’t think I’m a workaholic. I mix work and leisure – it’s this flexibility I like. Maybe if my wife was here, I would draw a line,” he ponders. At the end of a long day, Patil usually likes to unwind with a good book. “I like both fiction and non-fiction but I’ve not read any books on management. I think one learns more from literary works.” He is also a movie buff, his favourite being independent movies and loves setting up a projector in his home to watch films with his friends.
Learning through experience
Prior to founding ACK Media, Patil gathered adequate experience working in media, technology and healthcare firms after he completed his dual degree of management and engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000. Seven years later, while working as an associate partner with McKinsey & Company (McKinsey) in New York, he started to yearn to make his voice heard in India. Patil refers to his eventual buying of ACK as serendipitous. “Around the same time, a friend who had invested in ACK informed me that India Book House (IBH) is looking for an exit and I grabbed the opportunity. There is a big gap in the children’s entertainment industry in India while others have raced ahead. My vision was to create global content and to offer multiple brands on different platforms – books, mobile, television, movies, online and gaming.”
Much of his first year as an entrepreneur went in learning the various processes and concentrating on distribution. With a new team, it helped that some of his colleagues from McKinsey joined him in his venture. “What surprised me the most was the time it took in putting together a quality team and it was capital-intensive as well,” he says. And the team is significant for Patil doesn’t believe in micromanaging. “If someone has a problem, I listen to that person and guide them towards reaching a solution. Though I have my hands in all the departments, I’m too much of a delegator else we wouldn’t grow fast. We follow the McKinsey culture where facts drive decisions,” he says.
With two rounds of funding from Elephant Capital and Future Ventures (which has 26 per cent stake in the company), the company’s goal is to achieve a turnover of Rs 140 crore in this financial year at a growth rate of 40 per cent over the last year.
To achieve this number, Patil is focused on creating more mobile, print and online content, increasing brand presence at malls and improving distribution. In May this year, it acquired IBH and Patil shares that Goel was the man behind this move. “The acquisition gave us better penetration and helped automate the whole process of distribution,” he adds. It is this reaching out that is foremost on his mind than competition. “Even with all the players in the market, only a fraction of children consume our products. There are 300 million children in India and we make a few million sales. How do I connect with so many children? The answer lies in exploring various mediums,” he says. Being gadget savvy, Patil makes sure the company doesn’t lag behind when new devices hit the market. “When Apple’s iPad was launched, we immediately developed content for it and are constantly updating it. Digital, mobile and online mediums will be major players in the future media,” he foresees. And with the company seeing good traction on mobile and online content, this is surely a sign of what’s to come.
As Patil charts out the road map to future growth, he hopes that his innovative plans will help change the perception of his company. “Many keep referring to us as ‘comic company’ – we are not just that. We are in the business of children’s media and connecting with the next generation,” he concludes.
A Peek into the Person
Unresolved dream: Make a movie
Favourite comic character: Shikari Shambu
What keeps you up at night: The fast moving world of digitisation
Pet Peeve: Few seem to care about producing quality content for children
Superpower he’d like to possess: Ability to teleport myself so I needn’t spend time travelling
Childhood fear: Lizards