Of comics and business

For Shreyas Srinivas, co-founder, Level 10 Comics, twists and turns are a part of daily business 

S. MEERA

SHREYAS SRINIVAS, CO-FOUNDER, LEVEL 10 COMICS

Handling the distribution network for Unilever’s product lines or managing the logistics and supply chain there is a far cry from running a portal for online comics with indigenous content. For Shreyas Srinivas, his journey has been one of learning on the job, step-by-step, day-by-day. As co-founder, Level 10 Comics, his typical working day is completely atypical.

“There is no typical day in an entrepreneur’s life,” he reaffirms and goes on to explain that his day has no set schedule and could swing from meeting production partners, promoting business or travelling on work. The company, that he co-founded with Suhas Sundar, a former employee of Cognizant, is into developing intellectual property for the Indian market around comic-characters based content that can be monetised across various platforms – from gaming and television programmes to merchandising. And, his day is filled with whatever it takes to achieve this goal.

A fresh approach

Level 10 Comics provides online comics for children and young adults. It was born out of the passion that the co-founders share for comics. Instead of rehashing existing content based on mythology, the duo has taken on the challenge of creating fresh content that is exclusive.

In order to expand the scope of the comics, Srinivas focuses on business development which involves meeting content heads of production houses to create TV shows from these comics. The first show, Batu Gaidan, is expected to air on Cartoon Network from March 2013, with backing from a Japanese fund.

The company’s first show, Batu Gaidan, is expected to air on Cartoon Network from March 2013, with backing from a Japanese fund

As a result of this tie-up, Level 10 Comics has been able to forge relationships with different Japanese content providers to modify their content to suit local audiences thereby broadening its product range.

The best example of how this relationship works is the handling of Batu Gaidan. The show’s pre and post production work is handled in India while the animation is being created in Japan. “The industry there is very mature and availability of high-quality talent is enormous,” he says. In a way, it is a first-of-its-kind reverse outsourcing model, but Srinivas hopes to see a day when the entire production process will happen in India. Talent is a challenge, as is compensation, like in any other content related industry in India. “Many team members are part timers since content does not pay much,” he admits and accepts that this is a reality entrepreneurs in this space must learn to work with.

Srinivas’ interactions with content heads of production houses provide him with insights on what works and what doesn’t. “Earlier we gave our writers; who mostly freelance for us, a free hand in content creation. But now we get feedback from the production houses who have been in the business for long and know what works,” he points out. This feedback forms the broad sketch based on which the writers are expected to deliver. A sense check has been put in place which helps the company gain a better understanding of the space.

The content end is handled by his co-founder, but Srinivas is also actively involved in this since business promotion and creativity are closely interlinked.

Lean, mean machine

Given the nature of the business, Level 10 Comics works with a network of freelancers and maintains a small office in Hyderabad with administrative staff. “Since we focus more on institutional sales, we don’t need a large sales team at present,” says Srinivas. So there is really not that much to do in terms of people management. As he travels a fair bit, he’s hooked on to the Internet on his mobile. But unlike certain other entrepreneurs who are passionate about their gadgets and gizmos, he views them as a functional necessity.

Srinivas measures growth in terms of the number of properties that will go into production and in five years, he wants to see at least three to four content ideas not only be aired as programmes, but also be self-reliant in terms of gaming and merchandising. The first title to be aired is for children. Srinivas hopes to address teenagers with other titles. And he also hopes to see the animation for these programmes happening out of India.

Reality check

Being in the early stage of a creative business, Srinivas believes that setting revenue goals is unrealistic. “The focus should be on delivering a good product and revenues will follow automatically,” he shares. Setting number targets will curb the flow of creativity and so he does not believe in pressuring his content creators or himself with that. His energies are currently focused on creating the right content and placing it in the right markets.

He follows sports closely and likes to read fantasy fiction. He also loves to travel for pleasure when he can. He makes it a point to spend time with his wife, who is a speech therapist, in the evenings and weekends see them visiting their parents.

At the end of the day, Srinivas believes that if you enjoy what you do, then there is no need to unwind. Yes, there are good days and bad days, but that is to be expected, he says. “What gives me satisfaction is that this is a journey very few people would have the guts to undertake,” he concludes.


Quick Take

What is your unresolved dream?

Someday, I want to make a movie. 

What keeps you up at night?

I worry about how the audience will receive my content. 

Pet peeve

That I didn’t start this earlier. 

Your biggest critic

My partner and my wife.