Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tête-à-Tête With Mr. Shamit Bagchi

Entrepreneur of

PGSEM 2008-11

1. What was your background before you started the venture?
I was a software engineer (total experience of 7 years) who had worked for 2 years in public sector – Bharat Electronics Limited, and just above 5 years in Honeywell in avionics embedded/real-time software and business development, marketing (about 9 months).

2. Who/What was your biggest influence that made u interested in entrepreneurship? Any role model?
A creative endeavour is what I sought to bring forth. It is this creative urge to create a platform for young and budding artists that made me create a forum of this sort that would also make business sense. It was also my urge to showcase my own art works. It was also the love of art and the feeling that just coding/development in the IT industry not being my calling that added to the urgency in creation of Dhonuk along with a supportive IIMB culture – the professors and students. A unique course by Prof Balasubramaniam Shekar at IIM Bangalore also paved the way to create something unique in the management space related to the arts.  

3. Did your educational/professional/social background helped u in starting the venture?
Yes and no. Yes in terms of some technology aspects. No as the area was niche and there was a lot to learn and that was really fruitful (the learning). I was quite initiative driven and had conducted events and been an active volunteer having managed (being the editor-in-chief of Xpressions) and enjoyed the experience having worked with creative people in house magazine in Honeywell - Xpressions. Social yes I was always a volunteer with the local Durga Puja activities and this always helps – volunteering is a very important if I may say so ‘feature’ of an entrepreneur/potential entrepreneur.

4. Was this your 1st venture?

5. If no, please let us know the details of the previous venture(s) and did it(they) help in any way for the current venture?
I was quite initiative driven and had conducted events and been an active volunteer having managed (being the editor-in-chief of Xpressions) and enjoyed the experience having worked with creative people in house magazine in Honeywell - Xpressions.

6. How did you spot the opportunity for Dhonuk? How did it surface?
It was this rise in the middle class’s disposable income and the growth of social networks and internet usage that combined to signal a possible market opportunity. It was also as I mentioned a love for arts and Indian art formats and artists that propelled the idea and pure profit motive was not always the objective.

7. How did you evaluate the opportunity in terms of the critical elements of success? The competition and the potential market?
We did several projects both at PGSEM level and in my personal capacity. I along with others in the team also created studies and research at IIMB to drive the study of the business of art – which was indirectly related to Dhonuk and I feel has added to the overall increase in knowledge of the arts and also its appreciation/feasibility as a business venture. It was a way for introducing art in the management studies beyond just elite organizations such as Saffronart etc. A case on Dhonuk has also been created with Prof Ramesh Kumar of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour.

A business case study on Dhonuk titled ' – Marketing Art in an Emerging Market' written by Prof S Ramesh Kumar, Marketing area, IIM Bangalore and Shamit Bagchi was published by the Richard Ivey School of Business , Western Ontario, Canada (known worldwide for its business case studies) in its case collection.

8. Can you please share any specifics of the business plan you had.
I can share the entire plan – I see Dhonuk as a means of management/entrepreneurial learning and will be ready to share all aspects of it with you! I will send the plan, as a document.

9. Was it a one-man show or did you have partners?How did the financing come in for the venture?
Self financed and largely a one man show except some branding and promo material by Anshuman Majumdar. The idea also was to create a social organization wherein content and ideas would be from members of Dhonuk (online) acting as pseudo employees. During exhibitions this actually worked. The open innovation concept (P&G) was also an inspiration for this.

10. What all were the external sources of help (if any) u got for Dhonuk to start and float? Any one who stands out in your mind.
Some very excited and talented volunteer’s whose works were showcased in specific Anshuman Majumdar from Bangalore, Pritesh Ananthakrishnan from Sweden. Towards the initial stage Parashar Shah helped with some technology aspects and later stage Adarsh Natarajan also helped out to think on reviving certain areas.

11. Any specific "aha" moment in the venture you would like to share?The most challenging moment you have faced till date in the venture.
A research project was seed funded by IIM Bangalore on these aspects although not directly related to Dhonuk it was on the area of business of art. A related paper was also created and was just published recently as it was selected as part of a recently concluded conference COGNITIVE 2011 at Rome, Italy. The paper 'A Framework for Creativity-oriented Autonomy based on Online Social Networks' can be found here:
Another was being the creative partner with IIM Bangalore’s Unmaad 2011 fest. See this page: Not being able to get a solid team going as it was a niche field is/was the most challenging and daunting aspect. Part time interests don’t always work out and at least one more person needs to be there all the time. By the time someone wanted to join in as a genuinely interested partner I was already in the process of moving into a corporate role. We met Sarnath Banerjee the graphic novelist and wanted to create a graphic novel wing to Dhonuk. It didn’t take place. Some testimonial are here: This will give you an idea of how value is being generated as part of this online ecosystem (art buyers, art sellers and art enthusiasts predominantly visual arts). So that is in itself a very encouraging!

12. Now that you are back into corporate world, do u feel its going to affect the dedication level to Dhonuk?
Yes ofcourse! The forum is running as an online social network and with minimal intervention from my end. Let me see how I can revive other plans on generating revenues and ROI etc. It is in a non-revenue generating state now! Plan to reposition it as a creativity hub – was discussing this with a former co-founder Anshuman Majumdar.

13. Being in a niche business, what are your future growth plans for Dhonuk?
Who knows what the future holds!

14. As you look back, what do u find personally rewarding and satisfying as an entrepreneur?
Yes a rewarding learning experience that also helps me identify my own strengths and weaknesses both personal and interpersonal. I could have done better and let us see what the future has in store, there is always scope to improve once you know. Also it was a experience that made me that much more strong - mentally. 

15. Any specific learnings you would like to share with the budding entrepreneurs.
I think to get a strong team going is very important. This would be something in my view, I didn’t do very well as my idea was to get a loosely fit team going and I did get carried away with assuming interest from many others. Assumptions don’t work when building the team, they may mean good, and may give ideas but they will not be able to contribute in any big way for the enterprise, be it your friends even close ones – doesn’t work out that way! In some aspects they can help and ultimately it is left to a few of us (what I’d call the core team). They need to have a solid interest and belief in the idea. Part-time members can rarely fulfill this long term need for a strong team.

Trust factor has to be slowly built and people with different values from the core team can and should not be allowed to hijack – that said I reiterate ‘trust’ is the cornerstone in my view in setting up and growing an endeavour such as an enterprise. Genuine sincerity and interest in the idea also plays a role. Being solo can sap a lot of energy out of you! My thought was to have each artist as an entrepreneur and then get them to create value for potential customers and not have an in-house team per se (even if it is 2 strong). This did succeed to some extent as the forum itself and the few exhibitions we did was running purely due to talented artists and their works. So my strength was in getting the social system going – of course my frequent interventions were needed. But a core team is very important to have – collocation of the team may be secondary.

Also although starting up is an emotional journey the practical aspects of planning is very, very important. You can always improvise on the go but have a basic plan and keep building on it as a form of guidance.

The firm’s Value Proposition is very important to hone into. I always had this conflict regarding Dhonuk’s value proposition i.e. was it for the artist (as a community) vs the customer (as an ecommerce portal) orientation. Although you can try to cater to different types of people, it is better to focus and build later after you get a strong foundation or build strengths in one area.

I think entrepreneurship calls for perseverance – a great deal of patience and this is repeated all the time yet is absolutely true.

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