in Art, Books, Business, Music, Podcast, Product

S1 E2 – Sriram Emani

On disrupting the 600-year old Indian music and dance industry and choosing to do what you love.

2 Sriram Emani –

Sriram Emani is the Co-founder and CEO of IndianRaga. He is a 2015 Global Fellow with the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA), where he was the only Indian out of 52 Fellows from across the world. Dedicated to popularizing Indian classical and contemporary music and dance, Sriram is the brains behind the widely popular Indian version of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, which has garnered over 25 million views across various platforms.

“I went to IIT to do engineering, but I ended up doing a whole ton of performing.”

Show Notes & Links

Transcript Follows

Madhav 0:07
Today, my guest is Sriram Emani. Sriram is the co founder and CEO of IndianRaga. He’s a 2015 Global fellow with the International Society for the Performing Arts, where he was the only Indian out of 52 fellows from across the world. Sriram represented USA at the global creative business conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, after IndianRaga won the US creative business cup in 2012. Sriram was selected amongst the first batch of 12 other fellows at the MIT data center for technology and design. He’s an alumnus of MIT Sloan School of Management, where he was one of five students to be awarded the prestigious Siebel scholarship for academic excellence and leadership.

Sriram, thanks for coming on the show.

Pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

I have to get this out of my way. I’m sure you probably get this all the time in the music space, but your last name was interesting. It’s it’s the same last name is one of the greatest Veena players from India Emani Sankara Sastry.

Sriram 1:08
You know, I actually spent so much time digging back and asking my parents if you actually have a connection.

I don’t think I have found that yet. But given the passion for music, I’m sure there must be something. Yeah. Although I have to say my mother’s maiden name was Malladi.

Oh, sweet.

If we were to add both of those, I’d probably be the most powerful last name and Carnatic music.

Madhav 1:34
Oh, nice. Nice, nice. Man. There’s so much I want to talk to you about. I made some notes. So I probably be jumping back and forth. And I also like to keep this organic. I don’t like the q&a styles. I’ll try to keep it organic. I like to create a story that sort of takes us back into story of freedom, the money and really give the humanized perspective of the folks that are listening

I want to learn how you built IndianRaga. how you got there are the challenges, lessons learned, and where you’re going what your moon shots are. But before we go there will take us back a few years. Where did you grow up? Yeah. And where were you? Were you entrepreneurial when you’re growing up, just to touch on some of those early days,

Sriram 2:27
I grew up in Mumbai, to parents from Andhra, my dad’s from Vizag, and my mom’s from Rajahmandry. So they moved to Bombay after the marriage, and Dad was working in software. And I grew up and at the time, I had no idea what entrepreneurship was, I had never thought I would ever be one. And in both extended sides of my family, I think no one to my knowledge had ever started a company or done anything in business. So while I was growing up, the idea was to just go become an engineer, go do a PhD, you know, do as much as possible in education. And just that’s that’s what it was. I did, however, have a very early exposure to Carnatic classical music. So my mom when she was in Rajahmandry was a huge fan and choose to go for all the kutcheris at the local temple every week. And she wanted to learn. And at that time in Andhra, I don’t think they were either enough teachers or girls are not allowed to kind of go too far away to learn is probably more or less the same. I mean, it’s probably a little different, but it hasn’t come a long way. But at the time, there wasn’t much of that happening. So I think at that time, she resolved when she has kids, they will learn classical. That happened to me. So she put me you know, she was my first teacher, she taught me all the basics, and then after that, she sent me to a teacher in the neighborhood. And she still remembers I was so fascinated and so excited, you know about learning it, that she would tell me that even when it was raining, I would still insist on taking my cycle. Only five minutes away, I won’t get that wet. And we’ll just kind of go swimming through the rain just to learn class.

Madhav 4:08
That was that was you taking the bicycle and going not your mom putting you on the bike? Very interesting. So you had the strong inclination for it, it wasn’t something that was forced on you as much.

Sriram 4:21
No, it wasn’t forced on me at all, actually, very little that my parents are forced on me. But I think one of the things you know now when I talk to parents is also that just having music in the house all around, you can sometimes be the subtle influencer in kids learning versus you play all of the other kind of stuff at home and then suddenly take your child to class and scenario sequencing, you know, Carnatic classical music, that could be very daunting. That doesn’t feel like there is no sense of familiarity. But if you can kind of have that at home, so I remember when my parents but I mean, when I was young when I was two years old or something, my dad then when my parents Always be traveled across the world.

Because my dad had many projects internationally, and they would play a mix of both MS Subbulakshmi and the Beatles at home. Got it. So I think having that when I started learning, I’m quite sure it didn’t sound like something to play Greek and Latin. I knew it probably was a sense of familiarity or that oh heard this before. And I think that really helps in developing the bond or a connection with the music than feeling like this is something new and alien.

Oh, yeah. That’s very interesting. I mean, just want to dig a little bit into not that not to digress too much, but so they were playing music. And you’re saying that how to sort of get a perspective of not just pure classical but also the other types of music out there. from very early on two years old, you said?

Remember, basically they were playing all kinds of music at the time. And I remember even growing up there was really no distinction between this is the right kind of music.

They were just like everything available. So you had like your pop music you had your classical music you had. So the idea was just that listen to good music and it could be anything.

Madhav 6:17
Yeah. And this was all up until when you were in rockumentary. And then

Sriram 6:23
my mom grew up there.

Madhav 6:24
That was it. But you pretty much grew up in Bombay also. Yeah, got it. Got it. And in Bombay, I see you’ve gone to IIT Bombay and did your engineering undergrad there. You were involved with mood Indigo. What was the highlight of that experience as a coordinator of mood Indigo.

Sriram 6:47
So there are quite a few I mean, more than to go I think still remains one of my strongest and most influential leadership experiences, because you’re leading indirectly a team of 500 IITians like all of whom are very high, achieving And all of whom are sort of extremely ambitious. And the scale of the festival is immense. I mean, it’s four days and four nights. And we basically innovated and brought in so many new events and so many new things, including late night shows a full fledged, like classical finale for all the classes and music and dance competitions, we brought back the fashion show that was banned, you know, just the the increase the sponsorship substantially that year brought in new media partners. So there was a lot of things related to organizing events in a structured fashion that I think I developed those through more Indigo. And it came in handy later on, because one of the things I see in the arts is that you have a lot of creative people. There isn’t enough of managers.

Madhav 7:52
And I think that health perspective or business acumen is in the form of creative folks.

Sriram 7:54
Yeah, and I think having both has helped all other industries like even in science and technology. I mean, you have the scientists and you have the product guys and like you have the people who are building the technology, but then that’s supported through the CEO or the marketing people or the sales people. And they might not always like each other. But I think they play a very crucial role in helping that team go to market in a sustainable way. And I think it’s high time we spoke about how that happens in arts and entertainment in India.

Madhav 8:22
Yeah, I mean, and this is, this is, in a way sort of like a real stepping stone to a lot of the things that you’re applying now. And if that’s a huge endeavor, I didn’t realize it was a pretty big and you had like a lot of these Sony’s and Stars as media partners for this event. Or how did what do you mean by media partners? Was it like a local, like a Bombay based businesses and things like that, that were sponsoring the new moon Indigo event,

Sriram 8:57
sponsored by some of the at the time it was Vodafone

I unfortunately haven’t been following the sponsors are usually the ones the most influential corporate sponsors are the sponsors of more Indigo. So it could be a telecom company, it could be like Ola cabs, The Times of India and some of the top publications and media partners. You have TV partners, you have live concert partners, you have all of them. Well, you know, it’s a massive endeavor and I think just going through that whole thing and coming out on the other hand still alive I think

Madhav 9:33
Do you happen to do this Because of your interest in like creative plus business, there was something that to develop while at IIT Bombay or

Sriram 9:52
Yeah, so To be honest, I went into IIT Bombay do engineering, but I ended up doing the whole ton of performing. So in my Welcome to organize the stigma a national convention in IIT Bombay. After that I was basically the head of the speaker’s club, I was a board member of the panel member and the campus newsletter. I was the debating secretary of my hostel to become the head of competitions at Indigo. And at the time, the motivation really was to kind of do these interesting collegiate art competitions and sort of have innovative stuff happening. So I launched the first ever ballroom dance competition the last the first ever solo impromptu dance competition, we changed the whole format of the theater competition and a whole bunch of things. And then because I developed in demonstrated strong leadership in pulling off the competitions department, I was invited to become the wrong coordinator on the selection process, but I kind of went in and applied and I don’t think I came into it call me thinking any of this will happen. So what’s really good actually about it. I remember at the time really thinking that there was so much meaning and purpose associated with doing all of these activities, and should have known at the time that I should just be in arts and entertainment full time.

Madhav 11:15
Wow. That’s, that’s amazing. So you went in for this specific, small niche engineering program probably was a chemical or whatever that was done then just opened up to this whole gamut of the big universe out there. That really piqued your interest. What a magic what a magical time.

Sriram 11:38
It was, I mean, those four years spent and it will still remain some of my most beautiful and high growth.

Madhav 11:45
high growth. There we go. And where did you go from there? Right after

Sriram 11:51
I. I went into a company called opera solutions that does management consulting, or at least did management consulting at the time, the team that was excited came to me was that they had a global staffing model. And I’ve always been a bit of a traveler and I really, really wanted to travel a lot. And they offered the experience of the opportunity of going abroad very early on. And I got in, I mean, it’s only a coincidence that the company’s name is Opera solutions, there’s no connection to music. So I went in there and started working in Delhi in Delhi office, but within six months, I was doing very well. So they offered to send me on a project in New Jersey. And I went there I remember in December 2007, which is less than six months after graduating, and I’d gone there and coincidentally two of my best friends from campus also happened to be working on projects in New York. One of them happened to mentioned that hey, like you really love entertainment and all of that, like, have you checked out this Broadway musicals Sure, that sounds phenomenal. I just haven’t ever seen it. So what do I do and my project was in New Jersey, and we would come back every Thursday to Manhattan and stay there over the weekend. So I’d been trying to figure out how to get up, you know, and go and see a Broadway musical for quite some time. So one Thursday afternoon, I just finished on my work really early, because Friday, Saturday, Sunday, the tickets are really expensive or sold out. impossible for me to pay those humongous prices. So on Thursday afternoon, I just like finished on my worker and the employer my boss here I’d really love to go back into town and check this out. And you know, I remember kind of going into this December so to still pretty chilly, and you were getting late. And my friend told me Listen, if you don’t come on time they shut the door, you’ll be missing some stuff. So I got off better I had to get off and then from there it was 13 blocks away. Like should be winter I remember like running those 13 blocks like a madman just to see Phantom of the Opera Phantom of the Opera and I remember That night after I came out of that, because I had no idea like I didn’t know they sang acted and danced at the same time. So looking at those sets, and just the quality of the live performance, the music I was in daze, like I don’t think I slept that night, I was just wandering around New York City with my friend and just talking about all of the possibilities and how this should happen in India and how, you know, young artists are getting promoted and how the quality of everything was so beautiful. So I think that in many ways was like, one of the turning points where I thought I need to be in this space. I didn’t know doing what in what capacity which organization, but I was just like, Okay, I’m, you know, I’m meant to be here is since I got from there, and wow.

But yeah, that was that was definitely one of the first step was moments. Well, I’m I’m reminded I mean, this is a long time ago.

Madhav 14:58
We were doing a project Between, like MIT and Harvard, there was one common class. There was sort of entrepreneurial class. And then we were. I was working with a guy from HBS. And he was directing a play, which kind of really reminded me when you talked about Broadway. I mean, it opened up the how the Harvard Business School students put together the show on stage was phenomenal. It was a mini Broadway in Harvard, but the whole live action with all these props and backdrops, and it was just phenomenal and the song and dance and everything. Yeah, I can only imagine this must be like, hundred times more. And then this was one of your first, I guess, like, entries into the country and the culture and the way things happen here, right. Yeah. must have made a big impression on you. Wow.

Sriram 15:53
Very much so and you know, that that’s that’s also the age when you sort of think you’re invincible and you know, it’s still like our thing and

Madhav 16:01
So much. And on that sort of like, note of taking that small germ of an idea that you had and said, I’m you said, I’m going to do something in this space, this space really resonates with me.

Sriram 16:19
I knew it resonated with me. And I knew that this is what I would ideally like to do. I really didn’t, didn’t know where to go from there like I because you know, that was a time when Disney and Fox and all of them also had not entered India in a big way. So today, you have like, you know, all of these production houses and cinema and make you have all of these multinational entertainment companies in India, but that was not the time when they were still there in a big way. So I always thought of myself still as like a management person, not as an artist. So I just thought, Okay, this is great, and hopefully at some point, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. But about six or seven months later, when I was almost done with my projects and everything in New York and was coming back to India, I’m just kind of lucky. I mean, management consulting is amazing. It’s a great learning opportunity, you kind of become very analytical. It’s like a great entry job. But I was kind of getting the sense of this is not going to be me in the longer the long term, long term. So I decided to come back. And it was kind of thinking of what to do next. And usually, after two years of consulting, you go to business school. But sometimes you also do two years of something else before you go to business school. So some of my seniors have done that they’ve entered the nonprofit. So they went into micro finance. So I just thought, Okay, let me also try and do something more interesting and see if, you know, I can figured out like what I really like, would like to do, because I do all of these micro finance companies and, you know, social impact organizations. And, you know, I was doing a lot of interviewing and they would ask me all these big picture questions, and I would respond very eloquently about like, how I want to kind of change the world of the future and things like that. And many times you don’t realize that you’re saying Lot of that because you know how to game the interviews, but maybe actually resonate the same way. So one such interview and I don’t want to take the name of the organization, although I’m sure they’d be happy.

They picked up the phone and he suddenly asked me Sriram what burns you the most? Right? And I was completely taken aback

because till then it was all about Oh, what do you want to do five years from now and suddenly disgust me what turns you the most? And I still remember like babbling out like, I just took a few seconds to think and he was a singer and no thinking that me now. I was just like, the fact that kids can grow up in this country without knowing anything about rock music. Is it really bothers me the most.

And there was an awkward silence on the you know, I’m sure even he thought that what the hell he applied here? He must.

That’s the first time I was like, you know, I mean, maybe that’s what I should have. You know, look Ultimately, I did get that offer as well. But meanwhile, I started for the first time in my life applying to Sangeet Natak Academy, Indian College, cultural relations National Center for the Performing Arts.

Madhav 19:14
For a job,

Sriram 19:15
yeah. Oh, wow. Yeah. But even to me to kind of like, what am I doing, and my friends are likely to work. They’re like, wow, they have jobs. And

Madhav 19:24
that’s the sad state of my knowledge. And most probably, many other Indians are in the same boat. Like,

Sriram 19:31
yeah, it’s almost like the everyone thinks like, magically something happens on stage and right

Madhav 19:37
and becoming prominent go.

Sriram 19:39
Yeah, look what’s happening behind the scenes, right. So I applied to all of these places. And I think most of them were like the government organizations or nonprofits that didn’t really have like a solid recruiting position. I think one of them even asked me like, Oh, are you doing them?

Are you doing an MA? I’m like, No, I did a B tech. And they will be what does it have to do with the art suddenly Wow, like, it just seemed like worlds apart.

But anyway, I’m the National Center for the Performing Arts at the time, had a British arts management consultant called over Mortimer. And he came across my resume when I played. And he was cast at the time with redoing a lot of strategic initiatives of the center and sort of, you know, build a new team and all of that. He just saw the resume. He was like, Oh my god, like we have to interview this guy. So that really is basically what happened. And they invited me it really helped that the chairman can found my company name curious, offer solutions and give us something to do with our program like No, they don’t actually the things that are in place and I had a really good time in the interview, I remember telling them very clearly that I’d love to apply for the marketing and business development role, where I can actually go and show value in associating with the arts and not look forward donation or spot you’re dying like please like support them

Madhav 21:00
sort of flipping and flipping that model. Yeah, you were trying to flip the model over so that people are not like, we are here to take money from you. But actually, we are here to give you value.

Sriram 21:14
That was the interest. And I was made head of marketing and business development, which I think is such a young age to sort of be able to lead a whole team was really exciting to me. And after joining the NCPA in Bombay, I realized that I was probably the youngest that ever interviewed. So I was 20 at the time

Madhav 21:34
and how did you come to that realization just to digress but that’s very interesting. I don’t want to pass over that like, because there must have been shocked who this dude was in his 20s and interested in classical and

Sriram 21:49
they were pretty, you know, interested in intrigued and probably both of us thought like, let’s just try it out and see like,

Sriram 21:57
so I was 23 boss who I was reporting to was the head of, you know, administration and all of those things. And he was 65. Wow. So he was older than my dad. And then the chairman who he reported to a 75 at the time. So it was sort of like everybody else at the time, who were my colleagues, who would also managers, but all were like 45, 50, almost like you know, a place where you came to either close to retirement or after retirement. That was not something that you would do when you were just starting off in your career. So many of them are just like, Do your parents know you’re here? Like, you know, what do you do? And I had taken a 50% salary cut because obviously management consulting crazy. And these guys were like nonprofits, so I’ve taken a huge cut, but I just was, you know, like, wow, like, they had five theaters. Every evening.

They had some of the most amazing performances from across the world. And I couldn’t be in a bigger heaven.

You know, just me being at the center of sponsors, you know, audiences, media, artists, curators, and I was like the point of contact, I had to bring in the money to make all of this work. Well. Anyone who can do marketing and business development for performing arts can basically do anything in life. It is really, really challenging. And I come from management consulting, where we used to working like 15 to 18 hours a day. And at the NCPA, like, at six o’clock, it’s all done like, you know, if you work off of that, you’re basically being a pain to others. So it was really time after that clock and go into one of the theaters and they would like give me a seat and I would just sit and watch. So those two years the number of eclectic performances I have watched, I mean, is has enriched me for life literally, like it’s beautiful, what that experience was all about. Well, I’m just

Madhav 23:50
sorry, go ahead.

Sriram 23:51
No, so that two years was my entry point into the world of performing arts and really understanding your Know what value the arts can add? And what are some of the challenges as to why they’ve sort of been left behind in the India growth story. So while we made amazing progress on technology on science, and space, and research and all of these different things, and commerce and business,

I just feel like the performing arts can still operate as if you’re in the time of the kings. Yeah, and no one’s really talking much about that or doing anything.

But that experience at the ncpa really expose me to why that is. So that is considered to be one of my most inspiring or like, you know, humbling starting experiences to kind of learn the history of what has been happening and how things operate. And it also was meant that stick around so for example, I helped them launch these things called the ncpo signature properties, where you know, they were basically just doing so many events every year. Isolated events and I basically said no, you have to basically club them together. create them as festivals have their own identity market into the right audience and sort of think of it that way then isolated events. So we launch a whole bunch of like festivals and seasons. And that really worked out very well. The other thing that kind of really learn to do or to look at or observe is that for the artists who are really popular like Zakir Hussain would perform every year at the NCPA. And within a few hours of the box office opening, all the tickets will be sold out. Right and

Madhav 25:30
then there’s this long tail of artists,

Sriram 25:34
right. But they will also spend more money on marketing this marketing Zakir Hussain concert. He doesn’t need any marketing. In fact, you’re actually making people upset because tickets get sold out too soon.

Madhav 25:45

Sriram 25:46
And then the upcoming artist series barely had any marketing budget. And I’m like you’re doing a disservice to them because you know, the other ones who need the promotion. But of course, this is of course me thinking in a naive fashion at that point. I Kind of like a dress that statement up a little bit more today. But really understanding that once you get there, one to get there then it’s easy for everyone like once you become a Zakir Hussain like, you know, the whole world, like whatever you do is magic of getting there is the single biggest challenge that artists face. And it’s difficult not only for the artists but also for the organizers, managers, agents, our curators to get them there. And that I think, is the biggest challenge artists have today. And that’s kind of become the bedrock for why IndianRaga does what it does.

Madhav 26:35
God. You talked about couple of things I wanted to follow one was around you there is this you’ve sort of dove into this space, and actually were the central point of making things happen. And then you created these festivals and seasons and to targeting the right audience. Didn’t want to go too much into the trenches, but wanted to just before I forget, all upon you said you figured out why it was the way it was. Right? What was it that you thought? The reasons for why, you know, you see 65, 75, 85 year olds doing these things as opposed to 23 year olds?

Sriram 27:18
Yeah. Oh, it’s a great question, actually. So, um, one thing is the arts in India always had the Kings as the patrons. Yeah. When you think of, you know, in the king’s court, you know, artists live the life of luxury. And they kind of, you know, again, from the limited that I know, I’m not a historian, so I’m sure someone’s gonna correct me and say, dude, that is not the case. But at least from what I hear, and so and learn, you know, there was always a patron.

So that’s why the artist could basically say, I’m going to do what the king has asked me to do. I don’t care about what the audience because someone’s funding and someone sponsoring all of those things.

Even after words, across the world, there’s been a lot of philanthropy for the arts. Like even if you look at Lincoln Center, Which I work later on at the Lincoln Center, and they have an 80 member fundraising board, and they raise the most money in the world for performing arts. And then that is used to sponsor of the productions and the activity that they have. So there’s really not been this, we have to do what the audience wants. In fact, that started being looked down upon like, patrons and this core set of connoisseurs really one but not really what audiences want. So that kind of became a habit. And that’s what you see in most cases where festivals are sponsored or their nonprofits where someone’s like donating to the cause, and things like that, but they slowly what that does is there is a gap between what audiences want because pop culture has moved on and the different trend. But these art forms in the guise of being preserved, kind of wonky what they are, they don’t really have a lot happening in terms of like innovation and new things. And just as a disclaimer, they both are fine. It’s absolutely fine. arts can be philanthropy based on works very well and great, but who would want to have their kids become full time artist and not on the side because either you have to have a well rounded personality or just to kind of have social currency, or in many cases for you know, other kinds of recognition, but not to do full time to take it forward. So, that was one thing. And the second thing is, um, I think India has also had a history of like these musician, families and music and dance being restricted to certain types of families that Devadasi or afterwards like, you know, the pendulum swung to the other hand and the brahminical traditions and all the Brahmin families. So as a result of that, it has kind of been like restricted, it wasn’t something that you can disseminate on the people and everywhere, right. And then the first time I started like learning every Guru Poornima, you basically have to kind of go and perform the sort of like, ritual for the teacher in this dictionary. All of these and you know, I couldn’t help wondering like, these are very specific many of these traditions. And today, I don’t think many people do that. But at the time, at least, you know, it had a history of like, you have to be from a certain caste to kind of be doing all of these things. So, as a result of that, we see the arts in the situation that they probably are today, I’m sure there’s many other like, reasons to I just don’t want to kind of comment that everything. Um, so those were things that you’re exposed to when you start to spend time with people having a lot of conversations.

And the 65, 75 year old thing is simply because these are not meant to be growth career options for young people.

So you will need the made your money very interesting. Something to do, and then you’re kind of like, okay, now let me kind of devote my time to the arts, you know, sort of thing. So that’s it.

Madhav 30:53
No, that’s such a great point. I mean, so practically speaking, I guess Indian In it the graduates or the parents are looking for what is next for them? How can they settle down? Is there a career path? And this would probably be like the 10th or 20th, or maybe not even on the list of the options for a career path for their, for the child, right?

Sriram 31:17
Yeah. Yeah. Today, I don’t know, I’m sure things are changed. There are teams at the NCPA. There were younger people who are willing to kind of come and try out social media marketing positions, and all of us I think, that segment that’s attrition is definitely changing. But it wasn’t the case at that time.

Madhav 31:35
Awesome. And then diving into Indian raga. So first of all, I mean, kudos to you hats off. You’re doing such an amazing thing. I’m so inspired, freaking looking at the stuff that you’re doing. Indian music and dance have not been disrupted in like forever, maybe since Tansen, just exaggerating this. It’s so great to see someone taking a unbeaten path and actually making it work in the, in the confines of this new age. And where, where do you get this kind of conviction to do this? Because this is you’re trying to change the Titanic’s direction 180 degrees in a way. I mean, I’m not even talking to me tonight. Titanic is the wrong analogy here. But you know, I’m talking about a big ship, both cultural and whatnot dynamics of cast and this and that, as coming from hundreds and hundreds of years. And where do you get that kind of a conviction that this, you know, at the age when you started this?

Sriram 32:42
I think it’s a combination of having parents who are just supremely confident that I will give my best to whatever I do, and, you know, experiences and the journey matters a lot more than material things. Yes. So that’s the first thing like my parents are not driven by

Oh, you have to have earned so much money at such an early age or This is a certain career path and so on. So mentally, when you have the support of loved ones, I think that already makes things a lot easier.

So that first step, the second step is also the ncpa kind of expose me to another thing in my personal life. So when I was in management consulting, I was sort of this like, very, you have to keep working like a machine, and then you make a lot of money. And that’s how it’s supposed to be and then you get really rich by the time you’re 35 and then you retire was the sort of like approach I at least had. When I came to the NCPA it was the first time I thought, I mean, I like I told you, I took a 50% salary cut. Right? So I was initially worried if I would even be able to say because I was living in South Bombay at the time, yeah, right to stay close to the NCPA actually put together a spreadsheet. And I remember putting like, you know, 70 rupees for a shampoo every month, like 20 rupees for soap every month and like everything that I need to kind of live just putting all the new make numbers and figures to see what I was going to make. would be enough and then realize that I was actually saving almost the same amount of money that I was saving in management consulting. Many now this is again, very subjective, but when you’re in a high stress job, you kind of like equate spending a lot of money as relaxing. Yes. At the NCPA like a lot of the galas and cocktail events, you would organize would happen at the NCPA. So I didn’t have to go out

Madhav 34:30

Sriram 34:32
I was right there. At NCPA when I met respected dignitaries and kind of inspiring people, there was a time when Anand Mahindra was late for the opera at the MTV. And then they didn’t I mean, he was obviously nice enough to be like, Okay, I’m not going to flop the rules if I have to wait in the gate open. So we’ll wait. And I was there in the foyer and

he and I sat and had an amazing conversation on the business of operating a symphony orchestra, you know, so these kind of really meaningful, rewarding conversations quality of life.

The kind of like people you meet, that quality of life had gone up a lot more at the NCPA it just exposed me to the fact that it’s not just money and fast growth and positions but what you probably need for a healthful healthy happy life is conversations, these experiences and things like that. So the conviction the second half of the conviction comes from the fact that I know that my life will be happiest if I’m dealing with the performing arts and entertainment as my daily challenges than something else so I can’t say I’m already that super comfortable happy situation but I mean that’s that’s that’s the whole journey

Madhav 35:41
in my life, right? Like you said the journey you’re on the journey and journeys, super fun. Sometimes or most of the times more than the destination. That’s Wow. So very always like that, where you to make a decision you put down a spreadsheet was that Something that

Sriram 36:02
I was totally not that guy. I mean, I was, I mean, it was definitely very organized and structured till then, but not to the point of actually putting down the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet was more because it was such a dramatic and drastic change. Yeah. So you feel that I was doing all the standard expected stuff right? Like you go to IIT, you study we come first in class and you do all those things. It is kind of like okay, you didn’t have to think so much. And family knew where you’d go with that. Like my dad was academically brilliant. So he signed after that was this is what you do you get into a software or like a technology company, and then you build your career there. That’s what he was doing. But this space they had no clue about. So all right, I think that’s probably why I had to do that. And I haven’t haven’t built that spreadsheet ever since. Just

Madhav 36:50
Cool. Cool. Cool. I’m just yeah, just curious because I know, I know a few people who are very sort of Yeah. Take it to the, to the extreme of measuring everything. And I mean I run every day if I can I try my best to run. I’m a big runner. I run like four, six miles every day if I can. But I don’t. And I have an Apple Watch to measure but I don’t really go crazy monitoring my stats can and I know how to do it, but that’s not why I run. And I guess after that, I don’t think Interesting, interesting. And then so how did you conceive of this idea of Indian raga and the idea of democratizing Indian music and dance?

Sriram 37:38
Yeah. So after NCPA so I was at NCPA obviously, in addition to doing whatever I was doing daily, I also was researching on other successful Performing Arts, things across the world. So one of my biggest inspirations has been Disney and Cirque du Soleil. It was for me was just like the bat revolutionized our traditional industry of circus. And then this next spectacular brand that you know. So there’s like multiple different influences of hard just kind of thinking through those I can, I can point to any one of them being what I wanted to be. But these are like each one has taught me something different. And so I figure that after NCPA I should kind of go complete my education, and also the fact that I want to actually work in a for profit space for entertainment or performing arts.

So I came to MIT Sloan, to do my MBA. And while I was there, I was the media entertainment guy. So I organized a trip to New York, I met two people at Lincoln Center at like all the Broadway musical companies that used to organize panels at these conferences, having all of these conversations. And I was the head of the media entertainment at sports club at MIT, the CO president. And I remember, I took a class on media innovations or digital innovations at the Media Lab. And the course basically would kind of talk about about all of the new media and whatever it does, and the deliverables of the course were to prepare a business plan for your idea, by the end of it. This would be a great opportunity for me to sort of dislike startups. If I were to ever in future in life start a company. Maybe this could come in handy. That’s one thing that I did. And that was the first time of business plan for IndianRaga I made during that time. In parallel, there were two things that also happened. One is I read the biographies of MS Subbulakshmi and Rukmini Devi Arundel.

Madhav 39:36
Oh, wow.

Sriram 39:36
So MS. Life in music and media. And the thing that struck me is how ahead of their time they work. So the two of them have been pioneers, and they basically changed the face of the music entirely, like just very quickly. MS Subbulakshmi actually was born into a family that was not allowed to kind of at the time be married, they would only have patrons

And she was one of the first ones who started like singing like a woman, not like a man like women but also expected to sing like men. And, you know, she, her husband was a brilliant manager and they toured internationally, they went and performed at the UN General Assembly,

they performed in all of these different places. They were sort of taking inspiration from all of that they adopted technology like sound recording and mics and all of that which weren’t quite there. So when you look at it, like before them Carnatic music had a whole other set of rules as well and limitations, and they sort of were smart enough to sort of New technologies, which ones were advanced the art form, you know, current correct form, and which would be helpful for her to grow. She acted in movies, she played the lead role, she played Mira, she was kind of there in that. So if you look at her as an artist, and you look at today, whatever we say, I mean, really, they were very, very ahead of their time. Yes.

Many they took this like Devadasi art form kind of like modernized it in whatever form she took inspiration from Martha Graham, International dancer, you know,

and she learned herself at a later age. And then she created the format for it and did all of these things. And all of a sudden you stop seeing these as centuries old art forms that you cannot change. And you see them as like growing breathing art forms, that are there for each generation to take forward in their own right. Right. So that was one thing that was playing on demand at the same time. So there was the business plan I was building, there was these influences. And there was also this creative high impact ventures course that I cross registered for Harvard Business School by this professor multi caring. And we were sort of looking at business models in all forms of creative endeavor. So we had the head of Sundance, come and speak with us Chanel. You know, I’m forgetting the name of this cuisine really good competition that happens. And so all of these different models and the roles that Each person gets producer distributor, what are the stakeholders? So I think through all of those things I just came up with what I thought was the initial plan of IndianRaga. And the thing that helped me launch was the founder of Behance dotnet. Scott Belsky. Yeah, he came to class one day. And I had decided in my business plan in my other class that I will launch a two sided platform. But there’ll be artists and there’ll be opportunities. And so I just showed him that, hey, this is very similar to Behance. Like, you know, what would be your advice for me and all of that, and he told me that just make sure that the first 60 people on your platform as artists are the very best. Then before you open it up to the world, just make sure that you start off in a curated fashion. So that’s why I decided to launch the first thing in IndianRaga as IndianRaga fellowship. So today, not many people might realize it, but at the time the fellowship is not supposed to the core of what we do.

The fellowship was only my initial marketing activity to get the very best people onto the platform.

Madhav 43:04

Sriram 43:04
You know, we launched it and we got these incredible people who came in and I was very happy. And I was basically making them create profiles and kind of like pitch to opportunities and do stuff like that. But of course, then surely come to that separately again, but things took a turn, you know, four different model, and things changed but that really is how IndianRaga kind of got started. And it was sort of relatively easier for me because I was still a student at MIT. So I was already done and I had to kind of fend for myself or whatever. So I kind of took it at the right time. I raised some money from this link generous donor from Florida. That and just that was the first time I ever did a music video.

Like I had no idea of production like none zero. No idea what a Camera is and how it works, what you do to even focus a camera I had no idea.

And if you see one of the first few videos called highlights that we did, in 2013, there is rain and we stop underside of the camera to take a hose turned upwards and like spraying so you know, that was literally my first time learning what it is and how it how it looks like. Wow.

Madhav 44:14
That’s a whole? And then um, yeah, like you said, I mean we can probably get into some of those just want to unpack a little bit of you had a lot of background, I can see how this sort of crescendos culminated into a business plan for IndianRaga. And yeah, thanks for sharing some of the things that happened at MIT. And one of the things that I was wondering about is like, what was the core team? Was it just you initially How did that founding team come about? Or was it you sort of saying I’m going to do this and start off with something and then a couple of others join you later?

Sriram 44:57
Yeah. So um, I was always going to Be it was very clear that I would be the big driving force behind it. But I did bring on two dear friends of mine who are also now like indirectly connected. One is on Anshua Mandal. Well, who also had met who also joined MIT with me at the same time, but she was doing her masters or PhD, and surely love the concept of doing something in this space. And although she didn’t have a lot of exposure to the classical opportunity believed in, you know, kind of vision behind it. We knew even then that she has to complete a PhD so she would not be able to join full time. But she’s still one of my good friend. I’m gonna be meeting her in the next three hours with a bunch of friends and she was really the person managing marketing, outreach, branding and all of that for us and still helps advisors in many capacities. I think the other person was Arjun Srinath who was a student in the systems design and manufacturing program at MIT when I was there. Yeah, we just happened to be on one project together for one of my classest. And he was like, Oh, dude, this sounds amazing. Like, you know, I’d love to help wherever I can. So he built out for like, help build manage the development of the first ever website of Indian raga. And he’s now working on his own startups and like things in Silicon Valley and so on and planning to move to India soon. But he was also then on board for some time. So that really was the core team that began the company. And after I decided to do it full time, I sort of took it over and, you know, sort of, like ran with it after that, but they both affiliate in their own ways and their advisors in various capacities, and we still have like a lovely relationship with them.

Madhav 46:36
You know, okay, okay. And so this was sort of like, organically building it was not like a formal, okay, now I need to go higher x and I need to go higher. Why was that sort of the thinking or was it like, more for here? I won’t help here. And maybe you can help and it looks like you have an interest and you believe in the vision so you can work with me.

Sriram 47:01
You know, I’ve always for some reason had this slightly different approach to these things and you know, I hope at some point I don’t have to rethink it but jumps in and says boom we now need a five member team like I’m almost like let’s say things get started really big stuff without necessarily kind of like talking about big stuff and just jumping in we can kind of start doing it on the side through what we do just try it out see where we get get at least two like 1.0 and after that even figured out like you know what you need and understand so I’m more of a let’s do first and think later sort of so that’s how I got started with that and very soon you realize like, oh, wow, I don’t need somebody to help me with legal stuff was so much like I’m not like building contracts. Or like, I don’t need a full time marketing person right now because we first need to build a product. Some of these things that I decided that we just like do as we go. It also helped I don’t know how to not me because of a stressful At the time, but I am an Indian citizen. So immigration was a big problem. Because I was on a student visa. I know you can start a company with a majority and then sort of, you know, also raise a whole bunch of money and then leave it and get your h1 B’s sponsored by the company. It was just like, very complex. You don’t know how all those things work. So I think I said, Okay, let me first get started and we’ll see as we go.

Madhav 48:28
Then you didn’t even have an LLC or a C Corp? And you can do that as a student visa on the student visa.

Sriram 48:39
Yeah. So summer, summer, it was my one of my internships. Got it. I was I was interning I did four internships at MIT. I did one with the president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as a strategy business development into that I did one internship with the head of global digital business at Sony Music in New York. And then my third internship As IndianRaga when I did the first fellowship, got it. And after I graduated, that’s when I kind of had my O1 visa. So then I started working with it. And now I have my green card. So yeah,

Madhav 49:10
nice. All right, wow. Some of those names ring a bell because I had worked with pretty much all of them maybe not the Lincoln Center, but I worked in mobile music when ring tones and download music from the phone. Before iTunes came on. I was working with a startup called Groove Mobile. It was in 2006. Just reminder of all those brand name that and whether it looks to me like this is a very coordinated evil plan you had all the way from 2005 to somehow understand every damn aspect of every media business, but I’m not sure if that’s the case, but it feels that way. Now.

Sriram 49:52
I was very keen to in fact I remember Anand Mahindra and then later on interviewed me for the Mahindra scholarship. India. And remember him asking you that by MIT, if you’re passionate about arts and entertainment, you should be going to UCLA or something like that. And that’s when I told him, I really believed in it, I said that you can go to a school that is meant for that industry, if you’re only looking to learn how it works, and learn how to get better at that, but you are trying to change the whole new approach to the arts and entertainment space. And I’d rather go to a place where I can learn from other examples and other industries and then apply that to you know, my area of choice. So that’s why MIT because disruption entrepreneurship, innovation is kind of the core DNA of the school. And ultimately, the things I wanted to do as a result of that was to look at how other companies are doing understand what they do. Because I think I think being the the NCPA made me realize one thing

many of us today we just including myself as when we just look at something and be like, oh man, let you go and look at how that is. I wish to We do this differently.

We look at Bollywood music and say what man, they don’t have any melody nowadays, and it’s all BS. You know, there really is no innovation. And then when you’re actually in that space, you realize all the forces that play upon you, and why things work a certain way they work. Yeah, yeah. So I think, which is why I wanted to be respectful of that. You want to jump in and just be like, Oh, yeah, we should just do it this way. I’m like, What do I know? Right. So that’s why I just wanted to actually to your point, which is possible, I was even in fact planning an internship at Cirque de Soleil before starting school. And because Canada has like immigration laws very to take me a lot of time to get my visa and work permit. I wasn’t able to do that. But I was just really keen on going to all of these places and learning as much as

Madhav 51:40
I can. Wow, wonderful. So yeah, I mean, absolutely. They I, I was part of MIT Sloan and took classes with a printer for product. And Rebecca, I think and even probably attended a couple of lectures on Christensen at HBS for disruption.

Sriram 51:59
Great good. You get into?

Madhav 52:01
I know it’s super hard Actually, no, I didn’t get into the course, just took a couple of guest lectures because I couldn’t get into the course. But you’re so absolutely you’re right on I mean to do the kind of disruption that you’re trying to do. I think it made makes a lot of sense for someone and when thinking about Should I go to UCLA or MIT or even to be maybe I’m biased and prejudice, but just between HBS and MIT, there’s a huge stark difference because I took product design from Tom Tom Rhymer, or somebody at HBS. And I was the only guy with the laptop class. I went to MIT and in, in our classes at MIT, everybody was working on their laptops. So I think you need to pick what are you trying to do? And then I guess it helps you pick the right program. Sorry to digress but going back to the story of, you know, conceiving the idea of IndianRaga. The founding team does want to hear a little bit about your If they were at all at the ramen noodle stage

Sriram 53:05
Yeah, I remember clearly when we applied to the MIT ideas global challenge. And we were one of the only arts companies to be selected in 37 finalists. This is all about social impact across the world. And you know, again, social impact on many people are thinking of it through the arts. So like everything else was all about, like, you know, working for the underprivileged on like various aspects of health and education. And Yep, disaster relief and we were like the only arts company and they had a Community Choice Award, but you have to basically get the maximum number of votes got it. And that is extremely painful. I mean, so important job but like the mechanism did not was not as simple as going and clicking vote.

Madhav 53:52
Like datalogger the chatting chatting system in Florida when al gore and ran against bush

Sriram 54:01
Better now but you got to basically go click on something it is an automated email, email inbox and then go and like validate it and then come back here then search for Indian Russia and all of the holy shit who’s going to do this right?

And I remember like we basically said, boss, we have to just basically go to everybody who’s in a Facebook thing, each person and then get to it. So we just put on our headphones and even remember, the music to listen to this is like high powered energy piece called the Zero Hour mashup of all the bollywood songs at that time, like very bumpy, like a beating. And that played on low for 250 times in my years at night. I just literally wrote to every friend of mine on the on my Facebook. Oh, and she did with hers. And he basically got the highest number of votes, you know, that year and then we won the MIT ideas global challenge Community Choice Award. So that was one of the ramen days.

Madhav 54:59
Gorilla marketing to the nth level.

Sriram 55:02
Yeah, because I was just kidding No one’s going to do this and especially on Facebook nowadays when people just post in general saying dear friends do this, I’m like messages like, people need you to kind of reach out to them and tell them what it means to you like literally for us whoever voted that time, they’re gonna remember the very dear to us because that really was one of the first steps in the company’s you know, evolution and I think it made a lot mattered a lot to us. So that was one. The second was at the IndianRaga fellowship. We were just trying to sort of be as crappy as possible.

We basically worked in the backyard of our videographers house in New York artist go first place actually see just set it up over there and we didn’t have the money to kind of go and like do like a completely black box shoot to kind of show rain and all of that.

So we started filming at 10 in the night till five in the morning. Because you know, we couldn’t have like like to It had to be dark. And you know, Midway, we were using color and then that kind of went on to the deck. And then we didn’t realize that, you know, it’s difficult washed off. three in the morning we just like one of us went out to kind of find bleach, store scrubbing all of us on the floor and then we were like tangled came off and didn’t damage the deck. Uh, yeah, we had like all of you, we had to have to have every item because we were going to put them in the fire. The items if you see the video, you know what I mean? You had to go to a thrift store to kind of buy a necklace that was exactly two necklaces of the same two ties of the same design to have the same. So yeah, quite a few moments. And then of course, the scrappiest ofcourse the ramen days is me being nomadic for the first year or two after MIT. I gave up my house. Hmm,

Madhav 56:52
were you just couchsurfing?

I was just basically being hosted by Indian families across North America. Building Raga Labs in different cities. And the time I was just sort of staying there both as a way to learn about my core audience and also to sort of like not have to, you know, pay rent extensively, or whatever. So I did that for a full year.

Madhav 57:15
This was before Airbnb

Sriram 57:18
It was not an Airbnb was there was

actually more than the money savings. What I wanted was to you know how when you talk when you talk to people, they basically say, oh, Carnatic music, you should do it, because it is our culture and all the things that you see on Facebook and outside they’re sort of these babies politically correct statements. Yeah, what I wanted was what goes on behind in their minds spend no one’s watching, right? It’s okay. I don’t mean to sound like sneaky guy, but no,

Madhav 57:49
but it’s the truth teller. You need the truth teller, right? I mean, you you’re not looking for bullshit here because yes, yeah, sometimes artists come here so far.

Sriram 57:57
Yeah. Wanted to be at their dinner table conversation. Is all the other motivations in their life? Like, what role does it play? And then I realized that like, you know, arts today are very different from before. It’s not just about preserving your culture. It’s about well rounded personalities. It’s about, you know, teamwork, it’s about, you know, conquering stage fear. Like, in my own case, I then look back when I was like having all of these dinner table conversations, the first time I was ever on stage, because of being part of the music choir.

I didn’t become an eloquent speaker, like going on stage and sort of having 1000 eyes upon you and sort of having sweaty hands, you will come that slowly when you’re part of a musical group. And then slowly, you take next step one at a time. And that was thanks to music.

So in my mind, the performing arts play a role much bigger than just being, you know, the hallmarks of our tradition. They really developed a lot of core skills that I think are transferable across, you know, anything that you do, and that’s one of the reasons why we do rated all of those into our format. So I think those conversations that entire here being in these different households expose me to what all people are looking for their kids to do through the performing arts and really define Indian raga in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Madhav 59:16
Tying that to the original mission of IndianRaga. It’s what was that first in the beginning? And what is it now? How has it evolved,

Sriram 59:27
hasn’t changed is me just fundamentally

wanting to make these art forms cool, exciting and relevant to people today and to youngsters especially, has not changed.

I have just had different ways of approaching it. So I think initially, we were just thinking of working with artists who had already trained to a great degree and you know, are looking for opportunities and all of that and today, we do that as well as people who are like one or two steps before will drop out and they actually find it to be valuable and kind of you know, Big backlog strumming. So that core like philosophy or spirit behind it is remains the same, but just the kind of different projects and products that you also have come to be defined through all of my experiences traveling and meeting all of these people. God,

Madhav 1:00:14
God, what was your? I think you probably touched on this a little bit earlier. What was your minimum viable product, if you will? Yeah, that sort of, really, like you were saying you just wanted to do and think, as opposed to think, think, think think and do? Yeah. What was that that you just did? Get Started? And that was like, could you describe a little bit about was that a website? Was it an app? Was it just talking to people and telling them this is what it is?

Sriram 1:00:46
Yes, the office residency. So basically, we just put up a very simple website.

Just unnecessarily complicated it at the time, but the website where you can basically like a social media platform where you can files, put up your music and everything. And then people apply to be fellows. And then they come to New York for a week or 10 days. And they just form groups and jam. And then we do the whole audio video production for them. Got it. That whole thing was my first iteration of IndianRaga. And then he posted that on social media and created for them try to promote and market them and things like that. So that was the very first thing that

Madhav 1:01:28
I was going to ask you what would be your advice to someone who has a vision and a mission that’s as big as yours. And not only in terms of financial, I might have read somewhere about you talking about we think this classical music and dance is a billion dollar era. But that’s fine. I mean, that’s that’s a financial side of it, but you’re really changing mindsets here. And that’s a whole other ballgame. And someone who has the same sort of similar, like a huge moonshot vision? What is your advice for them to get started?

Yeah, the biggest advice is many times people really can’t tell you what they want. And I’m sure many other visionary leaders so like I’m not the first.

But you know, surveys only work for to a certain extent.

Because till people see something and they latch on to it, like they don’t know how to enunciate that this is what I’m looking for. And that the biggest reasoning for me was when we released those videos in 2013. And suddenly there was this flurry of people applying like you know, if you can show me the video matter to you like you know, and there will be no such a thing as possible, you know what I mean? So, yeah, the photo This is what artists are looking for. This is not like I would want in this and everything was estimated benefit and stuff, which, you know, doesn’t go away. So the learning from that is trying to figure out like you said, the MVP, and there’s something I might be really strongly emphasized on as well and just do that in the most bare bones. way. possible, and then learn from that and build on that.

Don’t assume that what you think people want is what they actually want, is the first thing.

The second thing is that there is a huge difference between when you’re just starting out, and then after a few iterations of the product being successful. So the fellowship kind of worked out for a while. And you know, people were initially all scrappy, and they kind of came together did the story excitedly. But once the video started doing well, and the thing was more established, then you’ll see people waltzing in and just being like, Oh, yeah, I’m just here for the experience of being a fellow like I really didn’t see the same level of innovation after point. So you really have to kind of keep redefining what the incentives are for people. So I think those are the two big things. I would say that there’s a difference when you first start, and there’s a difference between a few iterations down the line.

Madhav 1:03:51
Wonderful. The whole notion of zero to one Peter Thiel versus Yeah, one to something else. Yeah. And then you talked about the first customer touch point usually, sort of sort of breaks your business plan that you build out in your head. So don’t waste too much time building on this business plans, just go get in touch with the customer. Right? And so you do you do recommend the Paul Graham’s theory of don’t do things that don’t scale? immediately. Yes.

Sriram 1:04:23
Oh, so in fact, that’s it’s so interesting that he said that, because I was just sort of like, why didn’t you say that before because I used to keep myself a lot of grief about not thinking enough of scale all the time. So I watch an intuitive person that it’s very hard to convince me that you should do this length defined path. And everybody was talking about scaling, scaling, scaling all the time, and I was sort of like me before they go scale. Let me I need to know what that was. Yeah, exactly. So like, What does kill me, you know, in many business, still trying to figure that out. They could still be scaled in some sense and in some ways, but we haven’t obviously taken off like that. This might be million dollar venture yet. But I think I’m okay with that simply because it really helps to keep refining your product and you know exactly what that is before you take off. So I totally subscribe to that now.

But at the time, I didn’t think much of it.

Madhav 1:05:17
But for it make sense. I mean, the you touched on the pivoting from like initial social media marketing or create your own profile. Come do your thing. We help you have a page, web page and data for artists or fellows. From that to now you’re doing a lot lot of different things based on your learnings as you progress. Could you quickly what like walk us through someone like me or someone who is an amateur musician, or maybe just dabbling with music? I mean, assuming that sort of like your entry point. Could you walk us through the journey of A student or a user or a customer of Indian raga? Where do they start? And Where, where? Where can they end up?

Sriram 1:06:06
Right? So create this as a pathway. For people who’ve already had some experience in learning. There’s very few things that we do for absolute beginners. Yeah. And that’s something so we’re approaching it from the other side. So we first started with people who are already professional, then we started coming around to people who are kind of semi professional, then we start offering something for those who are sort of like, about to get semi professional, and so on. So we start from the opposite end with the beginners. And we do have plans in the near future to do something for them to which we’ll announce very soon. But the entry point right now is for someone who’s been learning for a few years and who has really solid foundations and picture them or in the case of dancers like core technique. And they’re looking to basically start collaborating with people. So what you can do is at the very first step, if you just want to sit at home and try it out, then you can just apply to a monthly contest, and you can just post something from him. And if you win the feature and share you so that’s like a very quick win, like just to try and see where you are and how you’re doing. If you want to get some feedback, then we have a performance feedback segment under certification, where in a video and then they give you timestamp based feedback. So I remember like, you know, when I was participating in these Carnatic music competitions, at the end of it the judgment, give some feedback, which would be like, you know, your feet a little better. But like over there, like some technique can be advanced, like, what does it even mean? Like, I have no idea what that means.

But now in our feedback, we basically tell you in one minute 30 seconds you’re not so you go see it one minute, 32nd your size flat, and then you’re like, Oh my god, like that’s what’s happening to me. I’m making two minute 45 seconds. You’re on a Monday is not proper, huh? I’m like, Oh, God, I click when I do this particular step, I’m losing out on doing it properly. So then that’s awesome for people to go back and fix it. So those are the two like Stage easy option offer. And then after that when you’re ready to sort of collaborate in a group, there’s something called raga labs, where the idea is to bring you together with like five or six other artists, dancers or musicians. And we have like a creative lead will basically give you like an idea that you can all work on me guide you through the whole process, then we take you into the audio and video recording process. And then we kind of like do the editing, post production, and then we release it. So that really is your first experience at featuring in a video or doing a collaboration of sorts.

And once you get really good at it, and you kind of want to start doing it on your own, with a group of people, then you apply to the IndianRaga fellowship, which is where there’s no mentors who can guide you on the core foundational aspects. But there are people who can provide you ideas on how well your your fingers building up until once you become a fellow then you do a lot of productions and then you put it out there and the You start marketing it to live concert organizers and, you know, people who offer opportunities for festivals, corporate conferences, workshops and different things.

Madhav 1:09:11
Wow, that’s pretty Yeah, I can see that I see the bad now about how someone’s journey could be through different stages of your

Sriram 1:09:19
in terms of absolute beginners. We’ve been thinking a lot.

There is a lot of demand for us to launch teaching in different cities. But just because different people want different things, we’re still trying to figure out what it is that we could offer in a meaningful way. So I would say absolute beginners, we still have relatively fewer options might be we’re already kind of getting into the more serious aspects of it. There’s a whole bunch of things you can do with engine rather.

Madhav 1:09:46
Cool, cool, cool. And on this probably you’re doing some of that research in terms of how do we capture that initial segment of your market but students of music today locally, they go into a class with a teacher And they’re going to some recitals every three months or something like that, but they don’t necessarily spend the time to practice. I know you have contest so that they can send in something that encourages them to keep going. Yeah, yeah. All of that said, How do you sort of growth hack? Your customer acquisition, if you will?

Sriram 1:10:21
Yeah. So one of the things we do is building a lot of community based stuff so we know that being social means a lot of other people are watching. And so for actually wanted our students do it like all of their friends watch, and they’re like, Oh, I want to do that as well. Yeah, a lot of inbound requests. The also sort of like constantly keep posting on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. So that is also like an idea for other people to join in. And the third thing we do for the growth hacking is basically just constantly try to keep building of the brand,

like we just performed at the United Nations two days back in the General Assembly, and it was the first time in the history of the world that hurricane performance happened in the UN General Assembly.

So you do stuff like that, I think, you know, needless to say there’s a lot of teachers and students have already started reaching out. So a lot of the fire marketing is inbound. And we kind of rely a lot on that. But we’re now going to be because India is now expanding in a big way. Many people are kind of looking to do something with us new drank a lot of marketing through targeted advertising and stuff like that in India as well.

Madhav 1:11:29
God sweet, sweet. Wow. That’s things that you’re breaking new grounds. I mean, this is fantastic for taking taking Indian music. I know. Many have tried in different ways, but this seems very promising. I mean, amazing stuff, man. Switching gears a little bit. I know we’re coming coming to the end of this but just wanted to touch on. Just quickly if you have some routines or things that really helped you, you know, balance this long term moonshot. Vision versus you know, daily grind? Do you have any routines daily routines or tactics or tips that you use to keep yourself focused on the ball?

Madhav 1:12:16
daily routine, or doesn’t necessarily have to be daily, but I mean, how do you keep the ball like, focus on the ball and not lose sight of it? While there are like 55 other things going on? Yeah, just in terms of the grind versus also. I mean, yeah, getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. Yeah.

Sriram 1:12:35
So I think one thing would be to, to define certain short term goals in terms of financial sustainability. Yeah. So we are very clear that you know, there are times when people reach out and say, oh, via like a nonprofit that you know, really doesn’t have a lot of resources. Can you still send people to kind of perform, I know, I can hack away and kind of find Something but that is a lot of my time for no return. So you just basically have to say no to some of those things. So I think learning to say no, very important thing that I’ve at least come and I’m sure this I can do it even better. But at least for now, I think picking what we do, like, there’s a lot of requests to start in new countries, and you know, but if it’s aren’t financially sustainable, we will not invest in that at this point.

Sriram 1:13:26
I mean, that’s the things I’m very, very clear about. The second thing would be to not keep launching new products all the time. Each time I need someone they always have, like,

Madhav 1:13:40
why can’t you do this or the call to do?

Sriram 1:13:44
Yeah, because everyone’s so excited about what the company does and very grateful for but like, they all kind of feel like we should be doing this also. And that also invited to do this and we’re going to add that and I’m just like, Great. I’ll take that into account. Listen to how many people are saying it and then probably do it next year. So I Just staying focused on a specific set of products at any given point of time, and really making them to see if it’s working, if it’s not working and what’s happening with that.

The third thing is trying to stay as scrappy as possible.

So there’s always an event you can sponsor, there’s always a new website development that you could do. But what investing in a whole bunch of things and keeping your financial resources focused on growing the current phase of things, I think is very important. And then the fourth thing is to sort of empower people to become your ambassadors. So like our fellows basically bring in a lot of the concert opportunities that we get. Yeah, whenever they go, and they keep performing. They talk about it and they use and they become ambassadors to the brand and they sort of bring in a lot of conversations, a lot of opportunities that are meaningful to us. So I think, kind of making more people feel like they’re ambassadors of your brand, I think really goes a long way in building that sense of community. And what else would I say? I think the I actually, for example, follow a lot of non classical related media or entertainment. So I watch all the latest TV shows I watch. I follow a lot of the latest pop music, including trashy music. I love it.

Madhav 1:15:14
I love I love Kendrick, Kendrick Lamar, or am I not?

Sriram 1:15:19
Yeah, I mean, you know, so like all of those 19 just kind of keep constantly looking at how pop culture is evolving. you’re placing your genres in context of that because just in the last 10 years that that thing has changed in a big way.

So that kind of keeps us looking out for the right opportunity at the right time to kind of do what we do so when shape a few came out, and we did the cover example of how you know the right kind of pop music came in with the right kind of talent and our and Miriam look, go ahead and put that out. So staying ahead of those trends, I think has really helped me in a big way.

Madhav 1:15:58
And what else I don’t know if that helps I mean that that’s great number of points you made about how you balance these two out, I mean, keeping the eye on the ball. And it same time taking those short steps to make quick wins and keep moving the flywheel around like, right the Good to Great. Lastly, just wanted to quickly ask you a few rapid fire questions. You don’t have to answer them rapid fire, but probably very, hopefully they’re not tricky. Oh my god with the fuckery talking about but just wanted to make it fun. So what is your superpower?

Sriram 1:16:35
Oh, I think being the CEO as well as a creative director,

being the person who’s able to say okay, this is one of the reasons why this piece might not work. And this reason why it might and being able to confidently take that call in a company like this makes a big difference actually. So I think having my own training for over 10 years and Carnatic music, some content in learning Broadway singing style of singing and so on. I think really made a big difference. Cool, any book that you have gifted a lot to others or recommended?

So when it comes to the classical arts definitely recommend to everybody to read MS Subbulakshmi biography for sure. But in the corporate realm, I’ve been inspired by quite a few at a very young age. I was inspired back was shocked, and I do it’s very controversial, but at that time, the name again, Atlas Shrugged, but that’s something I did. And then I read this book called Built to Last, of course, which is just phenomenal. I think, like really outline the differences of things that are just kind of like either for a short while and things that you want to kind of build legacy brands or I see So Jim Collins before he wrote the Good to Great.

Yeah, yeah. So last, last was create and then

Madhav 1:17:53
Wow, so many books, but I think I probably could do for now. Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. And then if you could write something on a full moon. Okay, the whole world can see. Right

Sriram 1:18:07
here the classical arts are not as antiquated as you think. I realize that for the first time that was bought tickets less than hundred years old. Yeah. Right, like, so I think that’s something that was like, wow, liquidity sort of a moment for me. So it was called saw the previously and then hopefully, David will drop it into its current form and like all of that, so these things are on the way, let me think of something else. What could I right?

Let me come back to this.

Madhav 1:18:33
Sure. Yeah. And then do you sometimes feel that you’re in a? Maybe not, I mean, probably true. We all want to keep growing. Do you feel like you’re in a box and you want to go to the next box, or sort of like next peer in your life? Do you feel that way? The next year will be doing something else. Not next. It not something else but like, evolving or growing.

Sriram 1:18:58
Love is like so So green that I feel like I’m in a box every day, so yeah.

Madhav 1:19:05
Awesome. And then my last thing, and you probably heard this from many people and Peter Peter Thiel’s question, but what is that one thing that you believe in? Nobody else believes in?

Sriram 1:19:16
Okay, so I actually do believe that everybody is very creative and talented in performing arts,

Madhav 1:19:23
or performing arts. Oh,

Sriram 1:19:24
yeah. Like everyone keeps telling me No, no, I can’t dance to save my life. I’m tone deaf and all of those things. But I feel like there is a huge difference between people who had the right teacher who haven’t. So I think it just about adopting different styles of learning to be there, but I just I fundamentally believe so when someone comes and tells me Oh, you have to be all of these XYZ things to be an IndianRaga fellow. I’m like, No, you just have to keep pushing and kind of go about it the right way. And I think I think everybody can do it. So that’s one thing that I believe that I’ve seen many other people unfortunately, don’t. So I’ll tell you when I was learning in New York. was very curious that same things when I saw the Phantom of the Opera and all of those Broadway musicals, I went to a teacher and paid like a whole bunch of money there to kind of learn how to sing Western music. I was just curious what they do. And they basically the first exercise I did was to put an ice cream stick and balance it on my tongue, like with my tongue sticking up and do atoms. Oh, wow.

And all of that, while balancing the ice cream state on Oh, and the thing that he told me is because that will then engage the muscles that have no business in producing sound. So that my throat gets used to producing sound, right? I think that masking my imperfections. And then he was basically like, why you keep looking up all the time and you’re saying you don’t have to keep looking up at the sky when you sing high notes. The things that you otherwise don’t know and when you explain it to the mechanics of performance, and when he says, okay, fine, it has to come in a certain way. This is how you project and all of these things. I think that made a whole lot of difference and I was struggling with exactly Those two things in my Indian, you know, singing journey and all those things. So that’s another realize that first I had dismissed myself as Oh, maybe that’s just an imitation of my voice. But then when the right t shirt order to me in the right way, I kind of picked that up. So I think these things are able to, you know, people can overcome these things to having the right teacher who explains it in the right way. So I just very strongly believe that it’s just the style of teaching that needs to change and everyone has access to this. How did you find this person in New York? Was it your own making, or? Yeah, no, I just was struggling with this idea in India that you know, my voice was sounding a little nasal when I was singing or, you know, it’s going to struggling with like posture and all of that. Constantly, like I just wish I kind of figured out a way around it, I could fix it, and believe it and when you know what you’re looking for, then you’re able to see it and then

Madhav 1:21:57
find more to search.

Sriram 1:22:01
This person didn’t exactly advertise it that way, but it is like whatever description and so on just sort of like, spoke about not learning new songs, but learning how to improve all of these techniques. And I was like, hey, that’s what I want because I’m not looking to learn Western songs right now. But I’m looking for these things and who knows maybe from a different culture maybe he can help me out and turns out he was awesome. I do believe in you having having this strong desire and conviction to learn something or to get something and believing that you can definitely kind of feel pulls you towards it.

Madhav 1:22:38
Now for correction, nice.

Sriram 1:22:39
Still haven’t answered your own question about one full moon.

Well, from me selfish SEO standpoint, I would just say anyone can apply to Indian raga.

Half of our questions on Instagram are like can I apply can I apply what makes you think you can

Tonight, everything we do says you can apply at the end of our videos we have you can,

there’s an opening animation That’s so annoying to people even that says you can apply. And

Madhav 1:23:12
you can apply.

Sriram 1:23:14
I mean, you know, just forgetting all the philosophy for a woman is being like my true like, marketing self love that. I would say anybody can apply to any.

Madhav 1:23:25
That’s an awesome one. That’s a nice way to end this freedom. Are there any things that you wanted to bring up that we didn’t get a chance to talk about as a parting comment?

Sriram 1:23:35
No, I think

I really enjoyed this. This is great. Thank you. I think you asked a lot of pertinent questions about the journey. We probably didn’t talk too much about like future stuff, but you know, can really catch up in part two.

Madhav 1:23:46
Yeah, we really sincerely appreciate your time.

Sriram 1:23:48
Thank you. Thank you for reaching out. And yeah, I can’t wait to see like, you know, what comes up this conversation.

Madhav 1:23:55
Awesome. Thanks. Hey, if people want to connect with you, okay. How can they do that?

Sriram 1:23:59
Sriram Emani at Indian awesome. Yeah but I’m also on all the social media handles so yeah street me money everywhere so they can just say

Madhav 1:24:09
to my wish you the best. Thank you. Thank you for coming on the show again. Thank you for having me.

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