Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
A warm welcome to all the readers. Thanks to Starter Story for the encouragement and motivation by covering our story.
I am Meenakshi, a former IT professional and presently running Art Splash Academy of Fine Arts successfully since Sep 2015. Art Splash Academy trains students on Trinity College London based Keyboard, Guitar, Violin, Rock & Pop vocals, Indian Music, Carnatic vocals, Bharatnatyam, Certified Jazz, Arts, Yoga, Tabla.
We have an excellent mix of students, professionals, homemakers, businessmen as customers with us. There is no age limit as far as arts, music, or dance is concerned and it's the interest and passion that counts. So we can make a start any day. We don't need any specific skills or experience to get started.
Definitely, music heals. It helps to improve concentration and memory. Usage of the left and right brain and coordination helps us to enhance our grasping ability. Yoga helps to de-stress and helps stay fit. Arts definitely helps us to unwind ourselves.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My paternal grandfather was my mentor in Indian music. He taught me Carnatic vocals when I was 4 years old. He was my inspiration. My maternal grandfather was a businessman who ran hotels, lodges, oil and rice mills, spares shops, etc. He too was my inspiration. My mom will always be an inspiration to me as she taught me righteousness and virtues.
Also, my school provided great exposure to dance and vocal, both being my passion. I had participated in various cultural competitions and events during school and got recognized and awarded by our Chief Minister and Governor at that time. I even performed in the International sports festival inauguration dance that happened in India during my grade 12. The thrill was the music was composed by our Oscar awardee AR Rahman, India's pride. I used to be actively participating in Lions club events, competitions, and Bookfair every year.
To start any business we need to have the investment and I definitely wanted to save for that big day. It took me years and I decided after my younger kid was born. I wanted to balance my work and family life better, without compromising both and also keep them growing.
I definitely wanted to be an entrepreneur and in the education field. That was a decision taken probably about 2006 when I struggled between regular office, travel to Singapore Malaysia, pan India and global implementation of about 5 applications at once and building team from scratch until the software was operationally successful and handed over and also training and support system built from scratch and independent to function in place. All this single-handedly done by me and later assisted by a support staff of 4 members. Especially when I had my mom suffering post-operative situations of brain cancer and me having a baby. I managed to work until my second baby in 2012. Then I wanted to start my own business.
Being a mother helped me understand my students’ needs, the parents’ expectations, and my work experience in understanding requirements (thanks to my ERP job where irrespective of the domain we grab the SRS) and customer management was an added advantage. To be honest, it’s an extended family, the bond we share with each of my customers.
Yes, there was more than one aha moment. The first was when my first customer Poornimaa joined us, such a fortunate angel. Then Purvaa our very first student who grabbed a grade 8 Trinity Certificate in Vocals that was an aha moment. Another aha moment was the first time we hit the news and my first article.
Every year we make sure all our students participate in our Annual concert and perform. Every such concert is in my golden moments. My stage performance of dance after a huge gap of 20 years was another aha moment. Last but not the least, Mr.Blaaze, Rapper well known for his work with AR Rahman and several other Musicians collaborated with us to take "Rhythm and Poetry" as a well-designed course for students passionate about creative writing and rapping.
This was and is different than other business ideas as it is not just the commercial mindset that could help. We need to absolutely understand the customer, their requirements, and ensure their passion eventually gets met. It’s a long term association and takes time. This is not like just grabbing a cup of falooda or just buying a branded cloth or getting a facial done. It’s more of managing each client each time at each session consistently delivering for a longer tenure. We need to keep up our words, honor our commitment, and make sure we meet their learning needs. We have to understand the customer including their interest, choice, and their time schedules to be flexible with them. That personal connection is the core.
Similarly, the connection with the mentors. Artists have to be encouraged and kept well. Only a happy mentor can meet up the learning needs. Their work involves a lot of repetitive cycles and we have to choose the right mentor who enjoys the work so much that it no longer becomes a work but a passion.
We have wonderful musicians around and am proud of my team. They have been with me in ebb and flow. Despite their talents, many faces struggle as they don't have the proper support to get a loan or start their own academy. Their revenue is not consistent. Only a handful really meets heights and luck does matter. I well understand this as my grandfather suffered struggles despite his abilities. I have long associations with my team of teachers and we have the trust in place.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The average startup cost will be about 9,000USD depending on the location of your business, the footfall, space advance, interiors, instruments, furniture, books, syllabus. The working cost or cash flow would fluctuate around 12,000USD by 2 years and includes monthly salary, rentals, electricity, marketing, and more. If you did not breakeven by then it could get higher.
Also during severe rains, floods, school vacations the business could get fewer customers. We may have to work harder and smarter to schedule lessons in such a way it doesn't disturb the student's grade exam with Trinity and the schools. We need to always have a backup plan. Trust me it helps. Off-season like December, April, and May fluctuate a bit as many have travel plans.
I do not charge the customers in such cases. I rather work out summer camps, art workshops, winter camps, events and make sure I balance the cash flow stress. In some cases, we provide the lessons combined rescheduling the session's basis availability of students.
Nothing works like word of mouth. Although ads and promotions help to convey we exist. The business improves once your customers are happy.
We provide the students with instruments and they need not buy an instrument to start the learning.
Until this pandemic happened I had really not looked at going online although there was a demand for it. Most of the customers who heard about us pan India and those who took up our camps and workshops felt so satisfied with our work, ideas, and warmth. Many customers from abroad enrolled kids for our summer or winter camps regularly upon their vacation to India. They always requested online classes as the kids and parents got the comfort level with us. Many were impressed with our crash courses; Robotics, Aeromodelling, and Animation were all fruits of my love for science, and not many providers for these custom made programs. These were very successful too.
Once this pandemic hit us, quickly in about a week, we started our operations online. I had to make a quick plan. As always I keep making backup plans by nature, this came in handy when covid happened. Initially, about 40 percent of customers agreed to online classes and the rest felt they could resume after lockdown ends. But slowly as we saw what happened with COVID-19, close to 80 percent agreed with the new normal mode of online classes. I had a lot of students come to us through our existing customer references. Also many new joiners from abroad. Thanks to social media for this.
Our teachers are well experienced to plan our lessons and theory and make it systematically reach students. This came as a major advantage for us. Not only did we get new customers but we also retained them.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started the social media presence once I finalized the location and place to hire. I self-funded the business and did not take a loan. I had to do interiors and the electrical to my needs and that called for investment. So this will be known only when you know your location although you can budget your search.
It took me 2 days for the first customer and the first month we touched 15 customers which is pretty good. Sep 5th, 2015 was the official launch. Things rolled well until the floods in Dec 2015, but we grew to 50 customers by then. It hit me bad as the floods ended up de-rooting trees and falling over the building. It caused leakages due to which the false ceiling got damaged and the air conditioner and keyboard suffered due to power fluctuations.
I had to redo the entire wiring again as the safety of kids is the number one priority and redo the interiors just in 3 months of operation. Due to floods retaining the customers and getting new customers were both getting harder. We scheduled and rescheduled sessions according to our class commitment and made sure we gave flexible hours during the morning when rain was bearable. We arranged a safe pick and drop in a few cases. Online wouldn't work as the entire internet network and power connectivity failed during floods. But we managed to put up and giving up is definitely not why I started this for.
Every year since then every Dec we face a natural disaster like cyclone Vardah or Gaja which have caused a lot of damage to many including us. We prepare ahead and keep plans ready.
If you own a place and it can be used for commercial purposes the risks are lesser.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Nothing works like word of mouth. Although ads and promotions help to convey what we have to offer and how unique we are.
I believe our strength is our core team of teachers and our expertise in teaching Keyboard, Guitar, Violin, Vocals, and Bharatnatyam. All this needs a systematic approach and knowledge of the theory of music and experience to impart the lessons successfully to kids. This makes us stand up from the crowd and turn us unique.
I always choose different topics that would interest people like robotics or reverse glass mural workshops that would create curiosity in people to know what it is about. I would offer packages or combo at competitive pricing. This improves footfalls and develops an interest to visit us.
Ads and articles in weekly newspapers have been very supportive in the first year of operation. We need to shout out we are here. Advertising banners, posters, flyers, paper inserts, online ads, Facebook reach, Insta handle, Google everything has a role to play. You need to observe each time an ad is placed and plan what has been successful. Cost vs reach vs conversion. After 2 years you can bring it down to quarterly ads or seasonal ads or especially when you completed a concert or anniversary or introduced a new course like aeromodelling.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I feel blessed as perseverance and consistency have yielded a good reputation for us all despite our struggles and induced trust and confidence in us. Self-belief and hard work never fail. We need to have an open mind to work over weekends and holidays to help customers learn. Especially in the first 3 years I never had weekends or festivals or any vacation. But all these help you grow and sustain. Success is not easy but definite.
I was approached by a few to take up franchisees and investors. I will definitely plan for that as a long term goal. I am looking out for marketing associates abroad as well.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Definitely managing 2 kids along with a new business with investment and managing it single-handedly is a challenge. But when I heard from a few mothers that I inspired them not to give up their career for family, it boosted me. When you see the results of your hard work then there's no looking back.
Teaming up with schools around and conducting workshops and judging events and interactions all helped. Making plans for a campaign for school carnivals and innovative workshops helped. This improves footfalls and develops a curiosity to visit us.
Abilities or habits if you ask me, I always follow a pattern. Am good at decisions. I will assess the pros and cons way ahead. I can foresee. I don't let myself be surprised unless good ones, I don't regret it. I choose the right people. Yes, my marketing plans sometimes don't go well depending on the season it falls especially the vacation or travel period. But these kinds of things do happen.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Presently we use Google Meet and Zoom. Yes, we are working on getting a platform that we could customize. I would want to decide after time testing. We maintain student progress reports. All financial pay worksheets are handled by me. I personally take care of Facebook or Insta handles social media marketing and regular administration.
Exam assessment and other reports are also maintained. Visitors and inquiries are tracked. Follow up on the payment and feedback system managed by me. Schedules of class, time table, attendance all managed too.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
If we don't take care of our customers, somebody else will. My motto.
It's okay to go the extra mile to deliver better. It's not about numbers and profits alone. It's also about how many we inspire, educate, and help grow. When you meet customers forget your numbers. It helps!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We have demands for teachers always as online classes have made it packed for our team. I have employed new teachers to handle the growing needs. I always welcome teachers and open to hiring. I don't want to miss anyone who makes a difference.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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