This is a follow up story for Studio 31. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m Pranesh Padmanabhan, 34, a first-generation entrepreneur and the Founder of Studio 31, a 13-year-old creative wedding photography and film company, that has been recognized by many premium publications in India.
Studio 31 captures over 200 weddings every year, and more than 90% of our customers are NRIs who travel to India for their weddings. We make about $700,000 in revenue annually.
Here's the link to our first story on Starter Story.
Post the covid scenario, we've redefined the way we do business, and we're happy about the total change in the wedding industry's landscape that occurred due to covid. We learned a lot of lessons that have made us more resilient as a company.
Always remember this: A problem will always have a solution. if there is no solution, then it's not a problem in the first place.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
Covid did a lot of not-so-good things, but it also trained us to survive the fall of one of the most significant setbacks in an industry that is all about social gatherings.
The number of weddings we capture has taken a downfall ever since covid happened; from shooting 300+ weddings a year, it came down to 180 odd, but thankfully in 2022, we've been able to hit our revenue targets even with fewer weddings. This means our average sale price increased, which is a great sign. I'd thank Covid again for this, as it gave us the opportunity and time to improve our deliverables, standards, and processes which in turn helped us increase our ASP by over 20%
We never knew remote working even existed before Covid, and when I look back today, I'm so happy that we successfully executed more than 150 weddings in 24 months remotely (aside from the production of the wedding, everything else was remote).
We invested more time in fine-tuning our tech and ensured our customers did not feel any different working with us almost entirely online. It was a major exercise, and we could nail it easily because we had a tech-driven approach. We've always believed in using the right technology to run an efficient business process and not solely rely on excel sheets or docs. Before covid, we'd built a custom CRM on Zoho Creator which was working well; but it was not built for remote operations.
Ever since we heard about Covid, we immediately started iterating the CRM and ensured it also helped us when the entire team was not working from a physical setup. We introduced employee dashboards, and master dashboards for each function to ensure all the modules talked to each other and ensured minimal data leakage.
In less than 15 days, we could convert our offline business model into a remote online model. Of course, it was really hard for a creative team to suddenly work from home without anyone to discuss or collaborate with, but it was far better than not using any tech and staring at excel sheets.
We launched a new website and started focusing on building another source of organic traffic apart from Instagram. The idea was to bring in traffic and engagement from our website as well through SEO-driven blogs, and interactive content.
Like most businesses are facing, the frequent algorithm changes in IG did scare us a bit, and we did not want to be dependent only on one platform. Even though most of our business is via referrals, our prospects still see our social media handles.
It's been a year now and our website is now contributing to over 30% of our leads which we consider a great win.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
Hiring talent has been a great challenge post-covid. More and more people are looking to work remotely, and we cannot always be remote for a business like wedding photography.
It's so hard even to begin a conversation with potential candidates as they are already set in their ways, wanting to work remotely, even before a discussion.
My staff also faced a lot of burnout working from home. The work started to feel boring, less creative, and more administrative. Many of our employees faced a creative block. Since Covid wasn't going anywhere, we were forced to find a workaround.
We landed a private floor in a co-working space, asked people to come in on alternative days, and slowly started working on a hybrid model. This solution was a win-win for everyone and eventually resolved all the challenges our existing staff faced.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
One major decision that I stuck to was to create a solid leadership team for all functions within the organization so that the dependency on me as a person is less than 10%. Covid gave me the luxury and opportunity to experiment with this model as there was no pressure or very minimal work.
A couple of wrong hires impacted the business significantly, not in revenue or growth, but in creating a sense of uncertainty among teams. As I said earlier, the remote working culture has synced people so much, and many fail to deliver as they don't have the fundamentals right. But we learned a lot from this and have made some great hires in the past three quarters.
Another important event was celebrating all the frontline and support warriors of Studio 31 who tirelessly worked hard and risked their lives during the peak covid situation. We celebrated this over two days followed by a party night and it was the best time ever for all of us after being stressed mentally and physically for over two years facing the virus.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The biggest plan and goal for the upcoming year is to hit our pre-covid revenue with fewer weddings. While we cannot compensate for the losses incurred at the peak of Covid, we want to make a decent profit and consistently maintain it.
We're also venturing into commercial filmmaking and have been experimenting with the model for a while now. It seems to be promising, but it's too early to tell if it'll be successful.
In 5 years, we only want to shoot 20 weddings per year, but make the same revenue with more profit.
Another milestone I have is to create three lines of leadership levels that can take over the business after me. I'm already working on them, and it's going to be a long process
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
- Stop doubting. Start doing. Doubting destroys your dreams more than failure would.
- Always remember this: A problem will always have a solution. if there is no solution, then it's not a problem in the first place.
- You don’t have to be worthy enough to start, but you have to start to be worthy enough.
- When you become good at trying, you become bad at failing.
- The pain of discipline is more bearable than the pain of regret
- Every time you hesitate, someone else will take action.
- The only real mistake is to fear making any mistakes at all.
- What you are going to be in the future is solely defined by your daily routine.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We're hiring freelance photographers and cinematographers all through the year. Extremely talented candidates will also be absorbed as full-time crew members. There are only three qualifications required to apply for this role.
- At least 50% clarity and focus that they would want to establish their career in the wedding space
- Own a professional DSLR; even the body alone would do
- You should be ready to try, try, try, fail, fail, fail, succeed and learn
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings