Shreyas Srinivas, Level 10 Comics, “Genre fiction in Indian comics is unexplored territory”
Shreyas was also one of the finalists at the British Council’s Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards in 2010. To know more about the Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards, click here. To follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards on Facebook, check out http://www.facebook.com/YCEAwards
Shreyas, tell us in detail about your startup Level 10 Comics.
Level 10 Comics(or Level 10 Entertainment Pvt Ltd as we’re now known as) is a comic publishing company focused on creating world-class, indigenous comic book content. We publish a monthly comic magazine called Comic JUMP targeted at mature readers in the 18-30 age segment. Genre fiction in Indian comics is unexplored territory. ‘Comic JUMP’ looks to stretch the boundaries of traditional comic book fiction by venturing into areas such as sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Each story has a strong social significance. These are stories about us, in our world, surrounded by situations and circumstances that we can identify with.
Level 10 Comics was started back in May, 2010 by me and my business partner, US-returned software engineer Suhas Sundar. We wanted to team up and get started on the entrepreneurial track, and we chose comics for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of our own undying passion for the medium and secondly because we felt there was a definite paucity of original content in this space in India. Indian companies were satisfied regurgitating the same old formula of stylized mythology or as we like to call them, “Saffron Comics”. We wanted to showcase a more diverse fare such as Sci-fi, high fantasy, horror etc. Comic JUMP is intended as a platform for the best comic content from India and Indian creators, spanning across a vast and diverse array of topics and treatments. We strongly believe that the next spate of pop culture and global franchises would originate in India and are working towards positioning Level 10 Comics to spearhead this revolution. With the sheer literacy rate and percentage of young adults in the population, comics are a great and low cost medium for testing out new concepts and ideas: from science fiction to fantasy to horror. Comics serve as the sounding board for offbeat and refreshing ideas and once comics gain a cult status and loyal following, they can be exploited across multiple media platforms such as video games, animation and live action films. Our aim is to leverage the huge talent pool available in the country and marry it with our creative vision and entrepreneurial drive to slowly make an impact across all media. To us comics is just the beginning, the future is infinite!
Being an entrepreneur in creative space, is definitely an impressive career choice. Share your background with us.
Tell us about the team behind Level 10 Comics.
We have a team of 11 people led by me and Suhas. As the CEO, I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations. Suhas is the Creative Director and doubles up as the editor for the magazine. We're broadly divided into production, circulation and ad sales verticals. We're based out of Mumbai and we're always open to hiring young, ambitious people across all verticals.
How has the response for Level 10 Comics been so far?
How did you acquire your first few followers?
Mostly through word of mouth. That’s the beauty of comics. It's a cult medium. If we acquire one fan, that fan in turn talk about us or tells his friends about us and thus one becomes five, five becomes ten and hopefully, if we continue to sustain and innovate, this base will continue to grow exponentially.
What's your outreach model?
We are very active on social media. We believe in real time feedback and conversations with our fans. This allows us to asses who’s reading our books and what they like or don’t like about our content. This also allows us to course correct ourselves and continue to adapt and evolve.
What are the challenges you face in this sector in India?
The biggest challenge thus far has been distribution. With just over 4,500 outlets across the country selling magazines, the number of point-of-sale touch-points is extremely low. We’re currently working on addressing this by creating our own distribution network so that we have more granular control over placement and can also receive constant periodic updates on sales and competition.
How did you fundraise to startup?
We started as a self-funded entity and pretty much bootstrapped it for the initial year. We've just completed our first round of VC funding. We're currently funded by Seedfund and Mumbai Angels, two of India's most respected early-stage VC funds/companies.
What about competition?
There are several players in the comic business(Amar Chitra Katha, Diamond Comics, Raj Comics ) etc. But the audience and content vary drastically. In the space that we operate(Magazine - Comics, 18-30 age segment), we're fighting a lone battle. We're literally trying to create a new category.
How do you make money?
Similar to any other magazine - sales revenue and advertising.
There is a Forum on Level 10 Comics’ website. How has the response for Forum been so far?
Our discussion forums are quite active and what’s exhilarating to observe is that we have fans of all age groups and demographics coming and discussing their favorite series. We are also re-hauling our website and plan on leveraging twitter to have more real time discussions.
What’s next at Level 10 Comics?
We'll largely be focused on strengthening our print magazine distribution and it's associated revenue streams. We're investing in quality man-power and hope to reach to a far larger audience over the next few months. In the long run, we will try and penetrate high-potential, high-investment medium such as Television and Digital. This will really help us leverage our content and expand our access to a larger audience. We're currently re-hauling our site. Our new site www.comicjump.in will be up from August.
Tell us about your experience at YCE last year.
I was one of the finalists at YCE last year and it's been a fantastic experience - both in terms of networking as well as receiving some much-needed publicity.
Anything else that you want to share with the readers of YourStory.in ?
As a culture, we’re very risk-averse. I believe that bulk of the ideas fail because entrepreneurs stop persisting – largely due to societal and family pressures. As a society, we pride ourselves in having contributed top notch bankers, lawyers and engineers to global corporations. From the age of 6, we are told that life is a struggle and salvation lies in pursuing the golden Indian middle-class dream – a stable career, a car and a home. It is a value-system deeply injected and ingrained in every middle class Indian child. Hard work is the answer. If you’re not top of your class since first grade you’re not working hard enough. If you’re not working for a multi-national with a fixed income and a pension plan, well, you’re not working hard enough. This is what we’re faced day-to-day. Most entrepreneurs will agree when I say that persistence always trumps talent when it comes to start-ups. It is important that we as a society start to embrace risk as a part of our lifestyle and entrepreneurship becomes a more involving experience rather than being closeted between pockets of angel investors.
Varsha Adusumilli | YourStory.in