Every sight offers a plethora of moments. Every moment offers an experience. And every experience offers a story, to tell and a memory, that remains. Born out of this idea, that almost every sight one beholds, narrates its own tale; Chennai based startup Storytrails is an attempt to dig out stories behind ordinary sights and to research, script and creatively present such stories through enjoyable theme based trails. In a conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory.in, entrepreneur Vijay Prabhat Kamalakara, narrates to us the real story behind Storytrails.Vijay was also the winner of British Council’s Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Awards 2011. To know more about the Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Awards, click here. Follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards on Facebook.
Vijay, to begin with, what does the term ‘work’ at an exciting venture like Storytrails signify?
Our work involves using storytelling as a communication tool. We use stories to design creative outings, thematic workshops and curriculum based programmes for kids of all age-groups and to design alternative tours for visitors to the city. We use storytelling, music, dance and theatre to make the process of discovery an enjoyable one for our audience. Storytrails is a research based organization that believes in the use of creative tools to make the process of learning and discovery enjoyable.
So how did the business idea of connecting stories and travel come about? Was it a personal experience that triggered you to startup Storytrails?
I am an ardent traveller, having travelled extensively for work and for pleasure. When I travel, what interests me most is the local way of life – so different in different parts of the world. And I believe this experience lies not just in the history or monuments of a place, but is best found in its stories - stories which are reflected in our customs, values, mores and stereotypes. This was the thought behind starting Storytrails, an organisation that focuses on showcasing stories behind everyday sights. But my interest apart, a key driver in persisting with this idea has been my faith in its business viability. I believe there is a need in the market that our services address, and the numbers do add up to make it a sustainable business model.
Tell us in detail about the services that Storytrails offers.
Our basic service is creative presentation of information and our target audience cuts across verticals:For visitors to the city: Our research focuses on stories behind everyday sights, customs, and symbolisms. We weave such stories into theme based trails, each trail showcasing one unique element of life - traditions, bazaars, jewellery, mysticism, rural life, dances and architecture. Our trails are not sight-seeing tours but instead attempt to showcase the local way of life. They are hosted not by professional guides but by trained storytellers performing to a script. These trails have been much appreciated for their unique format and content. Frommer’s guide book recently rated Storytrails as ‘exceptional’ with the highest star rating "...in many ways this is the best introduction to an Indian city, particularly for newcomers to India..."
For schools/school children: Our trails and workshops for children are designed to introduce kids to a variety of new topics in a fun way. We have over 70 such scripted trails for different age groups on a wide range of subjects - world-wars, cinema, magnetism, cars, chocolates, and many more. These trails use a choreographed mix of stories, songs, dances, role-play and props to excite kids’ interest in that subject. Many of these trails are designed in collaboration with schools to focus on a topic from the curriculum.
For corporates: Our workshops and experiential programmes for corporates are designed to help communicate ideas using storytelling and other creative tools.
What is your prior work experience and educational background?
I worked for 7 years in the banking and IT consulting industries before starting Storytrails. I have an MBA from IIM Indore.
So when was Storytrails started, and what is the size of your team? Storytrails was set up in December of 2006. It is now a strong team of 15 enthusiastic and very articulate individuals from diverse backgrounds, and the team comprises writers, teachers, engineers, designers and retired professionals.
Where do you operate from?
We are based out of Chennai. But we have partnered with many organisations that are present nationally, and have started offering our services to their target audiences across the country. For now, we are doing this by having our teams travel, and going forward we are looking to set-up a base in other cities as well.
Where do you plan to set up operations next?
Our vision is to have a pan-India footprint over the next couple of years. Our strength today is in the fact that we have a robust system of designing, creating and presenting our trails on myriad subjects from scratch. In the last 4 years, we have been able to port our trails to locations across the country including Delhi, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai. In the next two years, we plan to set-up a base in some of these cities.
Is the content for all your trails created in-house?
Yes. Our content and our presentation tools remain our key differentiators. So our time is split almost equally between research, scripting and design of trails and in training our storytellers.
How do you make money?
We are a service provider to some of the largest hotels, the best schools and leading corporate and retail organisations in and around Chennai. The common service we provide to such a diverse set of clients is creative presentation of information. We productize our offerings by scripting the content and reusing it. Our revenue share from education, travel and corporate sectors is almost equal.
What are the challenges you face as you plan to scale the company?
Our scalability comes from our ability to train storytellers on content that is standardised. We are working on checks to ensure that the quality of the content or of training is not compromised as the organisation grows.
Can you tell us about any strategic partnerships that helped you scale so far?
In terms of reach, our work with organisations having a pan-India presence like Landmark has helped us take our services across the country. In terms of breadth, we work with organisations like Cognizant where our association first started with trails for their visiting clients, and soon grew to include employee engagement programmes, their CSR initiatives with corporation schools and programmes for their employees’ kids.
How do you outreach to target audience?
Word of mouth referrals continue to be our most potent marketing tool.
Any interesting feedback you received from your customers?
We always find it heartening to read the feedback from kids on our trails. Many have written poems for us, and left large heart signs in the feedback forms. It is also very interesting to note that the feedback on our trails for visitors is very similar irrespective of whether it comes from an Indian living in Chennai or from a foreigner visiting the city.
Finally, how did YCE help you? Could you please share your experience with us.
YCE award is a wonderful recognition of our work. I am grateful for the visibility it has generated and also the contacts it has led to. My recent visit to Edinburgh which was facilitated by the British Council as part of the YCE programme was quite an eye-opener. The Fringe festival in Edinburgh which I had the opportunity to attend is the largest theatre festival in the world. The variety of performances, the subjects covered, the tools used to communicate ideas, the teasers and promotions were all very inspiring. I got to meet very interesting people and organisations which will hopefully lead to collaborations going forward. Most importantly, it gave me a chance to exchange notes with those working in a similar field elsewhere in the world.