He gave up a career in software to start urban gardening company My Sunny Balcony
After 10 years as a software professional, Sriram Aravamudan found his calling in beautifying Bengaluru’s balconies with My Sunny Balcony. Read his inspiring #PassionToPaycheck story below.
My Sunny Balcony – the name conjures up images of warm sunshine on cold winter mornings, steaming cups of tea, and gently swaying palms and bright bougainvillea flowers in equally bright planters.
I could go on with the imagery, more so as it is so far from what it really is – it’s rainy in Bengaluru, my balcony is flooded, the swing is wet and my plants have hung their heads in defeat!
Among this, Sriram Aravamudan’s invitation comes with the assurance of a steaming cup of filter coffee and a tour of his slightly-wild monsoon garden. Why do I spin words so, you ask, and the answer is simple – I write about a writer!
To quote a cliché, Sriram dons many hats – he is one of the four founders of My Sunny Balcony, a baker, a columnist and writer, a musician, a voiceover artist and with an engineering degree and 10 years of IT experience to boot!
“The love and passion for gardening comes from my great granddad. He was crazy about plants,” says Sriram in answer to where he gets his green fingers from. “I was a 90s kid, and the only option for us was engineering or medicine.”
With an engineering degree from the Bangalore Institute of Technology, Sriram took a job with Tata Infotech. Job changes also took him to Wipro, Hewlett Packard and after 10 years of being part of the corporate world, he decided it was time for something new.
“Initially, the idea was that I’d take a break and try new things. If nothing worked out, the option to go back to the job was always there,” says Sriram. The idea of My Sunny Balcony came as four friends sat around a coffee table discussing how Bengaluru was losing its trees for flyovers, and to give back some in terms of the green cover.
“The biggest real estate available in the city was on rooftops,” says Sriram, and adds that presented the opportunity. However, plans were soon modified as, “terraces are community-owned but balconies are personal spaces. Also, most homes in the city have balconies and thus we decided to focus on that”.
“The weather in Bengaluru is glorious for plants, and the city already has a culture for gardening and keeping plants,” says Sriram.
Focusing on the balcony
My Sunny Balcony takes inspiration from the Mediterranean region for its aesthetics, so the garden spaces designed are bright, even when the plants are not flowering or at their best. The company focuses on organic plants and methods of gardening and even conducts workshops on the same.
It also does not import plants or materials, choosing to source all material and manpower locally. It also runs a garden shop and sells products online.
“We have no funding. When we started out, I had already quit my job and Reena (co-founder Reena Chengappa) was yet to resign. The other two (Shailesh Deshpande and Athreya Chidambi) held on to their day jobs, and continue to do so even today.”
“The company came at a huge opportunity cost to all of us. The first three to four years we made almost nothing. Even later, what one of the partners makes is around a quarter of what they would make if they had kept their jobs. But then, money isn’t everything.”
My Sunny Balcony is around eight years old, and as the company became stable, three founders withdrew from the day-to-day functioning of the company, and only one holds the fort. That partner gets a salary, and the rest get what Sriram terms as kind of a “stipend”.
“A builder once asked us to do 56 balconies in three days. It was a crazy effort, and we had to source all the materials from our vendors on credit and at short notice. It was a good experience in terms of effort, and of course we got paid for 56 balconies, so that was good,” says Sriram when asked to share some memorable experiences. What brings pleasure as the co-founder of My Sunny Balcony? “When a customer sends us pictures of their balconies after, perhaps, a year!”
On the co-founders’ plans for My Sunny Balcony, Sriram says, “Funding is needed. What sort is the question, as bank loans are tough to come by as we don’t have much in the name of assets, only intellectual property. On the other hand, the size of the company is so small that to put in any funding, an angel investor would take away a big percentage in the company.”
The baker in him
“In 2014, I took a step back from My Sunny Balcony and travelled to the UK.” Impressed with the English teatime experience, Sriram sought to recreate some of the magic back home in Bengaluru and thus came Bakeaway. There was no investment in the venture, and Sriram takes orders online to bake vintage cakes at home.
Vintage? “We don’t do fondant cakes. Vintage cakes are ones like marble cakes, Victorian sponge cakes, or even scones, etc. We aim to evoke nostalgia.”
That said, he points out the logistics of transportation of cakes is difficult.
However, that is not all. Sriram says as of now, he is mainly a writer and columnist. He writes a weekly column for the Bangalore Mirror on gardening.
“I would love to get into environmental conservation, and also like to explore farming with the permaculture method,” says Sriram. He also says he is inspired by the Timbaktu Collective and wanted to do something on similar lines.
“Do you have the land?” I ask and his answering laugh says maybe those plans are sometime away!
The big question
How difficult was quitting the corporate job?
“For me, it was easy. To convince the family was difficult as the mindset is different. If, however, one is stuck in the loan trap, then quitting the job would be a difficult task.” On how a corporate experience makes a difference, Sriram says, “I know the triggers for customers. I could speak to them in their language having been part of the corporate setup so there was, in some way, a trust that I would deliver.”
So, can one’s passion really translate to a profession? “I have no regrets about quitting my corporate job, and in fact the quality of my lifestyle has improved,” says Sriram. There, of course, would have been some compromises. “I used to go out to expensive places. Now, I mostly meet friends at home or at their place. That is pretty much the only difference to my lifestyle.”
The odds, he says, are stacked in favour of the pros. “I have more time. I have a more peaceful lifestyle.”