Pranesh translated his passion for photography into a career by starting Studio 31, a bootstrapped photography company based in Chennai. Read his inspiring #PassionToPaycheck story below.
At 18, when most people are still struggling to decide on a career, Pranesh Padmanabhan knew that he felt complete with a camera in his hand.
This Chennai-born lensman’s tryst with photography began when he realised that he enjoyed capturing the emotions of people. Pranesh, who has a degree in electronic engineering and a postgraduate degree in marketing and advertising, says, “I chose photography as my path because that has always excited me the most. Back then, it was an era of film SLRs and I experimented a lot with them, so I started learning on my own.” He also went on to experiment with graphic design, sound engineering, film making and writing.
Brought up in Dubai, Pranesh had always been fascinated by art and photography. Instead, he studied engineering while training himself on the basics of photography. He continued practising photography, till finally, in 2010 he quit his job as a marcom consultant at an IT company in Chennai, and started Studio 31, a wedding photography company.
Pranesh says, “They say one can start or run a business successfully only when one has initial capital and a strong financial backup. That doesn’t have to be the case. I'm a first generation entrepreneur - most of my family members are engineers, doctors or government employees. But since I like taking risks and have always wanted to stand apart from the crowd, it worked in my favour. Whether I'm successful or not is secondary, but I chose to be different, that’s what matters.”
Currently, Studio 31 is the only photography company in the country to be ISO 9001-2000 certified. In the initial months, Pranesh was the only one shooting weddings, but today Studio 31 has a large network of 200 talented photographers and cinematographers, a workforce of 30-plus full-time employees and a set of standardised procedures in place. The company has successfully captured over 2,500 events in the last seven years.
He explains with pride, “I researched and approached photographers from the remotest parts of Tamil Nadu. They were creative and talented, but were not sure on how to pursue a career in photography. So, I hired them full-time, trained them, and there has been no looking back since.” He goes on to explain his vision, “My market has never been limited to only the elite crowd. I wanted every couple to have a great set of wedding memories. So I did not set an expensive price tag and chose to shoot weddings at a higher volume instead. I wanted to provide high quality wedding photography and films that are accessible to everyone, at a nominal price, without compromising on the creativity.”
It hasn’t been a very smooth journey for Pranesh. “One of the major challenges was convincing financial institutions and banks for a loan. Even though I paid taxes and filed my returns on time, it was difficult to convince them that 'wedding photography' can also be a potential business. It took me five years and 38 bank rejections to finally secure a loan. Today, the banks that rejected Studio 31's loan applications back then are chasing us, offering collateral-free loans,” he says with a smile.
What differentiates Studio 31 from its peers is that the company focuses on providing international quality customer support, all made in India. Pranesh explains, “We're glad that we've been constantly improving year after year. We want to learn how we can keep improving our service offerings, know our customers better and create a win-win situation for everyone involved in the process.”
Today, Studio 31 specialises in candid photography, creative wedding cinema, destination couple shoots, and customised photo books, apart from conventional wedding photographs and videos. “In these seven years, we've built some great relationships with our customers. A testament to this is our amazing record of more than 55 percent of our customers coming via constant referrals. All of this with zero capital and the company still doesn't own a single camera or shooting gear,” Pranesh says excitedly. Renting gear also keeps the team updated. “New models are launched once in six months and our vendors keep updating the gears, which means, we get the latest equipment all the time without investing extra. I can easily commit to more number of orders without worrying about availability of equipment. My focus will be quality manpower,” he adds.
In the coming years, Pranesh wants to focus on technology and customer support. “We want to implement acclaimed international strategies to solve local challenges. Currently, we're beta testing our own custom made CRM application and we're continuing to develop a technology that will create a revolution in the wedding industry. The day is not too far,” he signs off.