Digital storytelling is part of the Rs 18,000 crore digital media industry. Kashyap and Harsh Desai’s Lowfundwala is helping startups tell their stories and create impact.
Founders: Kashyap Swaroop
Where it is located: Mumbai
The problem they solve: Create startup narratives through film on digital channels
Funding: Rs 25 lakh; self-funded
Revenues: Rs 2 crore
A year ago, music platform Happydemic wanted to tell users that they could gift their loved ones an evening in song with live music at their homes. The startup did not, however, know how to weave this message into a story. Seeking a solution, its founders got on to the Lowfundwala platform and shared their problem statement.
Not long after, Kashyap Swaroop and Harsh Desai scripted a narrative and shot a film that communicated the Happydemic ethos.
Storytelling through short films is becoming a big part of the startup and corporate narrative. Enter Lowfundwala, a full-service video agency that aims to simplify startup storytelling.
“Startups have a problem with narrative, and we simplify it for them,” says Kashyap Swaroop, Founder of Lowfundwala.
The idea took shape in August 2013 when Gaurav Munjal, Kashyap’s senior at college, asked him if he would be interested in making an “explainer video” about his startup, Flat.to. Kashyap agreed to write, direct, and produce the video, and got his first remuneration - a few slices of pizza.
This led him to sit back and think. He says his first thought was, “I hope we don't end up broke like the antagonists in the movie Lokhandwala; I hope I don't end up Lowfundwala.”
Lowfundwala - the name was finalised, and a new company was born as an ode to startups that, despite having a killer idea, never have money and always fall short on storytelling.
The early days
Kashyap, CEO and Co-founder of Lowfundwala, says, “I've been a film buff since as long as I can remember. My sister and I would spend countless hours selecting movies to watch on TV, using the local TV guide. I grew up in a film family, my mom is a trained film editor, and my father is a trained director from FTII, Pune.” He adds he would often be a part of their films as character or crew when he was as young as seven years old.
During one such film shoot, a documentary about the works of celebrated architect Dr Laurie Baker in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, he fell in love with the concept of eco-friendly and cost-effective housing. Inspired, he took admission in the civil engineering course at NMIMS University, Mumbai. He finished the course in 2013, but chose to walk a different path.
In August 2014, Lowfundwala was incorporated. A few months later, he found Harsh Desai on Twitter. Harsh, who was the Founder and Editor-in-chief of Mumbai-based college magazine The Collegian, had reviewed Kashyap’s father’s film Rangbhoomi after a screening at IFFI, Goa. “We connected on Twitter and gradually became good friends and he joined me in early 2015 as creative director. We had similar taste in stories, films, and advertising,” Kashyap says.
Their customer list soon boasted of names like Shopclues, Instamojo, Directi's Codechef for Schools, and Vero Moda, among a dozen others who came to them for storytelling and short videos.
“We'd begun to realise that our small endeavour was snowballing into something more serious. In May 2014, I met Mona Raina, a serial entrepreneur and business strategist from INSEAD Paris. She a lot of belief in our vision for the advertising industry and the niche we'd been carving for ourselves, and volunteered to be an advisor to us,” Kashyap recalls.
The idea behind the startup was to create a cohesive set of complementary entities with well-defined offerings. Today, the TSM LLP umbrella, the registered entity of the company, with the brand being Lowfundwala, includes Lowfundwala, a boutique film ideas and execution studio for SMEs, startups and legacy enterprises; Shortfilmwala, an advertising platform that integrates native ads, Public Service Advertisements (PSAs), and short films; and Tilt Shift Labs (TSL), a space to experiment with ideas and technology (still in the idea phase).
Shortfilmwala makes documentaries and web series. So far, the company has made eight short films, one feature-length documentary film (Pushkar Puran, opening film at IFFI Goa in 2017), and is working on a feature-length anthology of short films to be directed by Franziska Schoenenberger and Jayakrishnan Subramanian from Munich. TSL organises workshops on filmmaking, advertising, marketing, music, and a range of art forms for startup storytelling.
The business and market
Lowfundwala was launched to create a niche - startup-centric brand films. “With time, we realised that it's a market that's easy to crack, but with the reward non-commensurate to the efforts and resources that go into each hand-crafted film,” Kashyap says.
Lowfundwala works with brands and agencies on turn-key projects and long-term associations. They have created films for clients from the BFSI, FMCG, tech, retail, and textile sectors, among others. On an average, the team of seven people works on four unique projects a month. The project ticket size varies from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 20 lakh for digital films.
According to IBEF, the digital advertising market is projected to grow to Rs 18,000 crore by 2020, with brands expected to allocate at least 25 percent of their net budget towards creating and pushing digital ads.
Some of the key challenges of the digital advertising market today are:
- Lack of trust in the digital medium: A lot of marketeers are just beginning to understand the digital medium and its potential because they do not know how to measure its impact.
- Lack of true differentiators: In an industry where everyone claims to do the same thing, the service or offering of digital branded content is becoming more generic with time. Every agency claims to be a “storyteller”, without anybody really challenging the rigour of that claim. In Mumbai, there are over 2,000 production houses that do the exact same thing - execution of a bound script.
Lowfundwala competes with TVF, AIB, and Dice Media. AIB recently launched Vigyapanti, their branded content/ads division.
Kashyap, though, is not very worried. He says his company has executed 400 unique brand films for companies such as Ola, Uber, HCL, Accenture, and Asian Paints, along with over a hundred other big enterprises and startups.
Kashyap says: “Our competitors earn a serious edge over us by virtue of a captive audience or subscribers. This allows them to not just be creators, but also distributors. We're working on bridging this divide by developing an audience of classicism loyalists, admirers of beautiful visual storytelling, through our new IPs on Shortfilmwala.
V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures, says digital storytelling “is the future for several companies”. “This is why you see large corporates invest in video storytelling at large events to win consumers.”
Kashyap’s company has revenues of Rs 2 crore, and aims to scale with its new technology feature in six months. But their strengths are in storytelling and film-making, and they want to ensure that this wins them clients.
“Our biggest strength is our crowd-sourced resource pool of talent - an internally ratified and constantly updated database of over 400 technicians, craftsmen, storytellers, and filmmakers that we've worked with in the past,” Kashyap says. He adds that under their in-house project managers, they can assemble a “fresh yet experienced team” of technicians, including directors, producers, and editors as soon as needs arise. “This allows us to keep our operations lean, and our costs low. We pass on this cost benefit to our customers,” he says.
These young storytellers are going after startups that have raised their pre-Series A funding, and are keen to showcase how they can connect with their audiences through digital films. All we can say is “action”!