Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Duo converts passion for comics....

Duo converts passion for comics into business venture

Sep 10 2013, 11:50   |   By SME Mentor
Sonali Chowdhury
For teens transported into the world of zombies or for those who identify with young superheroes, comics are no laughing matter.
These modern, contemporary stories are courtesy Level10 Entertainment founded by Shreyas Srinivas and Suhas Sundar. Launched in 2010 under the then name Level10 Studios, the Bangalore-based company began by publishing Comic JUMP, a comic book aimed at youngsters.
Their own story has since evolved, and many sequels later, the start-up's focus has shifted from comic book 'stories' to 'generating content' for the digital and television mediums, specifically the young Indian urban male. Awww, did our very own 'superheroes' finally grow up?
Before we reveal the exciting tale spun by our superheroes-in-the-making, first a flashback.
Magical World Of Comics
Friends and former college-mates, Sundar and Srinivas had always been very passionate about comics. After they graduated from engineering college in Bangalore, they scripted their own stories, where Sundar was a software professional and Srinivas, a manager in a multi-national consumer goods company.
But, the tale goes, both of them felt helplessly drawn to the magical world of comics, till, one day, they quit their corporate jobs and succumbed to the extraordinary power that had them in its grip. Together, they incorporated Level 10 Studios in 2010, with a seed capital of Rs 20 lakh raised from their personal savings.
"We wanted to do something no one else had done in India. We didn't stick to any particular genre, especially not mythology, which other publishers were doing. Instead, we wanted to create unique content targeting the older audience aged between 18 and 30," reveals Sundar.
Jumpstart Into Comics
Comic JUMP first ventured into the realms of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. "We were looking at content that was not inspired by public domain characters such as Ram, Bheem and Hanuman. We wanted to create unique Indian properties that were completely owned by us in terms of intellectual property but could resonate with an Indian audience," says Srinivas. The company also started creating content for children's animation series after collaborating with a Japanese partner in October 2010.
The first series, on zombies, was successful in creating the right noises and attracted a lot of readers and fans. Some of the popular titles from the Comic JUMP stable are zombie thriller The Rabhas Incident, superhero epic Shaurya, fantasy series Batu-Gaiden and dark-hero titles Daksh and Odayan.
Folding Up Publishing
Comic JUMP's titles cast a spell over fans and initially readership grew by word-of-mouth publicity. Why, their Facebook page had nearly 50,000 fans. The first twist in the tale came when the founders realised that magazine publishing was not a profitable business and they folded up Comic JUMP in December 2011. Alas, Sundar and Srinivas felt less like 'superheroes' now!
But a new and challenging chapter was about to be scripted. The founders received angel funding from Seedfund and Mumbai Angels, but they had to reinvent themselves. Donning a new avatar -- Level10 Studio was renamed Level10 Entertainment -- they shifted their content online to create digital editions and graphic novels of Comic JUMP. They also began to partner with broadcast television channels such as Cartoon Network and publishers such as Westland and Pop Culture Publishing and, in Japan, Zero Sum Wireless and Thanks Lab.
Foray Into Television
With renewed vigour, Sundar and Srinivas now focused on the animation space. "It took us around a year before we partnered with Cartoon Network," reveals Sundar. Things took a turn for the better and, Batu-Gaiden, a property the company had developed in collaboration with their Japanese partners, aired on Cartoon Network in April this year.
Cartoon Network also picked up Ninja Nontu, another comic book story aimed at the 10-15 year age group. This series will air this year. And there's more good news. Flying high, our 'superheroes' received an award from Comic Con India for their story Odayan, while Pop Culture Publishing will publish the title as a graphic novel in October.
Revenue Model
Level10 Entertainment's revenue comes largely from selling broadcast rights of its animated shows to television networks. The company plans to publish graphic novels through publishers, but content which is not in print will be sold free in the digital editions. The start-up is yet to break even but hopes to this year.
Key Learnings
Talent Hunting: No one said being a superhero was easy and Sundar and Srinivas have had to call upon extraordinary powers whenever the going got tough. "Talent hunting is the biggest challenge," reveals Sundar, who co-scripted the Batu-Gaiden movie. The company engages creative talent on a project basis by hiring freelancers across India. "We keep our in-house team very lean and currently have 35-odd employees," he says.
Know Your Domain: Since both founders had no idea about publishing, the journey into animation was also rough. "Putting our own money into a business about which we had no knowledge was not the smartest thing to do. But we are learning every day, not to mention the help we receive from our directors," confesses Sundar.
Monetizing digital content continues to remain a key challenge and the start-up has only just begun to make a foray into this space.
Money Doesn't Solve Problems: And how about their biggest lesson -- launching and then folding up Comic JUMP? "Our vision has always been to create intellectual property that can be exploited in multiple mediums and comics was an effective and low-cost visual medium for us to begin with. Comic books were a way of testing whether our property would be accepted. And if it was, we would leverage it through different mediums," says Sundar.
But, he confesses, an entrepreneur has to first research the market before launching a product. "There is no substitute for due diligence because simply throwing money at a problem doesn't solve the issue."
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