Sound engineering is not considered by many as a career option. But does it mean that one cannot pursue it when an ‘international’ and affordable touch is brought to it? Certainly not! Mr Mervin Thomas, the founder of The Audiophile’s School of Sound Engineering (TASE) in an interview with Feba M. Abraham for the #VoLocals campaign by News Aur Chai Media stated how his vision to break the stigma around the career option of Sound Engineering became a reality.
Born and raised in Chennai, Mervin has been part of the music scene for quite some time now. He started off as a live performer and producer, steadily working his way up to becoming an AVID Certified Protools Engineer in music as well as in post-production, within India.
Having worked with Grammy-winning producers (Adam Kagan, Dave Isaac, Carlos Rodgarman and Arturo Solar), recognized Indie bands, artists (Sid Srinivasan, Sanjeev T, Keba Jeremiah, SharanyaGopinath, Christopher Stanley, ShilpaNatarajan, Nathaniel James and AiriMoiri) and Music Directors, he was able to acquire the exposure in Audio Production in a short period.
A few of his notable works include being featured at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Show. He also endorses brands like Universal Audio, Vanguard Audio Labs, Izotope, Warm Audio, Oeksounds etc.
Being a highly ambitious person, after his graduation in Engineering, he went abroad to Los Angeles to pursue Audio Engineering at the Musician’s Institute College of Contemporary Music. On completing the course, he decided to return to India, work with the Indian Music Industry and Sound Engineering schools and gather insights on Indian audio engineering.
Mervin was keen on providing affordable, available and acknowledged education to aspiring students. It was when then, when he met his current business partner and a dear friend, Mr Neeraj Kashyap, a Business Development Expert with over decades of experience in the Education sector. Thus, TASE finally took its form in the heart of Chennai.
Speaking about the campus, surrounded by nature, it provides a beautiful atmosphere and perfect ambience for students to receive advanced training and to get in touch the reputed faculty from the music industry.
More practical and less theory is involved. As more of skill-based labour is involved in this field, acquiring industry experience and reliable industry connections is necessary. All these are present at TASE. The students are able to have a real-time experience of how things work, and the limelight is the development of the curriculum in South India to suit the Indian music industry.
As Mervin’s father was a Government Servant and his Mother was a private employee, they were concerned about their only son venturing into entrepreneurship. Now, that the business is taking shape, they are sure that their son had chosen the right path. Upon receiving a tremendous public response, this musical initiative maintained a good reputation right from its very beginning.
Mervin has been teaching the art of playing the keyboard and Contemporary Music Theory for a little over ten years now and has been an incredible mentor to students age ranging from 5 to 70! In TASE, the minimum age for a student to get enrolled is 18. With the coronavirus coming into picture, Mervin started taking up keyboard classes for junior and senior batches. Meanwhile, at TASE, some subjects are taken online at the moment. The school is planning to reopen in September 2020.
Being the founder of one of the most sought after audio engineering schools in Chennai, it is of no doubt that Mervin is a multi-tasker. “There is a Calendar app which acts as my daily planner. Paying attention to details is a must!” said Mervin.
He effectively utilizes 24 hours by allocating his time appropriately to Studio Sessions, Discussions and the Business Development & Marketing. Having worked with Grammy winners, the experience really helped him to be super organized, punctual and disciplined. Being a freelance musician, he is careful to maintain a proper work-life balance. He devotes Saturdays and Sundays for Church activities. “Each day has its own set of challenges,” says Mervin and no one can disagree to it.
He was all smiles when asked about the unforgettable experience since the induction of TASE “There are two! Higher Education’s Review of TASE making it to the Top 10 sound engineering institutes of India in 2019 definitely tops the chart! It was overwhelming and a big achievement with TASE being the only one from Chennai and that too, in the first year of its establishment. The second one will be the ‘Launch Day’ of our School wherein a lot of prominent musicians adorned the occasion with their presence. These are quite memorable.”
“Unity is Strength” when it comes to Mervin’s 5-member team consisting of him, Mr Neeraj Kashyap, An Academic and Administration Coordinator, two interns and a Finance team. It was quite clear from the conversation that this team plays a huge role in the very sustenance of the campus.
Mervin is specific when it comes to the attendance of the students. The students are expected to be dedicated and are encouraged to go to the studio and practice, while parents are required to keep their wards motivated. “It is all about passion and not money,” said Mervin. He takes time to clarify all doubts of the parents, as this is not a road taken by many. “The current parents are very supportive of their wards decision, which makes the School’s objective to provide high-quality education much easier,” says Mervin.
When it comes to the advertising segment, it was mainly ‘word of mouth’ as there are a lot of musicians associated with the school and are referred by many. SEO and Social Media also played a good role in making the people aware about the School and its activities. Two programs currently taught at TASE:-
- Diploma in Audio Engineering and Music Production: It is a one year course which is more career-based;
- Certificate in Music Production: This is an online course conducted in the weekends and can be completed in 3 months and is a fast-paced Music Producer based Program.
In comparison to the old music, Mervin finds the current music to be easily available with the advancement in technology. “Gone are the days when one had to sit down and make music using Tape recorders. Now, it is simplified and if a mistake does arise, it can easily be rectified,” phrased Mervin.
Also, he firmly holds on to the fact that Indian music has not lost its value to the foreigners. Having worked abroad, he mentioned his colleagues and the general crowd there are fascinated with Indian music. ‘Fusion’ is also a broad scope which is being successfully experimented nowadays by various musicians.
As we drew towards the end of the interview, Mervin cheerfully recollected that his journey in this field has been incredible. “It is my very first entrepreneurial venture. I have been blessed with a good Business Partner and an efficient team. We continue to learn from students and faculties. We would love to grow, uplift the brand and keep the courses affordable for the students.”
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Curly Charmy: Mantra To Happy Curls
Charmi Vichhivora, a young entrepreneur, and a photographer by passion started “Curly Charmy” in 2020. Curly Charmy is a small-scale business that deals with hair care accessories especially with products that take care of curly hair. In an interview with News Aur Chai, Charmi shares her journey of starting a small business.
On asking about the idea of starting a small business, Charmi said, “It was the lockdown period and the photography business was shut. So I decided I should at least take care of my hair since I faced a lot of challenges with maintaining my hair, like excessive hair fall, frizzy and dry hair, and was unable to maintain my curls. As I didn’t know how to take care of it, I looked it up on the internet to find products that would help me. Eventually, I came across the curly girl method but the hair care accessories were expensive and I couldn’t afford them. So I decided to make it on my own. I purchased the fabric and made the product at home. I was so proud of what I had made. I was determined to help every person who struggled with maintaining curly hair. I put up a story on my private account asking my followers if they would be interested in buying the hair care product and the response was crazy. I was not serious about it initially. As I started receiving orders even on my private account, I decided to make use of this opportunity and open a business. My main goal was that it should be affordable, as I was not able to afford it. Now I’m always working on Curly Charmy. That is all I can think of. It has helped my hair.” said she.
“The curly community is super great, they have always been very supportive,” she added.
When asked if the pandemic affected the business, she said,” The pandemic did affect my business especially during the lockdown period as the courier services were shut. The sales were not great, and I was demotivated as I had invested money into it.”
Charmi’s family helps her with the packaging of products and buying fabrics. She has appointed a tailor whom she could help by giving her work. She is the one who makes the products as there are many orders every day.
The available products are Scrunchies, Bonnet, Headband, Pineapple Protector, Scarf, Pillowcase, and Detangler all customized, available in different sizes, and most importantly cost-effective! All the products are made of satin, as it helps to keep your hair intact.
“In India, curly hair care is underrated and I would like to reach as many people as I can to promote that curly hair is beautiful too. Curly hair is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle!” she added.
Fully Baked: Taste the Professionalism of Baking!
“I started my business during the pandemic. What better time to start a baking venture than during a time when all shops are closed down and people need to alleviate their COVID-19 anxiety?”, says Ananya Ganesh Shandilya, a passionate chef who is also a finance professional. ‘Fully Baked’ was started in February 2020 as a ‘two birds, one material’ way to transform her creative thoughts and build a business that she was passionate about. In an interview with News Aur Chai’s Feba M. Abraham, Ananya shares about her personal venture that reflects her simple, fun and an absolute foodie personality!
Ananya grew up eating decadent desserts and pastries and found immense joy in watching cakes being baked on television. She recollects her hilarious ‘maiden baking experiment turned disaster’ after receiving a baking oven as a gift 5 years ago. However, that did not hold her back. She was determined to learn the chemistry behind baking and improving her skill set.
“A dissatisfied customer is an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare! I know the rage a person can feel when they order a cake and bite into a stale, dense mess that is neither delectable nor alleviates your dessert guilt”, said Ananya. When it comes to planning, she creates her baking workflow the day prior to delivery in order to avoid any mishaps and to account for logistical delays. Being an early bird, all desserts are freshly baked to be delivered on the same day as the order date. She usually puts up the various bake sales along with the dessert choices of the day, on the official Instagram page. The desserts are normally ready to go out by 9 A.M., but on busy days, the desserts will be out latest by noon. Once her baking hustles for the day are over, she then sits down for studying with her CA books. She never fails to take breaks wherein she plays chess.
When asked about the creation of the recipes, Ananya describes her journey as a learning curve of tweaking internet recipes and experimenting with several flavors till she found the ones that met her expectations. She gives importance to her customers’ preferences and be aware of health related issues. She records customer feedback and then improves upon the taste by adding possible new elements. She goes on to add, “This has been the most indispensable tool for improvement and I find myself putting two contrasting ingredients only to hear that they created an exotic burst of flavors in my customers’ mouths!”
So, what exactly makes ‘Fully Baked’ unique and distinct from the others? Here, all the desserts are 100 per cent eggless. She also makes sugarless desserts as she strongly believes everyone should get to taste her delicious treats. Without compromising on the quality, she tries to cut costs and also maintain rigorous accounts for her business. She reinvests all her profits back into the business, like the small businesses.
Out of all the desserts introduced so far, the customers’ all-time favorites have been the chocolate ganache cupcakes and tarts. The coffee and mango cupcakes also started give a strong competition to the chocolate ganache delicacies recently.
Ananya’s parents have greatly supported her in this venture. Her mother has been involved in every step of the process and her father has instilled in her a strong work ethic and a special kinda love for spreadsheets for better organizing. “I certainly would not be where I am today, without their emotional support along the way.”, said Ananya. Right from childhood, Ananya has been huge fan of the reality TV shows, ‘Cupcake Wars’ and ‘Masterchef USA’. “Florian Bellanger and his unparalleled skills as a pastry chef awoke my inner Nigella Lawson. His fortitude to experiment with and create new twists on classic French pastries like macaroons and éclairs inspired me to venture outside my comfort zone as well—becoming a baker.”, said Ananya.
When it comes to the advertising segment, the following are the main means that contribute to the growth of the business:-
- Word of mouth and valuable customer feedbacks;
- The official Instagram page, @ananya_shandz, showcase all the colorful and eye-catching desserts;
- Once sales started taking shape, she listed the entire host of desserts along with the corresponding prices on the website, www.fullybaked.in .
- The customers are also free to contact the business’ number (+91 78670 04000) to place the orders.
She takes precautions, such as the personal protective equipments, to carefully bake the desserts. Both pick-up and home delivery are available, according to the convenience of the customers. Also, her couriers practice social distancing while delivering. Her utmost priority is to ease the customers of their doubts of having to order food during the pandemic. She says, “I try to proactively communicate with them and reassure them that all requisite precautions have been taken.”
In the course of pursuing Ananya’s passion for baking, her patience and ability to improvise have certainly improved. She has personally understood the importance of active listening and paying attention to detail.
When asked about the future of the business, she went on to say, “I want Fully Baked to be inclusive of people with a myriad of health ailments, dietary preferences and restrictions. I am planning to develop an entire host of vegan and gluten free desserts. I am also planning to branch out into savories, particularly the Italian food, especially the preparation of pizza and garlic bread from scratch. Also, I currently deliver only in Chennai. I hope to expand the delivery boundaries soon.”
As mentioned initially, Ananya is a dual professional handling finance on one hand and baking on the other. When questioned whether home baking is a better option than any corporate job, she replied that the answer to this questions depends on what you want from life and who you are as a person. She strongly believes that “if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.” By doing so, she gets to be her own boss, set her own business hours and work hard till she drops doing something she loves. She then concluded saying, “However, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone has the liberty and privilege to pursue their passion. To each their own!”. Let us not forget the main tagline of this blooming business, “Have your cake, and eat it!”
I am pretty sure that after reading the above article, you must be really hungry. What are you waiting for then? Head over to Fully Baked’s official Instagram, @ananya_shandz, and order away!
Introducing Khojdeal : Bringing Visibility to Hyperlocal MSMEs With Affiliate Marketing
In tandem to the Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative, Khojdeal offers it’s platform to local vendors to showcase their products offering to the Indian audience. Being Vocal for Local has been a part of the organization’s ethos since it’s conception in 2016. A spectrum of players from the Indian startup ecosystem are offered visibility and a platform to share their story with our audience in addition to cash-deals. A growing brand in the performance/affiliate marketing space, Khojdeal offers cashback to our users for every purchase by customers. They provide product reviews and comparisons which enables them to take informed decisions. Khojdeal focuses on delivering more value to customers through technology innovation in the online shopping space and wanted to offer Indian customers a go-to portal for the best deals and coupons online.
Q1. What inspired you to start this venture? What gap in the existing ecosystem are you trying to bridge?
After shutting down my first startup in 2012 and working in the corporate sector for 3 years, I never imagined I would be back on the startup bandwagon so soon. However, at that point in time, the digital revolution in India had already started. With the internet penetration increasing, people were turning to the online ecosystem for various things including shopping.
People in metros were already comfortable shopping online for almost all major categories and those in tier 2 and 3 cities had also started buying fashion apparels and accessories and home accessories online.
Various studies indicated that this boom in e-commerce was not a temporary thing. In fact, with time it was expected to increase at an even more accelerated pace. We felt that as more and more people start shopping online, they are also going to look for deals and offers to save on their online purchases.
With this sentiment in mind, we started working on Khojdeal in 2015 and took it live in March 2016.
Over the past 5 years, from a coupon and cashback website, we’ve evolved into an online deal discovery platform that’s not only helping customers in finding the best deals and offers but also assisting them in making informed buying decisions through well researched articles.
Q2. Tell us about your journey before starting your entrepreneurial venture?
I am an engineer and a business graduate by education. Before being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, I have worked with companies like Mindtree and Cognizant as a Digital Marketing Consultant. From consulting Fortune 500 companies on digital transformation to launching a startup, I have seen how digital strategies impact organizations at various stages.
Q3. How does your platform work?
Khojdeal works on an affiliate marketing model which is a performance-based marketing tactic. We have partnered various leading affiliate networks who provide us with the best deals and offers from a plethora of domestic and international stores. Our experts handpick the best ones and curate them on the website. When a user shops online through Khojdeal, we earn a commission from the store in question. A certain percentage of this commission is passed on to the user in the form of cashback.
Q4. How many vendors/partnerships do you have?
We currently have 1500+ domestic and international online stores on our platform. Deals across various categories like fashion, food, travel, electronics, movie and entertainment, hosting and domain, et al are handpicked everyday and curated on Khojdeal.
In tandem with the Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative, Khojdeal offers a platform for local vendors to showcase discounts on their products online. Being Vocal for Local has been a part of the organization’s ethos since it’s inception and a spectrum of players from the Indian startup ecosystem are offered a voice and visibility on our platform.
Q5. What are your future plans?
As a company, we focus on providing maximum value to our customers. We provide them with detailed information about products and bargaining the best cashback for them is our growth strategy.
We are also constantly striving to improve the user experience. According to Amazon Web Services study, 88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience. People not only remember bad online experiences, but they talk about them with their friends. According to Neil Patel’s infographic, 44% of shoppers will tell their friends about a bad online experience. These statistics clearly indicate how important user experience is. A robust and agile customer service team is, therefore, the need of the hour.
We also aim to engage in inbound knowledge monetization and leverage the power of social to build new customer acquisition funnels.
Q6. How has the pandemic affected your business and how have you innovated to overcome the same?
Covid-19 has caused an inflection in e-commerce penetration globally driven by consumers’ need for safety and convenience and even in India, online is gaining prominence. Self-imposed social distancing to avoid contagion, together with the strict confinement measures implemented in India in March, April, May and June encouraged a majority of people to shop online. A Bain and Company-PRICE survey of 3000 households across income groups and geographies, conducted between April and June, revealed approx. 40% of respondents were buying more online.
Initially, as people were trying to process the uncertainty of the pandemic and lockdown, traffic on Khojdeal decreased. Logistics were affected and a majority of e-commerce stores had to pause deliveries. Many affiliate campaigns were paused and this had a direct impact on us.
Gradually, as the government stepped up to streamline e-com deliveries and formulated various SOPs for the safe and timely distributions of the same, things were back on track. We saw an increase in categories like groceries, home improvement products, books and entertainment, artistic supplies, home appliances, large appliances and DIY tools. However, we also saw a devastating crash in categories related to travel like flights and hotel bookings.
Now that things have settled a bit, we are witnessing a slow, yet steady growth.
About Vaibhav Lall
An engineer by education and an entrepreneur by choice, Vaibhav Lall is the founder of India’s largest online deal discovery platform – Khojdeal. Prior to jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, Vaibhav has experience working with corporate giants like Mindtree and Cognizant as a Digital Marketing Consultant. From consulting Fortune 500 companies on digital transformation to launching a startup, he has deployed astute digital strategies that can impact an organization’s growth curve in various stages.
Owing to his sharp business acumen, the majority of his time is invested in navigating creative solutions for problems in his niche. Being a keen follower of the works of Simon Sinek, Subroto Bagchi and Ben Horowitz, he imbibes the learnings both in his professional as well as personal life. Motivated with the zeal and deeply seated desire to change the world, he joined the startup universe as his first job. Soon to become a serial entrepreneur, Vaibhav launched his first startup which develops web apps and helps brands get on to social media.
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