Sanjay Ray Chaudhuri or RayC as he is popularly known, is the Co-Founder, TV18 and Network 18, both extremely successful media channels known for their unique and honest content. Sanjay opens up about his early years as a young, creative mass communications student, his foray into the world of entrepreneurship and his recent comeback as an entrepreneur in the digital content space with his online venture called Arré. He also shares his learnings from some of his biggest mistakes and offers sound advice for young entrepreneurs.Watch on YouTube
I am essentially a man of the field. I have been on shoots, the editing room, and that’s where I spent most of my work life. This kind of work gave me the maximum amount of satisfaction and this is what I am passionate about. After the IPO, I found myself sitting in board meetings, strategy meetings, and overseas tours. I liked it for a bit but then I realized that this kind of life is not for me.
While there is a huge surge in the demand for digital content, there are also a lot of people supplying the content. To stand out in the crowd and play the game well is not an easy task.
Holding on to our best talent, keeping the quality constant, and raising enough funding are some of the most critical challenges one faces while scaling up
Your people are all that there is. There is nothing else. You have to love and respect your people and take them along with you if you want to build anything great
The world of media and entertainment is chockfull of creative people. While such people thrive in their areas of expertise and are great at churning fantastic content, they are not the biggest fans of processes and systems. They often despise the HR department for putting processes and rules in place and are forever questioning the need for an operational framework. Irrespective of such lack of popularity, it is still vital to put processes in place when scaling up new ventures in the media space.
Like most other industries, in media and entertainment too, people are your greatest assets. Treat them right and they will do wonders for you and your company. Hire the right management team so that you can delegate work to them without having to worry about the quality of their work. Getting sufficient funding early on is also crucial as this will give you the necessary peace of mind required to create interesting, pathbreaking content.
Before you take the plunge as an entrepreneur, reconcile with the fact that the journey of an entrepreneur is not a walk in the park. At the same time, know this that there is nothing as fulfilling as entrepreneurship. Aim for the stars but keep your feet on the ground. Know when to raise money and know when to quit. If things are not going well cut your losses, get out and try something else.
I graduated in English Literature and went on to do my Masters in Mass Communication from Jamia Milia. At first, I started out doing freelance documentaries for Doordarshan. I would write them, direct them, voice them, shoot them, and edit them all by myself and make some money. After a few years, my business partner and I began shooting classified videos for small shops and added them to the monthly Newstrack tapes. In 1993 satellite television came to India and we pitched 2 pilot shows to BBC and Star Plus which got selected and ran for many years on these channels.
We set up TV18 as a channel in 2000 and it grew at a steady rate of 2-3X for 5 to 6 years. We created Viacom 18, tied up with CNN and CNBC and became one of the biggest networks around before finally selling out. A few years ago I created a pilot web series called ‘The Adventures of Abbas Mastan’. I found out that some of my ex-colleagues were partnering with Ronnie Screwvala to set up a digital platform called Arre. I joined Arre in an Advisory role and eventually bought Ronnie Screwvala’s stake in the company. I have no illusions about how difficult the path is for this new venture. While there is a huge surge in the demand for digital content, there are also a lot of people supplying the content. To stand out in the crowd and play the game well is not an easy task.
There are many challenges one faces when scaling up from a small company to an IPO. The first and foremost problem lies in funding. The process of expansion becomes much easier and smooth if you receive funding early on instead of getting it in an off and on fashion from project to project basis. Secondly, recruiting the right people is a major challenge. It is vital to hire excellent managers who can run the show without too much interference from the founding members. Setting up processes to back your growing business is yet another area that can be tedious but is nonetheless critical. In the case of Arre, in the first three years, we managed to build a brand that connects with our target audience – the millennials. We also created content in all formats, a characteristic that helped us stand out amid the stiff competition. Holding on to our best talent, keeping the quality constant, and raising enough funding were some of the most critical challenges we faced while scaling up.
I was at the topmost rung at TV 18 when I left. By that point, I had got bored with what I was doing. I am essentially a man of the field. I have been on shoots, the editing room, and that’s where I spent most of my work life. This kind of work gave me the maximum amount of satisfaction and this is what I am passionate about. After the IPO, I found myself sitting in board meetings, strategy meetings, and overseas tours. I liked it for a bit but then I realized that this kind of life is not for me.
Five or six years into TV18 we suffered a cash crunch as a result of a deal that did not materialize. We were liquidity bound and we had to let go of a fairly large number of people. In the creative industry, these people are usually friends more than employees. While we were letting go of people, we realized that doing it one by one was too time-consuming and so we decided to call 3-4 people at a time. For us, it was a time saving and less painful way out but for the employees, this was the most hurtful thing to endure. I will never do something like that again.
Entrepreneurship is not a walk in the park. It is a tough job. At the same time, there is nothing as fulfilling as entrepreneurship. Aim for the stars but keep your feet on the ground. Know when to raise money and know when to quit. If things are not going well cut your losses, get out and try something else. No entrepreneur has had a steady even life. Persevere through the long, dark nights and know that you are in it for the long haul.