SM: Got it. What software were you using, and how were you able to afford it?
AB: We didn’t use any kind of software. I had to write software to create animation. We didn’t have any kind of software for that.
SM: Interesting. You’re quite savvy technically.
AB: Yes. I wasn’t tech savvy on those areas, actually. I didn’t have any kind of computer with me, but I used to go to the cyber cafés nearby and used to code and read from the Internet and follow blogs and forums, the old forums that we had in 1998 and 1999. In 1999, I got my first computer, purchased, thanks to a loan from my father, for the amount of 70,000 rupees (~$1,260). It was, I think, a P3 with 64 bits of RAM. That was the only PC that I had.
SM: So, you taught yourself everything that you have learned, essentially. You don’t have any formal training in the tech disciplines; you’re self-taught?
AB: Well, after that I did. After that, I got my master’s in computers. I’m an MCA. Along with that, I have done Microsoft certifications and a couple of others.
SM: When you were doing this animation project for the Delhi company, had you already gone through some type of training?
AB: No, never … nothing. It was in me, actually. I taught myself. If you give me any kind of concept, I can work with it.
SM: That’s amazing. That’s a fantastic story. OK. Let’s go back. You had collected these people from small-town Bengal and trained them. They knew how to draw, I suppose, and you trained them on some of the software that you wrote yourself so that they could produce these animation pieces at a very low cost. That’s the beginning of the story, right?
AB: That is the beginning of the story. I also used to take people who had a little bit of visualization skills, not for drawing purposes necessarily. Some people are not very good at drawing, but if they can visualize a concept, I can teach them how to draw. That’s how we used to take people.
SM: How much were you paying them?
AB: In those days, I paid them 4,000 rupees (~$72) per month. Now, it’s different. Now, I pay them a lot more.
SM: That project from Delhi was in what year?
AB: It was in 1999, between 1999 and 2000. We got that project in November 1999 and completed it in February 2000.
SM: OK. How much repeat business did it generate from that company for you?
AB: To date, we are doing jobs for them. But a lot has changed.
SM: What percentage of your revenue does that company generate?
AB: Hardly 5% to 7%.
SM: OK. That’s good. You’ve been able to diversify. So, tell me what happened after that? What happened in 2000? How did the business grow?
AB: In 2000, we did the same type of animation jobs. And then we converted the business model into the training institute. That’s how I got revenue because students paid us. We established a very good name offering animation training along with game development and design training. In those days, people didn’t teach game development. Probably, we are one of the pioneers in the game development training industry in India. Since 1999, we have used this technology and taught people.
There was also some good viral marketing that took place. People used to travel all night on the train to our center, learn the game development process, go back home. That was the kind of response we used to get. We used to train 100 to 120 people in the institute, and it was growing. So, I decided to continue with it. When I could, I would send emails to people and say, look, we have these kinds of people in our institute, would you like to recruit them?
Truly, we got a marvelous response, and people recruited from our institute, and we got excellent feedback from them that our people were industry ready. They know the production pipeline. The system is very simple. We know the production pipeline, and we taught them in the exact manner in which you have to do animation or create a game. That’s how we grew the institute segment.
Then I decided to create a product so that we could sell it in the market and get paid for it. Our first product was developed in March 2002. We published our first game from Kolkata. We got in touch with a reseller who bought our game for 2.75 lakhs ($6k) plus a royalty of 20% on each sale. That was the first game that we released.